18 January 2021

Positively "Orwellian"

Once upon a time, an Ivy League or other "elite-school" education was supposed to signify a certain combination of social acceptability (and usually polish), raw intellect, and ability (and willingness) to both read and write. On the evidence of the current junior United States Senator from Missouri, not so much.1 And even less so for reading the editorial matter, particularly when doing so will take less than a quarter of an hour.

Once upon a time, Eric Blair (George Orwell) published everything book-length through his good friends — and I use that term advisedly — at Gollancz.2 In the 1930s, Gollancz was the leading broad-line left-wing publisher in England. And everything was just great between them; there were no disputes over royalties (although examination of some records and correspondence in the 1980s showed that there should have been), no outraged letters with editors, no known whispering campaigns. Then… Orwell went to Spain. He set down his experiences in a book, and sent them off to his customary publisher.

Only to have them rejected due to incompatible politics.

The very existence of Homage to Catalonia is a left-wing rejection of Stalin, Stalinism, and the particular power structures of the late-1930s Soviet Union, let alone in detail. Orwell himself remained a committed leftist; Homage to Catalonia is a clear precursor, however, of his later overtly-antitotalitarian works, from essay length on up. He instead submitted it to a less-prestigious publisher, the relatively recent reincarnation (thanks to the viscissitudes of 1930s English receivership law) Secker & Warburg,3 which then also published Animal Farm: A Fairy Story… and the one work most identified with "Orwellian," 1984: A Novel.

None of this publishing history is or has been secret; indeed, in the 1970s-repackaged-in-1983 American Signet mass-market paperback edition of 1984 that was almost certainly Hawley's first exposure to the book (as distinct from film, and I just can't see Hawley having listened to Rick Wakeman), this publishing history is described (in admittedly less detail).4 My point is that Hawley can hardly have been unfamiliar with the concept of a "political rejection" of a work… and that sort of deception, of failure to acknowledge context, is right on point with (alphabetically) Inside the Whale, Politics and the English Language, Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels, The Prevention of Literature, and perhaps most of all Why I Write. Bluntly, any lawyer in a common-law jurisdiction who has not read, and pondered, Why I Write has missed an essential part of his/her/their professional education.

So the reality is that Hawley's recent experience with Simon & Schuster5 really is Orwellian… in the most literal sense, reflecting Orwell's own experiences rather than just reflecting self-aggrandizing, ignorant, context-denying, ideological reinterpretations of soundbites in a way utterly inconsistent with Orwell's other writings (especially Why I Write and to a slightly-less-obvious extent Politics and the English Language).

"Ignorance Is Strength" indeed. Apparently, at least some graduates of certain renowned institutions of higher learning in Palo Alto and New Haven are… really strong.

eta 2200Z: All of the above was written before Secker & WarburgRegnery picked up the book… as I predicted (last week) would happen. So the historical loop is closed, again, in a fashion that would be nodded at by George Santayana. Ah, the benefits of a classical education.

  1. It's not just being Attorney General of Missouri before becoming a Senator, although of late that hasn't helped. See, e.g., John Ashcroft, defeated for reelection not by dead voters but by a dead opponent; but see John Danforth. although that's not exactly recent.
  2. Now controlled, ultimately, by a Franco-Swiss arms dealer. The tortured and tangled chain of ownership and control of Gollancz today is one of the best arguments against conglomerate media ownership, particularly when the conglomerate extends outside of media!
  3. Now an imprint of a conglomerate controlled by a family of Nazi supporters. Orwell would have been appalled, to say the least. So, for that matter, would have been Frederick Warburg, who was a leftist anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist.
  4. Which is not any kind of defense of the publisher's appended front and back matter. Irving Howe was no less an ideologue than Hawley, and equally blind to the relationship of 1984 to Orwell's other writings. Ironically, Howe's blindness appears more of the intentional-Politics and the English Language variety than the sheer ignorance displayed by Hawley.
  5. Which, if the proposed transaction survives antitrust scrutiny (it shouldn't): See note 3 supra. And the irony of that is a bit too much for a Monday morning holiday on a three-day weekend dedicated to a civil-rights campaigner.