edited by peter davison
liveright, 524 pages, $35
When, in her book Treason, Ann Coulter cited George Orwell in support of her denunciation of liberals as traitors, her readers probably didn’t even blink. Like thousands of high school students every year, they had read the antitotalitarian classics Animal Farm and 1984, or at least recognized Orwell as the source of “Thought Police” and “Big Brother,” and assumed that he stood on the right as an enemy of Big Government.
But to think Orwell’s anticommunism aligned him with conservatism is to confuse having a common enemy with sharing a philosophy. Yes, in 1947 Orwell wrote of Russia to one of his publishers, “For quite 15 years I have regarded that regime with plain horror,” and once he grumbled to another writer, Julian Symons, “I particularly hate that trick of sucking up to the left cliques by perpetually attacking America, while relying on America to feed & protect us.” Most of all, as the British government sought to mobilize writers to counter the anti-British propaganda of the Soviets in the late forties, Orwell offered one official “a list of journalists & writers who in my opinion are crypto-Communists, fellow-travelers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists.”
But Orwell also claimed that “it is futile to be ‘anti-Fascist’ while attempting to preserve capitalism. Fascism after all is only a development of capitalism.” And consider this: “After having a fairly good look at British industrialism at its worst, i.e. in the mining areas, I came to the conclusion that it is a duty to work for Socialism . About the same time I became infected with a horror of totalitarianism, which indeed I already had in the form of hostility towards the Catholic Church.”