Saturday, October 14, 2006

Neo-pessimism revived

Paul Anderson’s ‘Orwell in Tribune’ is something of a revelation. I’ve always been quite a fan, but reading this, I realise that I’ve forgotten just how much he (Orwell - not Paul!) has influenced the way I look at the world.

When I was at school, I had all four volumes of his collected essays and journalism out of the library (as the fines mounted, I always ended up just hanging on to them) and I read them lots of times. This new volume has some old friends in it and a fair few samples that I’ve never seen before.

There’s plenty to choose from, but as early as his fourth ‘As I Please’ column, we find the great man on the extraordinary influence of what he calls ‘neo-pessimism’: At the time, it was largely a right-wing phenomenon, but he could be writing about the relentless nihilism and negativism of the fuckwits that call themselves ‘the left’ these days:
“The danger of ignoring the neo-pessimists lies in the fact that up to a point they are right. So long as one things in short periods it is wise not to be hopeful about the future. Plans for human betterment do normally come unstuck, and the pessimist has many more opportunities of saying ‘I told you so’ than the optimist. By and large the prophets of doom have been righter than those who imagined that a real step forward would be achieved by universal education, female suffrage, the League of Nations, or what-not.

The real answer is to dissociate socialism from Utopianism. Nearly all neo-pessimist apologetics consist in putting up a man of straw and knocking him down again. The man of straw is called Human Perfectibility. Socialists are accused of believing that society can be - and indeed, after the establishment of socialism, will be - completely perfect; also that progress is inevitable. Debunking such beliefs is money for jam, or course.

..... Socialists don’t claim to be able to make the world perfect: they claim to be able to make it better.”
Another feature of the book is it’s footnotes. They’re almost as interesting a read as the articles themselves. It's very good. Ask Santa for it. You never know your luck....

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