Max Scheler describes a form of ressentiment that leads to "indiscriminate criticism without any positive aims." (Ressentiment, ed. Coser, Schocken 1972, p. 51) Although Scheler was writing in the years before the First World War, his description put me in mind of contemporary liberals and leftists, especially when they are out of power. He continues:
This particular kind of "ressentiment criticism" is characterized by the fact that improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction -- they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to "ressentiment criticism" that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism. We all know certain representatives in our parliaments whose criticism is absolute and uninhibited, precisely because they count on never being ministers. (Ibid.)
About a generation later, on the other side of the Channel, George Orwell wrote in a strikingly similar vein in his "The Lion and the Unicorn":
The mentality of the the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power.
Those of us who pursue the ethereal should never forget that it is blood, iron, and lead that secure the spaces of tranquillity wherein we flourish.
I found the following in a gun forum: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” It was attributed to George Orwell.
I don't know whether Orwell wrote those exact words. I rather doubt that he did. But he did write, in Notes on Nationalism, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." The thought is essentially the same, and a good and true thought it is.
Pacifism is for angels. But we are mixed and mixed-up beings, half animal, half angel.
You should never trust any unsourced attribution you find on the Internet .
The following beautiful line of Henry David Thoreau is routinely misquoted:
In wildness is the preservation of the world.
Again and again, people who cannot read what is on the page substitute 'wilderness' for 'wildness.' People see what they want to see, or expect to see. Here is an example of double butchery I found recently:
In wilderness is the preservation of Mankind.
(Warren Macdonald, A Test of Will, Greystone Books, 2004, p. 145.)
Orwell, then, presented Catholics as either stupid or blinkered, dishonest or self-deceived. Yet he was very far from denying the need for religion. In his opinion socialists were quite wrong to assume that when basic material needs had been supplied, spiritual concerns would wither away. ‘The truth,’ Orwell wrote in 1944, ‘is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.’
Exactly right. Would that the point were appreciated by the so-called New Atheists and their cyberpunk acolytes. Were they to rid the world of religion, what would they put in its place, to satisfy the needs of the spirit for meaning and point in the teeth of time and transition?
Prescriptive worldly counsel and other-worldly [hyphen added!] ideals were both anathema. ‘No doubt alcohol, tobacco and so forth are things that a saint must avoid,’ Orwell wrote in his essay on Gandhi, ‘but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.’ ‘The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.’
Part of what attracts me to Orwell is his intellectual honesty. He sees the problem, one that superficial atheists and dogmatic believers alike often paper over. The baubles and trinkets of this all-too- transient life cannot satisfy anyone with spiritual depth, which is presumably why Marxists and other leftist activists of a less superficial stripe invent a pie-in-the-future ersatz which is even less believable than the promises of traditional religion. But on the other hand, the dogmatic certainties projected by the will-to-believe flabbergast the critical intellect and appear as so many idols set up to avoid nihilism at all costs.
Yet seven months before Orwell died, he wrote to Buddicom, insisting that there must be some sort of afterlife. The letter, unfortunately, is lost, but Buddicom remembered that he had seemed to be referring not so much to Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but rather to a firm belief that ‘nothing ever dies’, that we must go on somewhere. This conviction seems to have stayed with him to the end: even if he did not believe in hell, he chose in his last weeks to read Dante’s Divine Comedy.
In his will Orwell had left directions that he should be buried according to the rites of the Church of England. Of course no one was better qualified to appreciate the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer; nevertheless the request surprised some of his admirers. A funeral was duly held at Christ Church in Albany Street; and David Astor, responsible for the arrangements, asked if his friend’s body might be interred in a country churchyard, at Sutton Courtenay, in Berkshire.
Appealing to both Right and Left, invoked by both, Orwell is owned by neither. He was his own man, a maverick. Hats off.
George Orwell's humanity is on display in the following passage from "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1943), reprinted in A Collection of Essays (Harvest, 1981), pp. 193-194:
Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat beet field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go out while it was still-dark and return soon after dawn, before the light became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment, a man presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at âFascistsâ; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a Fascist, he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.
Isn't there a scene in Homage to Catalonia in which the same or a similar fascist is caught with his pants down at the latrine when all hell breaks loose? In death and as in defecation, all distinctions dissolve to reveal us as indigent mortals made of dust and about to return to dust.
George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harvest 1956), p. 102:
This woman business! What a bore it is! What a pity we can't cut it right out, or at least be like the animals -- minutes of ferocious lust and months of icy chastity. Take a cock pheasant, for example. He jumps up on the hens' backs without so much as a with your leave or by your leave. And no sooner is it over than the whole subject is out of his mind. He hardly even notices his hens any longer; he ignores them, or simply pecks them if they come near his food. He is not called upon to support his offpsring, either. Lucky pheasant! How different from the lord of creation, always on the hop between his memory and his conscience!
Being like the animals is of course no solution, even if it were possible. A strange fix we're in: it is our spiritual nature that enables both our sinking below, and our rising above, the level of the animal.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffereth long, and it is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money.
George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay all should read. As timely now as it was sixty two years ago, it is available in several anthologies and on-line here. Orwell lays down the following rules for good writing.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. 2. Never us a long word where a short one will do. 3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. 5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (A Collection of Essays, Harvest, 1981, p. 170)
On balance, this is excellent advice. Orwell's formulation of these rules, however, is excessively schoolmarmish, so much so that he himself cannot abide by them. Take (3) for example. It's a rule violated by its own formulation. Had Orwell followed his own advice, he would have deleted 'always.' Or consider this sentence near the beginning of his essay: "Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse." (p. 156) Surely, 'inevitably' is redundant. Or else 'must' is redundant. The sentence as Orwell wrote it, however, is not a bad sentence. My point is that his rules are too restrictive.
Now look at (5). This rule contradicts what he himself says on the preceding page. There (p. 169) he asks what his defence of the English language does not imply. One of the things it does not imply is "in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one...." This obviously contradicts rule (5).
At the root of the problem is the tendency most of have to reach for such universal quantifiers as 'all,' 'every,' 'no' and 'never' when strict accuracy demands something less ringing. If the great Orwell can fall into the trap, then we lesser mortals need to be especially careful. Good writing cannot be reduced to the application of rules. Rules are at best guidelines.
These quibbles aside, this essay is required reading.