Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Orwell Reminds Us That Intellectual Follies Are Nothing New in Politics

By Barry Rubin

It is easy to be gloomy at this bizarre era we are stuck in especially when we forget how the intelligentsia in the past was dominated by such bad ideas as it is at present. Is the media biased? Do institutions that should know better say stupid things? Are the intellectuals on the side of "bad guys"?

In this regard, I can’t help but quote a long segment from the writings of George Orwell. He, it should be remembered, once gave the perfect expression of the fact that alleged smartness—like might—does not necessarily make right. That’s an idea that fits with the variety of notions which, as Orwell once explained, is so stupid that only an intellectual could believe it.

So consider the following passage published in Partisan Review in the Summer of 1944 and remember this was written during World War Two, which according to mythology today was such an obviously just cause that everyone in the English-speaking world supported it:

“What one might call the official left-wing view is that war is a meaningless massacre brought about by capitalists, no war can ever lead to any good result, in battle no one has any thought except to run away, and the soldier is a downtrodden slave who hates his officer like poison and looks on the enemy as a comrade.

“But as soon as the [Soviet Union’s] Red Army is involved the whole of this conception s turned upside down. Not only does war become glorious and purposeful, but the soldier becomes a happy warrior who positively enjoys military discipline, loves his officer…hates the enemy…and utters edifying slogans while in the act of slinging a hand grenade.

“There is further schizophrenia on the subject of atrocities: any atrocity story reported by the Russians is true, anything reported by the British or Americans untrue….

“Emotionally, what the Left intelligentsia wish for is that Germany and Japan should be defeated but that Britain and America should not be victorious….

“Russophile feeling is on the surface stronger than ever. It is now next door to impossible to get anything overtly anti-Russian printed….The servility of the so-called intellectuals is astonishing. [The] implied line [of pacifists] is that it is wrong for us to defend ourselves by violence, but it is all right for the Russians. This is sheer cowardice: they dare not flout prevailing left-wing opinion, which , of course, they are more afraid of than public opinion in the wider sense.”

Oh and by the way, in order not to offend Stalin, when the BBC did programs on the history of the Russian revolution, it never mentioned the role of Stalin's hated rival (and victim) Leon Trotsky in the triumph of the Bolsheviks. Guess they were avoiding the sin of Communistophobia.  

Remember that at the time Orwell was an editor on a left-wing Labour party publication, but he had no patience for nonsense or for Stalinism. He also had a deep love and faith in the British people, in sharp contrast to many on the left who look down on the masses, if for nothing else for not also being leftist enough. Indeed, nowadays the whole purpose of being left-wing for many in the upper-middle class, academia, entertainment industry, and media is precisely that it gives them a rationale for looking down on the masses.

Source: Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, As I Please, 1943-1945: The Collected essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3 (NY, 1968) pp. 126-127.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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