Monday, August 08, 2005

Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"

This essay is a 'must' read. Orwell's insights into the corruption of language and thought, and how this corruption is exploited by politicians, are brilliant and eerily prescient:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

Keep in mind Orwell wrote this in 1946. It is just as appropriate today.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

W00t!

Orwell wrote a series of essays that some consider among the best of the 20th century. I believe you can read any of them (I think) at Project Gutenberg.

In any case, the big irony (at least for you) is that Orwell was a big Socialist. ;)

J Ballot said...

Project Gutenberg -- good advice.

I knew that about Orwell -- it is a big irony. The man was lucid about everything else! :)

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Pablo Gonzaga said...

that's so damn true, eh? after all "the pen is mightier...";where can i read more of Orwell's essays on-line?

Anonymous said...

^^

Here's 50 of Orwell's essays:

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html

w00t!

J Ballot said...

WOW

Man, that is awesome.

I'll print that whole thing out and read it over the weekend...