Orwell’s England represents the culmination of his romantic notions of human decency, equality and the right to live an apolitical life away from dictatorial oppression and intrusion. England’s cultural touchstones, like pubs or toads or the simple cup of tea, are something Orwell chronicles with quiet adoration. That England is also a political entity is an inconvenience—its culture and civilisation is, if anything, anti-political. This helps explain why Orwell is so obsessed with English literature and language: it is the product of a political life that specifically avoids politics. Nineteen Eighty Four‘s depiction of England represents Orwell’s nightmare: a nation forgotten (it is now named Airstrip One), where there is no life outside the state, no method of expression except that allowed by the state (which is rewriting English as Newspeak), and no possibility of redemption except in a revolution by the politically obliterated proletariat.
This interested me for two reasons:
Firstly, I wonder if this rather John Majorish sense of Englishness might in part explain the paradox that David Aaronovitch identifies: that Orwell was on the left but is now principally cited by those on the right.
Secondly, I can’t help noticing a certain affinity between Orwell’s reverence for private pleasures and Anthony Crosland‘s suggestion that:
We need not only higher exports and old-age pensions, but more open-air cafes, brighter and gayer streets at night, later closing hours for public houses, more local repertory theatres, better and more hospitable hoteliers and restaurateurs, brighter and cleaner eating houses, more riverside cafes, more pleasure gardens on the Battersea model, more murals and pictures in public places, better designs for furniture and pottery and women’s clothes, statues in the centre of new housing estates, better-designed new street lamps and telephone kiosks and so on ad infinitum.
I do wonder if there is a broader connection between the two men. Certainly they were both influenced by James Burnham’s idea of a Managerial Revolution.