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George Orwell’s ‘Notes on Nationalism’:


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 4 March, 2018. 

I had a hunch I’d enjoy this, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much. I’ve read a couple of Orwell’s novels, and his political narratives tend to interest me more than anything else he produces. He has such a fascinating way of detailing contemporary affairs, whether they be political, social and economic. As soon as this Penguin Modern was released, I purchased it immediately. I’m so glad that I did because I ended up absolutely loving it, which is unusual as I tend to find essays quite tedious. Inside this collection is three essays written by Orwell concerning nationalism; there’s ‘Notes on Nationalism’, ‘Anti-Semitism in Britain’ and ‘The Sporting Spirit’.

The first essay, ‘Notes on Nationalism’, was probably my least favourite. It discusses nationalism and how it tends to blur reality. People become manipulated and disillusioned by it, thus leading them to becoming ignorant and lacking common sense. I found this essay quite hard to follow at times; I’m not that glued up on nationalism and patriotism. Orwell is obviously very educated on the subject, so he discussed it as if we were also educated. As I’m not, I found it confusing occasionally. However, despite this, he was extremely passionate which made it almost convincing. He put forward interesting arguments, ones I would never have thought of, which made me want to read up on the subject. Taking that into consideration, he must be the right candidate to write such an essay, surely?

The point is that as soon as fear, hatred, jealously and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged. And, as I have pointed out already, the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. […Loyalty] is involved, and so pity ceases to function.

The second essay was titled ‘Anti-Semitism in Britain’, and it was my favourite of the bunch. I really enjoyed this essay which, I think, might be because I’m familiar with the types of arguments he puts across. They are beliefs and prejudices that are still talked about today, so I understood his arguments a lot more than the previous essay. He wrote in a very accessible manner, and made references to a variety of literature that is bred on anti-Semitism. He pointed out that almost everyone is anti-Semitic in the time he was writing (and he chiefly writes of British people). This hatred has been prevalent in society for a long time, but has intensified since the World War and Hitler’s regime. Orwell points out the hypocrisy of his countrymen. He wasn’t biased, and so was the perfect person to write truthfully about his nation – warts and all. If you’re to read any of his essays, make sure it’s this one!

The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilization, 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. 

The final essay, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, was a surprisingly decent essay. I say ‘surprisingly’ because, as you can already guess, the essay was concerned with sports and its links to nationalism. By using football and boxing, Orwell suggests sports is a war without guns. Sporting events are bred on violence, patriotism, and nationalism. Supporters defend their team, even if that leads to brutal contact with the other supporters. Sports implants the idea that their team and country are the best, thus producing a superiority complex, rivalry and prejudices in supporters. As I already said, I didn’t think I’d like this one. I hate sports, so I thought this would be a tedious read. However, Orwell’s arguments were interestingly laid out and very convincing. He used a universal topic, one that all countries are familiar with, to explore a subject Orwell finds truly concerning.

But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue. 

Overall, a lovely and intriguing read. I never really thought about some of the things he mentioned, and I have since opened my eyes to political affairs that are still current in today’s society. I’m looking forward to picking up Orwell’s collection of Essays; he’s very convincing, and I’d love to see what else he explores. A must read, and it’s only a pound!

Have you read Orwell’s essays before? Or any of his novels? Which are your favourite?

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


4 thoughts on “George Orwell’s ‘Notes on Nationalism’:

  1. I loved 1984, and tried to read The Road to Wigan Pier but didn’t finished it, as I was not that interested in the subject being covered. But this seems to be quite an interesting book! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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