Friday, March 26, 2010

The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genuis

George Orwell, 1941...

An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is 'just the same as' or 'just as bad as' totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life is different because of them. ...The hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig, whom nothing short of dynamite will ever teach what century he is living in, but who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England. He is a symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in its familiar shape. (pp.45-46)

Last Friday I was attending a conference at LSE where Armenians were discussing the prospects of development in the Republic of Armenia. Both panelists and participants talked about corruption, inefficient taxation system, poor use of resources, and what not. Solutions? Big words like democracy building, fighting against corruption, bla-bla. One of the panelists, Ruben Vardanyan, aha, the one, was occasionally shaking his head as a no to all those suggestions. When it was time to wrap up the discussion, he said, "We've got to believe we can do the best. We need to believe that we are strong and can do things." It was sudden and genuine...

After all they (the British ruling class) belonged to a class with a certain tradition, they had been to public schools where the duty of dying for your country, if necessary, is laid down as the first and greatest of the Commandments. They had to feel themselves true patriots, even while they plundered their countrymen. Clearly there was only one escape for them - into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible. Difficult though this was, they achieved it, largely by fixing their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going on round them.

An empire with a Victorian past could have afforded a lapse into stupidity, but can we???

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are morally fairly sound, is that in time of war they are ready enough to get themselves killed. Several dukes, earls and what nots were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders. (p. 60)

Do we need another war to pronounce our elite morally bankrupt? Are we not in war enough right now? Warring with oneself is a deadlier war, isn't it? Orwell calls England a 'family with the wrong members in control'. Still a family... We seem to have had the wrong members (perhaps even the right ones) get astray far too away to remember what a family is and how it feels...

6 comments:

Observer said...

...an excellent one, Christ, really a nice article with all the right questions... too bad we know the answers already :(

artashes98 said...

Wow!! That gets to the essence of things, I agree with Observer! Orwell is some penetrating son of a bitch, nobody should take lightly the author of a masterpiece like "1984"!

christina said...

I believe at times I hide behind the right questions, as the answers require a responsibility which I'm scared/unwilling/lazy/too egoistic to take. For instance, I could have tried to conduct a life based on a powerful illusion'. I don't. Why? I'm neither strong enough to act alone, nor sympathetic enough to any particular group of agents who are more daring, to join them. So, asking a right question and avoiding a practice that would conform with my values, commitments, and beliefs leading towards an answer I have to it does not really make me happy. I feel like one of the hypocritical intelligentsia Orwell speaks of in this pamphlet. Still, perhaps some day the burden of these questions will start weighing too much for me to keep idling? A slim chance, but still a chance? We'll see.

artashes98 said...

Do not try to jump over your head. I don't think even Orwell would recommend doing "daring" things to EVERY individual. It doesn't take Herculean will and strength to live your everyday life mainly according to one's "values, commitments, and beliefs". Yes, mainly. More or less. Never absolutely. Don't get childishly idealistic about Orwell's examples. The English are the modern inventors and implementors of the "Divide and Rule" principle. The amount of manipualtion, lies, propaganda, and dishonorable behavior has been immense in the history of the British empire (yes, together with "dying for your country" - well, mostly for lower ranks, let's be honest here).
Keep your head cool. DO NO HARM!! (this is close to absolute!) If you can do good, do it. If not, just don't do wrong things. This is a pretty good balance. This is an excellent balance for a regular person, I would say.

Observer said...

For a regular person - yes, absolutely. But Artashes, those who are more gifted than others also are obliged to do more, to see more, to say more...

I believe Christina is an extraordinary person, having worked with her for a short while, and reading her blogs for several years now.

So whatever's good for a regular person is not good enough for her, you see... It's not like I'm demanding anything of her or accusing in lack of courage, its just to put things in perspective.

Artashes said...

Naah, she is pretty regular. As many of us are. If a person has some brains and some decency it doesn't make him or her extraordinary. Just regular (and it's a positive term, you know).