REVIEW: Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell

Here we go, Number 07 in the Penguin Modern Classics is George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism and I am still loathing with a passion that font on the front cover. The double L looks ridiculous.

However, the contents of this book are incredibly interesting.

This 52-page volume contains three essays written by Orwell in 1945. The first is Notes on Nationalism, the second Antisemitism in Britain and the final one is entitled The Sporting Spirit.

And do you know what is incredibly sad? Nearly 80 years on from the original publication of these essays, most of Orwell’s criticisms are still prevalent. And that is an appalling reflection on society and how it hasn’t progressed at all.

Orwell, obviously, is most famous for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm but I like his non-fiction. Down and Out in Paris and London is a fabulous book and tells of his struggles living in poverty in both cities.

He was, during his short lifetime, a novelist, political essayist, teacher, soldier, atheist, socialist, bookseller, journalist and I still find his views relevant and interesting today.

His essay Antisemitism in Britain, bear in mind this is 1945 and the full extent of Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish people (and others) is becoming widely known, argues that the Second World War has done nothing to diminish this racism and the issue needs serious study to understand why that is. Is that not still true today?

Notes on Nationalism is the longest essay and argues that the abiding rule of patriotism is to do anything humanly possible to secure more prestige and power for whatever country, city, town – he says unit – that the individual has aligned themselves with.

He discusses how nationalists rewrite history, deny facts and distort the truth to fit their own agenda. Sound familiar? There are plenty of people and organisations still doing that today. Look, for example, at the climate change deniers, or the gun lobbyists in the USA.

The final essay claims sports fans are a type of nationalist. Rather than the old adage that world problems should be worked out on a sports field/pitch, Orwell says that competitive sport between countries, cities even schools doesn’t lead to healthy competition but to a vicious rivalry and even hatred. Football violence reinforces his opinions.

Whether or not you agree with Orwell’s views – and I have to say on many of the issues he raises I do – no one can deny that he argues well and writes with a clarity that is refreshing.

I found this book fascinating.

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