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The Most Scathing Take Down in Literary Criticism – “Fifty Orwell Essays” – George Orwell

October 26th, 2011 · No Comments · Communism, Criticism, Electoralism, History, Means and Ends, Spanish Civil War, Totalitarianism

To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism BECAUSE they have no experience of anything except liberalism.

Look, for instance, at this extract from Mr Auden’s poem ‘Spain’ (incidentally this poem is one of the few decent things that have been written about the Spanish war):

“To-morrow for the young, the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races Through the suburbs on summer evenings.
But to-day the struggle.
To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.”

The second stanza is intended as a sort of thumb-nail sketch of a day in the life of a ‘good party man’. In the-morning a couple of political murders, a ten-minutes’ interlude to stifle ‘bourgeois’ remorse, and then a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening chalking walls and distributing leaflets. All very edifying.

But notice the phrase ‘necessary murder’. It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a WORD. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men—I don’t mean killed in battle, I mean murdered. Therefore I have some conception of what murder means—the terror, the hatred, the howling relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and Stalins find murder necessary, but they don’t advertise their callousness, and they don’t speak of it as murder; it is ‘liquidation’, ‘elimination’, or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden’s brand of amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.

IMHO this is Orwell’s most scathing section of prose. Absolutely brutal. Notably, Auden basically recanted on this position after considering this critique.

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