Orwell (Raymond Williams)

This is a revised edition with an afterword, “Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984.” Williams does an excellent job of tracing Orwell’s political development and how it connects to his literary development and makes a compelling case for Orwell’s continuing relevance. Some of these ideas sound familiar, and I wonder if Christopher Hitchens had not picked up their threads in Why Orwell Matters (a book I read too long ago to remember distinctly) — Hitchens would certainly have read this book before writing his own. This book is rather dated in some ways but bridges a gap between Orwell’s criticisms of capitalism and particular tendencies within socialism and the reality of capitalist transformation of the “proletarian” into the “consumer.”

The following passage nicely summarizes the continuing relevance of Orwell’s thought — read it and think of Bill O’Reilly:

State power, meanwhile, though trying to withdraw from its earlier commitments to common provision for social welfare, has increased at military levels, in the new weapons systems, and in its definition of law and order and of security (backed up by some intensive surveillance). Thus it is an obvious case of doublethink when the radical Right, now in power in so many countries, denounce the state at the level of social welfare or economic justic but reinforce and applaud the state at the level of patriotic militarism, uniform loyalty, and control over local democratic institutions. To hear some of the loudest of these double-mouthed people is to know what is meant, in Newspeak, by a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.

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