In 1942, with the Second World War raging, George Orwell wrote a short essay called “Pacifism and the War.” In it, he argued that pacifism was an ineffective response to totalitarianism, that it was a moral philosophy born out of ignorance and shelteredness, and that many of those then calling themselves pacifists were actually fascist sympathizers in disguise.
He also offered up a soundbite that lives on in political debate to this day: “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist.”
It took Orwell barely two years to disavow that quote. In an article he wrote in late 1944,he declared that his previous claim had been both dishonest and counterproductive.
But although the original piece still circulates widely, the followup — in every way a stronger and more cogent one — has disappeared into relative obscurity. That’s a shame, because where the first piece is pretty much completely irrelevant to modern debates (Britain’s war-era fascists have no counterpart in contemporary politics, and where Orwell applies his analysis of pacifism to India and Gandhi he makes a complete mess of it), the second is one of his most thoughtful and contemporary pieces of writing.
Tomorrow I’ll post that second piece here on the blog (since it only exists in full online as a weirdly-formatted PDF), and on Thursday I’ll discuss its importance — to contemporary debates about Islam, to discourse in the blogosphere, to Jon Stewart’s upcoming rally on the Washington Mall — in more detail.