Letter: Orwell's timely insights on nationalist leaders


To the editor:

From "Notes on Nationalism" by George Orwell, October 1945: "Nationalism ... is inseparable from the desire for power.

"All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. ... Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost always no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportation, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by "our" side. ... Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or whether they even happened, are always decided according to political predilection.

"Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. ... Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, questions removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which, it is felt, ought not to have happened and left unmentioned and ultimately denied ...

"Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. ... One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. ... The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. ... Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.

"The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power-worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged ... [and] the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also ..."

Um, remind you of anyone?

Iris Bass,




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