Why Orwell Had No Words for Fascism

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

In an excellent talk on George Orwell in 2004, Christopher Hitchens almost casually mentions that Orwell, for all of his thousands of essays and articles, never wrote a single critique of fascism. The political thinker of the 20th century trained all his fire on the left, not the right.

This was because, Hitchens reasoned, there was a viable set of arguments on the left that needed debunking. Communism at least started with the intellectually attractive premise that it could eliminate the exploitation of the great majority of people–the working class.

Fascism, though, was simply pornographic sadism given political form. It needed no dialectical rebuttal.

Hitchens draws this point out between 16:58 and 17:45 of his talk on Orwell:

But you can read him exhaustively, as I have done, . . . and he hardly writes anything about fascism at all. He doesn’t write a single essay about it and why you should be against it. He takes it for granted that, when you look down the gun barrel of Hitler and Mussolini and Franco and fascism and Nazism, that you don’t need to be told what’s wrong with it: here’s everything you hate. Here’s every bullying father, . . . every sadistic prison warden, every capitalist exploiter, every racist and Jew-baiter, every thug, . . . all rolled into one and double distilled and redone again so you’ve got the absolutely pure essence of everything that’s hateful.

I live in a broken country. Millions and millions of my fellow citizens are able to look down the barrel of Trumpism, which is a shabby, yokelized version of fascism but fascism nonetheless, and instead of beholding “the pure essence of everything that’s hateful,” and recoiling from it, they draw closer. They chant that Fauci should be fired; they clamor for Michigan’s governor should be locked up. They applaud the open calls to sedition Trump makes when he demands election laws be overridden to stop votes from being counted.

The overruling of institutions and the overriding of the law by gangs is vigilantism, an ugly and dangerous enough thing by itself. But give that kind of movement a national leader with real political power, and it becomes fascism.

There’s plenty to dislike in Biden. I’m not sure he’ll act fast enough on climate change. I’m not sure he can build the coalition he needs to revamp healthcare. But those are arguments to be had. Evidence will have to be sifted, tradeoffs weighed, and so forth. That is ordinary politics.

Trump and his Q-Anon base, his MAGA vigilantes, do not want politics. They do not want arguments, or evidence, or debates. They want the jails filled, guns everywhere, and facts-based discourse obliterated. They want you in your corner, afraid to come out because you’re not like them, and they can bludgeon you for being different.

Today is election day. I am probably having the worst political day of my life, and it’s because my country has put itself in a position where we actually have to make an argument against fascism. Orwell was wrong, and it breaks my heart to know he was wrong. You can’t just look at fascism and know it’s immoral–or 40 percent of our citizens cannot do so. It is humiliating that we have to summon reasons and arguments in the fight against fascism. But, we can put those arguments into one word, and the word is: no.