George Orwell was all for clarity and economy in writing. In his essay “Politics and the English Language”, he set forth 6 rules for writers wishing to keep their writing effective and free of ambiguity and unnecessary frills.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Orwell wrote many essays in this no-nonsense manner, one such being Antisemitism in Britain, which takes an honest look at society in Britain at the time and tries to pin down the causes and sources of antisemitism.
By this stage in his career there is obviously a conscious attempt to put a stop to his own antisemitism which is quite noticable in his first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. I was reading this book recently and that’s how I came to all of this — I wanted to know more about Orwell’s opinion of antisemitism. Lo and behold, he wrote a whole essay on it. Here’s an excerpt from the closing paragraph:
The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisation, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore, that the starting point for any investigation of antisemitism should not be “Why does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?” but “Why does antisemitism appeal TO ME? What is there about it that I feel to be true?” If one asks this question one at least discovers one’s own rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. Antisemitism should be investigated–and I will not say by antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking antisemitism, but by marshalling all the justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that antisemitism will be definitively CURED, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.