October 12, 2013
PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD, HE WAS A REACTIONARY:
Looking Through Orwell : The unmoored nature of the freelance life : a review of George Orwell: A Life in Letters Selected and Annotated by Peter Davison (ANDREW FERGUSON, OCTOBER 2013, American Spectator)
It's odd that a writer who respected transparency and clarity of language above all things should himself be so misunderstood by at least half his admirers. Among the scribbling classes, Orwell fans seem to me to be equally divided between right and left. To cite an easy illustration: Norman Podhoretz's famous essay from 1983 claimed Orwell as an early incarnation of neoconservatism (a proto-neo!), owing to his staunch anti-communism and pro-Western sympathies. Podhoretz's essay was furiously rebutted by the late Christopher Hitchens, who later went on to produce a book called Why Orwell Matters, citing his hero's emphatic atheism, anti-imperialism, and socialism as evidence of his undying identity as a man of the left. Somebody here has got Orwell all wrong. [...]The letters show us in detail Orwell's effort to steer the BBC and other employers away from hiring hacks he knew from personal experience to be fellow travelers or worse. He even made lists, running finally to more than 130 names. When the lists and letters were first made public a decade ago, Orwell's stature wobbled on the left. Hitchens leapt to his defense by insisting that he didn't "name names" at all. Orwell, wrote Hitchens, "wasn't interested in unearthing heresy or in getting people fired or in putting them under the discipline of a loyalty oath." Actually, as the letters make clear, Orwell did want to do those things, with the possible exception of enforcing a loyalty oath. The letters give those of us sympathetic to the argument for Orwell-as-proto-neocon another chance not to act smug.
The key to Orwell is rather simple : he revered the past and dreaded the future.Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2013 8:04 AM