Paul Greenberg: Homage to George Orwell

BY PAUL GREENBERG Published: September 29, 2012
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The BBC's esteemed director-general sounds not just autocratic but ignorant. Can he have read any of those books? Not to mention Orwell's masterpiece about the Spanish civil war, “Homage to Catalonia.”

Just his one essay on “Politics and the English Language,” which every political commentator should read and reread from time to time, would have earned him an enduring place among those trying to preserve the integrity of the language.

George Orwell was incorrigibly independent, a combination of Trotskyite zeal in his youth and Tory sensibility as he aged and learned better. Especially after having been chased out of Spain by the Communists, where he'd gone to fight by their side in that country's disastrous civil war during the 1930s. Accusing him of left-wing bias sounds like a joke — except that the BBC lost its sense of humor long ago, along with its integrity.

When the literary critic V.S. Pritchett called Orwell “the conscience of his generation,” he may have been indulging in understatement, for by now more than one generation has come to appreciate Orwell's enduring honesty, clarity and simple decency. For someone writing about politics of all things to embody those qualities was and remains remarkable. Orwell's work is not just an English treasure but the world's.

This doesn't mean putting up a statue of Orwell in front of the BBC is a good idea. Orwell, who gave the world the image of Big Brother in “1984,” would have been be the last to encourage a cult of personality.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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