As Norman Podhoretz points out in his essay “If Orwell Were Alive Today” (written in 1983), the highly regarded political writer George Orwell was often misguided in his specific predictions about the future. He also was wedded to socialism his entire life, once he converted to it at the age of thirty, although his life didn’t last that much longer (he died at forty-six).
Orwell was, however, such a keen observer of the political side of humankind and especially the danger of totalitarianism, that many other “isms” (including Podhoretz’s own neoconservatism) believe that, had Orwell lived long enough, he surely would have come round to their point of view. But as Podhoretz also points out, Orwell’s most ringing and memorable statements were as an insider gadfly to the Left and the intelligentsia, whose number he most definitely had.
Podhoretz offers some wonderful quotes from Orwell on the subject, and they’ve worn very well over the years. Try this one on for size, from 1937 (appearing in Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier):
One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words “Socialism” and “Communism” draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker. nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.
Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism” is another case in point. There is a fair amount in it with which I disagree, to be sure. But the following is spot on, both then and now. It illustrates the military defeatism of the intellectual Left, its susceptibility to wild conspiracy theories, and the origins of both phenomena in the Left’s hatred of the West [one of Orwell’s most famous remarks on the stupidity of intellectuals occurs here; emphasis mine]:
The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. When Hitler invaded Russia, the officials of the MOI issued “as background” a warning that Russia might be expected to collapse in six weeks. On the other hand the Communists regarded every phase of the war as a Russian victory, even when the Russians were driven back almost to the Caspian Sea and had lost several million prisoners. There is no need to multiply instances. The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also.
Unhinged they are, and unhinged (and pretty much unchanged) they remain.