As I Please
by George Orwell
Tribune, 1944
March 10 / March 17 /March 24 / March 31 / April 14 / April 21 / April 28


March 3:


SOME weeks ago a Catholic reader of Tribune wrote to protest against a review by Mr Charles Hamblett. She objected to his remarks about St Teresa and about St Joseph of Copertino, the saint who once flew round a cathedral carrying a bishop on his back. I answered, defending Mr Hamblett, and got a still more indignant letter in return. This letter raises a number of very important points, and at least one of them seems to me to deserve discussion. The relevance of flying saints to the Socialist movement may not at first sight be very clear, but I think I can show that the present nebulous state of Christian doctrine has serious implications which neither Christians nor Socialists have faced.

The substance of my correspondent’s letter is that it doesn’t matter whether St Teresa and the rest of them flew through the air or not: what matters is that St Teresa’s ‘vision of the world changed the course of history’. I would concede this. Having lived in an oriental country I have developed a certain indifference to miracles, and I well know that having delusions, or even being an outright lunatic, is quite compatible with what is loosely called genius. William Blake, for instance, was a lunatic in my opinion. Joan of Arc was probably a lunatic. Newton believed in astrology, Strindberg believed in magic. However, the miracles of the saints are a minor matter. It also appears from my correspondent’s letter that even the most central doctrines of the Christian religion don’t have to be accepted in a literal sense. It doesn’t matter, for instance, whether Jesus Christ ever existed. ‘The figure of Christ (myth, or man, or god, it does not matter) so transcends all the rest that I only wish that everyone would look, before rejecting that version of life.’ Christ, therefore, may be a myth, or he may have been merely a human being, or the account given of him in the Creeds may be true. So we arrive at this position: Tribune must not poke fun at the Christian religion, but the existence of Christ, which innumerable people have been burnt for denying, is a matter of indifference.

Now, is this orthodox Catholic doctrine? My impression is that it is not. I can think of passages in the writing of popular Catholic apologists such as Father Woodlock and Father Ronald Knox in which it is stated in the clearest terms that Christian doctrine means what is appears to mean, and is not to be accepted in some wishy-washy metaphorical sense. Father Knox refers specifically to the idea that it doesn’t matter whether Christ actually existed as a ‘horrible’ idea. But what my correspondent says would be echoed by many Catholic intellectuals. If you talk to a thoughtful Christian, Catholic or Anglican, you often find yourself laughed at for being so ignorant as to suppose that anyone ever took the doctrines of the Church literally. These doctrines have, you are told, a quite other meaning which you are too crude to understand. Immortality of the soul doesn’t ‘mean’ that you, John Smith, will remain conscious after you are dead. Resurrection of the body doesn’t mean that John Smith’s body will actually be resurrected—and so on and so on. Thus the Catholic intellectual is able, for controversial purposes, to play a sort of handy-pandy game, repeating the articles of the Creed in exactly the same terms as his forefathers, while defending himself from the charge of superstition by explaining that he is speaking in parables. Substantially his claim is that though he himself doesn’t believe in any very definite way in life after death, there has been no change in Christian belief, since our ancestors didn’t really believe in it either. Meanwhile a vitally important fact—that one of the props of western civilization has been knocked away—is obscured.

I do not know whether, officially, there has been any alteration in Christian doctrine. Father Knox and my correspondent would seem to be in disagreement about this. But what I do know is that belief in survival after death—the individual survival of John Smith, still conscious of himself as John Smith—is enormously less widespread than it was. Even among professing Christians it is probably decaying: other people, as a rule, don’t even entertain the possibility that it might be true. But our forefathers, so far as we know, did believe in it. Unless all that they wrote about it was intended to mislead us, they believed it in an exceedingly literal, concrete way. Life on earth, as they saw it, was simply a short period of preparation for an infinitely more important life beyond the grave. But that notion has disappeared, or is disappearing, and the consequences have not really been faced.

Western civilization, unlike some oriental civilizations, was founded partly on the belief in individual immortality. If one looks at the Christian religion from the outside, this belief appears far more important than the belief in God. The western conception of good and evil is very difficult to separate from it. There is little doubt that the modern cult of power worship is bound up with the modern man’s feeling that life here and now is the only life there is. If death ends everything, it becomes much harder to believe that you can be in the right, even if you are defeated. Statesmen, nations, theories, causes are judged almost inevitably by the test of material success. Supposing that one can separate the two phenomena, I would say that the decay of the belief in personal immortality has been as important as the rise of machine civilization. Machine civilization has terrible possibilities, as you probably reflected the other night when the ack-ack guns started up: but the other thing has terrible possibilities too, and it cannot be said that the Socialist movement has given much thought to them.

I do not want the belief in life after death to return, and in any case it is not likely to return. What I do point out is that its disappearance has left a big hole, and that we ought to take notice of that fact. Reared for thousands of years on the notion that the individual survives, man has got to make a considerable psychological effort to get used to the notion that the individual perishes. He is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell. Marxism, indeed, does supply this, but it has never really been popularized. Most Socialists are content to point out that once Socialism has been established we shall be happier in a material sense, and to assume that all problems lapse when one’s belly is full. But the truth 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 worth-while picture of the future unless one realizes how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity. Few Socialists seem to be aware of this. And the Catholic intellectuals who cling to the letter of the Creeds while reading into them meanings they were never meant to have, and who snigger at anyone simple enough to suppose that the Fathers of the Church meant what they said, are simply raising smoke-screens to conceal their own disbelief from themselves.

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I HAVE very great pleasure in welcoming the reappearance of the Cornhill Magazine after its four years’ absence. Apart from the articles—there is a good one on Mayakovsky by Maurice Bowra, and another good one by Raymond Mortimer on Brougham and Macaulay—there are some interesting notes by the editor on the earlier history of the Cornhill. One fact that these bring out is the size and wealth of the Victorian reading public, and the vast sums earned by literary men in those days. The first number of the Cornhill sold 120,000 copies. It paid Trollope £2,000 for a serial—he had demanded £3,000—and commissioned another from George Eliot at £10,000. Except for the tiny few who managed to crash into the film world, these sums would be quite unthinkable nowadays. You would have to be a top-notcher even to get into the £2,000 class. As for £10,000, to get that for a single book you would have to be someone like Edgar Rice Burroughs. A novel nowadays is considered to have done very well if it brings its author £500—a sum which a successful lawyer can earn in a single day. The book ramp is not so new as ‘Beachcomber’ and other enemies of the literary race imagine.




March 10:


READING as nearly as possible simultaneously Mr Derrick Leon’s Life of Tolstoy, Miss Gladys Storey’s book on Dickens, Harry Levin’s book on James Joyce, and the autobiography (not yet published in this country) of Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, I was struck even more forcibly than usual by the advantage that an artist derives from being born into a relatively healthy society.

When I first read War and Peace I must have been twenty, an age at which one is not intimidated by long novels, and my sole quarrel with this book (three stout volumes—the length of perhaps four modern novels) was that it did not go on long enough. It seemed to me that Nicholas and Natasha Rostov, Pierre Bezukhov, Denisov and all the rest of them, were people about whom one would gladly go on reading for ever. The fact is that the minor Russian aristocracy of that date, with their boldness and simplicity, their countrified pleasures, their stormy love affairs and enormous families, were very charming people. Such a society could not possibly be called just or progressive. It was founded on serfdom, a fact that made Tolstoy uneasy even in his boyhood, and even the ‘enlightened’ aristocrat would have found it difficult to think of the peasant as the same species of animal as himself. Tolstoy himself did not give up beating his servants till he was well on into adult life.

The landowner exercised a sort of droit de seigneur over the peasants on his estate. Tolstoy had at least one bastard, and his morganatic half-brother was the family coachman. And yet one cannot feel for these simple-minded, prolific Russians the same contempt as one feels for the sophisticated cosmopolitan scum who gave Dali his livelihood. Their saving grace is that they are rustics, they have never heard of benzedrine or gilded toenails, and though Tolstoy was later to repent of the sins of his youth more vociferously than most people, he must have known that he drew his strength—his creative power as well as the strength of his vast muscles—from that rude, healthy background where one shot woodcocks on the marshes and girls thought themselves lucky if they went to three dances in a year.

One of the big gaps in Dickens is that he writes nothing, even in a burlesque spirit, about country life. Of agriculture he does not even pretend to know anything. There are some farcical descriptions of shooting in the Pickwick Papers, but Dickens, as a middle-class radical, would be incapable of describing such amusements sympathetically. He sees field-sports as primarily an exercise in snobbishness, which they already were in the England of that date. The enclosures, industrialism, the vast differentiation of wealth, and the cult of the pheasant and the red deer had all combined to drive the mass of the English people off the land and make the hunting instinct, which is probably almost universal in human beings, seem merely a fetish of the aristocracy. Perhaps the best thing in War and Peace is the description of the wolf hunt. In the end it is the peasant’s dog that outstrips those of the nobles and gets the wolf; and afterwards Natasha finds it quite natural to dance in the peasant’s hut.

To see such scenes in England you would have had to go back a hundred or two hundred years, to a time when difference in status did not mean any very great difference in habits. Dickens’s England was already dominated by the ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ board. When one thinks of the accepted left-wing attitude towards hunting, shooting and the like, it is queer to reflect that Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky were all of them keen sportsmen in their day. But then they belonged to a large empty country where there was no necessary connexion between sport and snobbishness, and the divorce between country and town was never complete. This society which almost any modern novelist has as his material is very much meaner, less comely and less carefree than Tolstoy’s, and to grasp this has been one of the signs of talent. Joyce would have been falsifying the facts, if he had made the people in Dubliners less disgusting than they are. But the natural advantage lay with Tolstoy: for, other things being equal, who would not rather write about Pierre and Natasha than about furtive seductions in boarding-houses or drunken Catholic businessmen celebrating a ‘retreat’?

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IN his book on Joyce Mr Harry Levin gives a few biographical details, but is unable to tell us much about Joyce’s last year of life. All we know is that when the Nazis entered France he escaped over the border into Switzerland, to die about a year later in his old home in Zurich. Even the whereabouts of Joyce’s children is not, it seems, known for certain.

The academic critics could not resist the opportunity to kick Joyce’s corpse. The Times gave him a mean, cagey little obituary, and then—though The Times has never lacked space for letters about batting averages or the first cuckoo—refused to print the letter of protest that T. S. Eliot wrote. This was in accordance with the grand old English tradition that the dead must always be flattered unless they happen to be artists. Let a politician die, and his worst enemies will stand up on the floor of the House and utter pious lies in his honour, but a writer or artist must be sniffed at, at least if he is any good. The entire British press united to insult D. H. Lawrence (‘pornographer’ was the usual description) as soon as he was dead. But the snooty obituaries were merely what Joyce would have expected. The collapse of France, and the need to flee from the Gestapo like a common political suspect, were a different matter, and when the war is over it will be very interesting to find out what Joyce thought about it. Joyce was a conscious exile from Anglo-Irish philistinism. Ireland would have none of him, England and America barely tolerated him. His books were refused publication, destroyed when in type by timid publishers, banned when they came out, pirated with the tacit connivance of the authorities, and, in any case, largely ignored until the publication of Ulysses. He had a genuine grievance, and was extremely conscious of it. But it was also his aim to be a ‘pure’ artist, ‘above the battle’ and indifferent to politics. He had written Ulysses in Switzerland, with an Austrian passport and a British pension, during the 1914-18 war, to which he paid as nearly as possible no attention. But the present war, as Joyce found out, is not of a kind to be ignored, and I think it must have left him reflecting that a political choice is necessary and that even stupidity is better than totalitarianism.

One thing that Hitler and his friends have demonstrated is what a relatively good time the intellectual has had during the past hundred years. After all, how does the persecution of Joyce, Lawrence, Whitman, Baudelaire, even Oscar Wilde, compare with the kind of thing that has been happening to liberal intellectuals all over Europe since Hitler came to power? Joyce left Ireland in disgust: he did not have to run for his life, as he did when the panzers rolled into Paris. The British Government duly banned Ulysses when it appeared, but it took the ban off fifteen years later, and what is probably more important, it helped Joyce to stay alive while the book was written. And thereafter, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous admirer, Joyce was able to live a civilized life in Paris for nearly twenty years, working away at Finnegans Wake and surrounded by a circle of disciples, while industrious teams of experts translated Ulysses not only into various European languages but even into Japanese. Between 1900 and 1920 he had known hunger and neglect: but take it for all in all, his life would appear a pretty good one if one were viewing it from inside a German concentration camp.

What would the Nazis have done with Joyce if they could have laid hands on him? We don’t know. They might even have made efforts to win him over and add him to their bag of ‘converted’ literary men. But he must have seen that they had not only broken up the society that he was used to, but were the deadly enemies of everything that he valued. The battle which he had wanted to be ‘above’ did, after all, concern him fairly directly, and I like to think that before the end he brought himself to utter some non-neutral comment on Hitler—and coming from Joyce it might be quite a stinger—which is lying in Zurich and will be accessible after the war.




March 17:


WITH no power to put my decrees into operation, but with as much authority as most of the exile ‘governments’ now sheltering in various parts of the world, I pronounce sentence of death on the following words and expressions:

Achilles’ heel, jackboot, hydra-headed, ride roughshod over, stab in the back, petty-bourgeois, stinking corpse, liquidate, iron heel, blood-stained oppressor, cynical betrayal, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, jackal, hyena, blood-bath.

No doubt this list will have to be added to from time to time, but it will do to go on with. It contains a fair selection of the dead metaphors and ill-translated foreign phrases which have been current in Marxist literature for years past. There are, of course, many other perversions of the English language besides this one. There is official English, or Stripetrouser, the language of White Papers, Parliamentary debates (in their more decorous moments) and B.B.C. news bulletins. There are the scientists and the economists, with their instinctive preference for words like ‘contraindicate’ and ‘deregionalization’. There is American slang, which for all its attractiveness probably tends to impoverish the language in the long run. And there is the general slovenliness of modern English speech with its decadent vowel sounds (throughout the London area you have to use sign language to distinguish between ‘threepence’ and ‘three-halfpence’) and its tendency to make verbs and nouns interchangeable. But here I am concerned only with one kind of bad English, Marxist English, or Pamphletese, which can be studied in the Daily Worker, the Labour Monthly, Plebs, the New Leader, and similar papers.

Many of the expressions used in political literature are simply euphemisms or rhetorical tricks. ‘Liquidate’ for instance (or ‘eliminate’) is a polite word for ‘to kill’, while ‘realism’ normally means ‘dishonesty’. But Marxist phraseology is peculiar in that it consists largely of translations. Its characteristic vocabulary comes ultimately from German or Russian phrases which have been adopted in one country after another with no attempt to find suitable equivalents. Here, for instance, is a piece of Marxist writing—it happens to be an address delivered to the Allied armies by the citizens of Pantelleria. The citizens of Pantelleria

pay grateful homage to the Anglo-American forces for the promptness with which they have liberated them from the evil yoke of a megalomaniac and satanic régime which, not content with having sucked like a monstrous octopus the best energies of true Italians for twenty years, is now reducing Italy to a mass of ruins and misery for one motive—only the insane personal profit of its chiefs, who, under an ill-concealed mask of hollow, so-called patriotism, hide the basest passions, and, plotting together with the German pirates, hatch the lowest egoism and blackest treatment while all the time, with revolting cynicism, they tread on the blood of thousands of Italians.


This filthy stew of words is presumably a translation from the Italian, but the point is that one would not recognize it as such. It might be a translation from any other European language, or it might come straight out of the Daily Worker, so truly international is this style of writing. Its characteristic is the endless use of ready-made metaphors. In the same spirit, when Italian submarines were sinking the ships that took arms to Republican Spain, the Daily Worker urged the British Admiralty to ‘sweep the mad dogs from the seas’. Clearly, people capable of using such phrases have ceased to remember that words have meanings.

A Russian friend tells me that the Russian language is richer than English in terms of abuse, so that Russian invective cannot always be accurately translated. Thus when Molotov referred to the Germans as ‘cannibals’, he was perhaps using some word which sounded natural in Russian, but to which ‘cannibal’ was only a rough approximation. But our local Communists have taken over, from the defunct Inprecor and similar sources, a whole series of these crudely translated phrases, and from force of habit have come to think of them as actual English expressions. The Communist vocabulary of abuse (applied to Fascists or Socialists according to the ‘line’ of the moment) includes such terms as hyena, corpse, lackey, pirate, hangman, bloodsucker, mad dog, criminal, assassin. Whether at first, second or third hand, these are all translations, and by no means the kind of word that an English person naturally uses to express disapproval. The language of this kind is used with an astonishing indifference as to its meaning. Ask a journalist what a jackboot is, and you will find that he does not know. Yet he goes on talking about jackboots. Or what is meant by ‘to ride roughshod’? Very few people know that either. For that matter, in my experience, very few Socialists know the meaning of the word ‘proletariat’.

You can see a good example of Marxist language at its worst in the words ‘lackey’ and ‘flunkey’. Pre-revolutionary Russia was still a feudal country in which hordes of idle men-servants were part of the social set-up; in that context ‘lackey’, as a word of abuse, had a meaning. In England, the social landscape is quite different. Except at public functions, the last time I saw a footman in livery was in 1921. And, in fact, in ordinary speech, the word ‘flunkey’ has been obsolete since the nineties, and the word ‘lackey’ for about a century. Yet they and other equally inappropriate words are dug up for pamphleteering purposes. The result is a style of writing that bears the same relation to writing real English as doing a jigsaw puzzle bears to painting a picture. It is just a question of fitting together a number of ready-made pieces. Just talk about hydra-headed jack-boots riding roughshod over blood-stained hyenas, and you are all right. For confirmation of which, see almost any pamphlet issued by the Communist Party—or by any other political party, for that matter.




March 24:


OF ALL the unanswered questions of our time, perhaps the most important is: ‘What is Fascism?’

One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’. In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.

It is not easy, for instance, to fit Germany and Japan into the same framework, and it is even harder with some of the small states which are describable as Fascist. It is usually assumed, for instance, that Fascism is inherently warlike, that it thrives in an atmosphere of war hysteria and can only solve its economic problems by means of war preparation or foreign conquests. But clearly this is not true of, say, Portugal or the various South American dictatorships. Or again, antisemitism is supposed to be one of the distinguishing marks of Fascism; but some Fascist movements are not antisemitic. Learned controversies, reverberating for years on end in American magazines, have not even been able to determine whether or not Fascism is a form of capitalism. But still, when we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini’s Italy, we know broadly what we mean. It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people—certainly no political party or organized body of any kind—which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years. Here I am not speaking of the verbal use of the term ‘Fascist’. I am speaking of what I have seen in print. I have seen the words ‘Fascist in sympathy’, or ‘of Fascist tendency’, or just plain ‘Fascist’, applied in all seriousness to the following bodies of people:

Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 193035 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.

Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.

Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky’s own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.

Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;

War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.

Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People’s Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.

Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.

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. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. 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.




March 31:


THE OTHER day I attended a press conference at which a newly arrived Frenchman, who was described as an ‘eminent jurist’—he could not give his name or other specifications because of his family in France—set forth the French point of view on the recent execution of Pucheu. I was surprised to note that he was distinctly on the defensive, and seemed to think that the shooting of Pucheu was a deed that would want a good deal of justification in British and American eyes. His main point was that Pucheu was not shot for political reasons, but for the ordinary crime of ‘collaborating with the enemy’, which has always been punishable by death under French law.

An American correspondent asked the question: ‘Would collaborating with the enemy be equally a crime in the case of some petty official—an inspector of police, for example?’ ‘Absolutely the same,’ answered the Frenchman. As he had just come from France he was presumably voicing French opinion, but one can assume that in practice only the most active collaborators will be put to death. Any really big-scale massacre, if it really happened, would be quite largely the punishment of the guilty by the guilty. For there is much evidence that large sections of the French population were more or less pro-German in 1940 and only changed their minds when they found out what the Germans were like.

I do not want people like Pucheu to escape, but a few very obscure quislings, including one or two Arabs, have been shot as well, and this whole business of taking vengeance on traitors and captured enemies raises questions which are strategic as well as moral. The point is that if we shoot too many of the small rats now we may have no stomach for dealing with the big ones when the time comes. It is difficult to believe that the Fascist régimes can be thoroughly crushed without the killing of the responsible individuals, to the number of some hundreds or even thousands in each country. But it could well happen that all the truly guilty people will escape in the end, simply because public opinion has been sickened beforehand by hypocritical trials and cold-blooded executions.

In effect this was what happened in the last war. Who that was alive in those years does not remember the maniacal hatred of the Kaiser that was fostered in this country? Like Hitler in this war, he was supposed to be the cause of all our ills. No one doubted that he would be executed as soon as caught, and the only question was what method would be adopted. Magazine articles were written in which the rival merits of boiling in oil, drawing and quartering and breaking on the wheel were carefully examined. The Royal Academy exhibitions were full of allegorical pictures of incredible vulgarity, showing the Kaiser being thrown into Hell. And what came of it in the end? The Kaiser retired to Holland and (though he had been ‘dying of cancer’ in 1915) lived another twenty-two years, one of the richest men in Europe.

So also with all the other ‘war criminals’. After all the threats and promises that had been made, no war criminals were tried: to be exact, a dozen people or so were put on trial, given sentences of imprisonment and soon released. And though, of course, the failure to crush the German military caste was due to the conscious policy of the Allied leaders, who were terrified of revolution in Germany, the revulsion of feeling in ordinary people helped to make it possible. They did not want revenge when it was in their power. The Belgian atrocities, Miss Cavell, the U-boat captains who had sunk passenger ships without warning and machine-gunned the survivors—somehow it was all forgotten. Ten million innocent men had been killed, and no one wanted to follow it up by killing a few thousand guilty ones.

Whether we do or don’t shoot the Fascists and quislings who happen to fall into our hands is probably not very important in itself. What is important is that revenge and ‘punishment’ should have no part in our policy or even in our day-dreams. Up to date, one of the mitigating features of this war is that in this country there has been very little hatred. There has been none of the nonsensical racialism that there was last time—no pretence that all Germans have faces like pigs, for instance. Even the word ‘Hun’ has not really popularized itself. The Germans in this country, mostly refugees, have not been well treated, but they have not been meanly persecuted as they were last time. In the last war it would have been very unsafe, for instance, to speak German in a London street. Wretched little German bakers and hairdressers had their shops sacked by the mob, German music fell out of favour, even the breed of dachshunds almost disappeared because no one wanted to have a ‘German dog’. And the weak British attitude in the early period of German rearmament had a direct connexion with those follies of the war years.

Hatred is an impossible basis for policy, and curiously enough it can lead to over-softness as well as to over-toughness. In the war of 1914-18 the British people were whipped up into a hideous frenzy of hatred, they were fed on preposterous lies about crucified Belgian babies and German factories where corpses were made into margarine: and then as soon as the war stopped they suffered the natural revulsion, which was all the stronger because the troops came home, as British troops usually do, with a warm admiration for the enemy. The result was an exaggerated pro-German reaction which set in about 1920 and lasted till Hitler was well in the saddle. Throughout those years all ‘enlightened’ opinion (see any number of the Daily Herald before 1929, for instance) held it as an article of faith that Germany bore no responsibility for the war. Treitschke, Bernhardi, the Pan-Germans, the ‘nordic’ myth, the open boasts about ‘Der Tag’ which the Germans had been making from 1900 onwards—all this went for nothing. The Versailles Treaty was the greatest infamy the world has ever seen: few people had even heard of Brest-Litovsk. All this was the price of that four years’ orgy of lying and hatred.

Anyone who tried to awaken public opinion during the years of Fascist aggression from 1933 onwards knows what the aftereffects of that hate propaganda were like. ‘Atrocities’ had come to be looked on as synonymous with ‘lies’. But the stories about the German concentration camps were atrocity stories: therefore they were lies—so reasoned the average man. The left-wingers who tried to make the public see that Fascism was an unspeakable horror were fighting against their own propaganda of the past fifteen years.

That is why—though I would not save creatures like Pucheu even if I could—I am not happy when I see trials of ‘war criminals’, especially when they are very petty criminals and when witnesses are allowed to make inflammatory political speeches. Still less am I happy to see the Left associating itself with schemes to partition Germany, enrol millions of Germans in forced-labour gangs and impose reparations which will make the Versailles reparations look like a bus fare. All these vindictive day-dreams, like those of 1914-18, will simply make it harder to have a realistic post-war policy. If you think now in terms of ‘making Germany pay’, you will quite likely find yourself praising Hitler in 1950. Results are what matter, and one of the results we want from this war is to be quite sure that Germany will not make war again. Whether this is best achieved by ruthlessness or generosity I am not certain: but I am quite certain that either of these will be more difficult if we allow ourselves to be influenced by hatred.




April 14:


THE APRIL issue of Common Wealth devotes several paragraphs to the problem of the falling British birthrate. A good deal of what it says is true, but it also lets drop the following remarks:

The know-alls are quick to point to contraceptives, nutritional errors, infertility, selfishness, economic insecurity, etc., as basic causes of decline. But facts do not support them. In Nazi Germany, where contraceptives are illegal, the birthrate has reached a record low ebb, whereas in the Soviet Union, where there are no such restrictions, population is healthily on the up and up . . . . Reproduction, as the Peckham experiment has helped to prove, is stimulated in an environment marked by fellowship and cooperation . . . . Once meaning and purpose are restored to life, the wheels of production are kept humming, and life is again an adventure instead of just an endurance, we shall hear no more of the baby shortage.


It is not fair to the public to treat all-important subjects in this slapdash way. To begin with, you would gather from the passage quoted above that Hitler lowered the German birthrate. On the contrary, he raised it to levels unheard-of during the Weimar Republic. Before the war it was above replacement level, for the first time in many years. The catastrophic drop in the German birthrate began in 1942, and must have been partly caused by so many German males being away from home. Figures cannot be available yet, but the Russian birthrate must also certainly have dropped over the same period.

You would also gather that the high Russian birthrate dates from the Revolution. But it was also high in Czarist times. Nor is there any mention of the countries where the birthrate is highest of all, that is, India, China, and (only a little way behind) Japan. Would it be accurate to say, for instance, that a South Indian peasant’s life is ‘an adventure instead of just an endurance”?

The one thing that can be said with almost complete certainty on this subject is that a high birthrate goes with a low standard of living, and vice versa. There are few if any real exceptions to this. Otherwise the question is exceedingly complex. It is, all the same, vitally important to learn as much about it as we can, because there will be a calamitous drop in our own population unless the present trend is reversed within ten or, at most, twenty years. One ought not to assume, as some people do, that this is impossible, for such changes of trend have often happened before. The experts are proving now that our population will be only a few millions by the end of this century, but they were also proving in 1870 that by 1940 it would be 100 millions. To reach replacement level again, our birthrate would not have to take such a sensational upward turns as, for instance, the Turkish birthrate did after Mustapha Kemal took over. But the first necessity is to find out why populations rise and fall, and it is just as unscientific to assume that a high birthrate is a byproduct of Socialism as to swallow everything that is said on the subject by childless Roman Catholic priests.

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WHEN I read of the goings-on in the House of Commons the week before last, I could not help being reminded of a little incident that I witnessed twenty years ago and more.

It was at a village cricket match. The captain of one side was the local squire who, besides being exceedingly rich, was a vain, childish man to whom the winning of this match seemed extremely important. Those playing on his side were all or nearly all his own tenants.

The squire’s side were batting, and he himself was out and was sitting in the pavilion. One of the batsmen accidentally hit his own wicket at about the same moment as the ball entered the wicketkeeper’s hands. ‘That’s not out,’ said the squire promptly, and went on talking to the person beside him. The umpire, however, gave a verdict of ‘out’, and the batsman was half-way back to the pavilion before the squire realized what was happening. Suddenly he caught sight of the returning batsman, and his face turned several shades redder.

‘What!’ he cried, ‘he’s given him out? Nonsense! Of course he’s not out!’ And then, standing up, he cupped his hands and shouted to the umpire: ‘Hi, what did you give that man out for? He wasn’t out at all!’

The batsman had halted. The umpire hesitated, then recalled the batsman to the wicket and the game went on.

I was only a boy at the time, and this incident seemed to me about the most shocking thing I had ever seen. Now, so much do we coarsen with the passage of time, my reaction would merely be to inquire whether the umpire was the squire’s tenant as well.

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ATTACKING Mr C. A. Smith and myself in the Malvern Torch for various remarks about the Christian religion, Mr Sidney Dark grows very angry because I have suggested that the belief in personal immortality is decaying. ‘I would wager,’ he says, ‘that if a Gallup poll were taken seventy-five per cent (of the British population) would confess to a vague belief in survival.’ Writing elsewhere during the same week, Mr Dark puts it at eighty-five per cent.

Now, I find it very rare to meet anyone, of whatever background, who admits to believing in personal immortality. Still, I think it quite likely that if you asked everyone the question and put pencil and paper in his hands, a fairly large number (I am not so free with my percentages as Mr Dark) would admit the possibility that after death there might be ‘something’. The point Mr Dark has missed is that the belief, such as it is, hasn’t the actuality it had for our forefathers. Never, literally never in recent years, have I met anyone who gave me the impression of believing in the next world as firmly as he believed in the existence of, for instance, Australia. Belief in the next world does not influence conduct as it would if it were genuine. With that endless existence beyond death to look forward to, how trivial our lives here would seem! Most Christians profess to believe in Hell. Yet have you ever met a Christian who seemed as afraid of Hell as he was of cancer? Even very devout Christians will make jokes about Hell. They wouldn’t make jokes about leprosy, or R.A.F. pilots with their faces burnt away: the subject is too painful. Here there springs into my mind a little triolet by the late G. K. Chesterton:

It’s a pity that Poppa has sold his soul,
It makes him sizzle at breakfast so.
The money was useful, but still on the whole
It’s a pity that Poppa has sold his soul
When he might have held on like the Baron de Coal,
And not cleared out when the price was low.
It’s a pity that Poppa has sold his soul,
It makes him sizzle at breakfast so.


Chesterton, a Catholic, would presumably have said that he believed in Hell. If his next-door neighbour had been burnt to death he would not have written a comic poem about it, yet he can make jokes about somebody being fried for millions of years. I say that such belief has no reality. It is a sham currency, like the money in Samuel Butler’s Musical Banks.




April 21:


IN A LETTER published in this week’s Tribune, someone attacks me rather violently for saying that the B.B.C. is a better source of news than the daily papers, and is so regarded by the public. I have never, he suggests, heard ordinary working men shouting ‘Turn that dope off! ‘when the news bulletin comes on.

On the contrary, I have heard this frequently. Still more frequently I have seen the customers in a pub go straight on with their darts, music and so forth without the slightest slackening of noise when the news bulletin began. But it was not my claim that anyone likes the B.B.C., or thinks it interesting, or grown-up, or democratic, or progressive. I said only that people regard it as a relatively sound source of news. Again and again I have known people, when they see some doubtful item of news, wait to have it confirmed by the radio before they believe it. Social surveys show the same thing—i.e. that as against the radio the prestige of newspapers has declined.

And I repeat what I said before—that in my experience the B.B.C. is relatively truthful and, above all, has a responsible attitude towards news and does not disseminate lies simply because they are ‘newsy’. Of course, untrue statements are constantly being broadcast and anyone can tell you of instances. But in most cases this is due to genuine error, and the B.B.C. sins much more by simply avoiding anything controversial than by direct propaganda. And after all—a point not met by our correspondent—its reputation abroad is comparatively high. Ask any refugee from Europe which of the belligerent radios is considered to be the most truthful. So also in Asia. Even in India, where the population are so hostile that they will not listen to British propaganda and will hardly listen to a British entertainment programme, they listen to B.B.C. news because they believe that it approximates to the truth.

Even if the B.B.C. passes on the British official lies, it does make some effort to sift the others. Most of the newspapers, for instance, have continued to publish without any query as to their truthfulness the American claims to have sunk the entire Japanese fleet several times over. The B.B.C., to my knowledge, developed quite early on an attitude of suspicion towards this and certain other unreliable sources. On more than one occasion I have known a newspaper to print a piece of news—and news unfavourable to Britain—on no other authority than the German radio, because it was ‘newsy’ and made a good ‘para’.

If you see something obviously untruthful in a newspaper and ring up to ask ‘Where did you get that from?’ you are usually put off with the formula: ‘I’m afraid Mr So-and-So is not in the office.’ If you persist, you generally find that the story has no basis whatever but that it looked like a good bit of news, so in it went. Except where libel is involved, the average journalist is astonished and even contemptuous if anyone bothers about accuracy with regard to names, dates, figures and other details. And any daily journalist will tell you that one of the most important secrets of his trade is the trick of making it appear that there is news when there is no news.

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TOWARDS the end of May 1940, newspaper posters were prohibited in order to save paper. Several newspapers, however, continued to display posters for some time afterwards. On inquiry it was found that they were using old ones. Such headlines as ‘Panzer Divisions Hurled Back’ or ‘French Army Standing Firm’ could be used over and over again. Then came the period when the paper-sellers supplied their own posters with a slate and a bit of chalk, and in their hands the poster became a comparatively sober and truthful thing. It referred to something that was actually in the paper you were going to buy, and it usually picked out the real news and not some piece of sensational nonsense. The paper-sellers, who frequently did not know which way round a capital S goes, had a better idea of what is news, and more sense of responsibility towards the public, than their millionaire employers.

Our correspondent considers that the public and the journalists rather than the proprietors are to blame for the silliness of English newspapers. You could not, he implies, make an intelligent newspaper pay because the public wants tripe. I am not certain whether this is so. For the time being most of the tripe has vanished and newspaper circulations have not declined. But I do agree—and I said so—that the journalists share the blame. In allowing their profession to be degraded they have largely acted with their eyes open, whereas, I suppose, to blame somebody like Northcliffe for making money in the quickest way is like blaming a skunk for stinking.

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ONE mystery about the English language is why, with the biggest vocabulary in existence, it has to be constantly borrowing foreign words and phrases. Where is the sense, for instance, of saying cul de sac when you mean blind alley? Other totally unnecessary French phrases are joie de vivre, amour propre, reculer pour mieux sauter, raison d’etre, vis-a-vis, tete-a-tete, au pied de la lettre, esprit de corps. There are dozens more of them. Other needless borrowings come from Latin (though there is a case for ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’, which are useful abbreviations), and since the war we have been much infested by German words, Gleichschaltung, Lebensraum, Weltanschauung, Wehrmacht, Panzerdivisionen and others being flung about with great freedom. In nearly every case an English equivalent already exists or could easily be improvised. There is also a tendency to take over American slang phrases without understanding their meaning. For example, the expression ‘barking up the wrong tree’ is fairly widely used, but inquiry shows that most people don’t know its origin nor exactly what it means.

Sometimes it is necessary to take over a foreign word, but in that case we should anglicize its pronunciation, as our ancestors used to do. If we really need the word ‘café’ (we got on well enough with ‘coffee house’ for two hundred years), it should either be spelled ‘caffay’ or pronounced ‘cayfe’. ‘Garage’ should be pronounced ‘garridge’. For what point is there in littering our speech with fragments of foreign pronunciation, very tiresome to anyone who does not happen to have learned that particular language?

And why is it that most of us never use a word of English origin if we can find a manufactured Greek one? One sees a good example of this in the rapid disappearance of English flower names. What until twenty years ago was universally called a snapdragon is now called an antirrhinum, a word no one can spell without consulting a dictionary. Forget-me-nots are coming more and more to be called myosotis. Many other names, Red Hot Poker, Mind Your Own Business, Love Lies Sleeping, London Pride, are disappearing in favour of colourless Greek names out of botany textbooks. I had better not continue too long on this subject, because last time I mentioned flowers in this column an indignant lady wrote in to say that flowers are bourgeois. But I don’t think it a good augury for the future of the English language that ‘marigold’ should be dropped in favour of ‘calendula’, while the pleasant little Cheddar Pink loses is name and becomes merely Dianthus Caesius.




April 28:


ON THE night in 1940 when the big ack-ack barrage was fired over London for the first time, I was in Piccadilly Circus when the guns opened up, and I fled into the Café Royal to take cover. Among the crowd inside a good-looking, well-made youth of about twenty-five was making somewhat of a nuisance of himself with a copy of Peace News, which he was forcing upon the attention of everyone at the neighbouring tables. I got into conversation with him, and the conversation went something like this:

The youth: ‘I tell you, it’ll all be over by Christmas. There’s obviously going to be a compromise peace. I’m pinning my faith to Sir Samuel Hoare. It’s degrading company to be in, I admit, but still Hoare is on our side. So long as Hoare’s in Madrid, there’s always hope of a sell-out.’

Orwell: ‘What about all these preparations that they’re making against invasion—the pill-boxes that they’re building everywhere, the L.D.V.s, and so forth?’

The youth: ‘Oh, that merely means that they’re getting ready to crush the working class when the Germans get here. I suppose some of them might be fools enough to try to resist, but Churchill and the Germans between them won’t take long to settle them. Don’t worry, it’ll soon be over.’

Orwell: ‘Do you really want to see your children grow up Nazis?’

The youth: ‘Nonsense! You don’t suppose the Germans are going to encourage Fascism in this country, do you? They don’t want to breed up a race of warriors to fight against them. Their object will be to turn us into slaves. They’ll encourage every pacifist movement they can lay hands on. That’s why I’m a pacifist. They’ll encourage people like me.’

Orwell: ‘And shoot people like me?’

The youth: ‘That would be just too bad.’

Orwell: ‘But why are you so anxious to remain alive?’

The youth: ‘So that I can get on with my work, of course.’

It had come out in the conversation that the youth was a painter—whether good or bad I do not know, but, at any rate, sincerely interested in painting and quite ready to face poverty in pursuit of it. As a painter, he would probably have been somewhat better off under a German occupation than a writer or journalist would be. But still, what he said contained a very dangerous fallacy, now very widespread in the countries where totalitarianism has not actually established itself.

The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside. Quite a number of people console themselves with this thought, now that totalitarianism in one form or another is visibly on the up-grade in every part of the world. Out in the street the loudspeakers bellow, the flags flutter from the rooftops, the police with their tommy-guns prowl to and fro, the face of the Leader, four feet wide, glares from every hoarding; but up in the attics the secret enemies of the régime can record their thoughts in perfect freedom—that is the idea, more or less. And many people are under the impression that this is going on now in Germany and other dictatorial countries.

Why is this idea false? I pass over the fact that modern dictatorships don’t, in fact, leave the loopholes that the old-fashioned despotisms did; and also the probable weakening of the desire for intellectual liberty owing to totalitarian methods of education. The greatest mistake is to imagine that the human being is an autonomous individual. The secret freedom which you can supposedly enjoy under a despotic government is nonsense, because your thoughts are never entirely your own. Philosophers, writers, artists, even scientists, not only need encouragement and an audience, they need constant stimulation from other people. It is almost impossible to think without talking. If Defoe had really lived on a desert island he could not have written Robinson Crusoe, nor would he have wanted to. Take away freedom of speech, and the creative faculties dry up. Had the Germans really got to England my acquaintance of the Café Royal would soon have found his painting deteriorating, even if the Gestapo had let him alone. And when the lid is taken off Europe, I believe one of the things that will surprise us will be to find how little worth-while writing of any kind—even such things as diaries, for instance—has been produced in secret under the dictators.

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MR BASIL HENRIQUES, chairman of the East London Juvenile Court, has just been letting himself go on the subject of the Modern Girl. English boys, he says, are ‘just grand’, but it is a different story with girls:

One seldom comes across a really bad boy. The war seems to have affected girls more than boys . . . . Children now went to the pictures several times a week and saw what they imagined was the high life of America, when actually it was a great libel on that country. They also suffer from the effects of listening through the microphone to wild raucous jitterbugging noises called music . . . . Girls of 14 now dress and talk like those of 18 and 19, and put the same filth and muck on their faces.


I wonder whether Mr Henriques knows (a) that well before the other war it was already usual to attribute juvenile crime to the evil example of the cinematograph, and (b) that the Modern Girl has been just the same for quite two thousand years?

One of the big failures in human history has been the agelong attempt to stop women painting their faces. The philosophers of the Roman Empire denounced the frivolity of the modern woman in almost the same terms as she is denounced today. In the fifteenth century the Church denounced the damnable habit of plucking the eyebrows. The English Puritans, the Bolsheviks and the Nazis all attempted to discourage cosmetics, without success. In Victorian England rouge was considered so disgraceful that it was usually sold under some other name, but it continued to be used.

Many styles of dress, from the Elizabethan ruff to the Edwardian hobble skirt, have been denounced from the pulpit, without effect. In the nineteen-twenties, when skirts were at their shortest, the Pope decreed that women improperly dressed were not to be admitted to Catholic churches; but somehow feminine fashions remained unaffected. Hitler’s ‘ideal woman’, an exceedingly plain specimen in a mackintosh, was exhibited all over Germany and much of the rest of the world, but inspired few imitators. I prophesy that English girls will continue to ‘put filth and muck on their faces’ in spite of Mr Henriques. Even in jail, it is said, the female prisoners redden their lips with the dye from the Post Office mail bags.

Just why women use cosmetics is a different question, but it seems doubtful whether sex attraction is the main object. It is very unusual to meet a man who does not think painting your fingernails scarlet is a disgusting habit, but hundreds of thousands of women go on doing it all the same. Meanwhile it might console Mr Henriques to know that though make-up persists, it is far less elaborate than it used to be in the days when Victorian beauties had their faces ‘enamelled’, or when it was usual to alter the contour of your cheeks by means of ‘plumpers’, as described in Swift’s poem, ‘On a Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed’.






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