For an international revolutionary socialist, George Orwell had a few good points. He was a traditionalist, he came to his views by hard personal experience, he was a patriot, and he had a strong affection for humanity. He had one terrible, awful shortcoming as a human being though- he was an idealist.
The problem with idealists is not that they have a vision of something better, but that they don’t see or don’t understand the way things actually are in the present. Socialist idealists- the kind we are takling about here, although the same applies to Christian idealists and other sorts as well- have a much more positive view of the bulk of humanity than empirical experience supports. “If only” is the key phrase of socialist idealists- if only certain measures were implemented, or certain obstacles removed, their goal would be achieved.
Most of these impediments are the longstanding traditions of humanity. In some cases they are unjust and need removal- slavery, inherited privilege, abuse of women and children. Other things- private property, common law, traditional religion- are widely valued and have stood the test of time.
As a member of the “swinish multitude” I’m no fan of Edmund Burke and the appeal to tradition holds little appeal for me. But the concept of a future utopia- accomplished by only a little human suffering, and most of that by bad people who deserve it- holds even less.
Being a member of Western civilization is supposed to mean holding to certain long established values- a broadly participative government, rule of law, a certain amount of plurality. But for a large minority of people in the West, these things are just obstacles to the achievement of their ideal society, and what’s more merely a legacy of a violent, racist, misogynist, imperialistic past. Their real loyalty lies with the world of the future, where perfect harmony and peace have been achieved.
The problem is the future never comes- it recedes always, and we only have more of the present. Thus, whatever, horrible crimes are committed, and whatever spectacular failures occur, it doesn’t matter, because of what will be achieved in the future.
So we have a big group of people who can and will throw over our basic institutions- the law, our system of government, our social and ethical systems, even such simple things as common etiquette- for their world of the future. These, then, are the traitors among us.