Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Timeless Orwell

George Orwell was certainly one for the pithy saying with a lot of punch, short and to the point. I came across a web page specializing in Orwelliana, and was struck by the number of comments that seemed to be remarkable encapsulations of powerful truths, as topical today (if not more so) as the day he wrote them.

Some of my favorites:

The high sentiments always win in the end, the leaders who offer blood, toil, tears, and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.

To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle.

No advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer.

Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.

There is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more or less for progress, the other side more or less for reaction.

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.

So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.

And this, from another website

War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.

10 Comments:

At 12:36 PM, April 19, 2005, Blogger Loyal Achates said...

What about these Orwell quotes you left out:

"The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."

"One cannot really be a Catholic and grown up."

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

"Socialism is nothing more than common decency."

"The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also."

"I have no particular love for the idealised 'worker' as he appears in the bourgeois Communist's mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."

Those are some of my favorites.

 
At 1:25 PM, April 19, 2005, Anonymous neo-neocon said...

Why, gee whiz, loyal achates--I guess if I don't agree with everything Orwell says, I have no right to quote him at all.

But, since you asked--I think that "One cannot really be a Catholic and grown up" is a pretty juvenile statement, demonstrating a simplistic approach to Catholicism and Catholics.

 
At 3:56 PM, April 19, 2005, Anonymous neo-neocon said...

I forgot to mention the following:

Many of Orwell's comments and thoughts are timeless. Many are not, in my opinion. "Socialism is nothing more than common decency," for example. It's a lovely thought, isn't it? I'd amend it this way: "Socialism gives the appearance of being nothing more than common decency, and as such, appeals to many well-meaning people who are idealists. In practice, however, socialism has led to a lot of common (and uncommon) indecencies."

Orwell wrote his works in the 1930's and 1940's, and he already had seen Communism for what it was, and turned against it. His socialism was the socialism of a person who hated the class system and the colonialism he'd seen as a young man, but he also was a champion of freedom. He remained a socialist till his death in 1950--but, although I certainly have no way of knowing, I wonder whether he would still be one, were he alive today.

Oh, and do you really, sincerely, believe that the policeman and "the worker" are "natural enemies?" If so, you are further gone than I think.

 
At 4:25 PM, April 19, 2005, Blogger Loyal Achates said...

Orwell was fully aware of the cirmes of the Soviet Union; it didn't change his mind one bit. He lamented the fact (in Animal Farm especially) that the revolutionaries who promised to set the people free had become nothing more than capitalists.

The policemen in themselves are only pawns, but the way they have been used (in this country and elsewhere) has historically been to stifle dissent and keep the status quo in place. That doesn't make them bad people; during the antiwar protests in DC the lower-ranking cops would often express sympathy with the protestors and then be forced into action by their commanders.

 
At 6:35 PM, April 19, 2005, Blogger Brad said...

Achates,
Actually you are dead wrong, as usual. Police spend very little time at the task of stifling dissent. The vast majority of their time is spent in mundane tasks, such as filling out reports, writing traffic tickets, visiting homes (domestic problems), etc. Most police (excluding DC police, maybe) will never be put in the position of confronting dissent. And for those that have to suffer through a shallow protest (many are shallow, and many are not), listening to insults from moronic Che-wannabes, who are convinced that they have a crystal clear vision of the world (admittedly,a worldview can be strikingly clear when one doesn't understand enough for the lines to be blurred),they probably hope that it was a singular event in their lives.

It is interesting that you use the term "pawns" in your comment. Those who think others are dupes wear their ignorance like a crown. Maybe your moniker should be Royal Achates.

BTW Your anecdote is useless since it can not be verified, and you have already shown, in at least one other post, that misrepresenting "evidence" is your forte and weapon of choice.

One last note: Neo is right; all thinkers have peaks and valleys in their musings; and as someone once said, "most philosophers are moral idiots and they always make lousy politicians." Also, context is very important: substitute the word ideologue for nationalist in your third quote and you describe Chomsky to a tee.

From: a fellow lefty who appreciates the equanimity of Neo

 
At 8:34 PM, April 19, 2005, Blogger rshams said...

Wow, LA. The "cops vs. workers" thing...oh, man.

during the antiwar protests in DC the lower-ranking cops would often express sympathy with the protestors and then be forced into action by their commanders.

Don't you think the whole "just following orders" rhetoric is a little excessive, even for you?

During these anti-war/globalization/etc. protests, there needed to be a police presence in order to prevent some of the violence that had been seen in Seattle, Prague, and Genoa (among other cities) during past protests. The protesters have a right to dissent, but not to threaten public security (including that of the delegates to these IMF conferences).

 
At 11:27 AM, April 20, 2005, Blogger Lichanos said...

Neo-neocon:

As Achates points out, you quote Orwell very selectively. No, you don't have to agree with everything he says to be able to quote him, but I would think that simple intellectual honesty would make you refrain from quoting him in a totally selective manner without even mentioning that he said many things that would seem to contradict your spin on him.

You disingenously try to claim his legacy by 'wondering' if he would be a socialist if alive today. Yes, well, we'll never know, will we? We can surmise that he might have thrown up his hands on socialism, but we can equally well speculate that he would have remained an intense critic of capitalism, 'conservative' thought, and intellectual dogmatism.

Nice of you to explain what George should have said about socialism and decency...perhaps you should also see what he actually did say. He did write more than one-liners.

 
At 6:08 PM, April 24, 2005, Anonymous paul said...

Orwell was clearly a socialist who converted. To what? Well, to a less enthusiastic socialist probably.

Its silly to claim that Orwell's critique of communists was that they "became" capitalists (esp in Animal Farm.) He simply came to understand that totalitarianism in the name of a centralized authority was still totalitarianism.



I think he might have been "mugged" by the reality of the Spanish Civil war. The mugging was almost literally fatal.

Its easy to cherry pick quotes, but take a look at the whole story and its pretty easy to understand where Orwell eventually stood.

 
At 9:19 PM, April 24, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Orwell also said that, effectively, the pacifist is the ally of the fascist.
He hastened to say that the pacifist would not knowingly sell out his own country. Orwell was an optimist.

In 1971, I happened to be in Valley Forge Army Hospital--not for a combat injury I must say--during the May Day Mobe in which the hippies attempted to shut down DC and the Pentagon, meantime committing random acts of violence and vandalism.
We got the feed on the ward TV. One grunt, seeing the bunches of captured misreants in a stadium, muttered, "Bring a gunship in on their ass." The rest of the time, the guys cheered the cops.
Those pawns were pretty well brainwashed, not even having been mugged by being seriously shot to the extent of buying the left's clear-eyed view of reality.
As a happy coincidence, I believe that was NPR's first broadcast and where one of their reporters was saying that today, in our nation's capital, it's a crime to be young. Sobbing, actually. Their pitch hasn't changed in a third of a century. And the grunts were on the other side, which he would never know.

Richard Aubrey
raubrey@sbcglobal.net

 
At 12:06 PM, August 11, 2005, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I take it for granted that because one cannot quote exhaustively, one quotes selectively. One also gravitates to those elements of any writer one agrees with most. But unless neo-neocon -- or any of us -- can be shown to be at least semi-intentionally avoiding main currents of Orwell's thought, the claim of disingenuousness is flat wrong. Neocons are fairly clear at what points Orwell disagrees with us, but find many of his insights remarkably good nonetheless.

The primary objection that neocons have to socialism is that it doesn't seem to work. Moreover, it seems to go bad in the same way most times. The Swedes are making a pretty good go of it, but in a society with a strong work ethic and a homogenous population. As those erode, they may not withstand the change.

Secondly, having some socialism seems to work out all right. Whether it will eventually sour or whether we will be able to embrace increasing amounts of it remains to be seen. Socialists believe the latter, and seem unwilling to hear Orwell saying anything other. Because he remained in some sense a socialist, they seem unable to conceive of beliefs far from their own. The wounded, snappish retorts are revealing.

Hitchens' book on Orwell, while occasionally infuriating, is nonetheless excellent.

 

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