Saturday, May 29, 2010
George Orwell and Conservatives
I've always been puzzled by conservatives' perpetual embrace of George Orwell. He never thought much of them. While Orwell bitterly opposed Communism, he was no friend of capitalism or imperialism. The same author of those famous anti-communist novels Animal Farm and 1984 also wrote the anti-capitalist Down and Out in Paris and London, and the anti-imperialist Burmese Days and Shooting Elephants.
Though Christopher Hitchens always hauls in Orwell to make his case for supporting the Iraq invasion, I can't imagine Orwell being enthusiastic for so aggressive and arbitrary a military adventure based on the flimsiest of (ultimately false) evidence. I can only imagine what he might have thought of George W. Bush, a president who believed that God spoke to him, and who plowed through legal, constitutional, and treaty restraints like snowdrifts in July.
I suppose it would also complicate Hitchens' evangelical atheism that Orwell requested Anglican rites and burial at his death.
A number of conservative anti-communist causes tried to enlist Orwell after World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War. He always turned them down. He was a true believing socialist to his dying day, a believer in democratic socialism and "anarcho-syndicalism" (whose cause he fought for in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War).
I'm still trying to find where I read this, but Orwell sometime in the late 1940s when he was in declining health was invited to hear a speech by a noted British conservative thinker. The speaker deplored liberal pluralism and called for a re-militarization of Western society to face the Communist threat. Orwell congratulated the speaker on a fine speech and then said, "I don't think you fear the Communists so much as you envy them." That for me is the epitaph of Cold War conservatism. Substitute "Islamist" for "Communist" and that remark would still be true today.
Posted by Counterlight at Saturday, May 29, 2010