Orwell. Orwellian. The words hold an august position in our political vocabulary. They connote government dependent on fear, the use of terror, the pervasiveness of banality and a thoroughly corrupted language. Taking away the fear and terror, it is the government envisaged by the New Age liberals with their benevolent coercions, their social engineering, their endless tampering with the meaning of plain English.
George Orwell was a farsighted English novelist, essayist and critic whose name is now uttered with a hush of reverence in America and England. As 1984 approaches, I predict the reverence will increase as will the exploitation of his name.
Orwell was an independent-minded leftist who in such wonderful books as "Homage to Catalonia," Animal Farm" and "1984" blew the whistle on the totalitarian nature of communism and its ghastly brutality all forms of opposition, no matter how decent or restrained.
But Orwell was not the only writer to follow an independent course in the 1930s and 1940s. Nor did the example of the independent-minded anti-communist end when he died in 1950. Why is it that he is so venerated today? Just a couple of weeks ago the reviewer of an Orwell biography noted that its author, Bernard Crick, ranks Orwell as one of England's three greatest political writers along with Swift and Hobbes. Egad!
Orwell was indeed a stupendous political Writer, and he did incur torrents of cruel objurgation from the entrenched left for his outspoken denunciation of totalitarians and their appears. Yet so did others -- for instance, Arthur Koestler, who writes with greater breadth, and Malcolm Muggeridge, who writes as well as Orwell, and with more humor. Why all the organ music from the liberals? Does an anti-communist have to be dead to rouse their respect?
My suspicion is that, wracked by guilt over their failure to oppose contemporary left-wing aggression, they praise Orwell in hopes of tranquilizing that guilt while bolstering their now flyblown anti-communist credentials.
Hence they memorialize his bravery. They affirm that Stalinism was indeed very nasty. They wrap themselves in Orwell's shroud.
His timely death made him all the more serviceable to his left wing extollers. Unlike Koestler and Muggeridge, he never had the opportunity to discredit himself in their eyes by actaully taking an active role in the Cold War. Moreover, there was always a seedy fecklessness about him that makes him especially appealing to the left-wing academics who run their reform movements on leisurely schedules from the local university clubs.
Orwell wrote and wrote, but he always stood aloof politically. Today the liberal pedant can celebrate him and still feel no compunction about failing to oppose the communists' more recent acts of aggression -- for instance, the continuing communist atrocities in Southeast Asia, where poison gas, concentration camps and slavery remain daily instruments of progressive government, or in Europe, or in the newly colonized African satellites, and now in Central America. In praising Orwell, all these modern-day examples of communist barbarism can be neglected and prodigious feats of bogus scholarship can be heaved up to demonstrate how Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan and now El Salvador are the normal political developments of an ever-improving world.
I do admire Orwell. I have derived great pleasure and instruction from his writing. But I balk at the liberals' refusal to give Orwell's old allies their due.