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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred" – George Orwell

I've been reading some more essays by George Orwell on the topic of Nationalism for my MA research paper. Given my prior work on a campaign against anti-religious hate speech and disinformation, I was particularly interested in the essay on antsemitism in war-time England. However, it was the 'Sporting Spirit' essay which I was most enthused by - as someone who has been called a "snob" for my opposition to competitive sports - I felt incredibly vindicated by Orwell's writings on this topic. Key quotes below:

Notes on Nationalism


‘By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that huma beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly – and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism… By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.’ (pages 1-2)


‘Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right.’ (page 4)


‘All English people of goodwill are also pro-Jew in the sense of disapproving of Nazi persecution. But any actual nationalistic loyalty, or belief in the innate superiority of Jews, is hardly to be found among Gentiles.’ (page 20)


‘It can be plausibly argued, for instance – it is even probably true – that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against superstition. Or again it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them.’ (page 30)


Antisemitism in Britain


‘it is generally admitted that antisemitism is on the increase, that it has been greatly exacerbated by the war, and that humane and enlightened people are not immune to it. It does not take violent forms (English people are almost invariably gentle and law-abiding), but it is ill-natured enough, and in favourable circumstances it could have political results. Here are some examples of antisemitic remarks….

·      Young intellectual, Communist or near-Communist: ‘No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not antisemitic of course.’

·      Middle-class woman: ‘Well, no-one could call me antisemitic, but I do think the ways these Jews behave is absolutely stinking. The way they push their way to the head of queues and so on. They’re so abominably selfish. I think they’re responsible for a lot of what happens to them…

I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on with. Two facts emerge from them. One … is that above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being antisemitic and are careful to draw a distinction between ‘antisemitism’ and ‘disliking Jews’. The other is that antisemitism is an irrational thing.’ (pages 32-34)


‘If, as I suggest, prejudice against Jews has always been pretty widespread in England, there is no reason to think that Hitler has genuinely diminished it. He has merely caused a sharp division between the politically conscious person who realises that this is not a time to throw stones at Jews, and the unconscious person whose native antisemitism is increased by the nervous strain of the war. One can assume, therefore, that many people who would perish rather than admit to antisemitic feelings are secretly prone to them.’ (page 42)


‘All I would say with confidence is that antisemitism is part of the larger problem of nationalism, which has not yet been seriously examined, and that the Jew is evidently a scapegoat, though for what he is a scapegoat we do not yet know.’ (pages 43-44)


‘It is at the bottom quite irrational and will not yield to argument. The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of antisemitic feeling and thus obscured the whole picture.’ (page 44)


‘Antisemitism is only one manifestation of nationalism, and not everyone will have the disease in that particular form. A Jew, for example, would not be antisemitic: but then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely antisemites turned upside-down… The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisations, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil.’ (page 45)


‘When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking antisemitism, but by marshalling all justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that antisemitism will be definitively cured, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.’ (page 46)


The Sporting Spirit


‘I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield… international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred’ (page 48)


‘at the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests’ (page 49).


‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ (page 50)


‘There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.’ (page 51)


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