George Orwell/ Decline of the English Murder
Notes on Nationalism
Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word ‘longueur’, and remarkd in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in
considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widesoread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what ks called a nation – that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object or loyalty.
By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly – this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseperable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, NOT for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
(Penguin Books, 1965, 1977)
A collection of some of the less accesible essays by the author of ‘Animal Farm’, including his lament for the inferior quality of modern murders and his comments on the changing face of fictional crime; notes on nationalism, on seaside postcards, and on his own ambition -surely realized- to make political wrting into an art.
In the light of recent events (Brexit, Trump)’The notes on nationalism’, of course, might have a special value. Actually, I believe George Orwell was always telling the TRUTH. Be it about past, present or future.
“Notes on Nationalism” first appeared in ‘Polemic’ (October 1945)