Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Orwell - My Archive

Of course, nobody could possibly doubt - which I am sure you must concede - that the specific great wartime essay on English identity and patriotism, The Lion and the Unicorn, is the work of a democratic Socialist
I am afraid you confidence is misplaced and the word I quibble with is ‘democratic’. Firstly can I splutter a little . Orwell `s essays are not in any way to be compared with his novels or rather his novel 1984 . Such a misapprehension is possible only for A Political historian whose interest in English Literature is evidential rather than artistic .His journalism is fun and discursive by virtue if introducing Conservative insights into the world of the mid 20th century “Intellectual” soi disant . He remarked in L and U that there were only left wing intellectuals beautifully contradicting himself with reference to TS Elliot (a familiarity with whom was a prerequisite for entry ). It is the literary achievement of 1984 and to a lesser extent Animal Farm that is the source of his fascination and had he only been an essayist he would have been forgotten .( I will happily discuss this further if you are interested in the books as Literature at all)
The Lion and The Unicorn

The Lion and the Unicorn is truly extraordinary but more performance than art. It is a glittering fragmented mess veering wildly between ferocious personal resentment wisdom foolishness paranoia and arrogance . Its best passages are the almost lyrical investigations of Englishness which contain some thrilling steps along the way to Conservatism …“Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another…..”
“And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time.”

He does not resolve the glaring dissonance between the implications of “cultural man” and “Economic man” although he tries . That ,I take it ,is your interest together with the mirage of Socialism that is not against the English.He notes the disappearance of stratified class system , the acquisition of wealth by the poor without recognising the part of capitalism in that. He despairs of the intellectual as knowing nothing of courage and work . He has no comprehension of the creative potential of Capitalism which he treats as a “resource “ flowing unbidden from the earth , neither does he see the futility of the planned Russian economy . On the contrary he regards planning as the only possible route to efficiency. His attitude to Empire does indeed shows signs of Neo Con Realpolitik ( India can no more be independent than a cat or a dog ,,…)At this time he sees the need for planning in mass war in war a truth which any Conservative would happily accept. For him this holds out a utopian prospect you might say ‘A heaven forged in Hells despite’. “…….“The fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a text-book word into a realizable policy. “…. “ In effect he describes socialism that would work in a perpetual state of war and there is more than one sinister excursion. The quality of the book is impossible without the errors of its day , it is exactly the “ terrifying present “ of it is which makes it so compelling for all its flaws .You have the sense of a man in the crucible convinced the forces of good and evil were at last showing themselves . Meanwhile in Oxford CS Lewis and Tolkein were describing the same feeling in very different ways . It is like fierce love affair when tomorrow may bring the bomb.This is by way of preparing you to accept that a rapid transformation took place over the next few years . Consider the following…..
“If we can survive this war, the defeat in Flanders will turn out to have been one of the great turning-points in English history. In that spectacular disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism. Before that the case against capitalism had never been proved. Russia, the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. ….”
You will note at this stage Russia is definitely within his definition of socialism. Important this when you trace the disillusion and bitterness he latterly expressed against the very English Socialism he tries to invent here .It is a salutatory reminder to us all to see what socialism actually means even to a man whose thinking and emotions are taking him from it . The main point for our purposes is this“Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
..and the consequence …“ From the moment that all productive goods have been declared the property of the State, the common people will feel, as they cannot feel now, that the State is themselves.” and as he remarks elsewhere , ‘’everyone works for the state’ .
That is what socialism is a belief that man is fundamentally changeable by his economic environment alone , but what of democracy , what of all the Englishness he tries to include in his idea? This is the utopia that awaits us
“It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as ‘a Christian Country “
There will not in fact be any real democracy at all except token “Different names “. Yes , he is certainly a socialist at this time , but Democratic , in form only. . It would have been impossible to admit for him at the end what he had seen . He saw it in Russia and he saw it in the power the state took in the war .1984 reeks of the growing evil state control brings and specifically to wartime Britain.ConclusionOrwell saw socialism as emerging from war not persuasion and democracy as a comforting token to be retained like the monarchy. His obviously love of England and his deep understanding of it are precursors to true Conservatism . His admiration of Russia shows he was yet to acquire the bitter energy behind his final denunciations of socialism which , as he had already begun to see , cannot co -exist with true democracy . The oft quoted statement in ‘Why I write ‘ must be understood chielfy as an attitude to literature ( for which he was not forgiven) placing its effect above all. It is asking tok much of him to say .” I have had good instincts and spoke honestly but I now see I was wrong and am a Conservative ” Not so unusual , look at Frank Field

15 comments:

asquith said...

You should read "Such, Such Were The Joys" & think again, as it blatantly is not the work of a conservative.

Can you not just admire the man & admit his views were different to yours? I revere Evelyn Waugh, but I don't tie myself up in knots trying to "prove" his ideas were the same as mine!

Philipa said...

I knew it, I KNEW IT!!

Glad to see you back, if only briefly :-))

Newmania said...

Asquith , neither do I but arguing thhat the author of 1984 and Animal Farm remained in any significant way , a socialist is trick even such a conjuror as yourslef would struggle with.


Hi P , I think I will strat again later this year

Hugs

XX

asquith said...

Well, he may well not have been a socialist, but he was certainly left-wing. I myself am left-wing, but profoundly suspicious of the state, socially & economically. I prefer voluntary associations of people in the tradition of the working men's clubs, cooperative movement & what have you, which I don't think should be automatically linked with the government or Labour.

This government's desire to increase state control over our lives is fervently opposed on the left, as you can see.

As for Orwell's opposition to Stalinism, it is like opposition to the reactionary tendencies within Islam today. You don't have to be right-wing to support it. In fact, it is in keeping with the finest traditions of the left.

You have something of a point but you are going a bit far, in my humble opinion.

Philipa said...

Ooh I'm so happy at that news I could almost snog the cat :-))

'The Loved One' is stll my favourite Waugh.

Dearest that was an excellent post. You are truly on form. Haunting words.

I'm loathe to mention it but the clammy description of socialist Britain here puts me in mind of the latest post of HWMNBN, as of course it is not just FF who changed his mind. I've put a comment there early on. I'd love you to read it if you would. In a later comment he mentions something I've also noted before; the difference in Napoleonic/European law and British law; that here everything was allowed unless expressly forbidden and there everything was forbidden unless specifically allowed. Napoleonic law that had such an impact in the wake of the french revolution, that socialist epoch.

My argument has long been that systems cause behaviours. Society, or a culture if you will, a way of organised living, is a system. Systems cause behaviours. We had a good system. We are trashing the good bits:

“It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word. Political parties with different names will still exist, revolutionary sects will still be publishing their newspapers and making as little impression as ever. It will disestablish the Church, but will not persecute religion. It will retain a vague reverence for the Christian moral code, and from time to time will refer to England as ‘a Christian Country “
There will not in fact be any real democracy at all except token “Different names “.


- chilling.

Why do socialists still exist when it has been demonstrated that true socialism is impossible? That only totalitarianism is attainable and that does not lead to a country full of happy campers.

Blue Eyes said...

Philipa - because the people who peddle such socialist fantasies refuse to see the obvious truth. Either that or they think they are clever enough to get it right, this time.

NEWMANIA IS BACK!

Newmania said...

‘Well, he may well not have been a socialist, but he was certainly left-wing. I myself am left-wing,’

That is a meaningless thing to say. All intellectual life between the wars was left wing barring a couple of eccentrics. As Orwell says TE Lawrence was the last right wing figure of note (at that time )
Orwell makes it quite clear what he means by socialism which is what everyone else meant by it .The State owns everything , perhaps you thought clause 4 had always been a joke . Not so . Not then. The sort of incremental control we have now was inconceivable to him. He makes that utterly explicit when he is an out and out socialist. The left wingery he believed in was clearly something he turned on at the end . Was it the sight of the Nation he loved pulling together while the state eroded the foeces that held it ? Was , more obviously , the moral abyss that was Russia becoming clear? We do not know but he was more a Conservative than anything else in the end . He was no Liberal.

‘but profoundly suspicious of the state, socially & economically. I prefer voluntary associations of people in the tradition of the working men's clubs, cooperative movement & what have you, which I don't think should be automatically linked with the government or Labour. This government's desire to increase state control over our lives is fervently opposed on the left, as you can see.”

No it is not . The left is the state Orwell had no such sophistry , he hated it . The whole problem with Liberals is that they have no coherent reconciliation between freedom as defined by Marx and as defined by 18th century rationalists . You want to have your cake and eat it



“As for Orwell's opposition to Stalinism, it is like opposition to the reactionary tendencies within Islam today. You don't have to be right-wing to support it. In fact, it is in keeping with the finest traditions of the left. You have something of a point but you are going a bit far, in my humble opinion.”

It is utterly utterly clear that Orwell did not think Stalinism was an aberration from but an inevitable consequence of socialism .,Clear to me anyway .

Newmania said...

Phillipa that passage is chilling and from a humane man as well. You have to understand there was a feeling that we were at the final battle and he saw it as between Fascism and Socialism, you had to fight , you could not be weak.

In Oxford CS Lewis had the same feeling which he saw in moral and religious terms.

Honestly the Lion and the Unicorn has an almost Promethean quality. I can now see why your chum Mr. Hitchnes is so obsessed

Newmania said...

Hi hi BE , no not back . May be later this year but I have others to worry about

All the best

Philipa said...

It is utterly utterly clear that Orwell did not think Stalinism was an aberration from but an inevitable consequence of socialism .,Clear to me anyway .

Me too. That's because it is.

You have to understand there was a feeling that we were at the final battle and he saw it as between Fascism and Socialism, you had to fight , you could not be weak.

Yes that was part of my meaning too - that circumstances not only cause behaviours but a strength of feeling from which behaviours result. In the Darwin series on R4 this week (I recommend it) one learned chap said that the science mattered not the scientist. That's not true. Observations, truths, have to be believed and adopted. Darwin is hailed as some kind of scientific hero therefore there is such a thing as 'Darwinism'. If his wife had made the observation (and Wallace did) then there would not be the impact there is today, there would not be 'Darwinism'. As a social mechanism it is almost irrelevant as to whether something is true or not for it to gain momentum and produce social change. Therefore the eternal utopian dream that arises from certain social situations, or indeed seems to naturally occur in males of a certain age, needs to be tempered with understanding. Understanding of history that it hasn't worked, understanding of human nature that it won't work, understanding of social systems that it never will bloody work.

Interestingly Wallace was left-wing. Yet he changed his mind and said that there were some things that cannot be explained by evolution and could only be explained by the existence of God. This was ignored and his reputation trashed. Society had adopted this new thinking, they weren't going back now. Huxley was not impressed. So has the thinking of today be tailored by Huxley? By one man with influence? It does happen.

I can now see why your chum Mr. Hitchnes is so obsessed

Yes he is obsessed by some amazing things, not just me ;-) He has the opinion, I tink, that these socialist leaders, these icons want to be gods. They replace God because they want to be gods. Not because they want to help the poor. If he was on this blog he'd ask me for a quote and I couldn't give one because there isn't one. This is just an impression from the stuff I've read. Anyway the point is he's questioning the motives of left-wing activists. I thnk that's a good thing to do.

Sorry to comment so long but I'm tremndously interested in this stuff.

Newmania said...

Me too

electro-kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
electro-kevin said...

Nice to see you writing again, Newmania ... or perhaps not. For I am reminded how exquisitely and easily words flow from a master's pen; my only fluency is in drivel by this measure.

Socialists: They thrive on failure. The default mode of the majority is failure. They appeal to majority jealousies and this is why democratic capitalism is on the cusp of turning into undemocratic socialism.

Those-who-can't, teach. Then when those who have been taught by those-who-can't get their right to vote those-who-can't take over politics. Those-who-can't then take over countries. Then we find eventually that there's no-one left who can.

In a state stripped of rigour and critical thinking through deliberately dummed down education the only thing that cannot fail is socialism.

This is my one silver lining in the impending downturn. They've peaked too early. There are still too many good people left for them to complete the mission.

People pay lip service to grumbling polemicists - but by heck they will act when subjected to economic hardship.

I'm just so sorry it all had to get this far.

asquith said...

Anthony Burgess always struck me as a sort of conservative. I appreciate his work, don't agree with all his views obviously, but he was the type of right-winger I like, & he commands respect.

You may like to start with 1985 if you're not familiar with its work. As its name suggests, it was influenced by 1984, but in fairly random & wild ways.

tory boys never grow up said...

Just seen this - I really thought that there was some degree of finality to one of your promises to stop blogging. You are really the Frank Sinatra of blogging, but without the talent.

I'm afraid you're wrong on several counts. There was never a final denunciation of socialism by Orwell - look at his correspondence after the publication of 1984 and his foreword to the Ukrainian edition

Orwell's views on the Russia and the Soviet Union were also pretty well formed at the time of writing the Lion and the Unicorn (he had already written Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and countless essays on teh subject and was probably engaged in a little bit of spying on Communist sympathisers). His central theme that Socialism can morph into totalitarianism was (and still is for very many comrades) a key lesson for all on the Left - but Orwell never ever denied that totalitarianism could not be arrived at from other parts of the political perspective (remember all 3 power blocs in 1984 were totalitarian and able to switch alliances easily)


As to the Lion and Unicorn you of course miss its more central message regarding the difference between patriotism and nationalism - a distinction that is lacking in much of your own writing. You also miss a few juicy quotes regarding the Tories. Also interesting that the essay contains John Major's quote about spinsters on bicycles - his ignorance about the origin and context of the quote were something for which he never really paid the price he deserved.

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