2007-10-23

George Orwell exposed!

George Orwell was a leftist, specifically a Democratic Socialist. He was certainly very much against totalitarianism and his best-known books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, were polemics against it (specifically Stalinism in Communist Russia).

But - he was a leftist. This means that he desired some form of central planning in an economy, and less influence given to private business.

The reason I bring this up is because Orwell is often used by those on the "conservative" or "right wing" of politics to argue against anything left-wing. Any attempts by leftists to, say, increase public spending for health care or education or easing poverty is criticised by the right wing. This is normal and to be expected. However, some conservatives wrongly use Orwell as a means to bolster their argument. "Increasing the size of government" they would argue "inevitably leads to an intrusive state. Do we really wish to ignore George Orwell's warning and set up a 'big brother' to control us?"

When it comes to reading literature I fall very much into an "author"-based interpretation. In other words, to understand the meanings behind texts it is important to understand the background of the writer. Orwell, for all his criticisms against totalitarianism, still believed in what right-wingers today would call "big government". Animal Farm and Nineteen-Eighty Four were not critiques of centrally planned economies, but of totalitarianism.

Conservatives and other right wingers need to stop invoking Orwell and start invoking Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian Economist who authored The Road To Serfdom. It is that particular text that has influenced much of conservative thinking and argues very persuasively against central planning by linking it to the rise of totalitarianism in Germany and Russia. Orwell does not make this link, but Hayek explicitly does. Personally I think Hayek is wrong but I would have far more respect for conservatives if they stopped using Orwell and started using Hayek as the basis of their arguments.

2 comments:

BLBeamer said...

Neil, I agree with you. I recently finished Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier. The last several chapters contain Orwell's apologia for socialism. A less convincing argument I have never read.

If socialists wish to make any real headway, they ought to also stop using Orwell.

Ron Lankshear said...

Eric was a major figure in English culture and I have posted on him
George Orwell - (Eric Blair) 1903-1950

Most strange that righties would use George Orwell in the way you suggest . A long while ago since I read Wigan Pier - don't recall much about it at all.