These notes from Alan Sandison’s impressive work George Orwell: After 1984 browsed last night:
Erik Erickson argues that Luther undertook the dirty work of the Renaissance ‘by applying some of the individualistic principles immanent in the Renaissance to the Church’s still highly fortified home-ground – the conscience of ordinary man.’ Tools he used included [a] fervent return to the original texts, determined anthropocentrism (if in Christocentric form); and the affirmation of his own organ of genius and draftsmanship, namely the voice of the vernacular."
Luther’s stand against authoritarianism foreshadowed our use of ‘plain reason’ and personal judgement, says Sandison, or empiricism and individualism, as we might say. Luther siezing on St. Paul’s "Prove all things" to defend his position provides " a motto not only for himself, but for that moral and intellectual movement which was to exert, down to our own day, a major creative influence on the development of Western culture."
Sandison places Orwell in this liberal individualistic context, which he says gives his radicalism its strong conservative note. Reform and change but not at the cost of autonomous individuality. Here’s Orwell:
"Why is it that everything we mean by culture is menaced by totalitarianism? Because totalitarianism menaces the existence of the individual, and the last four or five hundred years have put the individual so emphatically on the map that it is hard for us to image him off it again."
According to Sandison, it is Orwell’s commitment to the defense of the personal self against totalitarianism that provides unity to his work, and a perspective within which to view his creative achievement. His belief that a concept of the self which derives from the individual’s freedom to ‘prove all things’ is ‘a fact within history’ susceptible to growth, decline — and possibly event destruction, is what fuels his fierce determination to defend it against tangible political and military threat. As Sandison puts it:
" The mind to which Orwell gives vivid expression – even the vocabulary itself — is, for all his avowed agnosticism, identifiable with those reformers who, in order to establish the individual’s right to prove all things, broke from the shelter of the Mother Church."