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We are surrounded by “clever fools”

Orwell: a “trader in common sense”. Getty

George Orwell’s 1984 was not – “this can’t be stressed enough, was not” – prophetic, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. The year came and went in a carinval if liberty and individualism, without a single Western dictatorship in sight. So why is there still the “enduring interest in Saint George?” Because of the way he wrote. As a non-graduate, Orwell was a “trader in common sense”. He was the opposite of the “clever fool”: the person whose “fabulous intelligence and erratic judgement” mean they’ll fall for ideas most people would laugh out of town. “To that extent, he is a relief from our times”.

Today, “clever fools surround us”. There are the Elon Musks and Peter Thiels of the tech world, susceptible to libertarianism and “quack lifestyle regimes of the 4am ice-bath type”. And of course there’s the “woke” movement, with all its campus terminology and complete removal from issues that affect normal people. Clever fools have always been around: “Cambridge spies, eugenics-smitten Fabians, Hitler appeasers with All Souls fellowships.” But back then the problem “existed in pockets”, because so few people went to university. Now, because of the “tremendous expansion of cognitive training” without any similar increase in common sense, it’s everywhere. That’s why Orwell is more attractive than ever: it’s alien, “and most beguiling”, that past “thought leaders” like Winston Churchill and Harry Truman lacked degrees and kept “abstract nouns to a minimum”. Orwell’s the same: “his plainness is now exotic”.