The Duty to Stand Aside tells the story of one of the most intriguing yet little-known literary-political feuds--and friendships--in 20th-century English literature. It examines the arguments that divided George Orwell, future author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Alex Comfort, poet, biologist, anarchist-pacifist, and future author of the international bestseller The Joy of Sex--during WWII. Orwell maintained that standing aside, or opposing Britain's war against fascism, was "objectively pro-fascist." Comfort argued that intellectuals who did not stand aside and denounce their own government's atrocities--in Britain's case, saturation bombing of civilian population centers--had "sacrificed their responsible attitude to humanity."
Later, Comfort and Orwell developed a friendship based on appreciation of each other's work and a common concern about the growing power and penetration of the State--a concern that deeply influenced the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Shortly before his death in 1950, however, Orwell would accuse Comfort of being "anti-British" and "temperamentally pro-totalitarian" in a memo he prepared secretly for the Foreign Office--a fact that Comfort, who died in 2000, never knew.
Laursen's book takes a fresh look at the Orwell-Comfort quarrel and the lessons it holds for our very different world--in which war has been replaced by undeclared "conflicts," civilian bombing is even more enthusiastically practiced, and moral choices between two sides are rarely straightforward.