"Pacifism Is Objectively Pro-Fascist"

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It's one of George Orwell's most famous formulations; and I used it myself in defense of the Iraq war. Neocons have it in their portable tool kit of agit-prop. But Mike Kinsley pointed out to me the other day in the office that Orwell actually recanted it.

And sure enough, he did (via Gene Volokh):

The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere. It would take many pages of this paper merely to classify them, but here I draw attention to one very widespread controversial habit: disregard of an opponent's motives. The key-word here is "objectively".

We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are "objectively" aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant.

I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once.

The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the "objectively" line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore "Trotskyism is Fascism". And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated....

In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies. The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.

It is this habit of mind, among other things, that has made political prediction in our time so remarkably unsuccessful.

One of the more disgraceful uses of it recently was my own shameful argument that opposing the war against Iraq was objectively pro-Saddam. But, following Orwell, I do not think it a failure to admit error and explore why. among current offenders, those who somehow suggest that those member of the Obama administration who acted as lawyers defending terror suspects are objectively pro-Jihadism seem to me among the worst of the worst, so to speak. Or those who say that Obama, by ending the torture regime, is somehow objectively endangering the country.

Excitable Eric. Always worth re-reading.

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