Mystery:Did George Orwell Become a Conservative?

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George Orwell wrote two books late in his life that are considered among the greatest of 20th Century English works: 1984 and Animal Farm. Both have strongly anti-authoritarian and conservative principles.

Orwell indisputably grew critical of his leftist ideological allies as he grew older. However, he remained a democratic socialist in name, if not in beliefs. It is suspected that he kept his public image in order to retain his influential position as a columnist for its leading publication, the Tribune. Moreover, his support of democratic socialism was based on conservative reasons: he thought it would produce a wealthier society. Orwell was also a patriot, which is plainly a conservative value. Orwell had been a member of the revolutionary socialist Independent Labour Party (ILP), which opposed British participation in World War II, but left the ILP on the outbreak of war, and joined the civilian Home Guard in 1940.

In articles which Orwell wrote during WWII he expressed the opinion that British Capitalism, under the leadership of Churchill, was incapable of winning the war against Nazi Germany. Therefore, he expected one of two outcomes - either Germany will win the war, or there will be a Socialist revolution which will sweep to power, wage a victorious revolutionary war against the Nazis and present a model of Democratic Socialism counterposing the Totalitarian Soviet model. In Orwell's view, a Socialist Britain should abolish the aristocracy and the House of Lords, but retain the Monarchy - since "it is better that the masses admire a person who does not have power, rather than admiring the person who holds power". Orwell called that hoped-for revolutionary current "English Socialism" and expected the Home Guard in which he served, composed of working-class people, to become the nucleus of a revolutionary militia. In 1945 he expressed surprise that Britain won the war under Churchill and without any revolution. In the post-war years he appears to have lost hope for a Democratic "English Socialism", and in "Nineteen Eighty Four" depicted how that ideology, shortened to "Ingsoc" would create an even more monstrous totalitarianism than the Soviet one.

Commentator Philip Thody writes:[1]

There are nevertheless four aspects of Orwell’s later work which are more closely linked to conservative than to left-wing styles of thinking. The first lies in the impact which Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four made not only on his readers but on public opinion generally. The second is his attitude to issues such as patriotism, warfare and sexual morality. The third is his insistence on the need for freedom of speech and his view of language as a means of rational communication. The fourth, for which he can be held only indirectly responsible, is the views expressed about him by his critics, both those who admire his work and those who find its ideas and themes unattractive. What all these areas have in common is the light they throw on the problem of definition. The critics who attacked Orwell for making what they saw as the great betrayal, like those who praised him for being one of the first to see the light, were either consciously or unconsciously defining what they saw as left and right at the moment when they were writing.

See also