The thing about Orwell, &c.


I often have occasion to quote Robert Graves, who said, “The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” I quote this in my music criticism, when discussing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, for example, or Verdi’s Traviata.

I thought of it last week, when reading two blogposts that quoted George Orwell. They both appeared on the Telegraph’s website, and they appeared on the same day. I read them within five minutes of each other. The thing about Orwell? He really is very good.

This post quoted the following dead-on sentences:

. . . the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. . . . England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. 

Does all this ring familiar to you, here in 2011?

This post, which had to do with Libya, quoted Orwell as follows: “Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”


I was reading this review of a book about Jessica Mitford when I came to this sentence: “She was a serious communist activist at a time when . . .” And I thought for a split second, “Oh, good, it’s going to say something like, ‘at a time when her fellow believers were killing, enslaving, and terrorizing masses of human beings all over the world.’”

Um, the line actually read, “She was a serious communist activist at a time when to be so in America was uncomfortable . . .”

Of course. How could I have been so naive?

Richard Goldstone was the author of the infamous, libelous report on Israel in Gaza. Earlier this year, he issued a partial repentance. A lot of people — including brethren of mine — poured scorn on Goldstone: Too little too late, etc. I welcomed what he said. I will quote a little from the Impromptus of April 7:

. . . I’m glad [Goldstone] wrote the article he did — the article confessing his errors. It is very important. If it is not noble, it’s at least not ignoble. The radical Arabs are branding Goldstone a betrayer. He was a hero to them — and to the U.N. crowd, to use a shorthand. Chances are, it wasn’t easy for him to write his article. It cost him something.

Now he has done something similarly useful. He has written an op-ed piece for the New York Times standing up to the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. His piece includes the simple sentence, “In Israel, there is no apartheid.” Of course there isn’t.

The idea that Israel is an apartheid state is very, very important to people the world over (on American campuses, for instance). It is a deeply cherished lie, almost a religious tenet. Goldstone’s refutation of it is particularly important coming from a South African, which Goldstone is.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a powerful weapon against Israel. He is an anti-apartheid hero, the winner of the Nobel peace prize, and he has been telling everyone for many years that Israel is an apartheid state, just as South Africa was. He has tried to make Israel a pariah state, again as South Africa was. To this end, he campaigns for boycotts.

Last year, the Cape Town Opera was planning an international tour that included Israel. Tutu told the company to stay away. The company told him to get lost — and went ahead to Israel. This makes my heart swell for the Cape Town Opera.

Richard Goldstone did a rotten thing in his original report on Gaza. He is not, by the evidence, continuing in rottenness. This is not to be begrudged.