(The Other) Sandra (the_maenad) wrote in george_orwell,
(The Other) Sandra

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Voices from history, encore un fois

I do love it when I read something that proves that some woe which is besetting us now is pretty much exactly the same as one which was known all too well to our forefathers. Here's a quote from which I have tippexed out the year:

"Up to a point, the sense of national unity is a substitute for a 'world-view'. Just because patriotism is all but universal and not even the rich are uninfluenced by it, there can come moments when the whole nation suddenly swings together and does the same thing, like a herd of cattle facing a wolf... But does this mean that the instinct of the English will always tell them to do the right thing? Not at all; merely that it will tell them to do the same thing. In the ____ General Election, for instance, we all did the wrong thing in perfect unison. We were as single-minded as the Gadarene swine. But I honestly doubt whether we can say that we were shoved down the slope against our will."

Those words were written ten years after the general election to which they refer. But they aren't from one of today's newspapers; they're from George Orwell's England Your England, written in 1941, and the year I omitted in the quotation was 1931.

It's because one constantly stumbles over gems like these that Orwell is one of the trio of essayists I admire above all others. (The other two members of the threesome, incidentally, are Walt Willis and Patrick Califia; now there's a triumvirate to conjure with.)

In the same essay we find:

"It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia which is not in some sense 'Left'. Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T. E. Lawrence. Since about 1930 everyone describable as an 'intellectual' has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order. Necessarily so, because society as it was constituted had no room for him."

Bugger me if that isn't still the case as well. Quick, now, can you name me a right-wing intellectual? I diffidently seek to argue that David Irving, Richard Littlejohn and Roger Scruton are disqualified from the latter title.

Orwell concludes the essay with one final prediction, wrong in all its specifics, yet with whose broad conclusion I find it hard to argue:

"It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the country houses will be turned into children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same."
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