Je suis Charlie: Orwell on the fear that extremists have of being laughed at

George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn:

“One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army.

“A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.

“The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber.

“It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face.

“Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

“Why is the goose-step not used in England?

“There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing.

“It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.

“Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”

So: to adapt Orwell: extremism is only possible in countries where the people dare not laugh at extremism.

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(From a post originally posted here.)

5 thoughts on “Je suis Charlie: Orwell on the fear that extremists have of being laughed at”

  1. This was a fine article that I think about from time to time. When any political movement comes to prominence (especially on the extreme right but others as well) I wonder how long before people find it laughable. When that happens such movements are on the slide. I am sure we can all think of current political entities in the UK that fit these circumstances.

  2. It’s a bit of a leap from “laughing at the state’s armed forces” as an index of freedom to “laughing at the sworn enemy of the state and all it stands for”.

    If you really want to take the temperature of the country in precisely the way Orwell was describing, try laughing at poppies.

    1. People do sneer at Poppies with no repercussions. Small groups of extremists are able to denounce the dead and call for them to burn in hell during the Minute’s Silence, with none but the very mildest punishments. People can pee on a war memorial and still be subsequently employed to write articles in the Independent.

      If anything, Western countries employ the state to protect their sworn enemies rather than their own taboos.

      Not that poppies are really equivalent to jackboots, anyway. I’m not sure* Orwell would have supported the burning of poppies or the sabotage of remembrance services.

      *”Not sure” – this is sarcasm, obviously.

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