From Why Orwell Matters: "It is true on the face of it that Orwell was one of the founding fathers of anti-Communism; that he had a strong patriotic sense and a very potent instinct for what we might call elementary right and wrong; that he despised government and bureaucracy and was a stout individualist . . ." well, we can give Hitch that much about Orwell I suppose.
From Flow: "
Great thinkers have always been motivated by the enjoyment of thinking rather than by the material rewards that could be gained by it. Democritus, one of the most original minds of antiquity, was highly respected by his countrymen, the Abderites. However, they had no idea what Democritus was about. Watching him sit for days immersed in thought, they assumed he was acting unnaturally, and must be ill. So they sent for Hippocrates, the great doctor, to see what ailed their sage. After Hippocrates, who was not only a good medical man but also wise, discussed with Democritus the absurdities of life, he reassured the townspeople that their philosopher was, if anything, only too sane. He was not losing his mind; he was lost in the flow of thought. The surviving fragments of Democritus’s writing illustrate how rewarding he found the practice of thinking to be: “It is godlike ever to think on something beautiful and on something new”; “Happiness does not reside in strength or money; it lies in rightness and many-sidedness”; “I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia.” Not surprisingly, some of his more enlightened contemporaries concluded that Democritus had a cheerful disposition, and said that he “called Cheerfulness, and often Confidence, that is a mind devoid of fear, the highest good.” In other words, he enjoyed life because he had learned to control his consciousness."
From A History of Knowledge (above), Charles Van Doren: "Lucretius Carus was born in 95 B.C and died in 52 or 51 BC. Because of an enigmatic remark in an ancient text, he is thought to have committed suicide. His epic poem, On the Nature of Things, was dedicated to a friend in the year 58 BC. A version of the work must therefore have been in existence then. It was never completed. This does not matter much, as the poem is not a narrative, and if it had been finished, it could not have been more admired than it is. On the Nature of Things is an exceedingly strange poem. It is a philosophical tract that is also supremely beautiful. It is about the science of physics, yet it contains profound wisdom about human life. It is dedicated to "pleasure," yet it leaves readers with the impression that happiness is produced by the virtue of moderation. Lucretius was a devoted follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC), who was born in Samos and lived the last half of his life in Athens. There Epicurus set up an informal school in a garden which came to be known simply as the Garden. The school accepted women and at least one slave, a young man with the curious name of Mouse. Epicurus held that happiness is the supreme good. By happiness he seems to have meant, primarily, the avoidance of pain; a life without pain, worry, and anxiety would inevitably be happy, man being constituted as he is.
The avoidance of pain meant for the Garden avoidance of political life. Epicurus said it was so difficult to be happy in public life that anyone was well advised to retire from it altogether. Life in the Garden was simple. Water was the preferred drink, and barley bread was the staple of the diet. Epicurus had studied under Democritus as a young man, and he was consequently a confirmed atomist. He wrote thirty-seven books on nature, or physics, in which he advanced the atomist doctrine. Hardly any of his works survive. He also wrote tender letters to his friends, some of which do exist, in which he urged upon them a life of simplicity, ease, and moral rectitude. In later centuries, Epicurus's 'happiness' came to be interpreted as 'pleasure,' and Epicureanism consequently gathered about it the bad connotations that it possesses to this day. Lucretius, when he came to write his adoring paean to the memory of Epicurus, expressed his fervent desire to have it understood that this pleasure, or happiness, was based on virtue, and was the reward of a virtuous life. Lucretius was also influenced by the doctrines of another Greek philosopher, Zeno the Stoic (c.335-c.263 BC), who, as his dates reveal, was almost an exact contemporary of Epicurus. Zeno set up a school in Athens during the first half of the third Century BC. He taught his pupils in the Stoa Poikile, or Painted Colonnade, hence the name of his philosophy.
Stoicism taught that happiness consists in conforming the will to the divine reason, which governs the universe. A man is happy if he fully accepts what is and does not desire what cannot be. Both Epicurus and Zeno were influential throughout the ancient world in their own right. But Epicurus was often misunderstood, even by his followers, and Zeno's Stoicism was too narrow, harsh, and unworldly for most Romans, even if they could read Greek. The doctrine advanced by Lucretius in his beautiful poem combined Stoicism and Epicureanism in a way that made sense two thousand years ago and still does to many readers. Lucretius said he wanted to bring philosophy down to the human level. He was aware that Greek philosophy often seemed rarified and inaccessible to Romans. He wanted ordinary people, like himself as he claimed, to understand and appreciate philosophical thought. Even this concept was not original. Socrates had also been acclaimed as the thinker who brought philosophy 'down into the marketplace', where common people could talk about ideas.
Nevertheless, Socrates remained a rather austere figure who demanded more of his followers than they could give. However much we may love Socrates the man, we never get over the feeling that we cannot live as he said we should. Lucretius, while inheriting the 'divine simplicity' of Socrates in his interpretation of Epicureanism and Stoicism, did not make the mistake of humiliating his readers and followers. Instead, he tried to present a delectable picture of the universe as Epicurus had conceived it, whose attractions would convince more persons than argument could. Much of Lucretius's poem consists of verse expositions of the scientific doctrine of his Greek masters. But Lucretius is not remembered today because he happened, more or less by accident, to support a particularly scientific theory. Instead, he is loved for his humanity. He was a progenitor of that special kind of person that we call the Mediterranean type, the modern examples of which include the sardonic Spaniard and the lifeloving Italian. Both seem to be able to do what is, strangely, so difficult for many persons: they are able to forgive themselves, as a wise man once said, for being human. That is, knowing that life is hard and virtue rare, they keep the ancient faith that it is better to love than to hate, to live fully even if imperfectly. Epic poets always begin by invoking the assistance of a muse. Lucretius's muse is none other than Venus herself, the goddess of love."