Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fascinating article on Orwell

The April 13, 2009 edition of The New Yorker is out with a fascinating profile on George Orwell ("A Fine Rage: George Orwell's Revolutions"). Like all New Yorker articles it's dense and too damn long but it rewards a careful reading. Alas a subscription is required to read the whole piece but I wanted to bring one particular quote from the article to your attention.
He [Orwell] never really reconciled his hatred of what he called the "power instinct" with a candid assessment of the power instinct that would have to be exercised to effect revolution.
Isn't that really the problem with most lefty revolutionary ideas? Like Orwell we have pretty good a critique of that which we want to tear down -- but almost no critique or appreciation of the power apparatus that we would need to build in order to tear down the shit that we don't like (and what a monster that power apparatus might become once it is unleashed and how we might build power-limiting checks and balances into the movement as we go along). Isn't that really the problem of all of the great communist revolutions in the 20th century -- that they had a correct analysis of the problem of the power instinct of those who were dominating society -- but no willingness to examine the corrupting influence of the new power structures necessary to topple the old order (hence Russia, Cuba, China etc. wage glorious revolution only to replace capitalist authoritarianism with communist authoritarianism)?

And that's one of the reasons that the left is often such a mess -- because our analysis of the power instinct assumes that the problem is those [bad] people -- and that if we just replace them everything will be okay. When in reality the temptation to abuse power is likely something that resides in all of us -- and that no matter who is in power -- we need systems of transparency and checks and balances in order to restrain the corrupting influences that will effect anyone in those positions. Said differently, the blind spot of conservatism is that they think the rich and business people can do no wrong (the problem is seen as them -- in this case the poor) and the blind spot of progressivism is that we think the working class and the poor can do no wrong (the problem is seen as them -- the wealthy and the corporate) when in reality the human condition is such that the problem resides in all of us but is only expressed once we are in power ourselves.

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