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Tuesday, 28 August 2012


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People are complex. For me, 1984 and Animal Farm are what count. An immensely worthwhile legacy whatever his political views.

Well yes,


His wartime (WW2) essays

Hard to better, in terms of information & grammatical grace.

Kind regards

Hell, I told you he was a Leftie. It's the price you have to pay for the rest of him.

I think some people have a socialist gene and some have a free market gene, and the two will never understand each other. Orwell is a good example. 1984 and Animal Farm, but still a socialist. He just couldn't give it up.

I think you and I are the types who, when we hear, "Everyone shares! Everyone is equal" we just run for the hills. Who wants to live that way?

Check the plural of sky.

Yes, Orwell's wartime essays "Why I write" contain much that is excellent whilst pushing his vision of a decent, English type of socialism which, for instance, would have retained the monarchy.

At some stage early on he had taken a look at the appalling social conditions of his day and come to the conclusion that private property was the cause.

His own experiences taught him the essential evil and cruelty of communism but he never really extended his imagination to the oppressive bureaucracy which necessarily underpins state socialism.

In this, I think he was rather like Tony Benn whom I recently heard. Benn was extolling the benefits of old style council housing. He was quite sure that, under that system, all anybody needed to do was to apply to the council's housing manager and all their problems would be solved. But Benn and Orwell both come from the upper class which has never been at the mercy of the lower ranks of bureaucracy.

Edward, I suspect you have it spot on. I never thought of the similarity with Tony Benn but you're right, both hopeless and helpless romantics. God preserve us from men with dreams. It used to be socialism but today it is the 'United States of Europe'.

And, Dom, your point is what makes me cross with him. To have written those two clear-sighted books spelling out the dangers, he still goes on to extoll the virtues of state socialism. I want to dig him up and give him a good shaking!

David and AK, it's no good you two acting as conciliators, I feel jilted and I'm madder than a hornet!

And, DM, you're supposed to be the headmaster around here, responsible for correcting my errors of omission and commission, so how could you let me get away with "skys"? Now the Head Mistress has stepped in and given me a hundred lines! Bugger, this is going to be one of those days.

Actually, and all humour aside, I really was shocked by those passages I read. That a man with such clarity of vision in one direction could be so wilfully blind in another just leaves me gobsmacked! In our youth we all entertain dreams but when he wrote 'The Lion and the Unicorn' he was a mature man of considerable experience. It amounts, in my view, to the equivalent of 'criminal negligence'.

I'm off to SpecSavers this morning (now then, remember I do the jokes round here!) and I will continue to fume quietly. Happily I will have a copy of Ferdinand Mount's book to calm me down.

OK, OK, you don't like him. Maybe I could interest you in the finer points of another much-misunderstood Mr. Blair? If you put aside your prejudices and approach him with an open mind....


Thank you so much!

I will be sending the bill for the cleaning of both my monitor and keyboard forthwith.

Oh, and having made the mistake of reading some Orwell myself, I was sitting quietly, and smugly, waiting for the inevitable.

As a 'hip', 'cool'... Er 'geek'(?) type I read/view a great deal of Sci-Fi, and the "cigar-smoking capitalists and honest, horny-handed sons of soil and toil" meme is alive and well in this area too (again usually from those authors from, shall we say, a 'well to do' background). Just like the Neo-Luddites who've never lived more than 100 yards away from a Starbucks, I think it's cause is obviously an environmental contaminant (caviar or arugala overdose?) limited to the Islington set. What do you think?

Oh cheer up, Duffers. Look at the good news.

Somebody once berated Denis Healey for having been a member of the Communist Party. The old scoundrel knocked that one to the bounday by countering, "I used to believe in Father Christmas and the tooth-fairy".

The Lion and the Unicorn was written in 1940-1, and published in early 1941. He did a lot of intellectual growing-up in the remaining 9 years of his life. 'Animal Farm' was published in 1945, and the socialist Victor Gollancz refused to publish it. He also turned down 1984, published in 1949.

He was an acute observer, and a lyrical writer of his observations. If you are determined to ignore him because of his earlier 'socialism', at least read the delightful 1946 essay, 'The Moon under Water', on his ideal English pub - but don't take it too literally.

Likewise my monitor and keyboard, 'W', you owe me!

I think, Able, it may be drinking anexcess of 'skinny lattes',whatever they are!

DM, you have made my day! At last, The Master, at whose feet I used to sit, has returned.

But, Webbers, my point is that he was writing this guff as an older man and, moreover, one who had heard about the horrors in the Soviets and who had experienced their machinations at first hand in Spain. It's not his "earlier" socialism about which I am complaining, but his mature socialism! I suppose (he writes whilst bending over backwards to be fair) that he had in mind what we know today as Scandinavian democratic socialism about which I have severe doubts but which seems to have suited the 'Yerdieburdles', although they seem to be increasingly discontented with it these days. However, I will try some of his other writing, I promise, and so long as he keeps of his dreamy socialism all may yet be well.

In 1940, he was 37. He had been a child in the last days of Empire. He was educated at Eton in relative penury, surrounded by privilege. He had 'grown up' to see the worst of the Depression. He had been an idealist, but had found the first betrayals of that idealism in Spain.

Of course his opinions were coloured by his experience. So were the opinions of most of his contemporaries, such as at the famous (no, infamous) 'King and Country' debate at the Oxford Union in 1933. Winston Churchill was widely derided for detecting the global danger of Fascism, and the inevitability of war.

Put his politics to one side, and simply enjoy the quality of his writing. You really won't get far if you only read the people with whom you agree.

Fear not, Webbers, I have only just now finished his demolition of Tolstoy in his essay Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool. Good stuff! Not sure I agree with all his estimations of Shakespeare but I would hesitate before I took him on. See, what passes for my mind has not entirely slammed shut!

Never be afraid to read a man who you disagree with.

Orwell thought there was clear blue water between democratic socialism and communism. And that held true from his time till the mid sixties. Only then did the Gramscian revolution take place that ushered in Post Modernism and the modern left.

In Orwell's time Socialists did not automatically despise the West, did not think Britain a wicked place not worth defending and did not routinely excuse the wicked of the third world.

That doesn't make them right but it does grant them a respect not owed to the generation of Livingstone and Galloway.

Point taken, TDK, but I was disappointed that having discerned the totalitarian direction of communism he was unable (or unwilling?) to see the inherent economic rigor mortis that lies within socialism. In the essay which so irritated me, he claims that there was no alternative on offer. True, in 1940 the Austrian School was not around but, dammit, Adam Smith had been for a couple of centuries!

After a couple of days without telephone service, I come back to find that poor old George has fallen into disgrace!!!

Well, as in answer to your request I had translated something that Gregorio Luri, a friend of mine and a much more clever thinker than I ever will be (what? what do you mean it is easy?), wrote about Trilling and Orwell, I copy it anyway. Maybe it will interest you anyway. Of corse, you may also simply delete it!

Please note that any silly point comes from my poor translation.

"Just start reading 'The moral obligation to be intelligent', a selection of essays by Lionel Trilling. Those who have read Orwell in catalan may recall that he is the author of the introduction of Homage to Catalonia, also in the first American edition of this book.

Trilling interest me so much, for different reasons. He belongs to that generation of leftist intellectuals who appeared in New York in the first decades of the twentieth century (the New York intellectuals), which has had a so important impact on the subsequent development of the intellectual history of the United States. He was one of its most representative and influential members and certainly one of the most determined to pawn our intelligence in a critique of totalitarianism, without much regard for those who considered him an enemy in his time for this. Unable to have more faith in the story that in intelligence, he had no qualms about openly dissent from the Orthodox dissent. The collection of essays published in 1950 under the title of 'The Liberal Imagination' is a great example of this.

The book 'The moral obligation to be intelligent' takes its title from an essay by John Erskine (1914) and it is a declaration of faith in the intelligence. In an intelligence, must be added, freed from the bonds that usually hold it to utilitarian ends, let's say to happiness. Innocence and purity bored him as much as he hated bigotry. He knew that things are always more complex than what those in need of comfort at all costs want to imagine. In that sense, he was very much a nietzschian and was profoundly suspicious of the dangers lurking surreptitiously after our best intentions. His ultimate goal: not to disappoint himself.

Trilling was, before anything else, a literary critic. It is no exaggeration to add that one of the fathers of modern American literary criticism, as clearly illustrated in 'The moral obligation to be intelligent'. He was convinced that contemporary moral imagination had been shaped by the novel of the last three centuries, that had managed to shroud the reader in a moral atmosphere and to further encourage his critical eye into the exam of the underlying reasons for his actions, beyond what conventional education had taught him. In this sense, the history of the modern novel would be the history of contemporary moral and a competent literary critic could not be anything but a historian of morality. The novel would have been the great educator of the present.

Death caught him writing an essay on Jane Austen, representative, in my view, of that fraction of literarature morally defeated by the apologists of nihilism, led by Tolstoy, who reveals us the trivial fall of Ivan Ilyich into an unremarkable death.

About Lionel Trilling on Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. I've just re-read it and I think it is still in full force, for its ability to continue to illuminate the problems of today.
Trilling, who read with great interest Ortega's 'Rebellion of the masses', knew that Europe had relinquished command in the world. But he also knew that in politics there is no vacuum. Abstention is also a form of political activity and, therefore, it does not relieve us from responsibility in the progress of the world. This is one of the ideas that 'Homage to Catalonia' stands out.

Orwell was highly critical of what he called "the English left-wing intelligentsia". He satirized her with some ruthlessness, stating that her entire ideology could fit in half a dozen newspaper articles and did show a striking inability to offer any real alternatives to the real problems. "There is little substance in it, except for the irresponsible criticism from people who has never been and never will be in a position of government."

The last Orwell was particularly interested in preserving the common sense of ordinary people from the erosion of the apostolic enlighteners of the masses. Moreover, he was convinced that the ingenuity with which ordinary people cling to their values is a real vaccine against the influence of abstract ideas and their potential nihilism. In everyday prejudices, he could sense an unconscious (and no less natural) will for health. If this is so, if political life on its surface shows a profound truth, intellectuals bent on liberating the people no matter what, may be less lovers of the truth than what they proudly and goodwillingly assume.

Ortega, I have posted your entire comment as a blog-post - see above. I slightly altered one or two words/phrases to render them better in English but if you have any objections let me know and I will change it.

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