The Genius of George Orwell

Orwell’s columns remain a delight, partly because he wrote so clearly and moved so easily from topics which were grave to others which were light, partly because, though at times he was like all of us silly and even stupid, and his political judgment was erratic, one is always aware of a searching intelligence. Take this, for example – it comes from a column written in March 1944:

Western civilisation, unlike some Oriental civilisations, was founded partly on the belief in individual immortality. If one looks at the Christian religion from the outside, this belief appears far more important than the belief in God. The Western conception of good and evil is very difficult to separate from it. There is little doubt that the modern cult of power worship is bound up with the modern man’s feeling that life here and now is the only life there is. If death ends everything, it is much harder to believe that you can be in the right even if you are defeated. Statesmen, nations, theories, causes are judged almost inevitably by the test of material success…

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