Friday, June 15, 2007

George Orwell, Socialism, and the Will to Fight

I just finished reading "Why I Write" a marvelous little collection of essays by George Orwell (the dude who gave us Animal Farm and 1984). Allow me to commend it to your library. It contains 4 essays, 3 short and 1 long. The best of the short ones is "Politics and the English Language," which you can read here. The short essay "Why I Write" is available here. The final short essay, "A Hanging" is here. He captures a lot of why I no longer (politically) support the death penalty.

The long one, however, blew my mind on several levels. The first line is "[a]s I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me." I was hooked.

He wrote the essay, called "The Lion and Unicorn," (read it here, in three parts) as a call for England to adopt a Socialist economic structure. He says repeatedly that capitalism is a failed experiment and cannot compete with the planned economies of Fascist or Communist states. Wow, was he wrong about that one!

And this from the guy who gave us Animal Farm?!

In his defense, Orwell sought to establish his program through democracy. He thought the monarchy could be preserved. He did not come off sounding like a radical and had plenty of bad things to say about Marxism. Nonetheless--dude, you really screwed the pooch on this one. Big, bad, capitalist America showed up to relieve Great Britain only a few months after this book came out.

Even more than the economic stuff, however, I was taken by Orwell's determination to defeat Hitler and his conviction that Britain could not fail. He proposed socialism as the only way to beat evil, which runs contrary to any socialist argument I have ever heard.

He also anticipated that the "left-wingers" of England would end up supporting Fascism and Hitler because of the belief that "the English are no longer a martial race, capable of enduring." He then wrote a long paragraph on how these critics would make their arguments. I will quote the passage nearly in full. It is terribly applicable to our current situation, I believe.

[T]hey will proceed to argue that, after all, democracy is "just the same as" or "just as bad as" totalitarianism. There is not much freedom of speech in England; therefore there is no more than exists in Germany. To be on the dole is a horrible experience; therefore it is no worse to be in the torture-chambers of the Gestapo. In general, two blacks make a white, half a loaf is the same as no bread.

But in reality, whatever may be true about democracy and totalitarianism, it is not true that they are the same thing. It would not be true, even if British democracy were incapable of evolving beyond its present stage. The whole conception of a militarized continental state, with its secret police, its censored literature and its conscript labor, it utterly different from that of the loose maritime democracy, with its slums and unemployment, its strikes and party politics. It is the difference between land power and sea power, between cruelty and inefficiency, between lying and self-deception, between the SS man and the rent-collector. And in choosing between them one chooses not so much on the strength of what they are now as of hat they are capable of becoming.... The only question that matters is where one's real sympathies lie when the pinch comes. The intellectuals who are so fond of balancing democracy against totalitarianism and 'proving' that one is as bad as the other are simply frivolous people who have never been shoved up against realities. They show the same shallow misunderstanding of Fascism now, when they are beginning to flirt with it, as a year ago, when they were squealing against it. The question is not 'Can you make out a debating-society "case" in favour of Hitler?' The question is, 'Do you genuinely accept that case? Are you willing to submit to Hitler's rule? Do you want to see England conquered, or don't you?' It would be better to be sure on that point before frivolously siding with the enemy. For there is no such thing as neutrality in war; in practice one must help one side or the other.

Right on. And I hope ya'll all saw the irony of an anti-communist writer anticipating the Bush doctrine in a treatise in favor of socialism.

Sorry for the long post.

1 comment:

Aunt Marty said...

Wow! I had NO idea the bar exam was so comprehensive. I'll be even more impressed when you ace it. Which I'm sure you will...

I can ask you Anything. Well, almost. I haven't found any recipes here yet.