Totalitarianism is on the run but liberalism's future is not assured. Chris Patten rediscovers the relevance of Rex Warner's wartime novel for Robert Skidelsky's World after Communismby Chris Patten / November 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
Published in November 1995 issue of Prospect Magazine
Unpacking books on a hot August afternoon, I turned up a long-cherished and long-unread political classic about whose virtues I have bored friends ever since I discovered it.
Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome (Lane, 1941), written during the early years of the second world war, almost a decade before Orwell’s 1984, is a brilliantly original contribution to the ominously titled genre, “novels of ideas.” Like Orwell in 1984 and Animal Farm, Warner uses allegory to attack totalitarianism and collectivism and to assert liberal values.
In Warner’s novel, the brave new world is offered by the air force, encamped in its aerodrome outside a slothful and sluttish English village complete with pub, church, rector, squire, agricultural show and-at least until the arrival of the aerodrome-cricket. The aerodrome represents all the spartan efficiency and discipline of the totalitarian manifesto-“a barren edifice of perfection”-in contrast to the “muddle and inefficiency” of village life. The villagers carouse and gossip; they fall drunk into ditches; they bite the heads off rats; they lie and cheat; they even go to church. They lack a sense of purpose and order. They betray all too many signs of basic humanity-falling in love, developing loyalties to friends and places, forming a community which is “intricate and forgiving.”