Last night I finally finished Simon Schama's last volume of "A History of Britain." While the conclusion is not as emotionally forceful as the end of the BBC/History Channel production, the theme is the same: if we don't know where we come from, despots will control our future.
As with the series, Schama ends his history of Britain, and the evolution of liberty in a comparison of the lives of "Two Winstons," Winston Churchill, and "Winston Smith" the protagonist in George Orwell's "1984." Both Winston and Eric Blair (Orwell's birth name) spent their lives passionate about the fate of freedom in the modern world.
I'll let Schama tell the rest:
Although Barnhill Cottage is impossibly remote, Orwell was not lonely. Ffriends came and went if they could brave the odyssey of getting there. Orwell had just wanted to get away from the staticd, everyday hum of politics and the London literary life to concentrate his mind on what was most important to him: the fate of freedom inthe age of the super-poweer and the super-corporation, which are hybridized in the brutal monstrosity of Big Brother's regime, the Party.
Until one reads the book as the English novel it is, rather than an extended lecture on the abuses of power, it is easy to overlook that up there in Jura, among the eagles and the red deer and the sea otters, Orwell was also penning one of the mosst impassioned arguments for the indispensability of history. History and memory are not the antithesis to free will, but the condition of it. When O'Brian, the archdeceiver who has persuaded Winston Smith that he is running a resistance group, suggests sealing his recruitment with a toast to the futre, Windston lifts his glass and drinks instead "To the past." "The past is more important," agreed O'Brian gravely." And of course, for the reason that history is the enemy of tyranny, oblivion its greatest accomplice. By encouraging forgetfulness, the Party became free to impose on its hapless subjects its own version of whatever past it chose. ...
Nothing could be more British -- all right, more English -- than for George Orwell to insist that to hve a future, a free future at any rate, presupposed keeping faith with the past.
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