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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13067/the-brilliant-but-confused-radicalism-of-george-orwell/

The Brilliant but Confused Radicalism of George Orwell

June 24, 2010 by

He was a permanently confused but authentically and radically antiauthoritarian democratic socialist. He was the kind of modern leftist few modern-day libertarians would have any trouble getting along with, making common cause with, collaborating with. FULL ARTICLE by Jeff Riggenbach


Marc Sheffner June 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Orwell’s time at St Cyprian’s sounds similar to C.S. Lewis’ experience at Wyvern college (that’s college in the British, pre-WWII, sense). Plagiarism, I say!!

Ryan June 24, 2010 at 8:10 am

Brilliant article, Mr. Riggenbach!

brian June 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

“…Eric did not see his father again for eight years, until he was Eric years old…”

first paragraph, near the end.


Abhilash Nambiar June 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

I noticed that too.

Dave Albin June 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

That was great – I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I read 1984.

cornell June 24, 2010 at 10:55 am

An unforgettable article. Thank you. Food for thought.

Abhilash Nambiar June 24, 2010 at 11:06 am

George Orwell had a good idea what he was fighting against (totalitarianism) but he did not have very good idea what he was fighting for. This will be one of my favorite articles.

Gary June 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

“Why, then, did so many millions of readers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean respond so strongly to a political nightmare based on its author’s unhappy experience at an English boarding school?”

Perhaps in large part because, though few of the readers had experienced English boarding school life, many of the political figures familiar to those readers had done so and had in fact adopted the repressive and controlling “boarding school” / “ivy league” attitude as their own. What Orwell saw in his school’s headmaster and faculty resonates clearly in statist political systems.

El Tonno June 24, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Interesting. I have saw the book from that perspective. That would put it into the same league as Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, then..

Here is another: “1984″ as a satire on Fabian socialists.


Brad Teare June 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I have heard that the CIA, via the Cultural Congress, paid Orwell to write 1984. That is certainly a strange occurrence especially since he did not want to live at the largess of his aunt.

Great essay. One thing I liked about Orwell was his refusal to write like a bureaucrat or an academic. You follow this tradition. Many thanks.

Todd S. June 24, 2010 at 5:17 pm

1984 was published in 1949. While the CIA was an infant then having been established two years earlier, the CCF did not come into being until a year later in 1950.

P.M.Lawrence June 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm

It was written a year before that, in 1948. He got the title by switching the digits.

J. Russell June 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm

“He was a permanently confused but authentically and radically antiauthoritarian democratic socialist. He was the kind of modern leftist few modern-day libertarians would have any trouble getting along with, making common cause with, collaborating with.”

Perhaps I missed it, but I did not read anything in the article which suggested that Orwell was a “democratic socialist” or a “modern leftist”. I would have throught from his writings that Orwell abhored the tenents of socialism and Marxism. For what reason does the author make these assertions in the closing?

michael June 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm

George Orwell has always been known first as being an antifascist. Given that his adult years occurred in the 1930s, that pretty much brought him in line with the socialist camp. However he took pains to distance himself with the totalitarian strain present in much current socialism– not to mention Stalinist Communism. So he distinguished himself from the pack by coming out in favor of democratic socialism, opposing dictatorships of both the left and the right.

If you want to see his progress, check your local library for The Road to Wigan Pier, about his experiences with the coal miners in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and Homage to Catalonia, about his time fighting on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.

Be advised that those particular Republicans were not very much like the ones we know now. They were a broad umbrella group of Communists, Anarchists and various liberal leftists. What they were was everyone who was against Franco’s Catholic and fascist Spanish reactionaries.

A good short bio is here:

Long after his death Orwell scandalized many on the left when his List came to light. Check it out here:

Russ June 24, 2010 at 9:54 pm

“…he distinguished himself from the pack by coming out in favor of democratic socialism, opposing dictatorships of both the left and the right.”

To paraphrase Mel Gibson in “The Patriot”, what’s the difference between having 300 million tyrants (democratic socialism) and one tyrant (a socialist dictator)? The end result is the same.

michael June 26, 2010 at 9:10 am

Russ: Having “300 million tyrants” is just another way of saying we have a democracy. And having a system of checks and balances, if properly maintained, is our best way of making sure the majority doesn’t tyrannize the minority.

I find it ironic that at a time when most of the inhabitants of Hayek’s part of the world, central Europe, are voluble in their support of democratic principles after decades of oppression in the service of radical philosophies, so many of Hayek’s acolytes here want to tear those principles down and substitute a tiny elite at the top, imposing Austrian ideological principles on the masses, the powerless ‘little people’.

Tell me which approach is the more totalitarian.

newson June 26, 2010 at 11:36 pm

willful misrepresentation on your part. austrians merely wish to (peacefully) opt out of the socialist measures imposed on them. for the record, you’ll find more misesians here, hayek acolytes are more populous elsewhere.

michael June 28, 2010 at 6:57 am

“Willful misrepresentation” would indicate that I wanted to foment a lie. Please flesh out that thought, and describe the lie I’m trying to perpetrate here. I’d be curious.

Also, I’m curious as to how one might “opt out” of the socialist measures (i.e., laws) our government imposes on us. Does this have anything to do with those guns the TP crowd insists is their right to carry openly to church, shopping center and workplace? In case the stooges of socialism, aka police, try to arrest us for something? Or is there some other way you can nullify the intent of the government to enforce its laws?

Finally, I confess I haven’t fully appreciated the distinction between Misians and Hayekites. I’m like a novice Communist, blissfully unaware of the distinctions to be found between the Trotskyites and the Socialist Revolutionaries, or the followers of Zinoviev vs. those of Bukharin. Where can I find the lair of the Hayekites? I feel the need for more education.

Thanks in advance.

Todd S. June 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Orwell explained his political leanings in the book “Why I Write”. His being a socialist is well established – but keep in mind that the democratic socialists of that day were not necessarily communists. They might be closer in philosophy to those who today refer to themselves as “left libertarians” or mutualist anarchists. Certainly closer to that than Stalinist totalitarians.

michael June 26, 2010 at 9:19 am

Not only were the Social Democrats of the day NOT Communists, they were being killed off by the Communists, under the policy of “no Left opposition”. That’s how the nations of Eastern Europe were captured in the late 1940s.

Communism was totalitarianism in the service of the Party. That is, the government enslaved the proletarians while enriching Party members. Whereas the SDs adhered to democratic principles and made socially progressive policies the goal of government. In 1930s Austria they built workers’ housing, for example, that was far more livable than the cheap slums of the day.

Russ June 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm

It’s a very well known fact that Orwell was indeed a socialist, of the Noam Chomsky type. He was just a naive socialist who thought that if socialism were done “the right way” it would be a force for good. But his socialist leanings, his libertarian streak was strong enough that he could accept the obvious fact that the way the communists were implementing socialism was not good.

“He was the kind of modern leftist few modern-day libertarians would have any trouble getting along with, making common cause with, collaborating with.”

Speak for yourself. I’ll admit that “1984″ and “Animal Farm” are powerful polemics against tyranny. But naive socialists like Orwell are the ones who further the idea that socialism is not the problem, it’s just that it hasn’t been done right so far. Useful idiots like him keep the idea of socialism alive. They are certainly not on my side.

Dave Albin June 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm

You don’t think he would have eventually come around, like Rose Wilder Lane?

http://mises.org/daily/4235 (Another good one by Riggenbach)

Russ June 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm

No, I don’t believe he would have come around. He was 46 when he died, and at that time, as far as I know, he was still a socialist. As for him being more of an anarchist than a socialist, it seems to me that when push comes to shove, most anarcho-socialists are more socialist than anarchist (the reason being that they confuse equality of outcome, or “fairness”, or “an even playing field”, or what have you, with freedom).

Albert June 25, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Totally agree with Russ regarding those who call themselves anarchist-socialists and that confusion that occurs. They always seem to prefer fairness over freedom. Regarding Orwell, in the end, you can never know wether he would have turned against socialism as understood during his time. Just never know, and in reality it doesnt matter.

For me, 1984 and Animal Farm will be required reading for my kids when they are older, wether their school cares or not. And for me personally, 1984 blew my mind. Animal Farm cemented my disgust with Power.

P.M.Lawrence June 25, 2010 at 11:19 pm

‘In the England Eric Blair grew up in, however, a “prep school” was for children 8 to 13. What it was preparing these children for was what we would call “high school,” but what Eric grew up thinking of as “college.” College, in turn, prepared you for university.’

Nonsense. It prepared them for public school (public as in public telephone, meaning anyone could go there but you had to qualify and pay – private schooling was with tutors etc.), and he would not have grown up thinking of it as “college” even though some (like his, Eton) had that word in their formal titles. What he would have thought of as college was one of the independent parts of a university (the way Keynes was at King’s College, Cambridge). And, mostly, public school did not prepare you for university since most of the less well off went elsewhere, e.g. into a bank (see P.G.Wodehouse’s cv) or the Indian Civil Service (“Instead, he followed in his father’s footsteps, signing up for the British civil service” is wrong – it was the ICS).

The article is incomplete from not bringing out the role of BBC bureaucracy in forming Orwell’s material, and in suggesting that Blair was a pseudonym like Orwell when in fact it was his real name.

Jeff Riggenbach June 26, 2010 at 8:19 am

I am indebted to P. M. Lawrence for endeavoring to straighten out the tangle I created in trying to explain the terminology of the British school system in the early years of the 20th Century – and for catching my error in identifying as “the British civil service” what was actually the Indian Civil Service.

On his point regarding how Orwell decided upon the year 1984, however, I must beg to differ. As Gordon Bowker writes in his book, Inside George Orwell: A Biography (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), “From the draft manuscript it seems that initially he projected the date of the novel as 1980, thirty-six years ahead of 1944 (both Winston Smith’s and [Orwell's son] Richard Blair’s year of birth) when he first began it. So 1984 was seemingly derived from the year he finished it, 1948+36. The idea that he simply reversed the last two digits of 1948 to make 1984 ([his publisher] Warburg’s supposition) is intriguing but lacks corroboration.” (382)

As to the story of how Orwell transformed the wartime BBC into the Ministry of Truth, that’s another essay. In this one, I wanted to tell the story of how Orwell’s schooling influenced his most famous novel. There are many stories that can be told about George Orwell. There’s no need to try to cram them all into a single podcast or Mises Daily.

And, since I stated plainly in the very first sentence of the article that Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair, how anyone could infer from my article that “E. A. Blair” was a pseudonym is a mystery to me.


newson June 26, 2010 at 11:39 pm

jeff riggenbach is by far and away the best narrator on mises.org. thank you for the enjoyable podcasts.

Contemplationist June 27, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Beautiful article, Mr Riggenbach

I admit when I finished 1984 I was quivering with a mix of distant fear, sadness and emptiness.
I was 18 years old and had previously thought, like most other 18 year olds that “Communism was good in theory.” Never again would that be uttered! The book absolutely crushed my spirit for a few days by showing me the deep emptiness and yet suffocation that is a totalitarian society. How, I wondered, do supposed ‘intellectuals’ those freethinking men and women justify these monstrosities and horrors? Are they to be taken seriously anymore? Just how delicate is liberty in this world?

Orwell, no matter if he was a socialist, was an honest one, and if you listen to Christopher Hitchens, you’ll notice that Orwell reviewed Hayek’s Road to Serfdom favorably! Can we get that review here?? Mises Institute would continue its great work in acquiring such rare and clarifying pieces.

Thank you Mr Riggenbach

A Good Man June 30, 2010 at 9:05 am

While we float down the mainstream of academic thought, we can crash into a submerged rock and capsize. My hidden rock was published December 7, 2009 in The New American magazine. It represents 33 years of Orwell scholarship, extensive reading of microfilm files, recently declassified intelligence documents, and a plethora of books, some generally unavailable in the US. My view, to say the least, is different from the academic focus. Mine comes from the direction of Orwell in the military and interpreting things with his focus on the workings of the Fabian Socialist establishment. (This of course includes all recent British PMs).

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