Quote Du Jour: Orwell on “Fascism”

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

george-orwell

It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. …By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.

“What is Fascism?,” 1944

In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.”

“Politics and the English Language,” 1946 

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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5 Responses to Quote Du Jour: Orwell on “Fascism”

  1. JV says:

    Sorry, but the Trump campaign comes closer, by a long shot, to the proper definition of that word than any legitimate campaign for the American presidency maybe ever.

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    • How so? What is your definition of “fascism” and how does he conform to it?

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      • JV says:

        His explicit calls for mass deportation and banning of travelers based on religious affiliation for starters. His calls to increase the frequency and brutality of torture. His calls to go after the families of terrorists. The fact that numerous current and former intelligence and military officials felt the need to remind him and his supporters that the military will not break the law by carrying out some of his promises if he does become President, and his doubling down on that promise when asked about it during the latest debate by saying the military “won’t refuse me.” I mean that’s just off the top of my head. Also the increasingly ugly scenes at his rallies. The unfortunate moment when he asked his supporters at a rally to raise their right hands and swear allegiance to him. His bullying speech and increasingly drastic clamping down of dissenting voices. Etc.

        I don’t like it when people bandy about terms like “fascist” or “racist” or especially “… is like Hitler.” But if the shoe fits…

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      • JV says:

        Forgot about his comments on changing libel laws :

        “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

        So he wants to start curtailing freedom of the press, too. I don’t know if all of this is fascist per se, but it’s certainly fascist-esque.

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  2. Warren Sikes says:

    I’ve always liked this passage from Orwell, and i suspect it dovetails with yours…

    “Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler, which means bringing into being a dynamic not necessarily the same as that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to ‘enlightened’ and hedonistic people. What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London streets at this moment. Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the ‘sacred soil of the Fatherland’, etc. etc.), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly altered from. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.”

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