January 21 marked the 68th anniversary of the passing of Eric Blair, known to the world by his pseudonym, George Orwell.
Orwell was catapulted into the forefront of the English literary scene in the mid-1940s when he published the novella “Animal Farm,” an allegorical retelling of the Stalinist takeover of communist experiment in Russia.
Later, in his full-length novel, “1984,” Orwell would establish his dominance as a masterful voice in postwar English literature, bringing into the English lexicon a new vocabulary for the dystopian novel.
Within six months of the publication of “1984,” Orwell was dead.
Since his death, Orwell has become something of a lionized and untamable figure, always eluding his would-be ideological captors. The Right praises him for his trenchant criticisms of the Soviet Union and Communism, the Left loves him for his avowed and unapologetic socialism. Both, however, praise him for—in their eyes—condemning their enemies.
Orwell remains a classic example of the literary and intellectual iconoclast. Most importantly, the overwhelming literary power of Orwell comes from his exemplary ability to refuse type-casting.
From the outset, the observer of Orwell can’t help but run into his largely nonconformist nature, it thoroughly pervades nearly everything the master touched.
He is a Socialist, largely disowned and knit-picked by his home-country’s Socialist Party. He considered Capitalism “a racket,” yet lamented the shortcomings of his own Democratic Socialism to answer the bigger questions of life.
Orwell was a committed atheist who did not wince at the anti-clericalism of the Spanish anarchists he fought alongside in the Spanish Civil War. He was, however, a lifelong member of the Church of England, where he even attended church, took communion and was administered last rites.
In relation to his fiction, “1984,” has been cited by both leftist groups claiming that Trump is the new Big Brother, to comedians like Robert Cleese claiming that the redefining of the English language by Social Justice Warriors is the nonfictional expression of Newspeak.
Amidst all the quotations and popularity it seems like an odd assertion that Orwell, in the current climate, needs to be saved from his would-be supporters.
Orwell was not a fan of setting up a new idol to be followed, but of tearing them down. In most cases, it is safe to say that Orwell is not an ally but an enemy. He is a match in search of kindling.
In an age of such political tribalism, there is much we could learn from George Orwell and his approach. Two major and interrelated characteristics of Orwell can be applied to our modern political morass.
First, Orwell sought after the truth, always looking to parse out the facts of a situation and to analyze it based on what has come to light through those facts.
Second, Orwell had the exceptional idiosyncrasy of intellectual honesty. He was blunt about the shortcomings of his own philosophy as well as the flaws that he saw in his opponent’s positions.
It would be unrealistic to believe that following these two methods will lead to utopia. However, embracing these two approaches might put us back on a path to mending the divide that our nation is currently going through, and away from “Animal Farm” or “1984.”