NauenThen

Kipling & Orwell

June 3, 2014

Tags: Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell

I have second-generation Englishness, the way that so many Irish-Americans have Irish longing. Hence (in part) my love for Kipling, & Orwell's distaste for him. He's not a fascist, Orwell says, but he did not understand the economics underlying empire, thus didn't get why, after the "greatest victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before."

There's an aside, in this 1942 essay, criticizing "left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries," which are, he says, "at bottom a sham" because they have "internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic coolies, and those of us who are 'enlightened' all maintain that those coolies ought to be set free; but our standard of living, and hence our 'enlightenment,' demands that the robbery shall continue."

Yes, we are all in that boat, aren't we? Do we kill the meat we eat or leave someone else to do the dirty work? Do we stop shopping at Whole Foods because the owner is anti-ACA in a way that's deleterious to his employees? Do we continue to buy computers that are made with conflict chemicals? How pure need one be? (Just for the record, I'm not very, at least according to the Political Correctness Inventory at www.thebestschools.org/political-correctness-inventory/.)

I loved Kipling because my jolly English uncles all had volumes of his verse in their bathrooms; nothing made me happier, that & the way my family at every gathering is sure to break into "Rule Britannia." We weren't really empire builders, & my mother fled as soon as she could, but I love belonging to the Chaucer-Trollope-Hopkins continuum. I also loved Kipling because my friends were horrified by him. Loved Kipling because Kim is a great, great book. Loved Kipling because those place names he caresses are in my family too.

The ability to hold contradictory thoughts, or, rather, ignore discomfiting ones, makes me—what?—human?