, is considered by many to be Orwell’s most famous and enduring essay.In it, he argues the English language has become degraded, “ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Language, and particularly political language, he argued, is not just a manifestation of our decline but also an instrument in it.
He wanted language to be an instrument to express and sharpen, rather than conceal or prevent thought, and he was quite right about that.
Orwell’s thoughts on political language merit particular attention.
It was their final, most essential command,” Orwell wrote in [Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. But for those of us of the Christian faith, words show not only what is true, but are the primary vehicle for knowing the Author of all Truth; the “all else follows” eventually leads us to Christ, and the Cross, and what follows from the Cross.
In the gospel of John we are told that Jesus said to those who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” George Orwell’s affection and allegiance were ultimately found in places other than the person of Jesus.
But he was a man who believed in a moral code, in concepts like justice, freedom, and objective truth, and he worked valiantly throughout his life to articulate and further them. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: While Orwell didn’t locate the basis of his beliefs in the enduring truth of the Christian faith, he did concede that Christian thinkers were right to believe “that if our civilisation does not regenerate itself, it is likely to perish — and they may be right in adding that, at least in Europe, its moral code must be based on Christian principles.” Orwell believed throughout his life that language was a means to see the truth and to tell the truth.You may remember that Gloucester, commiserating with Lear on being blind, uses five words. As I left the ward, I could hear him saying them over and over to himself: “I stumbled when I saw.” That is what I mean by the marvelous power of words when they are used with true force in their true meaning.I remembered them then: “I stumbled when I saw.” I said this to the old man in the Darwin hospital. Unlike Muggeridge, George Orwell never became a Christian; it was politics, not faith, that occupied Orwell’s energy and attention and gave urgency to his work.“In our time,” he wrote, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” Political language consists largely of “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” And this: “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” This can’t be done in a moment, according to Orwell, but we can change our habits and send some worn-out and useless phrase “into the dustbin where it belongs.” One senses in Orwell his frustration with the state of much political speech because it often degrades what he considers precious — clear, precise, and appropriate language.He understood the enormous stakes in politics and believed political speech often disfigures reality and the true nature of things.Independent thinking is necessary for a healthy political life.As corrupted language smothers independent, original thinking, it thus serves a political purpose.There has been a terrible destruction of words in our time…Jesus himself said that heaven and earth would pass away, but his words would not pass away.The corruption of one leads to the corruption of the other.[…] The care of words is something that should concern all of us, perhaps particularly those of the Christian faith.