What George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism Teaches Us About Prejudice

By trying to understand the nature of prejudice and how it impacts one’s way of thinking, we can successfully rid ourselves of bias and strive for eliminating it from our society altogether. Now, more than ever, the world needs young and passionate leaders who will drive change in the name of unity and freedom, and you can be one of these people too.

Tips from George Orwell’s Notes

In 1945, at the dusk of World War Two, George Orwell wrote Notes on Nationalism, a comprehensive essay on the nature of prejudice, it impacts on one’s thinking, and characteristics of bias.

Orwell used the word nationalism in the general meaning of prejudice, and, analysing his writings, today we can derive valuable lessons from that great mind’s on-point criticism of society.

George Orwell / Photo: Shutterstock - Claudio Divizia
George Orwell / Photo: Shutterstock – Claudio Divizia

Shaping the future of a global community starts with youth. By understanding prejudice at its core and teaching the upcoming world leaders empathy and tolerance, we can actively build dialogue and progress. Youth Time’s mission is to facilitate the process of sharing knowledge and support unity and diversity.

Through education and cooperation, we can uproot prejudice and pave our way to a better future.


The Cradle of Prejudice

As a myriad of sociologists have noticed many a time, hatred against something unifies better than a cause for something. The authoritarian leaders of the 20th century knew it all too well.

Regretfully, this phenomenon leads to the formation of prejudice, which may transform into a general collection of stereotypes and systemic, perception-warping bias.

As Orwell underlined, when discussing prejudice, the discussion is often about the extremes: the most hateful and narrow-minded individuals.

Though they don’t represent the majority of humanity or the group they’re part of, they are fine examples of what we want to avoid by all means.

Giving in to prejudice is but sinking one’s individuality in a collective identity. It brings along an array of characteristics that help us understand prejudice and its impact on one’s thinking or perspective.



Firstly, Orwell highlighted the changeability of a prejudiced mind’s thinking. Such people tend to justify evil deeds as long as they align with their cause.

This moral relativism may aim to petty genocide or war only if it suits their purpose. Omission of certain facts for means of propaganda is a common occurrence too.

Furthermore, people whose heads are blurred with bias are oftentimes unable to acknowledge their emotional attachment to a cause. As we all know, emotions – common as they are – have the potency to take over reason.

Hence, their arguments frequently lack rationality and are indifferent to their cause’s drawbacks. Impacted by emotions and unproven presuppositions, their predictions – for instance when it comes to forecasting the outcome of political events – are largely unreliable and used solely to back their pre-made beliefs.

In Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell concluded that prejudice is driven by the desire of supremacy and power. As it happens many a time, such biased way of seeing the world entails persuading oneself of the superiority of their cause against real evidence.


Types of Prejudice

In order to give the occurrence some classification, Orwell divided prejudice into three types:

  • Positive Nationalism (Prejudice) ­– Boosting the importance of a cause one supports;
  • Negative Nationalism (Prejudice) – Denigrating the legitimacy of a cause one is against;
  • Transferred Nationalism (Prejudice) – Putting the blame on scapegoats without changing one’s conduct.

To exemplify the types of prejudice above, we’ll briefly summarise Orwell’s critique of some of his contemporary movements.

When reading the following examples, keep in mind that Notes on Nationalism was written in 1945, yet some of them may still resonate today.


Orwell’s Critique

Prejudice in the fish bowl
Prejudice in the fish bowl

Taking an objective look at the post-World War Two society, George Orwell mentioned Neo-Toryists and Irish Nationalists as positive nationalists; the former not recognising the decline in Britain’s power domination, the latter believing in a long-gone, past greatness of their nation.

Orwell confidently countered these beliefs saying that Britain would come out of World War Two with reduced power and prestige, while Eire could only remain independent because of British protection.

Pacifists, racists, ‘class-feelers,’ and Communists were classified by Orwell as transferred nationalists, shifting their prejudice to scapegoated groups such as the bourgeoisie, people of colour, or the Western civilisation altogether.

Countering these outlooks, he said that e.g. pacifists can withstand from violence only if others are applying it for them, or that Soviet Russia wouldn’t win against Nazi Germany without the aid of Britain and America.

Negative nationalists ­– anglophobes, anti-Semites, or Trotskyists (the term used loosely to describe such diverse groups as Anarchists, democratic socialists, or even liberals) – diminish the worth of a certain group.

As one example of his critique, during the War, Britain abound in supporters of then Russian political system, which entailed ignoring the reports on gulags and genocide only to instil themselves in their utopian beliefs.


How to Fight Prejudice

Now that you know what prejudice is according to George Orwell, what repercussions it has got on an individual’s point of view, and what Orwell had to say about the bias-inundated political and ideological entities at the closure of World War Two, let’s focus on the solution.

How can we notice and fight prejudice in all forms, even – or especially – if there’s a tiny bit of it in ourselves?

First and foremost, if we cannot eliminate it altogether, it’s advisable to acknowledge our emotional attachment to certain political issues. Beginning with such a seemingly easy task, we can learn to discuss our ideas freely and focus on the matter from an objective perspective, devoid of our feelings about it.

Appreciating human dignity and finding empathy to our fellow human beings is another crucial step. No laws and legislations can really change us – we have to change ourselves.

It’s not about where you were born, what kind of environment you were raised in, or how you look like; it’s all in your head, how you see the world and other people matters more than what’s in your passport.

Lastly, and arm in arm with the mission of Youth Time, once we shift our way of thinking we should apply it in our lives and then continue to live accordingly: treat people as our equals despite gender, creed, or nationality.

All in all, change starts with you – and you should never forget that. Once you know what prejudice is and how to consciously rid yourself of bias, you can start living in the name of unity and freedom. The world needs you now, so go out there, empower others, and drive change.

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

From the 20th Century to the 21st Century, here are some takeaways from modern life:

Main Takeaways from Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”

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