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Re: Shaking the Kaleidoscope


Andrew Stuttaford has written a clever and biting piece on The Economist’s superior attitude to Catalan nationalism which relies heavily on George Orwell. May I add to Andrew’s argument that The Economist doesn’t know Orwell as well as it imagines.

Below are two more quotes from his “Notes on Nationalism.” The first points out that those intellectuals who affect to despise nationalism, as The Economist writer does, are in fact almost always in the grip of nationalistic emotions that have been transferred from their own nation to some other political unit.

In Orwell’s day, that was usually the Soviet Union for British intellectuals:

It makes it possible for him [i.e., the British intellectual] to be much more nationalistic — more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest — than he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red Army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realises that this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place. In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion — that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware — will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack — all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognised for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of attaining salvation without altering one’s conduct.

Economist writers seem to have adopted the transferred emotion of Euro-nationalism en masse. Hence the writer’s panicky reaction to the prospect of anything that could threaten the Euro-zone — even something as commonsensical and virtuous as the idea that savers might resent the forced transfer of their savings to spendthrifts. It might become catching, you see, and then the entire house of cards would go wobbly. For this reason Catalan nationalism, despicably “Ruritanian” though it is, poses a mortal threat to The Economist’s own bigger, better, and badder Euro-Nationalism

Is there a cure for The Economist’s collective condition? Well, yes, there is. But I am afraid that the writers in St. James’s Street will find their disease preferable not only to the cure but even to the diagnosis. Orwell again:

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism.

And that would never do.


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