Partying Like it's 1899


At the risk of hastening my degeneration into a full-on Kristologist, I found the latest New York Times effort from Mr. National Greatness to be yet another fascinating example of bizarre Victorian longing, this time in the form of Bill Kristol selectively quoting George Orwell's famous essay on colonial writer Rudyard Kipling in an attempt to defend modern Republican foreign policy. Excerpt:

[Orwell wrote that] Kipling "identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition."

"In a gifted writer," Orwell remarks, "this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality." Kipling "at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like." For, Orwell explains, "The ruling power is always faced with the question, 'In such and such circumstances, what would you do?', whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions." Furthermore, "where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly."

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell's argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

"Vulgarize" is the word. Read the whole source essay, which is both a defense of Kipling against charges of fascism and an arm's-length attempt to understand his enduring literary qualities, and you'll see that in the same paragraph Kristol quotes from, Orwell describes Kipling's worldview as "false," his political judgment as "warped," and his emotional sell-out "to the British government class" as the factor that "led him into abysses of folly and snobbery." Some other choice Orwell verbiage about the "vulgar flagwaver":

It is no use claiming, for instance, that when Kipling describes a British soldier beating a 'nigger' with a cleaning rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the slightest sign anywhere in Kipling's work that he disapproves of that kind of conduct—on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives […]

Kipling belongs very definitely to the period 1885-1902. The Great War and its aftermath embittered him, but he shows little sign of having learned anything from any event later than the Boer War. He was the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase 

Is there any rhetorical minefield as deadly to the political commentariat than digging up useful bon mots from the former Eric Blair?