Our Orwell, Right or Left

"Tyranny is always better organized than freedom."
—Charles Peguy

In Moscow in 1963, there was a saying: "Tell me what you think of Solzhenitsyn and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and I'll tell you who you are." A similar principle applies today among Western intellectuals and their opinion of George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four: your attitudes here are a good indicator of where you stand on the political spectrum. This fact became all the more clear during the last calendar year, for in 1984 the inevitable flurry of conferences and books about Orwell and his greatest work revealed how deeply divided Western intellectuals are concerning Orwell's intellectual and moral legacy.

Of course, what became immediately obvious in 1984 is that conservatives were far more comfortable with the overt message of Nineteen Eighty-Four than were either centrist-liberal intellectuals or (especially) those on the left. It seems an ironic fate for a man who called himself a democratic socialist. The favor with which Orwell is viewed in the conservative movement was well exemplified in Norman Podhoretz's essay in Harper's, January 1983 (Podhoretz could not even wait for the beginning of The Year before he got the political debate going). And the ambivalence of standard liberalism and especially the left...

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