Conor Friedersdorf salutes George Orwell

Writing That Influenced Me

“1) A Homage to Catalonia, Shooting an Elephant, Politics and the English Language, and other non-fiction by George Orwell. He confronted the most important issues of his time – imperialism, fascism and communism – with an acute moral compass remarkable because it guided him past even moral pitfalls that typically ensnared his fellow socialists.

“How did he managed to avoid so many orthodoxies of thought that his ideology made him particularly susceptible to? As a young man, Orwell noted that he had a great facility with words and an ability to confront uncomfortable truths, even those inconvenient to his worldview. Years later, when he penned Politics and the English Language, he explained how those talents are inextricably related:

“It [the English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.

“That ethic helped Orwell to oppose fascism, communism and imperialism as effectively as any writer then or since. And his mistakes, most notably his support of socialism, are of little consequence, indeed barely remembered, because a man who strives to present his ideas in an intellectually honest fashion does all he can to mitigate the harm done when he errors by advancing a wrongheaded cause. However imperfectly, I’ve tried to avoid the mistakes cataloged in Politics and the English Language, to attack falsehoods and intellectual dishonesty even when it is perpetrated by folks ‘on my own side,’ and to write intellectually honest prose — and I tend to admire and associate myself with writers who operate in the same spirit.”


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