“Churchill & Orwell: The Fight For Freedom”
By Thomas E. Ricks
326 pages, $28
Never having met wasn’t necessary for these two. It was their joint dedication to individual freedom – the weld-spot of conscience – that held the West together in the face of Hitler and Mussolini’s totalitarianism. Pulitzer Prize Historian Thomas E. Ricks’ new book “Churchill & Orwell, The Fight For Freedom,” concentrates on Churchill and Orwell’s views, and how they contributed in their own ingenious ways in the 1930s and war years of the 1940s.
Ricks tells us that the two men couldn’t have been more different. Churchill was 28 years older, more robust, outliving Orwell by fifteen years. He was a loud and persistent presence, participating, speechifying and then writing about events. As one member of a British cabinet grumbled, “Debating him was like arguing with a brass band.” The philosopher Isaiah Berlin observed that Churchill “saw life as a pageant, with himself leading the parade.” On the day England entered World War II, Churchill wrote, "It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.”
Less grandly, Orwell wrote two years later that we “live in an age in which the autonomous individual is ceasing to exist.”
Orwell’s greater works, “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which recognized the dangers of authoritarian rule, were still to come and remain popular today as authoritarian governments again threaten a number of countries with misrule. Clearly, Ricks writes, Churchill and Orwell were kindred spirits. “In their key overlapping years in the middle of the century, the two men grappled with the same great questions – Hitler and fascism, Stalin and communism, America and its pre-emption of Britain.”
They did this with the same qualities and tools, our author writes: their intellects, their confidence in their own judgments, even when those judgments were rebuked by most of their contemporaries, and their extraordinary skill with words. These activities of both men were all to a point: preserving freedom of thought, speech and association.
Michael D. Langan is a Buffalo News book reviewer.