Coming Up for Air

“At the beginning I wasn’t exactly listening. The lecturer was

rather a mean-looking little chap, but a good speaker. White face,

very mobile mouth, and the rather grating voice that they get from

constant speaking. Of course he was pitching into Hitler and the

Nazis. I wasn’t particularly keen to hear what he was saying–get

the same stuff in the News Chronicle every morning–but his voice

came across to me as a kind of burr-burr-burr, with now and again a

phrase that struck out and caught my attention.

‘Bestial atrocities. . . . Hideous outbursts of sadism. . . .

Rubber truncheons. . . . Concentration camps. . . . Iniquitous

persecution of the Jews. . . . Back to the Dark Ages. . . .

European civilization. . . . Act before it is too late. . . .

Indignation of all decent peoples. . . . Alliance of the

democratic nations. . . . Firm stand. . . . Defence of

democracy. . . . Democracy. . . . Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . .

Fascism. . . . Democracy. . . .’

You know the line of talk. These chaps can churn it out by the

hour. Just like a gramophone. Turn the handle, press the button,

and it starts. Democracy, Fascism, Democracy. But somehow it

interested me to watch him. A rather mean little man, with a white

face and a bald head, standing on a platform, shooting out slogans.

What’s he doing? Quite deliberately, and quite openly, he’s

stirring up hatred. Doing his damnedest to make you hate certain

foreigners called Fascists. It’s a queer thing, I thought, to be

known as ‘Mr So-and-so, the well-known anti-Fascist’. A queer

trade, anti-Fascism. This fellow, I suppose, makes his living by

writing books against Hitler. But what did he do before Hitler

came along? And what’ll he do if Hitler ever disappears? Same

question applies to doctors, detectives, rat-catchers, and so

forth, of course. But the grating voice went on and on, and

another thought struck me. He MEANS it. Not faking at all–feels

every word he’s saying. He’s trying to work up hatred in the

audience, but that’s nothing to the hatred he feels himself. Every

slogan’s gospel truth to him. If you cut him open all you’d find

inside would be Democracy-Fascism-Democracy. Interesting to know a

chap like that in private life. But does he have a private life?

Or does he only go round from platform to platform, working up

hatred? Perhaps even his dreams are slogans.”

George Orwell excerpt from Coming Up for Air