George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Discussion of various public figures

George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Elliott » 06 Aug 2011, 22:49

I have a theory that Orwell was, throughout his adult life, slowly moving from Socialism to Conservatism and that he died before he could complete the journey.

For example, 1984 is about absolute power (regardless of left/right affiliation) but he "happened" to choose Ingsoc (English Socialism) as the holders of that power. This suggests that he considered the Left more apt to totalitarianism than the Right.

Even before that, in Animal Farm, he was satirising Communism in a most thorough fashion.

1984 goes a few steps beyond that and suggests that it is impossible to create a perfect authority, a perfect way to govern, because there is always the threat that any power-holder could transform into Big Brother. It's a distinctly pessimistic view which suggests to me that he was becoming conservative - it's better to protect what we've got than risk it for grand societal visions, which inevitably turn people into dirt. Is that not conservatism?

Then there is Winston's obsession with the past, the irretrievable thing, the dignity of ancient objects that transcend present troubles by pointing to eternity. Again, this seems conservative to me.

If you didn't know Orwell was a socialist, would you infer it from these two books?
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Clinton » 09 Aug 2011, 20:44

Great post, Elliott.

I remember when my brother Steve told me that Orwell was a socialist, and I could not believe it. It says a great deal about his potential latent conservatism (as well as his broad-mindedness) that he is most famous for his criticisms of the left.

The brilliant Florence King once called Orwell "every conservative's favorite liberal and every liberal's favorite conservative".
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby J.P Smethwick » 22 Sep 2011, 10:32

This is quite peculiar as I've had the same thought before. Radical writers like Wordsworth and Southey both ended up as fairly stolid conservatives. Given Orwell's social conservatism, best expressed in `Coming Up For Air`, I think he would have trodden the same path as Graham Greene and Malcom Muggeridge.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Gavin » 14 Apr 2012, 21:51

A little late coming to this one: I just found a few interesting quotes from Orwell. For me, 1984 always seems more like a left wing socialist government getting into power than anything to do with the right wing, and it portrays this brilliantly. Among Orwell's remarks are:

"What sickens me about left-wing people, especially the intellectuals, is their utter ignorance of the way things actually happen.”

"So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot."

"As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents."


Orwell certainly called himself a socialist (writing, for example, about what he saw as socialism's righteous aim for complete equality), but he often made remarks out of keeping with this, as we can see here. Reputedly he never got on very well with the working class either - that he would have in common with today's champagne socialist.

You would think people on the Left would start to spot the trend that people go from being socialist to conservative as they mature and experience more of life, and rarely the other way around. I suppose they do notice it and put it down to bitterness, but in my view it is more likely to be due to increased understanding.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Elliott » 14 Apr 2012, 23:40

Gavin, every one of those quotes had me laughing out loud. But perhaps Orwell's best quote about Socialism is this:

One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.


To think, he wrote that in 1937. If he only knew how right he was!

Here's another one:

It is all very well to be "advanced" and "enlightened," to snigger at Colonel Blimp and proclaim your emancipation from all traditional loyalties, but a time comes when the sand of the desert is sodden red and what have I done for thee, England, my England? As I was brought up in this tradition myself I can recognise it under strange disguises, and also sympathise with it, for even at its stupidest and most sentimental it is a comelier thing than the shallow self-righteousness of the left-wing intelligentsia.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Gavin » 15 Apr 2012, 10:04

When I found the other quotes I was actually looking for that last one you posted there.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Darian » 15 Apr 2012, 22:31

There is definitely an undercurrent of social conservatism in many of his writings but I wouldn't call him a closet conservative, but he definitely loved England and Englishness (see his essay "A Nice Cup of Tea" which in a intricate guide to tea making). He was definitely no moral relativist, and I very much doubt he would have been a multiculturalist if he had lived to see it. He was simply a man of the old left.

The question I would ask is would Orwell still call himself a socialist or social democrat if he could see what it has wrought on the west and has been done to the the British character? I would like to think that he would not and repent his past socialism, but I'm not so certain.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Caleb » 16 Apr 2012, 01:02

Darian wrote:The question I would ask is would Orwell still call himself a socialist or social democrat if he could see what it has wrought on the west and has done to the the British character? I would like to think that he would not and repent his past socialism, but I'm not so certain.


The same question could be asked of the average conservative these days. Most conservative parties in the West are hardly conservative! I think that's the whole problem with modern politics. Anyone from the old left or right hardly has a place anymore.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Darian » 16 Apr 2012, 02:51

Caleb wrote:The same question could be asked of the average conservative these days. Most conservative parties in the West are hardly conservative! I think that's the whole problem with modern politics. Anyone from the old left or right hardly has a place anymore.


I agree that the views of real conservatives and the old left have no place amongst their respective political representatives these days. What I'm saying is that Winston Churchill (or any true conservative from the era) could time travel to the modern day and say "I told you so", while Clement Attlee would travel through time and say "my god! what have I done!", or at least I would hope he and his Labour Party would be introspective enough to say that. If the average conservative can be blamed for anything it's for being spineless and cowardly.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Caleb » 16 Apr 2012, 04:58

Darian: Yes, that's a fair point, although some conservatives (at least in America) are pretty radical themselves.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Elliott » 22 Aug 2012, 03:12

Apparently the BBC rejected a statue of Orwell for their new HQ because he was "too left-wing".

Some comments from Telegraph readers:

Erick-99 wrote:Ah, those lovable leftie hypocrites. What this Thompson guy [Mark Thompson, BBC Director General] clearly means is that Orwell was not nearly left-wing enough. And worst of all, and unforgivable to the left, he was scathing in his criticism of the left (go read Animal Farm and 1984) and became the most influential British political writer of the last 100 years. How much money does Thompson get in handouts from the state? Millions of pounds? For what? Orwell would have sneered at that and ridiculed him. And Thompson knows it.


Cortesar wrote:Orwell was a man of action, able to stand and fight for what he believes in, something an effeminate leftist of today cannot easily forgive. Last thing a puppet of Thompson's type wants is a constant reminder of his own mediocrity and cowardice


Jum Jum wrote:What complete and utter rot. I've seen some pretexts before, but the BBC refusing to honour George Orwell because the idea is "too left-wing" tops them all. It's a marvel that Thompson didn't burst out in laughter at the ludicrousness of his own statement.

The BBC is probably the most left-leaning public institution in Britain. It's been thoroughly infiltrated by Communists and socialists at all levels since its inception, and has had a hard left-leaning policy for at least 3 generations - perhaps more.

Thompson's blatant lie is insulting not just to all Britons and to the memory of Orwell, but to all thinking people around the world. What the Director General would have said if he had had an ounce of veracity and integrity in him, was that Orwell is in ill favour with the left, particularly at his former home at the BBC. This because in the 1930s he turned his back on Communism and exposed the impossibility of its success, its inherent lies and its leaders' brutal crimes. The leftists who have controlled BBC for decades felt betrayed by Orwell; that he had let his side down when he let the world in on Communism's dirty secret. So now, some 70 years later, the BBC is getting its own back by denying Orwell a well-deserved recognition.

What liars leftists are.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Elliott » 23 Aug 2012, 19:49

Ed West has now contributed to the debate.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Laurence » 24 Aug 2012, 12:13

Didn't Orwell refer to himself as ' a Tory anarchist' somewhere or other? I believe he did. I suspect he was one of the old-fashioned 'left' who under their non-dogmatic attachment to social improvement and championing the working classes had a deep affection for this country and its way of life and didn't want to see it destroyed utterly. Many in the old Labour movement were like this. Unfortunately they have been replaced at least since Blair with ghastly pseudo-marxist ideologues and 'internationalists' who have done everything they can to undermine and destroy the traditional concept of Britain and British values and replace it with the kind of tawdry 'pc', 'multi-culti', 'diverse' drivel typified by the Olympics ceremony (described amusingly by Dalrymple as 'North Korea Lite').
Orwell's real feelings come out in essays like 'The Lion and the Unicorn', etc. I am quite sure if he was alive today he would have become a conservative libertarian or conservative dissident (the description I use for myself).
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Elliott » 24 Aug 2012, 13:15

Given the deep attachment Orwell showed to liberty in 1984, it can be easy for conservatives to adopt him, as a kind of cuddly mascot - "even this Socialist was on our side, really". It's quite alarming, then, to read essays like this and see just how attached he also was to Socialist ideas like equality, internationalism, and the "united states of Europe".

But again, one has to extrapolate from what Orwell did say (ie had time to say) to what he may have said given a few more decades.

In that essay, he is very analytical and sober about the prospects of actually achieving Socialism. This shows a degree of realism and modesty that, even today, with 60 years of experience, our leaders are incapable of emulating.

It's true that even then, in 1947, Orwell shows elements of ideological blindness. For example he asserts, without substantiation, that capitalism "has manifestly no future" (in hindsight, this looks like sheer wishful thinking; the "end of days" that Marxists just love because it justifies their utopianism in one fell swoop).

He also shows no concern about the dangers that would arise after a united states of Europe had been achieved. But how long would he have tolerated such a federation, which in that essay he assumes to be an unquestionable good, when he saw that it was riding roughshod over his beloved British traditions and altering the very nature of the British people? I think he would have woken up pretty sharpish, and his refocussed loyalty would not have been with the federasts.

Having read that essay, I still believe that Orwell was in the process of moving slowly but surely (as only a careful scientist could) from a youthful belief in Socialism to a much more sober and realistic belief in preservation. I suspect his belief that capitalism had "no future" was probably the last vestige of his Socialism, the last thing that kept his youthful idealism alive. It is understandable that he didn't want to lose it.

But from today's perspective, he looks like a man demeaning himself with adolescent beliefs, beliefs he was far above but finding it difficult to let go of. We know that capitalism did have a future in 1947, a fantastic future (the American century).

Faced with a little of that evidence (say, if he'd lived till 1955, or certainly 1960), I think Orwell would have completed his conversion to the Right. He was just too sensible a man to believe in Socialism. I think he only managed it because of the confusing time in which he lived. Straight after Auschwitz, the future must have seemed completely up for grabs; if an idea like the Final Solution could gain traction, what idea, however wild, couldn't gain traction?

But, as I say, even in that environment, he is very sober-minded. Just read his analysis of the obstacles to achieving Socialism. This was a man, I believe, who would have come to accept that the grand ideas of 1947 - a united states of Europe, international Socialism, etc. - were just so much flim-flam, and that progress is made not through such schemes but through small, sure advances. Even an idea like equality (which again he mentions breathlessly, wearing his adolescent hat) was really a pointless endeavour, with little connection to human happiness as things actually turn out. But how would you convince anybody of that, when the gas chambers, fresh in everyone's mind, suggested the complete opposite?

There was just so much that still had to be learned in 1947. Orwell did better than most in learning it in advance of events, but you can't expect everything.

It's even possible that, if he had revisited that essay immediately before his death three years later, the experience of writing 1984 would have drastically altered his faith in internationalism, equality, Socialism and transnational federation.
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Re: George Orwell - a closet conservative?

Postby Ana » 29 Aug 2012, 00:23

Hey, I made it! Thanks, Elliott and Gavin.

Anyway, I agree, Elliott, but you know that already. :-) My BrooWaha article incidentally has now been published.
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