I warned you, there might be book reviews. Coincidentally, “There Might Be Book Reviews” opened for “They Might be Giants” at the Hamtramck Palladium Theatre back in’ 98. Solid show, Dan Miller just joined the group…but I digress.
I finished Christopher Hitchens’ book, “Why Orwell Matters” about a month ago. When one’s favorite essayist pens a work centered on their favorite essayist, how could I not pick it up?
Now, Hitchens himself could be rather problematic, to use the parlance of today. At least on certain issues (on gender, on US foreign policy re: Iraq post 9/11) he was “off.” I still don’t understand his motivation for crafting the 2007 Vanity Fair piece, “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” The only plausible explanation being a misogynistic block in the right hemisphere of his cortex. At least on the latter issue, the Iraq War, one can see the consistent line of anti-authoritarianism throughout his life that enabled him to view the Hussein regime as the clear antagonist, which led him to side with the Bush Administration’s “hawks” (a rather charitable image, considering the descriptors that could be employed here).
I believe, had Hitchens not passed in December 2011 and if he were still alive to the present day, his views on the War in Iraq would have evolved, as history reveals more about the run-up, the war itself, and its aftermath. Alas, this can only remain conjecture.
The point is, as Hitchens argues in his tome, that George Orwell possessed both the wisdom and moral fortitude to stand opposed, consistently and volubly, to three of the worst ‘isms that afflicted the 20th Century: Nazism, Stalinist Communism, and Imperialism. A product of rather comfortable means, Orwell could have quite easily been a willing cog in an imperialist system, in which he played a minor part as a police officer stationed in Burma in the 1920s, but he chose to reject that life in favor of one where he could write about society, its ills, and a possible path forward. In his own words, Orwell stated that “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.” (the italics are Orwell’s)
Of course he didn’t merely use his pen to advance his polemicist inclinations. He took a bullet in the throat whilst fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. It was there, while serving with the POUM militia (a non-orthodox, Trotskyist faction) that he struggled against not only the authoritarians on the right, led by General Francisco Franco (who remains quite deceased), but also the Stalin-aligned Communists who attempted to brand POUM as fascists-in-disguise. This was a war of not only right against left, but left against left, and Orwell was very nearly captured by pro-Soviet forces before he found his way into France and out of the war.
This first-hand experience dealing with Stalinists convinced Orwell that they were, indeed, not comrades with whom he shared a common vision, but a threat to the democratic principles that he espoused so fervently.
It is through this lens that Hitchens captures, in his own fluent style, the life and writings of Orwell, taking us through his experiences in England and across the world (although not the United States, as Orwell never set foot on American soil before he died at age 46), his politics, his views on gender, on race, and other issues and dynamics that remain terribly relevant today.
And this is why I chose to write about this book. As certain strains of fascist thought appear to be taking hold and gaining adherents in several nations (such as Brazil, the Philippines, and the United States, to name three), it is useful to recall those who argued for a different vision of society, one in which individuals are able to enjoy greater effective liberty over their own lives through fairer economic policies and via truly democratic processes. Orwell was such a figure, and his views were brought to life quite effectively by a wordsmith who, seemingly and singularly, was born to tell Orwell’s story. Yes, for many reasons, Orwell continues to matter very much today.
What am I reading now? Militant by Michael Crick. Will I review it? Perhaps…