402. Influence (XI)
The above cartoon evokes a sickly response in my palate, as if invisible vomit has trailed up from my stomach—perhaps this is spiritual vomit. If I were a nationalist, I would be angry about it; so far as I feel some sympathy for nationalists I do feel a bit angry—mostly I feel vomit. This cartoon is based on a famous essay by Orwell in which he contrasted patriotism and nationalism. Orwell, in an empirical English vein, said that patriotism is about love for particularity—village greens in the mist, wet spaniels on the kitchen floor, and vicars with mutton chop beards at the church—whereas nationalism is about an abstract idea.
So, for example, Hitler was less interested in Germany as Germany—in beer halls and the Black Forest—and more interested in the idea that people with a certain biology, whatever their different religions or customs, were knitted into a single political unit. Orwell’s point was that a Bavarian Catholic town with very particular customs would be defended by a patriot, whereas the nationalist would say that because the Bavarians and the Danish were both Aryans they should be united in a single political unit and their customs, however old, negated and replaced by a “national community”.
What the cartoonist has done is to take Orwell’s contention and interpreted it to mean: “The patriot defends the status quo, whatever the status quo is.” If your government has forced you to accept migrants from across the world who are involved in terrorism against you and who make parts of your town inaccessible to the native population the “patriot” says: “Since this is actuality, I will not resist it. I love the country as it exists.” If the government facilitates the removal of children from their parents to have their sex changed the so-called patriot is meant to acquiesce rather than be thought extremist. It is as if Winston Smith in 1984 thought, “But the world before Ingsoc is illusory; and any world without Ingsoc and Big Brother is just some abstraction. No; I’m not an extremist: I love my Victory Gin, I love my telescreen, and I love Big Brother. How can I not love the actual and existing over the abstract.”
Since we live in a quasi-totalitarian system, it makes perfect sense that the people who defend the system would twist Orwell round to support the system. Around 2004, I remember there was neoconservative clique in the media—many disillusioned defectors from the orthodox left—who loved Orwell, the Orwell Prize, and also loved and propagandised for…the war in Iraq. They even made out that Orwell would have supported the Iraq War, a war built on the most rancid lies.
Around the same time, as a teenager, I went to an anti-war protest in London. The person with the megaphone asked for suggestions for a chant and I said: “Tony Blair, traitor.” Within a few minutes a more senior person appeared and said, “You can’t say that.” Why not? Because leftists know they are traitors really; so they cannot allow the chant to be used—even if you want to say Blair betrays the principles of the Labour Party. The word was too close to the bone; after all we are all the same, how can we betray anyone when there is no difference between us?
If the cartoonist who produced the above met an actual self-described patriot they would squirm and be uncomfortable, and that is because it is not so easy to change what “patriot” means. The actual is nothing like what the cartoonist describes; the actual represents ties of blood, tradition, and religion—not what the state tells you is the actual (sentimental cartoon cells with all the races of the world waving American or British flags). Nationalism is an abstract delusion in another direction, but only cowards or the malevolent interpret “defence of the actual” or conservatism to mean “defence of whatever exists, no matter how corrupted or untrue.”