Liberty, Equality, and Humbug: Orwell’s Political Ideals by David Dwan - review by Robert Colls

Robert Colls

Why I Think

Liberty, Equality, and Humbug: Orwell’s Political Ideals


Oxford University Press 302pp £25 order from our bookshop

Books on Orwell keep coming. Alex Woloch’s Or Orwell (2016) examined the writing. Thomas Ricks’s Churchill & Orwell (2017) examined what it called ‘The Fight for Freedom’. John Sutherland’s Orwell’s Nose (2016) examined, well, Orwell’s nose. In 2014 James Kenworth’s ‘hoodie’ version of Animal Farm played to packed outdoor audiences at Newham City Farm. Now we have a book about Orwell’s political philosophy. Orwell has been our greatest political commentator for over sixty years, but in an increasingly disordered world a man known for his political and moral consistency is being reconfigured as a rebel and a contrarian and a writer of some range and imagination. David Dwan’s first impulse is to try and pin him down with the old philosophical holds, telling us it all depends on what we mean when we say something. His second is to talk sensibly about Orwell’s writing in relation to some major philosophical issues, and this is where the book scores.

He starts with liberty. All Orwell’s fictional heroes – Dorothy (not Dorothea), Flory, Comstock, Bowling, Smith, the farm animals – are searching for liberty, even if none finds it. But what is liberty? Dwan concludes that for Orwell it was broadly ‘negative’ (using Isaiah Berlin’s term) – that is, deriving

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