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IF HE HAD LIVED, OR A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL
This essay represents an example of what might be termed “counterfactual biography,” or in Niall Ferguson’s phrase, “virtual history.” George Orwell died in January 1950 at the age of 46. Assuming he had lived to a healthy old age, the authors engage in a counterfactual thought experiment, speculating how he might have responded to numerous public controversies of the last half of the twentieth century and even beyond. Among the topics and issues explored are McCarthyism and the Cold War, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the wars in Korea and Vietnam, imperialism and post-colonialism, the women’s and environmental movements, the nuclear freeze debates of the 1980s, the war on terrorism and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and more. Keywords George Orwell; Cold War; Korean War; CND; NATO; CIA; Vietnam War; Congress for Cultural Freedom; imperialism; post-colonialism; Information Research Department (IRD); nuclear freeze; W.H. Auden; Irving Howe; Burmese Days; Animal Farm; Nineteen Eighty-Four; Konni Zilliacus; McCarthyism; Senator Joseph McCarthy; Ramparts; Celia Kirwan; Timothy Garton Ash; Afghanistan; Iraq; war on terrorism “[I]f one imagines him as living into our own day,” wrote Orwell about Jack London in 1945, “it is very hard to be sure where his political allegiance would have lain. One can imagine him in the Communist Party, one can imagine him falling victim to Nazi racial theory, and one can imagine him the quixotic champion of some Trotskyist or Anarchist sect” (Orwell and Angus 4: 29). Indeed it is interesting to ponder Orwell’s response to world events had he lived another decade – or even several more – and confronted the different political and social issues that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. “If he had lived,” mused Irving Howe in 1968, “he would today be no more than sixty-ﬁve years old. How much we have missed in those two decades!” Howe went on to envisage the spectacle of Orwell’s pungent invective skewering the politicians of the times: Imagine Orwell ripping into one of Harold Wilson’s mealy speeches, imagine him examining the thought of Spiro Agnew, imagine him dissecting the ideology of Tom Hayden, imagine him casting a frosty eye on the current wave of irrationalism in Western culture!. . ..The loss seems enormous (Howe 103).
Prose Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 April 2010, pp. 1-11 ISSN 0144-0357 print/ISSN 1743-9426 online q 2010 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/01440351003747576
3 If George Orwell (1903 – 50) had received his allotted biblical three score years and ten. “I am only certain he would be worth listening to” (Auden 86). once a victim of Orwell’s attacks on “the pansy Left.” that is. after pronouncing Orwell a “true Christian. reading his reactions to events. even at the time when he wrote his autobiographical essay “A Hanging” (1931). Precisely because we too are “certain he would have been worth listening to.” ran through his list: drugs. If he had survived to become a venerable centenarian – an admittedly unlikely prospect. hubris. W. applying such an historiographical tool for biographical purposes to a major literary/cultural ﬁgure such as George Orwell enables scholars to gain a greater appreciation for his work and what he sought to do. The contrarian element in his makeup was far too strong for him ever to fall in line rigidly with either the Left or the Right. “Shooting an Elephant” (1936). though he hesitated to prophesy Orwell’s posthumous stands. Orwell was a ﬁrm anti-imperialist. he would have died in 1973. student demonstrations. and a non-doctrinaire socialist with a deep antinomian streak in his temperament. The “what ifs” posed must possess a plausible logic. Orwell’s service in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma had soured him forever with the idea of empire.1 Agreed. an adamant political radical though a cultural traditionalist.” The judicious use of counterfactuals in historiography raises the question “what if” yet scrupulously avoids drifting into the realm of fantasy. given his history of poor health – he would have witnessed the conclusion of the US-led invasion of Iraq in May 2003. so that I could read his comments on contemporary events!” (Auden 86) Auden. an internationally renowned novelist. though we acknowledge the inevitable hazards of historical analogies and the temptations to misread the past.” Today historians are fascinated by the concept of “counterfactuals. his novel Burmese Days (1934). “Today . it is likely that whatever stance he took would be clearly and directly stated.” let us venture here – at the risk of temerity. If he had lived until the title date of his great anti-utopia. “What he would have said I have no idea. I On some issues we are relatively conﬁdent about the posthumous Orwell’s likely response to events. birth control.” wrote Auden. nationalization. To him it was little more than a pretense for exploiting Asians and Africans . Orwell’s progress from public school boy to imperial policeman in Burma to impecunious freelance writer had shaped his political and social views by the early 1930s. Given Orwell’s preference for plain speaking and straightforward prose. when a wave of national independence movements ﬁrst swept through Africa and Asia. he would have turned 81.2 As we shall see. oft-reprinted literary memoir.” Auden concluded. H. how I wish that Orwell were still alive. and his classic. A patriot yet never a nationalist.2 PROSE STUDIES A few years later.4 Let us consider the post-colonial situation of the 1950s. trade unions. “what he would have said. and foolhardiness – to do just what Irving Howe dared and Auden neatly sidestepped: to forecast Orwell’s “comments on contemporary events. By the time of Orwell’s death in January 1950 at the age of 46. he had already become a highly respected political journalist. whereby they also furnish new insights into historical issues or turning points. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Auden expressed a similar regret.” “my ﬁrst thought is: Oh.
Orwell had derided the Labour Member of Parliament (MP). his reputation as a Cold Warrior dismayed Orwell in a certain respect. where his dissident left-wing stance was generally well understood. Stephen Spender.A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL 3 in favor of the white race. Without doubt Orwell would have remained resolutely anti-communist had he lived. because no signiﬁcant postwar developments occurred within the communist world that would have shaken his convictions. As he wrote in “Notes on Nationalism” (1945): “Paciﬁsm. Uncompromising though his hatred of Stalinism and left-wing orthodoxy indeed was.) Long before Orwell’s death. and that when Soviet and British interests appear to clash. Orwell had rejected paciﬁsm as a politically irresponsible position. [he] will support the Soviet interests” (Orwell and Angus 4: 193). the battle lines had been clearly drawn: by the winter of 1949 –50. As the Korean War dragged on until its negotiated settlement in mid-1953. is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty” (Orwell and Angus 3: 261 –80). . would have only reafﬁrmed Orwell’s contempt for communism and its fellow travelers on the Left. however. followed by the Soviet invasion of Hungary that November. anti-Stalinist politics was exploited by some conservatives in the USA to defend capitalism and repudiate the very idea of socialism. Konni Zilliacus. it sharpened a Cold War split on the London Left that had already emerged during Orwell’s lifetime between liberal anti-communists (including his friends Arthur Koestler. . Its eruption would have confronted Orwell with a clear choice: either to support armed defense against communist aggression or remain quiescent. as a Soviet sympathizer on the grounds that his views were “barely distinguishable from that of the CP .) . became US Book-of-the-Month Club selections. because of the sweeping success of Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – both of which immediately sold hundreds of thousands of copies. as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia. (A decade later. If anything. He would have cheered the hauling down of the Union Jack throughout the rest of the British Empire in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In fact. Especially after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four in June 1949. deliberately or not.” Orwell certainly would have sided with his anti-communist colleagues.5 What position would he have taken on the Cold War? (The Oxford English Dictionary credits Orwell as being one of the ﬁrst to use the term. Throughout his mature years he advocated the withdrawal of the British Raj from India. and were widely translated – Orwell was viewed as a spokesman for the anti-communist cause. Orwell strove – with only partial success – to clarify that he supported democratic socialism in general and the British Labour Party in particular (Orwell and Angus 4: 502). Orwell would have had no difﬁculty endorsing the Labour government’s decision to take military action against the North Korean communist regime. Leonid Brezhnev’s pronouncement – the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine. Outside the London literary scene. and Richard Crossman) and (mostly Stalinist) radicals who believed in a postwar version of the old 1930s Popular Front position of “No enemies on the Left. whereby no Warsaw Pact “ally” could withdraw from the Soviet system – an edict which the USSR brutally applied in its decision to invade Czechoslovakia in May 1968 – would only have reinforced Orwell’s anti-communist convictions. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out. his independent. During World War II. For instance. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in his “Secret Speech” at the USSR’s Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956. the Cold War was fully under way. his criticisms of the Soviet Union and communism were often misinterpreted. As early as 1948.
and Fred Warburg) and his PR colleagues (for example. enslaves not only the subalterns but also the masters. given that his PR colleagues were hopelessly divided about the issue a dozen years later.) . Whatever America’s intentions in South East Asia. counter-propaganda initiative if Western democracies were to battle effectively the unscrupulous. and Sidney Hook). The CIA connection was exposed in mid-1966 by the anti-war New Left editors of Ramparts.” Imperialism. He would have avoided romanticizing Ernesto “Che” Guevara. or as a mere reversion to some outdated species of colonialism. even though today’s neoconservatives (such as Norman Podhoretz) highlight his anti-paciﬁsm and anti-communism to argue differently: Orwell would have opposed US military involvement as a new form of Western neo-imperialism. Orwell would have castigated Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade during 1950– 54. ´ He would have dismissed the cafe Marxist patter in the 1960s about Che and Mao and Ho (“the George Washington of Vietnam”) as equal nonsense. Orwell would never have veered toward the opposite pole and into pious or naive rhapsodies in Red. Diana Trilling. which was secretly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Stephen Spender. if regrettable. Orwell would not have repudiated the perspective expressed in “Shooting an Elephant. anti-communism was never as potent a political force in Britain as it became in the United States during the 1950s.7 Orwell would have backed the activities of the CCF as the rather mild “dirty work” of cultural politics – a necessary. much to the embarrassment of the liberal anti-communist intelligentsia. where would Orwell have stood on the Vietnam War? Given Orwell’s bedrock anti-colonialism. included on its British and American steering committee many of both Orwell’s London friends (for example. II And yet. If he drew the line on endorsing US conduct in Vietnam. or Ho Chi Minh. Macdonald. which predates and always strengthened his antimercantilism. he insisted. no-holds-barred. He would not have associated the CCF with McCarthyism. totalitarian tactics of USSR tyranny. Nonetheless. let alone viewed its funding source as rendering it equivalent to a Soviet propaganda mouthpiece. Orwell had not been taken in by the talk of “Uncle” Joe Stalin in the 1940s. (CCF publications – such as Encounter in London and Der Monat in Berlin – were recognized for their literary quality and political independence by non-communist intellectuals across the ideological spectrum. a common tendency on the Left – especially within the New Left and the student movement – throughout the West in the late 1960s. Mao Zedong. for which Orwell wrote as their London wartime correspondent) – all of whom were sharp critics of McCarthy – to recognize where Orwell would have stood (Macdonald 330 – 44).6 As a vigorous supporter for free speech even for Stalinists.4 PROSE STUDIES Although the Korean War split the British Left. One has only to look at the American intellectuals with whom Orwell agreed. Malcolm Muggeridge. would his Cold Warrior politics nonetheless have led him to participate during the 1950s and 1960s in the clandestine activities of the anti-communist Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF)? This international organization. such as the radical critic Dwight Macdonald or the editors of the left-wing Partisan Review (known as PR. the answer is clear.
a new Foreign Ofﬁce agency that carried out democratic. Orwell’s actions bore no resemblance to McCarthytype slander and blacklisting. Orwell told Kirwan that. the existence of such a list showed that Orwell had taken “a McCarthyite position toward the end of his life” (Wynne 8). For instance. He would have behaved toward the CCF as he did toward the Labour Party’s Information Research Department (IRD).A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL 5 On CCF matters. born Peter Smolka of Austria. a traitor to the Left? Not at all. pro-Western propaganda. the 38 people on his list were all “crypto-communists. and the popular novelist J. Orwell was prescient. When Kirwan requested his short-list of political unreliables. First. if anything. Orwell was a sincere anti-communist. Orwell’s list was simply intended to alert Kirwan that these people should not be hired for pro-Western propaganda assignments since their loyalties were sharply divided between the “free” West and the Soviet bloc. N. When the KGB archives were opened in the 1990s. a case in which Orwell’s distrust of communism led him – if the step is evaluated bereft of the historical hindsight of decades – into one of the most controversial actions of his career. editor of the New Statesman and a long-time bete noire of Orwell’s. trumpeting that “Orwell was Big Brother too” (Garton Ash 5). Kingsley Martin. In May 1949 Orwell responded to a request from an old friend. the English Marxist historian. Celia Kirwan. many critics of Orwell accused him of betraying socialism.” fellow travelers. sister-in-law of Arthur Koestler. According to the left-wing journalist Paul Foot. B. Orwell named Peter Smollett. To tar Orwell with the brush of McCarthyism because he opposed paying anti-Western critics to write pro-democratic polemics is strained beyond belief. Moreover. Here.) For years Orwell had kept a private notebook annotated with the names of more than 100 probable communists or (in the shorthand expression) “FT. Secondly. Orwell’s commitment to anti-communism would have proved decisive.” (3) Among the names on his list were the actor Charlie Chaplin. even further. most of the people in his list were indeed strong Soviet sympathizers. Priestley. He had long argued that destruction of the myth that the Soviet system was a legitimate form of socialism was necessary “if we want to revive the Socialist movement” (Garton Ash 2). a Marxist MP who was expelled from ˆ the Labour Party because of his pro-Stalinist fervor. Was this accurate? Hardly. Orwell’s hostility to Stalinism and its British intellectual adherents dated from even before the Spanish Civil War in 1936 –38. Christopher Hill. D. She was working for the IRD. fellow-travelers or inclined that way and should not be trusted as propagandists. as a possible Russian agent. they disclosed that Smollett was a Soviet mole who had been recruited by none other than Kim Philby – and who (mirabile dictu!) had mobilized his publishing connections to block acceptance of Animal Farm during the war. Orwell had no qualms about giving her a sample of his suspects. by sending her a list of 38 people whose political allegiances he suspected. not someone trying to exploit the issue for his own advancement. declared that the list showed that Orwell was “two-faced” (Wynne 8). (He felt deep affection toward her too – indeed he had proposed marriage to her in 1945. as in so many other political judgments. none of the . He also believed (with justiﬁcation. as British government ﬁles later revealed) that English communists and their sympathizers were behind many of his difﬁculties in ﬁnding a publisher for Animal Farm in 1944. When this list became public in 2003. Pritt. if not fellow travelers or even secret communist party members. Was Orwell nonetheless a hypocritical betrayer of his own side. The Labour MP Gerald Kaufman went. the political economist Harold Laski. in his opinion.
8 Related to the complex matter of Orwell’s Cold War stand is the issue of “where Orwell would have stood” on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the late 1950s and 1960s. his friend and fellow . Labour politician Aneurin Bevan. Orwell’s outrage invariably focused on la trahison des clercs. Orwell’s views in essays such as “You and the Atom Bomb” (1945) would have prevailed: he would have supported deterrence.” which had led the Labour Party into a blind alley. uncommon. which adopted “1-9-8-4” as the last four digits for the phone number of its national headquarters).6 PROSE STUDIES people on Orwell’s list had their careers harmed (for example. urging instead – however great the risk to his reputation as a tough-minded anti-communist – that both the USA and the USSR hammer out a workable. Here again. which he broadly shared with the independent leftists associated with Partisan Review.” This immediate threat oriented his anti-totalitarian stance. On these thorny questions of disarmament and detente. Priestley remained a beloved and best-selling writer for years). it is important to stress that Orwell was a democratic socialist ﬁrst and an anti-communist Cold Warrior second. Orwell’s democratic socialist stance would have resembled the politics of his close friend and fellow Tribune editor. not socialism: he mercilessly attacked their lies and orthodoxies because he wanted socialists to be worthy of socialism. not to weaken or abandon it. Here. The motives for his assaults thus bore no resemblance to those of the anti-communist conservatives who adopted him (such as the John Birch Society. his criticism was almost always directed at socialists. But he would have tempered his call for nuclear deterrence after Stalin’s death in March 1953. He was that outstanding. Without belligerent rhetoric or cynical realpolitik. whether of the totalitarian Right in fascist Spain or Nazi Germany or of the totalitarian Left in Stalinist Russia. he would have voiced the need for pragmatism in the face of totalitarian evil – a stance resonant with his likely pro-CCF stand. that is. A “conscience” of the Left does criticize from within.” He hated all tyrannies. with qualiﬁcation. more frequent castigation of the latter was a result of his view that Western democracies (especially the Western intelligentsia) were susceptible and often beholden to Stalinist ideology – and were in danger of becoming “Ingsoc. he ﬂayed the Left in order to strengthen it. Bevan was severely castigated by many left-wingers for his pragmatic policy stance – even by some former Tribune colleagues. veriﬁable ´ treaty. Chaplin ended up living in England and was even knighted. a knee-jerk dogmatist of the far Right. and though Orwell may sometimes have been a guilty or excessively scrupulous conscience. That question arose chieﬂy among young British left-wingers of the generation succeeding Orwell. Both Marxist and non-Communist left-wingers saw Bevan in 1960 as an accommodator to Gaitskell’s “gradualism. the Labour Party’s decision to deploy nuclear weapons. we believe. He embraced the latter stance in his role as “conscience of the Left. Or.” in the phrase of his admiring Tribune colleague John Atkins. who sided with Hugh Gaitskell in a controversial 1957 speech and supported. as Julian Symons. historically situated. He would have parted company with pro-nuclear hawks and opposed the Reagan administration’s acceleration of the arms race. whereby he sought to defend and protect what he regarded as the basic values of socialism: freedom and justice for all. The point is a crucial one: Orwell was never an “anti-communist” or “Cold Warrior” as those terms came to be understood in liberal-Left intellectual circles during the McCarthy era. and especially by the 1980s. His louder. intellectual phenomenon: the “anti-totalitarian.
Orwell would have endorsed the West’s campaign against Islamic fundamentalism (or “Islamofascism” as Christopher Hitchens terms it) and the ﬁght against al-Qaeda – stopping short. if a united Europe could not .9 III In the 1970s and 1980s. we believe he would have taken nuanced positions on all these issues.A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL 7 Tribune writer. he stood squarely on the side of the Americans and the West – and that he rejected the politics of equivalence. He would have recalled his stance expressed in “Toward European Unity” (1947). Though he would have remained skeptical about fuzzy-minded neutralist thinking. but then soon gave rise to renewed confrontation. But he would have opposed US policy in Nicaragua on anti-imperialist grounds similar to his Vietnam War position. Orwell would have averred that. the “premature anti-Stalinists” (Symons). nor regarded ´ detente as a simple-minded accommodation to “Soviet imperialism. Where would Orwell have stood on such issues as the nuclear freeze. when he granted that. Orwell stood with that tiny distinctive cluster of wartime and early postwar intellectuals. in this new twenty-ﬁrst century geopolitical confrontation. the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. of backing policies that violated prisoners’ rights or compromised any provisions in the 1945 charter of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. and the breakdown of disarmament negotiations all exacerbating US-Soviet tensions. his English patriotism and his loathing of the Soviet Union. he would not have dismissed the peace movement as paciﬁst-neoisolationist. and the civil war in Nicaragua? Despite Orwell’s opposition to paciﬁsm during World War II. Nevertheless. All the while. and American mishandling of the Iraq War and the subsequent occupation? Neither a hawk nor a paciﬁst. the US government’s violation of prisoners’ rights in Guantanamo Bay (and elsewhere). let alone fatuous pro-Communist (or Eurocommunist) rhetoric. pushing for constructive engagement until ofﬁcial provocation from Baghdad had occurred. with Reaganism. advocating instead that NATO deployment proceed in the absence of suitable Soviet concessions. 2001 and thereafter? Would he have endorsed the Bush administration’s war on terrorism? Or would he have emphasized the abridgement of Americans’ civil liberties.” IV In the unlikely event that Orwell had survived into the twenty-ﬁrst century. He would have drawn a sharp distinction between the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missile deployment in Western Europe. the thawing of the Cold War ﬁrst ushered in a period of ´ East-West detente. and anti-imperialism. let alone would the mere suspicion of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. The events of September 11 would not have furnished a sufﬁciently compelling reason for him to endorse an invasion of Iraq. however. once put it. how would he have responded to the events of September 11. He would have opposed the nuclear freeze as an unjustiﬁed unilateral step by the West. disarmament. Orwell would have taken stands congruent with his positions on deterrence.
a version of what Erik Erikson termed in his distinguished study of Luther’s psychosocial development “half-legend. By contrast. half-history. the psychic hold of a people’s heritage often interferes with this historical quest – as historians’ caveats and suspicions about the value of historical hindsight (for example. he may also have had much to say about the larger issue of what historians call the “uses of the past.” (Or. as well as in ourselves. In expressing his convictions and reservations about the misinterpretations and distortions of his work by subsequent generations. It is also true that the line between heritage and legend (or myth or folklore) is often a very ﬁne one.10 Indeed.” Both terms involve the past. impressions. since heritage is largely based on perceptions.8 PROSE STUDIES arise in the Cold War faceoff between Russia and the USA. with what likely scenarios might have transpired.) . “I would always choose America” (Orwell and Angus 4: 309). post-facto interviews. V What might Orwell have concluded about the course of his afterlife and its complex interconnections with his life? It is most difﬁcult to say. oral history evidence) attest.” which he conducted as a BBC broadcaster in 1942. Surely he would have remarked on. the boundary between Orwell’s own posthumous history and heritage is. Moreover. (In fact. as do cultural historians. noted the differences between what others have written about him and what he himself wrote. also a fuzzy one. and commented on those camps and/or movements with which he felt most at home among the plethora that have been linked to him. The evidence of Orwell’s reception history establishes that. at the very least. .” So the careful cultural historian of Orwell’s politicized reception must proceed with caution and should advance no more than modest claims. .” Perhaps Orwell would have distinguished. Scarcely a major Anglo-American issue has gone by since 1950 that has not moved someone to muse. “He’s dead but he won’t lie down” – which Orwell chose as the epigraph for his novel Coming Up For Air (1939) – might well serve as his own epitaph. There he gets Swift to comment on the condition of England and world affairs in the 1940s. a past that feels familiar and even second nature to us because much of it still remains in the present. was his own attempt to give a dead man a contemporary voice. “If Orwell Had Lived . from the Cold War to ´ the era of detente to the events of September 11. between “history” and “heritage. and possibly disavowed or even derided the unintended consequences that ﬂowed from his writings. and feelings about the past. but our heritage is that sense of pastness perceived as continuous with our present. Orwell’s “Interview with Jonathan Swift.” or at least with engaging in a search for the truth about what happened “back then. Gracie Field’s vaudeville refrain from the 1930s. One does not struggle to discover or ascertain an authentic past. he has proved to be a writer. “history” concerns a past that may be quite discontinuous with our present and feel quite inhospitable to us. “well worth stealing. ironically. To “appreciate our heritage” does not typically require signiﬁcant labor.”11 Nor was George Orwell himself above speculating about the posthumous politics of writers ranging from Swift to Dickens to Jack London.) For historians.” Indeed. as he once remarked of Dickens. historians are usually preoccupied with unearthing and certifying “the authentic past. as well as biographers.
[and] had a long association with a publishing house. let other readers who likewise cannot resist the lure bestow “St George” with a different counterfactual life. wrote: If George Orwell had been born half a century earlier than 1903 he would have been labeled a man of letters. see Lowenthal. See. and Canfora. see Coleman. “WWGOD?”. conduct. Perhaps he . The Encyclopedia Britannica. On Orwell’s list. Portes. See. for instance. “Counterfactual Thought Experiments”. see Larkin. and presentation of foreign affairs for foreign policymakers. a historiography of post-World War II events can be constructed via the lens of readers who have prophesied about the posthumous Orwell’s likely opinions on contemporary affairs. Auden has not been alone in voicing these sentiments about Orwell. On the controversy that raged in the late 1960s about CIA funding of CCF. 7. Contemporary policymakers have found it near-irresistible to draw analogies between the origins and development of Nazi Germany and subsequent international crises and issues. See. for example. For an interesting analysis of Orwell’s view of Empire.A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL 9 So perhaps we can credit (or censure) Orwell himself with furnishing us with a precedent for the opinionated. Ristoccia. Moreover. He would have written for The Saturday Review. and Rodden. See also Rodden. 6.” whereby historians imagine alternative outcomes to key events. see O’Brien. see Murphy. Alexander. The Cornhill Magazine. See also Rosenfeld. 4.12 Notes 1. 9. see Oleinikov and Kudriashow. and Granieri. “What’s So Different About a Counterfactual?”. historical analogies can induce misleading comparisons and become a lazy thinker’s substitute for careful political analysis. The use of counterfactuals has been much debated by contemporary historians since the late 1960s. because a presentist bias is inevitable and the likelihood of fragile or selective memory overwhelming. see Hitchens (155– 70). has been especially popular since the 1970s in historiographical work on modern European history. History never furnishes precise analogies between the present and the past. quite debatable conjectures in this essay. For several interesting case studies in which historical counterfactuals are applied. In any case. 2. 3. and Lebow. 8. and MacDonald. Orwell’s most recent bibliographer. The use of what Niall Ferguson terms “virtual history. see Rodden. On the use of counterfactual propositions in biographical writing. For an overview of the methodological issues generally. On the conceptual issues involved in analogical thinking. Beck. For a more skeptical assessment of their place in historiographical writing. Historical analogies prove especially alluring in the formulation. given public lectures on literary or political topics. For a spirited defense of their value. for instance. “My Orwell. see Branson. see Lebow. see Vertzberger. For an overview of communism in Great Britain before mid-century. As Gillian Fenwick. He might have edited a monthly magazine. On the prevalence of such conjectures about Orwell. See also DeMey and Weber. 10. Stogbauer and Komlos. On these and other dangers in historiography. Mayer. On these issues. Indeed. 5. see Ferguson. see Morgenthau. Even Orwell scholars have been induced to speculate about the Orwell who might have been. The Politics of Literary Reputation (310– 11). 11. Right or Left”.
“The Lessons of Abadan and the Suez for British Foreign Policymakers in the 1960s. Oxford. Beck. References Alexander.” Spectator.1 (2003): 28 –38. as have his personal relationships with some women of his generation. Winchester: St. He might have chosen a career in broadcasting. Gillian. would have been serialized in popular magazines. Branson. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Bevin. 1998. Tim. History of the Communist Party in Britain. Canfora. one every three or four years. 2000. New York: Free Press. his ﬁrst novel published when he was 23 or 24. His novels. Might he have been one of the founders of Greenpeace or an inaugural sponsor of Earth Day? We leave further speculation on such matters of counterfactual biography to other readers of George Orwell. Peter. Fenwick. Had George Orwell been born half a century later than 1903. “George Orwell. “Explanations and Thought Experiments in History. He might well have been a bright young thing at Wadham College. active in student politics.” History and Theory 42. working on documentaries.2 (2006): 525 – 47. Noreen. writing poetry in avant-garde magazines. Might he have changed his mind and viewed the women’s movement of the 1960s sympathetically? Might he have supported the campaign of feminist liberals such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. producing arts programmes for television. NY: Norton. 12.” History & Theory 22.” Historical Journal 49. Auden. a regular column in a left-wing magazine. Let us consider just these two movements that arose in the last quarter of the twentieth century: feminism and environmentalism. On the ﬁrst issue. it would have been more difﬁcult to ﬁnd a single label for him. Orwell’s portrayal of women in his ﬁction has been sharply criticized by feminists. 1989. Numerous and quite different conjectures could easily be advanced about the posthumous Orwell’s probable thinking on recent developments. still keeping his hand in with his writing. 1962. publish books on travel. He might write screenplays for movies. Coleman. DeMey. “Analogie et Histoire.1 (1983): 22– 42. Erik H. 1971. speaking at the Union. The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Post-War Europe. W. more or less good but guaranteed to sell for his name alone (Fenwick vii –viii). Paul’s Bibliographies. Erikson. How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Ten Fatal Errors That Led to Nazi Defeat. perhaps concluding that (moderate) feminism is a form of humanism? Or would he have sided with conservatives such as Phyllis Schaﬂy and her STOP ERA campaign? With regard to the environmental movement. an occasional long article in The Atlantic. 16 Jan. George Orwell: Bibliography. local history.10 PROSE STUDIES would have stood for Parliament. his essays collected into volumes every decade or so. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. a novel every two years. and Erik Weber. appearing on a late-night discussion show. . H. eventually hosting his own: a popular media Figure. 1997. Luciano. New York: Crown. Peter J. 86. 1941– 1951. one recalls that Orwell was an impassioned lover of nature.
Lebow. Dwight. Mayer. Granieri. O’Brien. New York: Picador.” International History Review 29.” History Teacher. “Hitler’s Shadow: Historical Analogies and the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. Oleinikov. Lebow. Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. The World Hitler Never Made: Alternative History and the Memory of Nazism. Larkin.4 (2000): 550 – 85.2 (1986): 223– 47. 2003. 8. London: Penguin Press.” Social Research 39. Emma.5 (1981): 517 – 9. Hitchens. Patrick. 1974. and Sergei. 2005. Morgenthau.2 (1972): 360 – 4. The Politics of Literary Reputation.1 (1998): 5 – 7. John. Wynne-Jones.” Social Problems 28. “Remarks on the Validity of Historical Analogies. New York: Grossman.” New York Review of Books. Personal interview. Scot. ed. “Political Biography: A Polemical Review of the Genre. 14 July 1996. Christopher.A COUNTERFACTUAL LIFE OF GEORGE ORWELL 11 Ferguson. Gavriel. Ristoccia. “Foreign Policy Decisionmakers as Practical-Intuitive Historians: Applied History and Its Shortcomings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.2 (2007): 153– 176. “On Counterfactual Propositions. Apr. Richard Ned.2 (2007): 228 – 48. Orwell. George. Why Orwell Matters. 25 Sept.” Harper’s. New York: Harcourt & Brace. Ronald. 1938– 1974. Murphy.” Annals of International Studies 1 (1970): 224 –32. 1989): 1– 15.4 (2002): 29– 59. Rodden. Portes. Niall. Rodden. 2005. Richard Ned. “The 1935 Sanctions Against Italy: Would Coal and Oil Have Made a Difference?” European Review of Economic History 4. “What if Hitler Had Defeated Russia?” History Today 45. 1985. 1 – 6. Yaacov. “Counterfactual Thought Experiments: A Necessary Teaching Tool. The Collected Essays. Ian.2 (2004): 173– 99. 1989. 1997. 158– 69. “WWGOD?. “Averting the Nazi Seizure of Power: A Counterfactual Thought Experiment. Sonia and Angus.” European Review of Economic History 8. 1968. John. New York: Basic Books. MacDonald. Wilmington. Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. “My Orwell. and John Komlos. “Uses and Abuses of Historical Analogies: Not Munich but Greece. Ros.” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 21.5 (1995): 67 –70. Kudriashow. Christiano. Discriminations: Essays and Afterthoughts. “Orwell’s List. “Hazards of Historical Analogy. Right or Left.” The Independent News. Rosenfeld. “As the Bones Know. Rodden. 1968.1 (2000): 85– 110. Julian. 40. eds. Finding George Orwell in Burma. 2003. Stogbauer. Hans. Macdonald.” International Studies Quarterly 30. . “Orwell’s Little List Leaves the Left Gasping for More. Timothy.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 13. Irving. 4 vols. 97 – 103. Vertzberger. New York: Oxford UP. Arno.” Canadian Journal of History XXIV 1 (Apr. 2002. Christian. Garton Ash. DE: ISI. Alejandro. “Telling It Like It Isn’t? Alternative History and International History. 13 Mar.” History & Theory 9. John. Dmitry.” [What Would Orwell Do?] Scenes From An Afterlife. Howe.9 (1969): 14 –38. Symons. “What’s So Different About a Counterfactual?” World Politics 52.
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