I delighted in reading both Animal Farm and 1984 a few years ago, and I can definitely agree with their status as timeless classics. Numerous criticisms can, however, be made of the Orwellian worldview reflected in these books, but the error that struck me most was Orwell’s limited conception of liberty in exclusively the negative sense. Orwell, like Enlightenment and libertarian thinkers, saw liberty – the central theme of his magnum opus – as the lack of external restrictions on possible human choices; i.e. freedom is defined by the least number of actions forbidden to humans. This negative conception of liberty’s shortcoming fails to take into account the decisive impact of bondages, addictions, and spiritual slavery on human life. Contrast this with the traditionalist, positive conception of liberty: liberty as the ability to act according to one’s will and for the benefit of oneself and others. This is the true liberty of God’s Law, and the liberty Christ brings us (John 8:36).
Orwell’s liberal thinking particularly shines through in an essay he wrote immediately following WWII, entitled “Notes on Nationalism,” intended as an apologetic against nationalism. This essay’s main rhetorical strategy is to equate and draw parallels between nationalism and communism in order to present them as two sides of the same coin. In two essays I will explain why his argument fails miserably.
Orwell argues than nationalism wrongly classifies human beings as insects into different “blocks” (kinds). He notes that people are merely individuals and that national characters are non-existent. This thesis, for which Orwell provides no support except for saying that it enables false stereotypes, is opposed to the knowledge of Scripture, history and science.
Furthermore, to call stereotypes without exception “unfounded” without qualification is a definite shortcoming of Orwell’s reasoning. Not only does Scripture teach that stereotypes exist (e.g. Titus 1:12-13), reality confirms this.
Orwell goes on to say that classification of humans leads to labeling millions of individuals together as good or bad. This is firstly an egalitarian assumption and secondly a deductive fallacy.
Orwell goes on to say that nationalists identify with a single nation without recognizing any other duty beyond it, and that “no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” Of course this is beyond absurd, but he also fails to see that nationalism is the key to rightly apply the golden rule to the benefit of all of humanity.
He then makes what has become a common cuck argument in contrasting ‘patriotism’, which he characterizes as defensive, with nationalism, which “is inseparable from the desire for power” and “thinks solely, or primarily in terms of competitive prestige”. Orwell, who himself advocates for internationalism in this same essay, fails to see how the magic dirt theory of patriotism, a loyalty reduced to soil alone, is much more imperialist than nationalism, which he wrongly accuses of wanting “to dominate the world.” Nationalism is the antithesis of globalism, George! Also, no cultural Marxist has ever been able to explain to me why loyalty to soil is morally acceptable, while loyalty to kin is not.
Speaking of Marxism, Orwell comes to his central argument when he categorizes “Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism” together as forms of nationalism, which do “not . . . mean loyalty to a government or country”, objects of loyalty of which Orwell strangely seems to approve. He argues that “Jewry, Islam, Christendom, the Proletariat, the White race are all of them objects of passionate nationalistic feeling: but their existence can be seriously questioned and there is no definition of any of them that would be universally accepted.”
Here Orwell here clearly commits the continuum fallacy of Loki’s Wager. His argument is also internally inconsistent, for while he distinguishes nationalism from loyalty to a government or country, the former is indisputedly the main object of loyalty in communism. He also later accuses nationalism of not ever disapproving of atrocities committed by one’s own side, but on the contrary this is exactly what propositional civic statism, which has distinctly opposed nationalism since the French Revolution, does.
He goes on to criticize communists for feeling it is their duty to justify their Fatherland at all costs, but is this error not also incentivized by the kind of patriotism Orwell himself advocates? It is Christian nationalists who, historically, have been at the forefront of opposing government tyranny.
Orwell terribly confuses Marxism and nationalism, not only in terms of their respective doctrines of nationhood, but also in terms of their views of history. He accuses nationalism of seeing history as the “endless rise and decline of great power units”. This is a Marxist view of history which is to be sharply to be contrasted with a Christian-nationalist view of history.
Orwell argues that nationalistic loyalties have a detrimental effect on the arts, since it “would be difficult for an Indian nationalist to enjoy reading Kipling”. Well, firstly, I myself am proof that Orwell is wrong. As a Boer nationalist I personally enjoy reading Kipling, even while I lament his support for the Anglo-Boer War. Secondly, it would in fact be very difficult for an Englishman who is not a nationalist to enjoy reading Kipling!
Orwell then argues for the correlation of the “political Catholicism” of G.K. Chesterton with communism. Chesterton’s error, according to Orwell, was that he saw the superiority of Christianity not merely as intellectual or spiritual, but one that “had to be translated in national prestige”. Thereby Chesterton allegedly lost his moral sense, since for nationalists actions are supposedly judged not in terms of their moral character but by who does them. Yet, while criticizing Chesterton’s engagement in politics, Orwell himself argues in favor of a moral duty to engage in politics. Thus Orwell is in fact guilty of the very thing he accuses Chesterton of doing. Furthermore, his argument against nationalism’s moral relativism, to the extent of claiming that there is no crime nationalists would disavow, is fallacious. While there may be a strictly materialistic and evolutionary form of nationalism that adheres to no objective morality, historic Christian nationalism has used the divinely ordained moral order to judge national characteristics, and has used this as a core argument against egalitarianism. The traditionalism that has defended ethnonationalism since the Enlightenment also has as its core first principle a belief in a transcendent moral order, while it is the liberal internationalists who have relativized one moral principle after another.
In this first part of my critique we have seen a number of internal contradictions, inconsistencies, and false parallels drawn in Orwell’s argumentation – a direct result of the corruption of his thought by individualist, libertarian, Enlightenment, and fundamentally anti-Christian presuppositions. His arguments against nationalism also fail because he is surprisingly unable to grasp what nationalism truly is. As a self-proclaimed defender of internationalism, Orwell ironically uses rhetoric and arguments suitable only against communism and not against its very antithesis, nationalism.