Friday, December 11, 2015

Why Orwell--And the Fear of Offending Supremacist Totalitarians--Matters

Political correctness is a contemporary construct, but back in the 1940s George Orwell faced a form of PC--call it proto-PC--while searching for someone to publish his novel, Animal Farm. In his book Why Orwell Matters, Christopher Hitchens recounts what happened when the author submitted his manuscript to various publishers, including Faber and Faber and Jonathan Cape in the U.K.

Writing on behalf of the former, T.S. Eliot (yes, that T.S. Eliot, the poet who created uber-milquetoast, J. Alfred Prufrock), expressed some concerns re the political leanings of Animal Farm's pigs. "...[T]he positive point of view, which I take to be Trotskyite, is not convincing," he wrote. "And after all," he continued, entirely missing the point of the satire,
"your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm — in fact, there couldn't be an Animal Farm without them: so what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more publicly-spirited pigs."
If you say so, T.S.

But that response wasn't as "poltroonishly cowardly" (Hitchens's delightful phrase) as the one Orwell received from Jonathan Cape. In rejecting the novel, that publisher chided the author in a manner that seems oddly--even prophetically--PC, fretting that,
"the choice of pigs as the ruling class will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are."
When I read that line again recently, it struck me that that's one big difference between totalitarians past and present: that while the Russians may have been "a bit touchy" about being lampooned, they didn't, after all, run riot and set buildings ablaze when Animal Farm finally dropped (in 1945). In fact, compared to the incendiary way "touchy" Muslims behaved when both The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons were published, the Russians can be seen as paragons of civility and self-control.

As for political correctness and the disinclination to want to "give offence" to "touchy" totalitarians: it is more insane than ever; certainly, it's at a more advanced stage of crazy than it was when Why Orwell Matters was published a year after the 9/11 attacks.

And "poltroonishly cowardly"? I say we revive that one specifically for Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch and the rest of that absurdly PC administration's apparatchiks. 

If only Orwell was still around to satirize them.

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