Why I Write
Nevertheless the volume of serious – i.e. seriously intended – writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages
I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose
Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc
Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.
Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after
The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.
And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity
In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it.
I have not written a novel for seven years, but I hope to write another fairly soon. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.
All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand
He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil
Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country
In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement
Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army
An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is ‘just the same as’ or ‘just as bad as’ totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread. In England such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in. They may be illusions, but they are very powerful illusions. The belief in them influences conduct, national life is different because of them.
The sword is still in the scabbard, and while it stays there corruption cannot go beyond a certain point
England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly
The left-wing writers who denounce the whole of the ruling class as ‘pro-Fascist’ are grossly over-simplifying. Even among the inner clique of politicians who brought us to our present pass, it is doubtful whether there were any conscious traitors. The corruption that happens in England is seldom of that kind
They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible
The policeman who arrests the ‘red’ does not understand the theories the ‘red’ is preaching; if he did his own position as bodyguard of the moneyed class might seem less pleasant to him
It is a fact that any rich man, unless he is a Jew, has less to fear from Fascism than from either Communism or democratic Socialism
Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality
England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality
Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again
The tendency of advanced capitalism has therefore been to enlarge the middle class and not to wipe it out as it once seemed likely to do
It is not always realized that within rather narrow limits the standard of life of a country can rise without a corresponding rise in real wages
After 1918 there began to appear something that had never existed in England before: people of indeterminate social class
What this war has demonstrated is that private capitalism – that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit – does not work. It cannot deliver the goods
Hitler’s conquest of Europe, however, was a physical debunking of capitalism
In time of war, on the other hand, it has difficulty in producing all that it needs, because nothing is produced unless someone sees his way to making a profit out of it
Fascism, at any rate the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes. Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and – this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathize with Fascism
The mere efficiency of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the world has ever seen
Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted. Nazism assumes just the opposite
If we are conquered, our job will probably be to manufacture weapons for Hitler’s forthcoming wars with Russia and America
British capitalism does not work, because it is a competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main objective. It is a system in which all the forces are pulling in opposite directions and the interests of the individual are as often as not totally opposed to those of the State
It is guns or butter, as Marshal Goering remarked
To prevent war material from reaching the enemy is common sense, but to sell in the highest market is a business duty. Right at the end of August 1939 the British dealers were tumbling over one another in their eagerness to sell Germany tin, rubber, copper and shellac – and this in the clear, certain knowledge that war was going to break out in a week or two. It was about as sensible as selling somebody a razor to cut your throat with. But it was ‘good business’.
What had happened was that the whole moneyed class, unwilling to face a change in their way of life, had shut their eyes to the nature of Fascism and modern war. And false optimism was fed to the general public by the gutter press, which lives on its advertisements and is therefore interested in keeping trade conditions normal
Quite apart from anything else, the rule of money sees to it that we shall be governed largely by the old – that is, by people utterly unable to grasp what age they are living in or what enemy they are fighting
The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes
It is no use at this stage of the world’s history to suggest that all human beings should have exactly equal incomes. It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs
Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between the future and the past. No real revolutionary has ever been an internationalist
Up to 1935 virtually all English left-wingers were vaguely pacifist. After 1935 the more vocal of them flung themselves eagerly into the Popular Front movement, which was simply an evasion of the whole problem posed by Fascism
A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.
The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing
In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning
Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable
I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Here it is in modern English: Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. This is a parody, but not a very gross one
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug
It is easier – even quicker, once you have the habit – to say In my opinion it is a not unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think
In (4) the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea-leaves blocking a sink
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible
Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness
People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements
Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this: While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.
The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity
It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’.
I think the following rules will cover most cases:
i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print, ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do. iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active. v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.