Why Orwell Matters
by Christopher Hitchens
208 pages, $24.00
Life was not particularly kind to George Orwell, nor were his contemporary critics. But history has treated him well, proving him right about the key issues of the twentieth century. In the bipolar political climate of the 1930s and 1940s, when intellectuals on the left and right were cozying up to the world's greatest evildoers, Orwell saw that the choice between Stalinism and fascism was in fact no choice at all—that the real struggle was between freedom and tyranny. A conservative by upbringing, and a socialist and a dissident by nature, he did not believe in politics as a matter of allegiance to a party or camp. What he did believe in was his own sensibility—or what he described as his "power of facing unpleasant facts."
As Christopher Hitchens observes in his biographical essay Why Orwell Matters, this "power of facing" proved important to Orwell, whose life was filled with more than its share of unpleasantness and danger. While working as a policeman in Burma he experienced the complexities of Empire and its insidious effects on colonizer and colonized alike; while fighting in the Spanish Civil War alongside the anarchists of Catalonia (many of whom were arrested as "Trotskyites" by Soviet forces) he witnessed the wickedness of Stalinism; and in Paris, London, and the various mining towns of Northern England, where he immersed himself in life at the lowest rungs of society, he saw the pitfalls of attempts by both Church and State to elevate the poor. Throughout these experiences, he expressed his nonconformist views—and faced considerable social and professional adversity as a result.