Patriotism Versus Science: George Orwell On H.G. Wells

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One of the reasons conservatives feel a kinship with British socialist writer George Orwell is that he was not afraid to embrace concepts of patriotism over cold empiricism or dialectical thinking.

A good case in point was his taking to the woodshed Fabian Socialist writer H.G.Welles in a remarkable essay written while the Nazi bombs were blitzing England.

In Wells, Hitler and The World State (1941), Orwell earned the accompanying insult from Welles (“you little shit”), by attacking the older writer’s vague proposals, now forty years old, of creating a “World State” as the means to defeat Hitler; who Welles believed was collapsing anyway based on his view of history as “a series of victories won by the scientific man” over” “the military man.”

But Orwell effectively took Wells to task by showing that the scientific society Welles put forward as a necessary step toward Utopia was already present in Nazi Germany:

“Much of what Welles has imagined and worked for is physically there in Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there.”

What Welles didn’t have the foresight to see, according to Orwell, was that, since in Nazi Germany “Science is fighting on the side of superstition,” those “who say that Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively, the Holy Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth” than intellectuals like Wells.

Orwell located the resistance to Hitler in England as not because of any empirical, or World State notions, but because of the very patriotism Wells and leftwing intellectuals had scoffed at and had tried to destroy. Orwell asserted that what “kept England on its feet” was “the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners.”

Welles and his compatriots were blind to the reality that what actually “shapes the world springs from emotions—racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war,” and that to defeat Hitler required “bringing into a dynamic not necessarily the same as that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to ‘enlightened” and hedonistic people.”

Since “Wells is too sane to understand the modern world,” Orwell violated political correctness by stating that those who understand that the Nazis “need a strong magic to lay them,” were Wells opposite numbers:

“The people who have shown the best understanding of Fascism are either those who have suffered under it or those who have a Fascist streak in themselves.”

Of these, he named Jack London, who although socialist was also a racist, and thus gave a better prediction of the fascism to come, as well as the proudly jingoist Rudyard Kipling—both of whom Orwell asserted would “have understood the appeal of Hitler, or for that matter, Stalin.”

Aware of this essay, it is interesting to note that although the hyper-atheistic and socialist Christopher Hitchens modeled himself on Orwell, the latter, although equally atheist, might have addressed the War on Terror as requiring an emotion akin to religious faith from the West rather than any high notions of empiricism, or God forbid (pun intended), a World State.