Category Archives: orwell

Orwell the Libertarian?

In 2011 I committed to work my way through the Orwell corpus, both books by and on him. I’ve read Selden’s biography, Hitch’s Why Orwell Matters, and then a slew of books by the man himself like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to CataloniaThe Clergyman’s Daughter, Coming Up for Air, a pile of collected essays, and more. As one with libertarian leanings, there is a lot that I find congruent in Orwell’s writings. Of course, he was a socialist, so there are areas where I have strong disagreements with him. But his strong anti-totalitarianism makes any libertarian smile; that’s why he tends to be well-received in such circles.

I recently listened to a podcast by the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Orwell by Jeff Riggenbach that gave Orwell a decent placement in the libertarian tradition. Riggenbach claims that Orwell’s posthumously published “Such, Such Were the Joys,” forms the basis for his anti-totalitarian writings like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I tend to disagree. Orwell famously lambasted his teachers from St. Cyprian’s where he attended public school. But recent biographers have indicated that Orwell’s fellow students, like Cyril Connolly didn’t share in Orwell’s distaste. My theory is that Orwell wrote “Such, Such Were the Joys” as a partly fictionalized story of totalitarianism, using the genres of memoir and historical fiction. It’s probably why the essay was never published by Orwell himself–it was likely something he toyed with, but never took seriously. So instead of “Such, Such Were the Joys” forming the basis of later writings, it was his experiences of totalitarianism in places like Burma and Spain that had Orwell re-evaluate his public school days, if only to communicate his fears in a medium that may have interested his society; it is worth remembering that Orwell wrote about the popularity of “boys’ weeklies,” and may have wanted to tap into that market as well.

Just a thought…

Here’s the podcast:

http://mises.org/Services/MediaEmbed.aspx?MediaId=5072

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Until Dead

I am a reluctant supporter of the death penalty. I sympathize strongly with those who are against it, but ultimately I value life enough that the death penalty seems to me an appropriate sentence for someone who has committed first degree murder. While I am not a neo-conservative, I do think that the position taken by Hadley Arkes in his debate against Christopher Hitchens and Jesse Jackson convincing, at least more convincing than the position taken by The Nation‘s defenders.

My reluctance is particularly stoked when I read an essay like George Orwell’s A Hanging, that realistically gets into the mind of one who has witnessed an execution in all its humanity and banality. There is little doubt that his essay is based on a first-hand experience of Orwell’s, hence its psychological clarity. Reading Albert Camus also reminds me of the horror of taking a human life.

Recently there were two executions in the United States, that of Troy Davis in Georgia, who was convicted of murdering a police officer, the second of white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer, who viciously dragged James Byrd Jr., behind his vehicle. Byrd, of course, was black and the motivation of the murder was race. Davis, incidentally, was a black man.

The Davis case was quite prominent in the media, my Twitter feed and Facebook was alight with the latest news about whether the courts would give a stay in Davis’ sentence. It seems that there was strong reason to overturn the conviction as a number of witnesses recanted their testimony. Days after his execution, friends of mine who are typically left-leaning, pro-pacifists are still discussing what they see as the lasting and harmful results of what happened.

What I have noticed, strangely, is that no one is talking about Brewer’s death.

I grant that it would be hard to defend the life of a brutal, murdering, white-supremacist. Who wants to do that? He’s a disgusting excuse for a human being. It’s in cases like Brewer’s that a sentence of death is wholly appropriate (in my thinking). But why isn’t there some, even slight outcry against the taking of his life? The arguments of those who are completely against the death penalty would apply to him as to Davis. But there is silence.

Now, I can sympathise with the Davis case because of the cloud of doubt that hung over it. As one said, pro-death penalty folk should be screaming for a stay on the sentence louder than those against it. I agree. But, in turn, shouldn’t the anti-death penalty folk be saying at least something about Brewer? This apparent inconsistency is bothersome to me. I’d love to hear from someone who is against the death penalty to explain this slip of principle. Maybe I am missing something?

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Orwellian Euphemisms for Libya

The Atlantic has an awesome piece on their site titled, “Top 10 New Orwellian Euphemisms for the War in Libya” by Conor Friedersdorf. If you have any interest in how western governments are being dishonest about the war in Libya (and it is a war), then this article is entirely relevant—and funny.

George Orwell famously pointed out the way governments will try to downplay their actions with over-blown words—euphemisms—so that the unsuspecting public won’t buy into the obvious. Fridersdorf has rightly argued that the Obama administration fits the bill of this Orwellian verbal-menace with Gates’ euphemistic “limited kinetic operation,” a term Obama uses as well. Our author gives the administration some help in case they have writer’s block for some more useful phrases. My favourite is #2: “A determination to lend France and Britain sufficient munitions and refueling capability to give their efforts a new lease on life.”

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Swindles and Perversions

This post by Gerald Hiestand is so good that I have to repost it in its entirety and add a quick comment at the end:

There are few things that frustrate me more than theologically sophisticated prose that is nearly impossible to decipher. For instance,

“Since culture refers to the whole social practice of meaningful action, then Christian theology has to do with the meaning dimension of Christian practices . . . . The cultural dynamics of an active view of God and discipleship as a way of life have at their core this issue of the meaning-making of Christian practices” (194, The Missional Church and Leadership Formation.)

This sounds, of course, especially significant. But what it actually means—in concrete terms—is nearly impossible to say. Don’t write like that.

This reminds me of the comparison Orwell made between what he called “good English” and “modern English”—the latter of which he cites as an example of “swindles and perversions”—in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” Never trust someone who feels obliged to write or speak in such convoluted gobbledy-gook.

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Beach Books

 

Well, I’m going to spend the next week on a beach in Punta Cana. I’ve wrestled with this for some time now…I face a very serious question whose answer I’ve had a hard time settling: “What books should I bring?”

Due to the high volume of theology that I read, I thought it would be a good chance to take a break and opt for something a little different. So here’s my final list:

1) Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. While I’m going to Dominican Republic and not Cuba, it’s still the Caribbean. My thinking is that the beach and sea will give a certain vitality to the book and in turn the book will add to the aura of being on the beach. It’s reciprocal (I hope!).

2) G. K. Chesterton, Manalive. I’ve never read any of his fictional work, so I thought this would be a witty and entertaining introduction.

3) Michael Shelden, Orwell: The Authorized Biography. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Orwell lately and plan to continue this trend. While I’ve watched some documentaries about his life, this bio should give me a much better picture on the author and his work. Orwell was such an important figure and we harm ourselves if we leave our reading of him with our high-school required reading of Animal Farm.

4) Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective. Well, I can’t hide from theology for too long it seems. Part of the reason for bringing this along, aside from my interest in the subject, is that I have to review it for a journal and I shouldn’t neglect that responsibility.

So, dear reader, are these good choices? I leave you to be my judge.

***UPDATE***

Well, I returned from the trip having experienced the awful strength of the sun as its rays land closer and hotter to the equatorial sections of the earth’s crust. I am now at the peeling stage of my sunburn, so the four-day long “sit-in” on my mother’s couch in agony has subsided.

As it turns out, I only managed to get through three of the four above-listed books. As you can likely imagine, I did not get to the book by Letham.

I must say, Manalive by Chesterton may well be one of my new favourite books. It was outstanding. I will definitely make that a book to re-read throughout my lifetime.

Also, reading The Old Man and the Sea did have the desired effect–I recommend reading books that deal with the environment you find yourself situated; it makes for a fuller reading experience.

The Orwell biography was outstanding, not only for the depth of research, the insightful interpretations and the clarity of the writing, but also because Orwell was such an interesting and important twentieth-century character. I am now on a mission to collect and read anything I can by or on Orwell. He is a worthwhile life-investment.

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The Loss of Faith

George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter is not one of his better known novels, nonetheless, it is a worthwhile read. Orwell offers a commentary of sorts on a variety of topics including the perception of women in the early twentieth-century, the nature of the established church, parochialism amongst England’s country-folk and education to name a few. There’s much to chew on having finished the book. As a Christian, I was particularly interested in Orwell’s fairly vivid portrayal of the loss of Christian faith.

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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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