The Conflicting Ideology Of Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess’ disturbing dystopia, A Clockwork Orange, has been lauded by liberals as exhibit A in how society is to blame for criminals. His thrill-seeking murderer Alex, upon being “cured” of his homicidal tendencies is abused by society when he re-surfaces into the real world. For him to “cope” with this criminal society, the process that cured him is reversed, and the reader is left with the impression that criminal tendencies are the only way to survive in society.

But the writer behind this “we’re all to blame” novel was in fact a social conservative. Burgess desired a Catholic monarchy running the British government. According to him, these views affected his writing:

‘The novels I’ve written are really medieval Catholic in their thinking, and people don’t want that today.”

Although claiming that Jesus used heaven as simply a “metaphor,” Burgess did note its possibilities as an actual place:

“If it was suddenly revealed to me that the eschatology of my childhood was true, that there was a hell and a heaven, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Although conceding that “socialized medicine is a priority in any civilized country today,” he denounced socialism as “ridiculous,” and asserted that he distrusted “imposed change even when it seems to be for the better.”

Burgess compared his view of the state trampling on individual rights with the Soviet Union, whose ultimate crime for him was their draconian attempts to make mankind perfect.

And in an instance of voting with his feet, the author left Britain over its 90 percent taxation of Burgess’ upper bracket income to settle in the tax exile country of Malta.

But Burgess’ libertarian views toward pornography assured his exit from the island in the 1970s.

Burgess expressed these views before a conservative audience, implying that Malta’s Catholic Church had a “shaky” “faith and morality” that could not “resist the onslaught of new ideas.”

Citing the Bible, Burgess accused the Church of violating the “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” by acting both as “Caesar as well as God.” And he held that pornography should be judged on its artistry.

But Burgess also blamed the “influences of the Arabs and the Chinese” on what he called the island’s “regime.”

The Malta government affirmed their partnership with the Catholic Church by seizing Burgess’ home while he was on vacation.

“This is a totally vindictive act — a naked confrontation between the state and the individual,” the author said.

Aware of the author’s politics, and assuming he injected his conservative/libertarian views into his works (in one, the dystopian The Wanting Seed, Burgess criticized homosexuality via the example of a regime that forced its citizens to be gay in order to carry out their population control measures), his most famous novel could be read as libertarian outrage over the state trampling on Alex’s individual rights; and it is they, not Alex’s fellow citizenry, who are the real villain.

But one should also take Burgess’ uncompromising medieval-style Catholicism into account, for it directly clashes with the writer’s libertarianism.

If, as Burgess has stated, his authorial intent in a Clockwork Orange stemmed from his Medieval Catholic beliefs, then Alex would not have been rehabilitated via mind-tampering and then victimized by his citizenry. Instead, it would be Burgess’ wished-for Catholic monarchy that would have victimized Alex by burning him alive.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.

1 Comment

  1. You clearly haven’t read much Burgess if the only thing you can say about a novel that isn’t Clockwork Orange is that “Burgess criticized homosexuality” – – his late book Earthly Powers was the biggest gay novel of the century!

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