Monday, February 11, 2013

George Orwell Slices And Dices Harold Laski

Although George Orwell had some socialist leanings, this did not allow him to suffer poor writing, even from Marxists. In an essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell quotes Harold Laski, the  British Marxist, political theorist, economist, author, and lecturer:
 I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
Of this writing, Orwell comments:
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think [...]
Professor Laski uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness.


  1. A great deal of academic writing is written in an esoteric, "high-priest" fashion. Its purpose is not to illuminate with an extensive vocabulary, but to obfuscate.

    This is one of the reasons why Rothbard's writing shines. He wrote for everyone and he wrote very well. Many Austrian School teachers highly recommend starting with Rothbard and Hazlitt before moving on to Mises. This has been my approach and I've barely cracked Human Action, even though I own a copy.

    I'd give a lot to have discovered the Austrians much earlier in life. I would have known much earlier why the world is so insane.

    Let's say I was a manager in some business. Many managers are threatened by hiring people with more knowledge and skills than they have. What a mistake.

    Being an amateur Austrian, I embrace the idea of relying on people with more knowledge and skills than I possess. The division of labor is wonderful. If it was allowed to work more effectively, students would be reading much more effective thinkers and communicators; like Mises and Rothbard.

    Far fewer people would be in college too, and they'd be high caliber.

    1. To be clear, Mises used straightforward and engaging language for most of Human Action (save for the times he quoted things in other languages). But the problem with Human Action is it presumes you already have read every other economics book before it. That's why it's challenging (that, and the ideas it presents are genuinely difficult. Rothbard in MES does delve as deeply as Mises did in HA, which contributes to the readability of MES.)

  2. I am not sure what those anonymous comments are about, but the point about obfuscation through fake complexity is a good one. I like the way Orwell takes everyone to task, even those he may actually agree with.