The Magazine

Speaking of Politics

Orwell matters, but he wasn't always right.

Oct 29, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 07 • By BARTON SWAIM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

It's strange that George Orwell, so dismissive of those whom he derided as "intellectuals," should have adopted essentially the same attitude. His failure in that regard is at least partly the result of his constitutional gloominess ("the most hopeless person I ever met and probably the most unhappy," one friend said of him). And Orwell's experience in the Spanish Civil War certainly darkened his view of modern politics: He had seen the propaganda of Spanish Communists reported in England as truth, and their brutality ignored altogether. Whatever his reasons, he couldn't reconcile himself to the possibility that average people weren't gullible boobs. That is, to some degree, why he hated the left-wing intelligentsia of which he was so uncomfortable a part: He felt that they used their talent for words to mislead decent and patriotic people with the empty verbiage of moral equivalence.

In this, he had more in common with the intellectuals he despised than he thought.

Barton Swaim is author of the forthcoming Scottish Men of Letters and the New Public Sphere.