Christopher Hitchens meant not to over praise George Orwell in Why Orwell Matters, but I’d like to counter, alternatively, why he doesn’t deserve much praise at all. Hitchens’ point is that Orwell’s feminist, post-colonialist socialism – his humanism – abhorred fascism, totalitarianism, oppression and racism. Well if you’re a former Trotskyite and eventually got around to a centralist’s position – unlike Orwell but very much like Hitchens – that’s one thing. I’ll sit and listen. If you believe that Trotsky’s democide record would have been much different than Lenin or Stalin’s, you are naive to the extreme. "Root out the counter-revolutionaries without mercy, lock up suspicious characters in concentration camps . . . Shirkers will be shot, regardless of past service." The fault isn’t the ‘cult of personality’ or ‘the person who betrayed Marxism’. It is the idea—the philosophy—itself which is absolutely evil. Winston Churchill once said, "The further backwards you look, the furthur forward you can see." I’d like to offer up why – if we are going to look back for intellectual motivation – we might as well look way back: stoicism is far more worth your attention than Orwell.
My respect for Hitchens, who passed away back at the end of 2011, is immense. However, he promoted Orwell as a sort of zenith intellectual of the latter half of the 21st century, perhaps not realizing that there is a dark side to this furtherance. All novelists of course should be mistrusted when it comes to matters of embellishment, and might I say even their outright exaggeration of the alternative realities they create. I am making a manifold argument. As a Leftist, Hitchens, as they all are, was a Platonist. He would be no more tolerant of Ayn Rand’s writing than her political positions. Like her, George Orwell didn’t use his real name, (which was Eric Arthur Blair), he likely stole the main theses for 1984 from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel “We” completed in 1921. It is a dystopian novel written in response to the author’s personal experiences in Russia, and to Ayn Rand’s shame is in substance suspiciously similar to Anthem. However, why we shouldn’t give too much credit to Orwell, (for instance, any more than let’s say, the famed science-fiction writer, Robert A Heinlein – “Any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so,” Time Enough For Love – is Orwell’s faulty logic on so many issues. First and fore-mostly, in his Orwellian world of Oceania, the state manufactured television and spying devices all worked. Inside the novel they are always on and are ever in good repair, and the East German Stasi-like Big Brother apparatus, is by comparison with the actual KGB trained East German agency, a frightening juggernaut of efficiency. This is the lie of the democratic socialist and all communists everywhere: government can effectively run things, even machinery.
You Have to Laugh at that Sentiment!
It’s an act of faith for socialists. Like religionists, they believe in a thing all evidence to the contrary; that is, to think the governed can manage the handmaiden state is their shameful conceit that we are going to pay for over and over in the years to come. George Orwell was just such a liberal democratic socialist as this. On the other hand, the libertarian and individualist, Heinlein, suffers from no such faulty logic. His view on individualism stands in stark contrast that government is anything more than a necessary evil and the less of it the better. The Stasi (6.5 million spies watching over 18 million prisoners) wasn’t just incapable, it wasn’t that scary— arbitrary, cruel, unbelievably stupid, yes, but scary? It could be easily fooled by the average intelligent East German. The East Germany Vichy-like government was in fact no more than a great big dumb monopolistic church who hired thugs, boodlers and those of the lowest morals to enforce it’s code of conduct, much like the Republican Nixon administration, the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages or the present Islamic regime in Iran. And guess what? George Orwell as an adult was a fusty old churchgoer, a believer in the platonic supernatural realm of goodness enforced by community, society and state standards, as many socialists are. (Some controversy exists that Orwell did not accept the existence of an afterlife, however he advocated a moral code based on Judea-Christian beliefs and regularly went to church). He warned us of a one party totalitarianism, great, terrific, and then pointed us directly toward two party totalitarianism, or three or four party; who cares how many handlers the nanny state has, all the worse for individual sovereignty.
The Socialist’s – Not Unlike the Conservative’s – Motto Is:
“Liberty be Damned!”
We’re surfeit with the socialist’s love of humankind and their hatred of the individual human. They are pimps of the platonic reality—the catholic-islamic-socialist ideal of the plebeians’ proper place in the world. Typically, the socialists want to run the important things like moral conduct, law, education and health. They are magical creatures of the modern myth, ‘socialist-libertarians’; they can’t untie their own Gordian Knot let alone manufacture the rope, and if they ever did, then they would surely hang themselves with it. They’re layabouts and wannabees, that’s what attracted them to a subjective theory which could morally justify their collective bullying of individuals in the first place. The news is all bad for the individual. The state has analgesia to any objections to their rule, just as a public school teacher has to his state-compelled students. There is no release from this prison sentence the commonwealth has placed upon the young and old. They are prepared to use force and you better unwaveringly believe it, no matter how incompetent they are. They are characteristically frugivorous and will eat until they explode, the fruit being the least resistant ‘plebs’, the most productive, the non-credal (i.e. skeptics), the ones who are the rule-followers, the law-abiding, middle-class with a work ethic. And to the lone individual? It’s hard carrying the weight of society on your shoulders; it’s devastating to learn that the snickers and whispers behind your back are directed against you and that the pigs and rats in the barnyard have taken over the farm. But enough of George Orwell.
He Was Certainly No Stoic
Despite what R M Price says, the Stoics’ principal doctrines are: that the supernatural is not to be feared and likely not to be found, death should not produce apprehension any more than your “pre-birth”, the way to moral goodness is easily seen – it has little to do with politics and religion – and life’s terrible aspects must be endured as part of living—it’s your destiny. “Do justice, and let the skies fall," (Accept your fate but do no harm to innocence). "Chi ku", (Chinese: Eat bitterness and win the day). "Wabi-sabi" (Japanese: Imperfection and imperminance are part of life and you must accept it). "Stiff upper lip," (Put up with pain and do your duty). They taught that harmful emotions resulted from mistakes in choices or selections. A Stoic does not suffer such emotions. The Stoic sages were chiefly occupied with the ongoing relationship between determinism and free will. It was virtuous to keep a will or a self which is in harmony with nature, i.e., philosophy as a way of life.
The Stoic school, which took its name from its beginnings in the Stoa in the main square of Athens, was founded by Zeno from Citium in Cyprus in the early third century BC. He was a pupil of Polemo, the 4th chair of Plato’s Academy. Zeno was succeeded by Cleanthes from Assos in Asia Minor, and he, by Chrysippus. "A wise man will turn three somersaults for an adequate fee." Later Stoics such as Seneca the Younger and Epictetus accentuated that virtue was sufficient for happiness – that all moral degeneracy is equally depraved, i.e., that all excess is wrong and that moderation and reciprocity are the golden rules as it always had been in classical Greek Antiquity. They taught that a Stoic should be indifferent to good or bad luck, thus strength of character is translated as ‘Stoic calm’ in the face of fortune or calamity. They didn’t regard the golden rule license for the state to intervene on your behalf at the expense of others; they generally condemned society’s depraved indifference to individual liberty. They referred to the moderation of your appetites as an important moral achievement.
Stoic doctrine was long-lasting and the only popular opposition to Christianity throughout Greece and the Roman Empire up until and including the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180 AD). All philosophy schools were closed in 529 AD by edict of Emperor Justinian as the Christians consolidated their power and brought the dark curtain of mysticism and ignorance over the West with the advent of totalitarian Christian faith and their chronic reaching for political power which lasts to this day (although cooled and mitigated by democracy).
The Stoics believed in individualism, moral character, human happiness, appropriation of life itself as opposed to alienation from it and occupied with worldly matters versus otherworldly concerns. They pointed to a universal human nature and that all humans are alike more than they are different. They understood atomism (from Democritus and Leucippus), fluctuation (from Heraclitus), a utilitarian view of friendship and human nature (from Aristotle) and the view that we are here for a short time and must make the best of it (from Epicurus).
“Of human life the duration is an instant; its substance is in flux; its perception is faint; the whole composition of the body is ready to decay; the soul is a child’s toy; chance is obscure; reputation is doubtful. In short everything to do with the body is like a flowing river, everything to do with the soul a dream and a delusion. Life is a war and a sojourn in a foreign country; subsequent reputation is oblivion. What then is there that can escort one on one’s way? One thing and one only, philosophy. This consists in keeping the natural spirit within free from outrage and harm, superior to pleasures and pains, doing nothing at random, not falsely or hypocritically, not needing someone else to do anything or not to do it. Also accepting what happens and is allotted, as coming from some place from which one came oneself; and in all things awaiting death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing other than the dissolution of the elements from which each living creature is composed. If for the elements themselves there is nothing terrible in each continually being changed into another, why should anyone look askance at the change and dissolution of them all? It is in accordance with nature; and nothing evil is in accordance with nature”. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations., 2.17.
Now the question must be asked, and I dread to ask it: ‘How could such a superior philosophy lose to inferior ideas as represented by Judaism, Christianity and Islam?’ Is our fear of death so sordid and omnipresent? What about the time before we were born? It’s a death of sorts, is it not? Organic life before us is at least so many billions of years old, and after us, it will go on in some fashion. We didn’t exist before we were born, and when we die, there will be only our legacy, yet what accounts for this exorbitant fear?
Perhaps this was not why Stoicism did not stand against the Christians anymore than today the West may not stand against the Medina Moslems or the Woke Fascists. If reason is the goal, then it is a much harder destination than all the sordid forms of Platonism. If the Nazis had won the war, would not Mein Kampf be our bible, read in German and not understood by the masses of the Aryan world except that it should eliminate the members of the non pure races, especially the Jews, just as the bible suggests we annihilate the Pagan and the Koran proposes to kill the Kafir? If Marxism had been supreme over the West, would not Das Kapital be the ‘good book’ and we would be decimating the bourgeoisie in the millions as the communists actually did? Then we would live in the gray world of equalitarianism and try to extinguish any form of self-identity. Is it force that separates religion from reason? Is it coercion that sorts out politics from individualism? How could Stoicism bow before the fascist ideas of Plato and Christ anymore than the West be challenged by the ridiculous ideas of Hitler and Marx? Maybe it was that The Roman Republic had devolved into a slave society and the Stoics never uniformly fought against it, while the Christians in some sense represented the 'slave mentality'.
No doubt exists that one of the doors through which Christian doctrine flowed into the later empire was slavery. However, Christian reaction to the subject is not much better than the Stoics. I fear there is no definitive answer even while so much hinges on it. I can’t adequately explain it. Attraction to the irrational is inexplicable. Plato, Christ, Mohammad and Marx are supposedly filled with love of humankind, and even Hitler in his turn loved at least the illusion of the humans of an Aryan race. Platonic love -- supernaturalism itself -- seems to be a huge hoax. Will reason accede to the irrational because there are too few Christopher Hitchens in the world and too many George Orwells (too few Robert Price-s and too many Rick Warren-s)?
What to Say to This?
“Just don’t go on discussing what sort of person a good person ought to be; be one”. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 10.16) Being a good person in these days of the modern myth of platonic love, means rejecting the chauvinistic force of religion and the covert coercion of the handmaiden state. It is living a life of reason – the participation in the adventure of ideas – natural organic philosophy. It’s the hard life, for only work – especially intellectual work – can bring you happiness. Your goal, ideal and quest has to be: You must know everything.*
Impossible as it sounds, the information is almost free; there is only demanding effort to unlock the secret to life. Formalized religion and uncritical political platitudes cannot save you. You must develop critical independent thinking. Your mind must be your own (as far as that is humanly possible). If your life is supreme, if you have sovereignty over it and want to make choices that make sense of your life, then human goodness is only a thought away. Someone has to save the West in 'The Age of the Irrational’. It might as well be you. Become the ‘Calm Stoic’ in the sea of Islamic fascism, Christian malaise and Leftist hypocrisy.
* Stalin had the short story writer Issac Babel murdered along with ten of thousands of other artists. He was a great writer and he ran into a religious fundamentalist Marxist as all the Bolsheviks were. To the charge that I always mistake pink for red; this is simply too straight forward. I believe that democratic socialism is a gentle form of huggy-kissy autocracy. It would likely never have the human rights abuses of the communist countries in the Cold War era, but instead, will gently descend into a grey, defeatist, pessimistic state of stagnation with a psychological bow of the kind of people as a slave or servant to the government and the politically correct; at any rate it will conclude in the last with the demise of Western Civilization altogether.
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 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.