September 10, 2010


I received an email expressing the sender's being intrigue by my assertion that universities (and the professoriate) had lost its soul, and with my quoting Saul Bellow's reference to losing one soul in his Forward to Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. (See my 9/9/2010 posting on Cosmopolitan Lawyer.)

Here is a little bit of George Orwell on the losing one's soul. For various reasons, with some change in the references, the sentiment Orwell expressed nearly three-quarter of a century ago apply to our times. We still have endless war, food shortages across the globe, reports of slave labor and forced servitude even with the borders of the beacon of liberty known as the United States of America, and the executioner's blow from behind has been replaced with government sanctioned torture.

" . . . I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed oesophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to hem. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period--twenty years, perhaps--during which he did not notice it.

"It was absolutely necessary that the soul should be cut away. Religious belief, in the form in which we had known it, had to be abandoned. By the nineteenth century it was already in essence a lie, a semi-conscious device for keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The poor were to be contented with their poverty, because it would all be made up to them in the world beyond the grave, usually pictured as something mid-way between Kew Gardens and a jeweller's shop. Ten thousand a year for me, two pounds a week of you, but we are all the children of Good. And through the whole fabric of capitalist society there ran a similar lie, which it was absolutely necessary to rip out.

"Consequently there was a long period during which nearly every thinking man was in some sense a rebel, and usually a quite irresponsible rebel. Literature was largely the literature of revolt or of disintegration. . . . For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.

"It is as though in the space of ten years we had slid back into the Stone Age. Human types supposedly extinct for centuries, the dancing dervish, the robber chieftain, the Grand Inquisitor, have suddenly reappeared, not as inmates of lunatic asylums, but as the masters of the world. Mechanization and a collective economy seemingly aren't enough. By themselves they lead merely to the nightmare we are now enduring; endless war and endless underfeeding for the sake of war, slave populations toiling behind barbed wire, women dragged shrieking to the block, cork-lined cellars where the executioner blows your brains out from behind. So it appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The would has a tendency to go septic."

George Orwell, "Note on the Way," Time and Tide, 30 March and 6 April 1940, reprinted in Peter Davison,ed., The Complete Works of George Orwell, Volume Twelve: A Patriot After All, 1940-1941 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1998), at 121, 124-125.