bookish love December 30, 2008

Not altogether wicked, merely unteachable

In these words of George Orwell, from his 1940 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn”, how I feel about a lot of people; most notably one outgoing President, but more suitably, another that almost was:

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 whatnots were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders. That could not happen if these people were cynical scoundrels that they are sometimes declared to be. It is important not to misunderstand their motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.

But really, you should continue for a little bit of George Orwell hilarity on socialism and bombs:

If we survive this war, the defeat in Flanders will turn out to be have been one of the great turning-points in English history. In that spectacular disaster the working class, the middle class and even a section of the business community could see the utter rottenness of private capitalism. Before that the case against capitalism had never been proved. Russia, the only definitely Socialist country, was backward and far away. All criticism broke itself against the rat-trap faces of bankers and the brassy laughter of stockbrokers. Socialism? Ha! ha! ha! Where’s the money to come from? Ha! ha! ha! The lords of property were firm in their seats, and they knew it. But after the French collapse there came something that could not be laughed away, something that neither cheque-books nor policemen were any use against–the bombing. Zweee – BOOM! What’s that? Oh, only a bomb on the Stock Exchange. Zweee – BOOM! Another acre of somebody’s valuable slum-property gone west.

This and three other essays–”Why I Write”, “A Hanging” and “Politics and the English Langauge”–are available in Orwell’s Why I Write, published last year by Penguin Books as part of their “Great Ideas” series of mini-books, out of which six are available as a freaking box set!

  • angelica:

    Thank you for this profound and somewhat haunting post. Orwell may have been referring to another period, but this excerpt is pretty much a description of the times now.

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