[posted by Justin Levine]
Christopher Hitchens has attempted to take up the mantle of George Orwell in the current era. He makes the argument that much of what Orwell had to say should still speak to us today. After reasearching the primary documents for myself, I think Hitchens is right on the money. [Scroll down after the jump for what I offer as proof.]
David Brooks over at the Weekly Standard disagrees. Brooks writes:
GEORGE ORWELL was one of the best essayists of his time, and Christopher Hitchens is one of the best essayists of his. Orwell is famous for his intellectual honesty and his willingness occasionally to anger his allies on the left. So is Hitchens. A book by Hitchens on Orwell seems natural and inevitable–like an Ali-Frazier fight or a Hepburn-Tracy movie. The publishers are not hyping things when they advertise this book as “a true marriage of minds.”
But for all the wisdom that Hitchens brings to this book, there is a problem with his “Why Orwell Matters”–for it leaves the reader with the impression that Orwell doesn’t actually matter any more. To enter Orwell’s world is to reenter a world of totalitarian nation-states, Communist intellectuals, blacklists, European imperialists, proletarian masses, and pre-feminist attitudes. But the Cold War really is over, and none of those other things is very important today. As you take the Hitchens-guided tour through some of those old, old controversies, it occurs to you that the categories Orwell used to analyze his own world would mislead us if we relied on them now.
I haven’t read Hitchens’s book yet. I can’t really tell from his essay if Brooks hasn’t read much Orwell or not. He might merely be giving an opinion on Hitchens’s own writing rather than making a substantive judgment on Orwell himself.
In any event, the substantive conclusion on Orwell is wrong. Orwell is most certainly relevant in the current era of war. Some of his passages make the hair on the back of my neck stand up because his writing seems so prescient over 50 years later – The fundamental nature of the anti-war Left, the U.N., anti-Semitic thought, the problems of British entanglement with Inida and the current parallels to the Iraq situation, etc.
Here are just a few select excerpts from some of Orwell’s essays: