Orwell would loathe today’s left
He slammed the bourgeois intellectuals of his day for their intolerance and insularity. Sound familiar?
I recently re-read George Orwell’s 1941 essay, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, and I was taken by his description of the bourgeois, left-leaning intelligentsia of his time. They live in the shallowness of ideas, he writes, severed from the common culture and life experiences of the working class. They spend most of their time bickering with their chief enemy, the equally bourgeois ‘Blimps’ – archetypal red-faced imperialists. Though they despise each other, both the bourgeois intelligentsia and the Blimps are united in their mutual disdain for the working class.
Orwell, perhaps England’s greatest-ever political writer, notes how the bourgeois-left intelligentsia use a lot of words to intellectualise issues without understanding them. He saw that they frequently Blimp-baited without engaging with the real challenges people face. And he saw that they were only prepared to discuss issues raised in a few select publications – mainly the New Statesman and News Chronicle back then – which they also happened to edit, read and write for.
I was struck by how well this description of the bourgeois-left intelligentsia fits today’s middle-class lefties. This was brought home recently by the Twitter left’s response to the cancellation of Róisín Murphy, a wonderful, soulful singer who has been monstered in recent weeks for expressing her reservations about children being given puberty blockers. Venues promptly cancelled her gigs and her record company halted promotion for her new album, Hit Parade.
Suzanne Moore, a former Guardian writer now limited in where she can write because of her gender-critical views, asked why no music journalists were willing to defend Murphy. After all, this is an extremely talented musician being punished merely for expressing her views. The response from wealthy left-wingers was all too redolent of Orwell’s bourgeois lefties. Musician Billy Bragg, known for his fierce disagreements with gender-critical feminists, quickly responded on X (formerly Twitter). He said that music journalists don’t want to write for the Spectator, the Telegraph or the Daily Mail, share bylines with Richard Littlejohn, Nick Timothy and Douglas Murray, or ‘drift rightward… on a sea of spite’.
All the elements of Orwell’s bourgeois-left intelligentsia were on display in Bragg’s response to Moore’s question. There was the kneejerk baiting of one’s opponents, the refusal to discuss things beyond a few select middle-class publications like the Guardian, and the sheer out-of-touchness. After all, what Murphy said was hardly extremist. It’s an opinion a lot of people share – including leading NHS paediatricians.
This captures the state of the bourgeois left today. They have little more than Daily Mail-bashing to sustain their illusions of radicalism. They are incapable of engaging in the complex debates that actually concern the British public – and, yes, the question of giving puberty blockers to kids really does concern the public. Instead, today’s bourgeois left retreats into the narrow, intellectually conformist worlds of academia and publishing. And they try to shut down debates they feel uncomfortable with.
Those of us who want to engage in today’s difficult debates, including with people we don’t agree with, are banished to what the bourgeois left calls the ‘right-wing press’. This allows left-wingers to satisfy themselves that our arguments and our words can be ignored by association. We are no longer ‘legitimate’, our arguments can be discounted and our views kept out of their safe middle-class publications. These lefties feel no need to speak to a wider audience because, as they see it, that wider audience is simply wrong.
I think Orwell would see all this for what it is – a charade. And he would certainly know that England’s working classes are still the ones doing the hard work, and that any genuine radical politics lies in their hands. If the bourgeois leftists don’t want to dirty their hands by leaving their comfortable X / Twitter bubble, it is no great loss. They won’t be missed.
Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic.
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