If there is any writer of prose that was of invaluable importance to me in my development, Orwell may very-well be that prime contender. He exemplifies my attitudes and encouraged my individual reasoning more-than any other writer or thinker I encountered at that time, and just as much as any thinker I have encountered since. Though he is not considered a philosopher (though should be) I would say he is still on my top five list of ethical philosophers that humanity has produced.
Firstly, it is his masterful combination of individualism and compassion, or social solidarity with others that demands admiration. This essential combination is what attracted me to, and still what I love so much in Anarchist philosophy. Orwell himself was a Democratic Socialist, but clearly has a radical Anarchist or Libertarian Marxist component that shows in his actions against the Fascists in Spain – joining the POUM which was a Marxist militia unassociated with or separate to the Communist Party which took a Stalinist line. His writings of Down and Out in Paris and London show his concern for the living conditions of the working classes of Europe, rather than being an intellectual who is solely concerned with ideas or some snobbish Libertarian who only cares about his own abstract rights rather than the real lives of real people and the real consequences of Capitalist economic policy.
The second reason why I love Orwell is of equal importance but perhaps needs to be stated even more so. The dual emphasis of individual dignity and expression with empathy and social concern is a wonderful and important sentiment to bring about; however it is always that you will find some people of both the Left and the Right who despite their failings will in some ways express sentiments of one value or the others, occasionally both. However, it is rare today, or in any time, that you will find a man as brave as Orwell, to be a man of politics to criticize his own “group” loosely speaking – a Man of the Left who focuses on criticizing what he finds problematic with the Left in his time.
This inability to criticize one’s own group we find everywhere. There is weakness and “herd-think” in Christian circles, New Atheism, all other religions, Conservatives, Liberals, Libertarians, Marxists. Any coward can damn his enemies – only those with moral fortitude criticize their friends. Now, of course Orwell wasn’t a friend of Stalinists, though he likely had friends who were Bolsheviks and Pacifists – the two elements of the Left he criticizes. Though I agree with him on his points of Stalinism (whether these criticisms extend to Bolshevism or even Marxism more generally is another point entirely and not one that Orwell makes – it seems he would disagree with this assertion that Bakunin might make in-fact) and Pacifism that is entirely aside the point. His rightness or wrongness of those two broad questions have nothing to do with the fact that he had the moral sense to criticize wrong-action and irrationality when he saw things that appeared as such to him; sentiments that he thought would produce disastrous consequences when he saw them proper.
Who today focuses on criticizing their own group so they can better achieve reason and understanding? What Christian criticizes the evil of the Bible and what Muslim the Koran? What Atheist chastises the superficial scientism of Dawkins, Krauss and Bill Nye? Now, if a Christian is blind either out of stupidity or psychological mechanism (selective reasoning/ Confirmation Bias) to the evils of the Bible, that is an entirely different matter; but, it still needs to be said that simply focusing on other groups who will of course function from their own internal reasoning and ideology, rather than question one’s own ideology which one (perhaps) as some clout or influence in, shows that people are not interested sincerely in change and moral progress, only in the feeling of heightened Ego by criticizing Atheists for being godless or insulting Christians by calling them all idiots. We need to work within our own groups and reason within ourselves to find the right, what is reasonable and good, and then fight for that good and be unafraid to correct our friends when we believe they are mistaken.
It is for those we believe are good, our friends, to be spoken to and corrected. It is not worthy of one’s time to attempt to correct one’s true enemy to the extent that one is. Evil, assuming our enemy is evil for it is evil (both in apathy, malice and all other things which bring more suffering than reprieve it) who is our only true enemy, cannot be reasoned with and must be combated with force. This is an unfortunate reality that everyone on some level is aware of. There are some people who are totally without moral scruple, without consideration for others, and those people we can make no effective arguments with; it is not that our moral arguments have no weight, it is that the man or woman who we are asking to weigh such claims is incapable (at-least to some degree at the present time) of doing so. Asking a sociopath to weigh moral claims is like asking a thermometer to weigh the mass of a stone. This of course is the basic “is” “ought” distinction that Hume and others make, and put in greater detail than myself; it is something that most people within their own arguments fail to recognize, though the failures they see in others. Both those of the Left and the Right give purely descriptive facts, and think somehow they are clinchers in their own political philosophy. Such of course is not the case.
Thirdly, though the political is personal for Orwell (as it should be) he does not make the personal political or social. That is to say, he does not tell us things that we are constantly barraged with in the mindlessness of American pop-politics; his love of his wife or child, his past experiences in labor (he mentions his brief run of being a cop in India in his essay on Pacifism, but only to make a point, never to make a sentimental or emotional argument), or his faith or lack there-of. Such things are properly in the realm of the private and bringing them up in one’s political writings shows a lack of thought that anyone thinking can pick up quickly. An argument is not hinged upon anecdotal evidence or appeals to authority; it is hinged on the rightness of what is said or posited, which is separate from any individual concerns or considerations. This is one of the reasons I dislike Identity Politics. Its primary focus is on the superficial and narratives of one group being right by the fact of being oppressed – rather than their rightness through proper reasoning.
That is not to say that black people cannot be or are not oppressed in society – but to say that because someone or a group has suffered that they are correct or morally right is to say that moral rightness comes from suffering; which is of course the exact opposite of the truth. I would posit that we can correctly infer that those who inflicted the suffering are necessarily “wrong” but not that those who suffer are right – those who focus on alleviating suffering in effective ways are right which is delving into the matters of right and wrong in the proper way. Someone can rightly focus on alleviating suffering but in a wrong way. An example then of being right in understanding of morality then but wrong in action or belief would be not to posit that a black person is moral (or even of moral consequence which I would posit but would need to be argued for) simply through suffering but that it is right to alleviate his suffering through say the Black Lives Matter movement; however the Black Lives Matter movement, though right in their understanding of morality, could be wrong in tactics which is a separate point.
So, for example, someone can have the moral intention of ending a believed injustice in society (the alleged wage gap between men and women) but either if such injustice does not actually exist or if they go about the wrong way of ending a real injustice than though the intention will be “right” the action and reasoning will be wrong. This is another reason why it is essential to discuss such things with friends but pointless to condemn one’s enemies. Your friend is assumingly someone with very comparable moral assumptions or dispositions but may be incorrect in some facts or methodology of achieving desired ends; to morally condemn one’s foe or “other” is in-effect to say nothing more than “I’m right, you’re wrong” which will not sway a Libertarian to Marxism or a Marxist to Libertarianism.
That is not to say we should never make arguments against opposing ideologies, simply that one should not build one’s work on frequent rebuttals or refutations of opposing viewpoints, and instead build our house through being helpful to our friends rather than hateful to our enemies. And again, an opposing worldview is not an enemy make – there are Christian Conservatives who are good either in moral sentiment or a particular point while there are Socialists and specifically Social Anarchists who despite my assumed general agreement with may very-well be (in my own view) morally or intellectually “bad.” The only real enemy is evil and someone is our enemy only to the extent they embody evil – that they act in a way that brings suffering to feeling beings. Therefore there are many with radically different worldviews who are not evil, and therefore are not our enemies; just as many of those we would be compelled to call our “friends” in-fact are.
There is unfortunately “group think” in all factions, religions and political ideologies, and how fitting that in my essay praising Orwell that I should express this fact explicitly or rather directly. The collectivism or “group think” on the Right is of course patriotism and religions (particularly Christianity in America) and it is obvious because it is waning. However, the collectivism of the Left – of Social Justice Warrior ideology and Identity Politics – is often not seen as such because it is becoming (at-least for the young, who will become the adults of the future and raise the children of the upcoming generation) the norm of society. It in many circles has become an axiomatic truth that women are oppressed in America, there is a “Patriarchy,” and one-in-five (or three, or whatever bull shit statistic they use, the inaccuracy of which you will find if you do some research into) attending women will be raped on college campuses. To say otherwise in their ears is to express the sentiment that Saudi Arabia is correct in not allowing women legal equality to men. However, I can bring up facts of my own that men are the ones at a disadvantage in society. That men receive longer jail sentences for the same crimes; that they are required to sign up for selective service and can be (in-theory) forcibly drafted to die for a unjust government and an unjust cause that one does not wish to sacrifice his life for; and that while women have the right to have an abortion (as they should) it is men who will have to suffer the financial consequences without their consent if the woman chooses to without that child’s consent bring it into the world and further the suffering of humanity.
Now, if one wishes to disagree with any of the claims or reasoning I gave – great. But argue with the points not with me disagreeing with your cult or ideology. In effect, it is the Christian who needs to demonstrate why there is a God, not why the Atheist is wrong for not being a Christian. Argue why Conservatism or Progressivism is or why a particular point in it or made by the opposing side is right or wrong, not that the person is right or wrong for being or not being a Conservative or Progressive. This is in-effect what Feminists do when they say that Feminism is about equality (which of course there are many contemporary Feminists who make it far-more than that, un-associate it with equality, or make claims of inequality which are unfounded and they claim is morally reprehensible to dispute – that to dispute said descriptive claims is to disavow the normative claims of equality that some Feminists themselves disavow when speaking of the believed inherent evils of men or show a lack of consideration or out-right malice towards male suffering) so anyone who argues against Feminism is wrong and evil for they don’t believe in equality.
Contemporary Feminism is of course far-different than that of John Stuart Mill, a champion for Left-Wing ideals, Liberalism and should be properly admired and posthumously thanked for his defense of human rights and describing its lack of existence in the form of inequities suffered by women at that time. JS Mill is in my eyes commendable for a litany of other reasons, but clearly is a man who was willing to put his general moral beliefs and attitudes towards particular injustices and infringement upon liberty and happiness that he saw in everyday life. This is what separates him (as well as the other men I mention in this essay) from the purely academic philosophers of Kant, Hegel and the like. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of their ethics they are totally unmotivated to alleviate the particular sufferings of real individuals; something that Anarchists and other Socialists like Orwell and Mill make their top priority.
In general I find myself in allegiance with the Left-Wing individualists of Mill, Bakunin and Orwell over the petty superficiality and “group think” of other aspects or segments of the Left which I’m sorry to see to the extent I see it. These bold men defended the right for every human being to self-determine their future and furthered the notions of dignity, moral goodness, compassion and the capacity of the individual to fight for what they think is right and reasonable against wrong, whether it is within their own group or afar. Though Bakunin criticized Marx for his “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” and myopic form of Materialism, he (though not necessarily incorrectly) spent the majority of his time criticizing the bourgeois society of State and Capitalism that he lived in. Orwell is alone of the three to spend the majority of his time as a Leftist political polemicist criticizing what he thought was worthy of critique in the Left. If people of all factions and points of view could be as honest and straight-forward as he in his moral action and writing, the world would be a far better and nobler place.