Monday, September 11, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: George Orwell Returns

[This essay first appeared on the Intellectual Takeout
website --- (see link at right)]

There is something ghostly and ghastly about the
resurrection of British author George Orwell in
contemporary politics, especially in the reaction to
the disruption and transformation of public policy now
taking place.

Orwell was a mid-20th century journalist, essayist and
novelist who was an early anti-fascist of the far left until
the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 in which he fought on the
anti-Franco side. During that period, living side by side
with the defenders of the democratic Spanish republic,
many of whom were radical anarchists and Stalinist
communists, Orwell got to see the brutality of the far
left up close, and so his passionate anti-fascism was
augmented by growing anti-communist views as well.
During and after World War II, Orwell increasingly was
alarmed by totalitarian Marxism, and wrote two iconic
satiric novels depicting the consequences of  Stalinist
totalitarianism, 1984 and Animal Farm. Their themes of
dictatorship and imposed political conformity were
meant to expose Marxism in allegory, although the
international far Left attempted to defuse the satire by
trying to interpret 1984 in particular as a condemnation
merely of modern technology. It was, of course, nothing
of the sort, but by reversing the date of 1948 (when it was
written) to 1984, the author gave his novel a futuristic
flavor. In these books, Orwell introduced some terms
such as “doublespeak,” “Big Brother,” “newspeak,” and
“thought police” which have now become part of the
language we routinely use today.

Orwell wrote six fine novels and three acclaimed books of
non-fiction, but Animal Farm (1945) made him famous,
and 1984 (1948) established him as one of the iconic writers of
the century. His essays, criticism and letters are still
highly regarded. Unfortunately, he died at age of only 45
from tuberculosis in 1950.

My generation in the English-speaking world, and those
in subsequent generations, read his books as much-touted
classics until soon past their “due” date when the Soviet
Union and its Marxist system collapsed --- and many of us
believed that the dangers it prophesized were past.

It turns out that our optimistic relief was premature, and
while international totalitarian states, Marxist and
otherwise, continue to arise and fail, new forms of 1984
and Animal Farm have arisen domestically from within as
well as outside today’s democratic societies.

These new forms  have overtaken many, if not most, U.S.
college campuses where large numbers in the academic
faculties, particularly in the liberal arts departments, are
teaching and imposing neo-Marxist totalitarian ideas and
myths on a whole generation of college students. Hiding
behind the epithets of “racism,” “anti-feminism,” “economic
exploitation” and ‘imperialism,” these efforts are effectively
choking out genuine free speech, honest scholarship, and an
open discussion of ideas by employing the bullying tools of
"political correctness".

The essential technique these academic and radical forces
employ is, in fact, very much in the tradition of Orwell’s
1984 in which propaganda is insinuated and then imposed
as a pure opposite of what it objectively is --- the
doublespeak that “black” is “white,” “right” is “wrong”and
so on. In today’s doublespeak versions, those accusing others
of “racism” are often the real racists, those alleging
“anti-Semitism” are often the real anti-Semites, and those
asserting their free speech is being curtailed are usually the
ones who want block open discourse.

Orwell wrote many essays, reviews, and novels --- and was
justly popular among pre-World War II English-speaking
(as well as many non-English-speaking) liberal readers,
and then in the Cold War, among many conservative readers.
With both Nazi fascism and Soviet communism defeated,
however, George Orwell came increasingly to be regarded as
a writer of only a certain past, and because his literary
style had not been avant-garde, he was studied as primarily
a sociological figure. He did remain a democratic socialist
and an atheist (who observed Anglican rituals), but his
greatest passion was his opposition to totalitarianism in
any form and pretense, and his writing is always lucid.

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, it is becoming
apparent that Orwellian literary reach is much greater than
perhaps originally thought by readers and critics. In fact, the
news headlines and TV images of almost every day in our
present time seem to confirm George Orwell as some kind of
uncanny prophet of human behavior --- and, long after his
passing, a palpable if invisible writer-in-residence of our own

Copyright (c) 2017 by Intellectual Takeout and Barry Casselman.
All rights reserved.

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