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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

How Soon We Forget George.... Orwell, that is!

I made a terrible mistake when I wrote previously that my next volume on my reading was Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy." It is true that presently I am engrossed in a re-read of Durant's compact outline of philosophy, but before I got there the schedule really took me to George Orwell's "Why I Write." I got this little volume on the strength that it contains "Politics and the English Language," which is one of my favorites from my undergrad years. The core of the book, however, "Why I Write," was really not about writing so much as it was a critique of the English establishment, and a sort of diatribe on the virtues of socialism. While I don't necessarily agree or disagree with socialist ideas, I think Orwell's piece is a little bit over the top when in reference to England and its people. One must remember that this is being written during the opening salvos of World War II, and that the English were very far from knowing what destiny had in store for them. Orwell speaks derogatorily of Hitler, of course, but spends more time "bashing" the English establishment than the enemy that is upon him. In fact, he actually blames the English establishment, culture, philosophy and frame of mind with the overwhelming force Germany is pressing down Europe with. While one may or may not disagree with such assessment (Lord Chamberlain notwithstanding), it strikes of hasty generalization. Here are some lines from the essay:

"... The policeman who arrests the 'red' does not understand the theories the 'red' is preaching; if he did his own position as bodyguard of the moneyed class might seem less pleasant to him.... It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense 'left.' Perhaps the last right-wing intellectual was T.E. Lawrence.... [A] marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality.... England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.... Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement...."

There's much more I could cite here as evidence. The essay, while sharp and informative, is a mass of generalizations that seem to protest the same manipulation of language Orwell so gallantly shouts at in "Politics and the English Language." Here's proof: "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." It may be a George thing, after all. :-)

Right now, I am up to Aristotle in Durant's magnificent little outline, "The Story of Philosophy." I have re-discovered how much I loved this book. It is the most clear and concise outline of philosophy based on ease of writing and understandable terminology and phrasing. What a great read. I will be writing on sections of TWO philosophers at a time.

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