Arcade Orwell

As a Canadian, I have a particular fondness for the Arcade Fire, as a number of the members of the “indie” band hail from Montreal. Although I confess, when I first listened to their recent release, The Suburbs, I had to trust the reviews that it would grow on me. It is subtle, at times a little monotonous, but it rewards frequent listening; to such a degree that for a while, it was all I listened to. Particular favourites of mine are “Modern Man,” “We Used to Wait” and “The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).”

There’s a line that I’m sure gets currency among the emergent church crowd (or whatever they’re called these days) from the song “City With No Children In It,” where Win Butler sings, “You never trust a millionaire quoting the Sermon on the Mount”–a lyric of U2 proportions to be sure.

After Christmas I had a few bucks to spare on an Indigo Books gift-card. I made my way to the lit-crit section and found the Penguin Books “Great Ideas” edition of some of Orwell’s essays entitled Why I Write. I bought it primarily for the excellent (and horrifyingly convicting) essay, “Politics and the English Language,” an essay I will read and re-read for the rest of my days. However, another of the essays, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” caught my eye. In it Orwell deals with the English response to the war that raged against Hitler. He offers stinging criticisms of those, like Chamberlain, who courted Fascism; although Orwell offers socialism as a corrective to said totalitarian system and its cousin Communism. Be that as it may, my reading gave me insight into (possibly) where Win Butler got the line I quoted above about millionaires and the Sermon on the Mount:

One need not doubt that a “peace” movement is on foot somewhere in high places; probably a shadow Cabinet has already been formed. These people will get their chance not in the moment of defeat by in some stagnant period when boredom is reinforced by discontent. They will not talk about surrender, only about peace; and doubtless they will persuade themselves, and perhaps other people, that they are acting for the best. Any army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount–that is our danger (George Orwell, Why I Write, [London: Penguin, 2004], 63).

So, what makes me chuckle a little about this quote, is that Orwell here uses it satirically to harangue pacifism. Most emergents that I know tend towards a Yoder-ish style pacifism. Without wanting to wreck a perfectly catchy song for them, nevertheless, I hope the irony isn’t lost.

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4 Comments

Filed under books, emerging church, orwell, pacifism, quotes

4 responses to “Arcade Orwell

  1. Dan

    There is of course the double irony that you called it a U2-worthy line, and yet is Bono not the perfect millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount?

    • Nah, the greater irony is that Win Butler has been somewhat of a Bono apologist. As I did a little reading after I posted this, it turns out that Butler’s favourite author is indeed Orwell–and that the quoted lyric is from “Why I Write.”
      I didn’t mean the U2 quote as a slight against the Irish rockers, rather the Arcade Fire line is likely to be viewed in the same light by emergents as any U2 song. More of a bandwagon sorta thing.

  2. Dan

    Haha, it’s okay to slight U2, and yeah, I think that Butler and co. would very much like to follow in the U2/Bruce Springsteen model of trying to stay artistically true to themselves while not shunning commercial success.

    Back to the line, I don’t think it’s warning against pacifism as much as a warning against millionaires doing a deal with fascists – which is more about passivity than pacifism.

    • Especially after winning the Grammy and Brit Awards!
      Here’s context for what Orwell means on pacifism:
      “Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing Hitler and even toying with antisemitism. This is interesting, but it is not important. ‘Pure’ pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion. …None of these bodies of people, pacifists, Communists or Blackshirts, could bring a large-scale stop-the-war movement into being by their own efforts. But they might help to make things very much easier for a treacherous government negotiating surrender. Like the French Communists, they might become the half-conscious agents of millionaires.
      The real danger is from above. One ought not to pay any attention to Hitler’s recent line of talk about being the friend of the poor man, the enemy of plutocracy, etc. etc. Hitler’s real self is in Mein Kampf, and in his actions. He has never persecuted the rich, except when they were Jews or when they tried actively to oppose him. He stands for a centralized economy which robs the capitalist of most of his power but leaves the structure of society much as before. The State controls industry, but there are still rich and poor, masters and men. Therefore, as against genuine Socialism, the moneyed class have always been on his side. This was crystal clear at the time of the Spanish Civil War, and clear again at the time when France surrendered. Hitler’s puppet government are not working men, but a gang of bankers, gaga generals and corrupt right-wing politicians.
      … Nevertheless, to many payers of supertax this war is simply an insane family squabble which ought to be stopped at all costs. One need not doubt that a ‘peace’ movement is on foot somewhere in high places; probably a shadow Cabinet has already been formed. These people will get their chance not in the moment of defeat but in some stagnant period when boredom is reinforced by discontent. They will not talk about surrender, only about peace; and doubtless they will persuade themselves, and perhaps other people, that they are acting for the best. An army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount – that is our danger. But it cannot arise when we have once introduced a reasonable degree of social justice. The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes” (Orwell, “Why I Write,” 62-63

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