I made 42 highlights while reading Fascism And Democracy by George Orwell. The book will give you insights into various political ideologies.
One of the easiest pastimes in the world is debunking democracy.
A sixteen-year-old schoolboy can attack democracy much better than he can defend it. And one cannot answer him unless one knows the antidemocratic case and is willing to admit the large measure of truth it contains.
Even when a government representing the poorer classes gets into power by some mischance, the rich can usually blackmail it by threatening to export capital. Most importantly, nearly the whole cultural and intellectual life: newspapers, books, education, films, radio is controlled by monied men who have the strongest motive to prevent the spread of certain ideas.
The citizen of a democratic country is ‘conditioned’ from birth onwards, less rigidly but not much less effectively than he would be in a totalitarian state.
Democratic methods are only possible with the relatively large basis of an agreement between all political parties.
There is no strong reason for thinking that any real fundamental change can ever get achieved peacefully.
A democratic country fighting a war is forced, just as much as an autocracy or a fascist state, to conscript soldiers, coerce labour, imprison defeatists, and suppress seditious newspapers. In other words, it can only save itself from destruction by ceasing to be democratic.
Intellectual honesty is a crime in any totalitarian country, but it is not entirely profitable to speak and write the truth in England.
It is not particularly significant that British fascists and communists should hold pro-Hitler opinions; what is significant is that they dare to express them. In doing so, they are silently admitting that democratic liberties are not altogether a sham.
Here, one comes upon the best asset that capitalist democracy has to show. It is the comparative feeling of security enjoyed by the citizens of democratic countries. The knowledge that when you talk politics with your friend, there is no Gestapo ear glued to the keyhole. The belief that ‘they’ cannot punish you unless you’ve broken the law. The belief that the law is above the state. It does not matter that this belief is partly an illusion as it is, of course. For a widespread illusion capable of influencing public behaviour is itself an important fact.
The pacifists who assure us that if we fight against fascism, we shall ‘go fascist’ ourselves forget that human beings must operate every political system. And Human beings are influenced by their past.
Nazism may or may not be a disguise for monopoly capitalism, but at any rate, it is not capitalistic in the nineteenth-century sense. It is governed by the sword and not by the chequebook. It is a centralised economy, streamlined for war and able to use to the very utmost such labour and raw materials as it commands.
If I had to choose between Chamberlain’s England and the sort of régime that Hitler means to impose on us, I would choose Chamberlain’s England without a moment’s hesitation. But that alternative does not really exist. Put crudely; the choice is between socialism and defeat. We must go forward or perish.
The man who rallied the nation was Churchill, a gifted and courageous man but a patriot of the limited, traditional kind.
Is it not a frightful commentary on the English socialist movement that, at this date, in the moment of disaster, the people still look to a conservative to lead them?
What England has never possessed is a socialist party that meant business and took account of contemporary realities.
When the real English socialist movement appears, it must appear if we are not to be defeated. The basis for it is already there in the conversations in a million pubs and air-raid shelters. It will cut across the existing party divisions. It will be both revolutionary and democratic. It will aim at the most fundamental changes and be perfectly willing to use violence if necessary. But also it will recognise that not all cultures are the same. That national sentiments and traditions have to be respected if revolutions are not to fail, that England is not Russia or China, or India. It will realise that British Democracy is not altogether a sham, not simply a superstructure. On the contrary, it is something extremely valuable that must be preserved and extended and must not be insulted.
A vigorous literature can exist almost without criticism and the critical spirit, as it did in nineteenth-century England.
I said at the beginning of my first talk that this is not a critical age. It is an age of partisanship and not of detachment, an age in which it is challenging to see literary merit in a book whose conclusions you disagree with.
It is when one considers the difficulty of writing honest, unbiased criticism in a time like ours, one begins to grasp the nature of the threat that hangs over the whole of literature.
We live in an age in which the autonomous individual is ceasing to exist, or perhaps one ought to say, in which the individual is ceasing to have the illusion of being autonomous.
The first thing that we ask of a writer is that he shan’t tell lies, that he shall say what he really thinks, what he really feels.
It is obvious that the period of free capitalism is coming to an end. One country after another is adopting a centralised economy that one can call socialism or state capitalism according to one prefers.
Socialism was usually thought of as a sort of moralised liberalism. The state would take charge of your economic life and set you free from the fear of poverty, unemployment and so forth. But, it would not need to interfere with your private intellectual life. Art could flourish just as it had done in the liberal-capitalist age, as the artist would not any longer be under economic compulsions.
The totalitarian state tries, at any rate, to control the thoughts and emotions of its subjects at least as thoroughly as it controls their actions.
If totalitarianism becomes worldwide and permanent, what we have known as literature must end.
Totalitarianism sets up unquestionable dogmas. And it alters them from day-to-day. It needs dogmas because it needs absolute obedience from its subjects. But, it can’t avoid the changes, which are dictated by the needs of power politics. It declares itself infallible, and at the same time, it attacks the very concept of objective truth.
Evidence suggests that the sudden emotional changes that totalitarianism demands are psychologically impossible. And that is the chief reason why if totalitarianism triumphs throughout the world, literature as we have known it is at an end.
The British police are not like a continental gendarmerie or Gestapo. But, I do not think one maligns them in saying that, in the past, they have been unfriendly to left-wing activities. They have generally shown a tendency to side with those they regarded as the defenders of private property.
The BBC claims, of course, to be both independent and nonpolitical. I was told once that its ‘line’, if any, was to represent the left-wing of the government in power. But that was in the days of the Churchill Government. If it represents the left-wing of the present government, I have not noticed the fact.
The degree of freedom of the press existing in this country is often over-rated. Technically there is great freedom, but most of the media is owned by a few people. On the other hand, freedom of speech is real.
The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out and how the police behave depends on the general temper of the country.
If many people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will get persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
The notion that certain opinions cannot safely be allowed a hearing is growing.
It is known that the newspapers are habitually untruthful, but it is also known that they cannot tell lies of more than a certain magnitude. Anyone seeing huge headlines in their paper announcing the arrival of a cylinder from Mars would probably believe what he read. At any rate, for the few minutes that would be needed to make some verification.
The evident connection between personal unhappiness and readiness to believe the incredible is its most interesting discovery.
Believe nothing, or next to nothing, of what you read about internal affairs on the government side. It is all, from whatever source, party propaganda, that is to say, lies.
Yet, after all, some kind of history will get written. After those who remember the war are dead, it will get universally accepted. So for all practical purposes, the lie will have become truth.
I am willing to believe that history is, for the most part, inaccurate and biased. But, what is peculiar to our age, is the abandonment of the idea that history could get truthfully written.
A British and German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals. But, there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one animal species, that totalitarianism destroys.
Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which ‘right’ invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run.
Consider, for instance, the reinstitution of slavery. Who could have imagined twenty years ago that slavery would return to Europe? Well, slavery has been restored under our noses: the forced-labour camps all over Europe and North Africa where Poles, Russians, Jews and political prisoners of every race toil at road-making or swamp-draining.
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