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Weekend reading: George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism


 

This essay had a huge influence on my thinking when I first read it as an undergraduate. In it, Orwell uses, and admits to using, the word “nationalism” very loosely — it could apply to any movement or group to which people can apply blind loyalty or irrational contempt. He wishes people would notice their own “nationalisms” and attempt to correct for them:

The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.

Of course in today’s political debates in Canada, Orwell’s warnings are as relevant as they ever were anywhere. I know a lot of people I wish would read Orwell’s essay — people who find themselves forever making excuses for one party or faction, while forever dismissing the excuses of another. But of course Orwell’s point is that it’s easy to point out the other guy’s biases without recognizing your own. So I try to find, or even better to avoid, instances in my own work where Orwell would recognize a “nationalism” and smile a sad smile of regret.


 
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