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The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (Penguin Modern Classics)

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George Orwell's moving reflections on the English character and his passionate belief in the need for political change. The Lion and the Unicorn was written in London during the worst period of the blitz. It is vintage Orwell, a dynamic outline of his belief in socialism, patriotism and an English revolution. His fullest political statement, it has been described as 'on George Orwell's moving reflections on the English character and his passionate belief in the need for political change. The Lion and the Unicorn was written in London during the worst period of the blitz. It is vintage Orwell, a dynamic outline of his belief in socialism, patriotism and an English revolution. His fullest political statement, it has been described as 'one of the most moving and incisive portraits of the English character' and is as relevant now as it ever has been.


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George Orwell's moving reflections on the English character and his passionate belief in the need for political change. The Lion and the Unicorn was written in London during the worst period of the blitz. It is vintage Orwell, a dynamic outline of his belief in socialism, patriotism and an English revolution. His fullest political statement, it has been described as 'on George Orwell's moving reflections on the English character and his passionate belief in the need for political change. The Lion and the Unicorn was written in London during the worst period of the blitz. It is vintage Orwell, a dynamic outline of his belief in socialism, patriotism and an English revolution. His fullest political statement, it has been described as 'one of the most moving and incisive portraits of the English character' and is as relevant now as it ever has been.

30 review for The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (Penguin Modern Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is an awkward 100 page essay to hack your way through. It was written in the winter of 1941 and published in February, so at that point Stalin was still in bed with Hitler - the invasion of Russia happened in June. Bombs were raining down all over England and especially over London – this was the Blitz which happened between September 1940 and May 1941 - 43,000 people killed, or around 163 people a day for 9 months. This was the darkest point of the war for Britain. Orwell is saying here th This is an awkward 100 page essay to hack your way through. It was written in the winter of 1941 and published in February, so at that point Stalin was still in bed with Hitler - the invasion of Russia happened in June. Bombs were raining down all over England and especially over London – this was the Blitz which happened between September 1940 and May 1941 - 43,000 people killed, or around 163 people a day for 9 months. This was the darkest point of the war for Britain. Orwell is saying here that the war will not be won if the same old upper class fools are in charge, and that a socialist revolution is needed to get the right ruthlessness into the fight. It’s all a bit stodgy because half of what he says is right and the other half either wrong or so localised to 1941 England that you can’t tell. One thing which is worth mentioning is that he hates Communists and Marxists in general only slightly less than he hates fascists, partly because they’ve tainted socialism in the eyes of a great many otherwise well-meaning people. You always get some salt-and-vinegary phrasemaking with Orwell which makes the political turgidity readable (just). Here he is having a go at the rich who thought they could deal with Hitler : after the French collapse there came something that could not be laughed away, something that neither cheque-books nor policemen were any use against - the bombing. Zweee - BOOM! What’s that? Oh, only a bomb on the Stock Exchange. Zweee - BOOM! Another acre of somebody’s valuable slum-property gone west. Hitler will at any rate go down in history as the man who made the City of London laugh on the wrong side of its face. For the first time in their lives the comfortable were uncomfortable. He spends a lot of time bemoaning the idiots who are still in charge: in general we are still commanded by people who managed to live through the years 1931-9 without even discovering that Hitler was dangerous. A generation of the unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses. Orwell lived until to 1950 & so witnessed the victory over fascism and a kind of socialist revolution in Britain caused by the war – this was the Labour government of 1945 which created the famous welfare state, including the National Health Service, an organisation which is the 4th largest employer in the world (1st 3 are – US department of defence, Peoples Liberation Army of China, and Walmart). He would surely have concluded that it was a job half done (I may find out if I ever get to the end of his vast collection of essays). But if he'd stuck around longer (and isn't it a dreadful shame he didn't? - almost as bad as Buddy Holly) he'd have seen bits of his agenda for revolution gradually added - independence for the colonies, comprehensive schools, legalisation of homosexuality, and so on. Does this make Britain a socialist utopia? Does it heck. But it's better than some places I could think of.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    "I began this book to the tune of German bombs, and I begin this second chapter in the added racket of the barrage. The yellow gun-flashes are lighting the sky, the splinters are rattling on the house-tops, and London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Anyone able to read a map knows that we are in deadly danger. I do not mean that we are beaten or need be beaten. Almost certainly the outcome depends on our own will. But at this moment we are in the soup, full fathom five, and w "I began this book to the tune of German bombs, and I begin this second chapter in the added racket of the barrage. The yellow gun-flashes are lighting the sky, the splinters are rattling on the house-tops, and London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. Anyone able to read a map knows that we are in deadly danger. I do not mean that we are beaten or need be beaten. Almost certainly the outcome depends on our own will. But at this moment we are in the soup, full fathom five, and we have been brought there by follies which we are still committing and which will drown us altogether if we do not mend our ways quickly." Writing through the Blitz must have been quite challenging, but it didn't put off Orwell from putting together this interesting three-part essay which carries with it a clarity unlike the chaos that was raining down outside. Generally, folk tend to think of Orwell as an anti-Communist and a defender of liberal democracy. Although true, it should be noted he was also a hardened socialist, but one of the old school. In The Lion & The Unicorn he attacks both the class system of England and its capitalist economic system. In a nutshell - 1. England Your England - Orwell describe the essence of Englishness and records changes in English society over the previous thirty years or so. Thought-provoking, powerful and passionate its the longest of the three. In its affection for all aspects of England it continued the nostalgia for an older, less commercialised, more decent England which marked his previous book. 2. Shopkeepers at War - He makes the case for a socialist system in England and declares that the old ruling class and their capitalism must be overthrown for the simple reason that private capitalism, that is, an economic system in which land, factories, mines and transport are owned privately and operated solely for profit- does not work. 3. The English Revolution - The argument is made for an English democratic socialism, sharply distinct from the totalitarian communism of Stalin. Orwell gives a sweeping trenchant review of the current political scene in England then in 1941. All the parties of the left are incapable of reform, the Labour Party most of all since it is the party of the trade unions and therefore has a vested interest in the maintenance and flourishing of capitalism. The tiny communist party appeals to deracinated individuals, but has done more to put the man in the street off socialism than any other influence. He comes up with a six-point programme, the kind of thing in his eyes would make a positive difference - Nationalisation of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries. Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one. Reform of the educational system along democratic lines. Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over. Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented. Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers. An interesting read, regardless of my own views. He was a master at writing essays, and clearly took to it like a duck to water.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius by George Orwell ( England Your England) The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius by George Orwell ( England Your England)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Bowman

    More of Orwell at his best. Orwell spends some time discussing the English national character; what ties the English together; and how best to proceed with the necessary socialist revolution. In this he has some fascinating insights into English culture, some of which seem to me to have stood the test of time. He then explains the inadequacy of both the incompetent ruling class of the British Empire and of the inefficient unplanned capitalist system of the British economy. He explains how the cap More of Orwell at his best. Orwell spends some time discussing the English national character; what ties the English together; and how best to proceed with the necessary socialist revolution. In this he has some fascinating insights into English culture, some of which seem to me to have stood the test of time. He then explains the inadequacy of both the incompetent ruling class of the British Empire and of the inefficient unplanned capitalist system of the British economy. He explains how the capitalist system could not compete with the planned economies of the fascist powers, with their ability to out compete on armaments production, since in Britain the profit motive encouraged not the manufacture of bomber planes but of Rolls Royce cars, with newspaper advertisements still consisting of luxury chocolates etc. Therefore, a socialist revolution was necessary, which would take the rough form of his six point guide on page 104 (a few points of which are still relevant today) and the Empire would become a federation of equal and allied socialist states. This would create a much more psychologically resilient and productive population which would know what it was fighting for and, with its limited resources distributed more equally, the practical and psychological benefits would be massive. This is much like the beginning of the Spanish civil war when militias held off Franco's fascist army with much poorer resources. His argument makes sense, especially when the full context is considered. This was the point of the war when Britain was on its own against the Axis, and Stalin was keen to postpone any war with Hitler so that the USSR could build up its strength. Also, this is during the Blitz when the RAF was massively outnumbered by the Luftwaffe and was the key to preventing a land invasion. Without the industrial support that later came from the US, Orwell's' prediction of socialism or defeat seems plausible. I also, as a side note, appreciated his disgust for those who suggested that; Hitler's defeat would only be a victory for British and American millionaires, and that democracy is just the same as totalitarianism so life under Hitler and Mussolini would be much the same.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Moments of startling insight, beautifully written, but some parts a little dated.

  6. 4 out of 5

    blueisthenewpink

    Man, this one did not age well. It had really good points and the usual wry sense of humour, but I will stick to the ones he could write keeping a healthy distance that makes his fiction just perfect.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erica Zahn

    Orwell acknowledges this elusive ‘commonality’ to English culture, but I disagree that so much has changed with the times (“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840?” – p.13). I think something of the spirit of a country must stay the same. For England in particular, although our history is turbulent, it is a continuous one – the island has never been deserted or undergone a genocide that would rub out the previous population completely (traces of the Britons, Celts, Orwell acknowledges this elusive ‘commonality’ to English culture, but I disagree that so much has changed with the times (“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840?” – p.13). I think something of the spirit of a country must stay the same. For England in particular, although our history is turbulent, it is a continuous one – the island has never been deserted or undergone a genocide that would rub out the previous population completely (traces of the Britons, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons have all survived despite the historical adversity against them). The ‘fundamental’ personality, whatever it is, stays the same. Orwell tends to talk down the English intellectual culture, and continues this in the second and third parts with his disdain for the ‘intelligensia’, the class of which he was originally a member. However, some of his generalisations are objectionable: we do have notable philosophers (More, Hobbes, Hume, Locke), in conjunction with our true talent: English people specialise as writers – that’s where we excel in creativity. However, Orwell does address this later on. I strongly disagree that literature can’t cross frontiers (p.26) – how could Orwell have believed this given the widespread reception and applicability of his own work? So many books deal with political and social issues that span multiple countries, and any serious literature dealing with the human condition is necessarily cross-culturally applicable. The cynosure of English literature – Shakespeare – is often called ‘the universal poet’, and his works have been shown to adapt extremely well to settings in every culture and time period imaginable. Although any work of art may be susceptible to its cultural context, ultimately all you need is a translation, if that. Even small characteristics can be telling of common mentality. Cruelty to animals is a distinct difference between nations that Orwell downplays, but probably seems more significant to the modern reader. His point about the English as hobbyists is true – crosswords specifically are still very popular. We resist regimentation, unlike the French and Germans (although the common dilemma of the acceptability of murder ‘for your country’ still applies to us). ‘Gentleness’ gets a mention, and I think this is a valid point. We still don’t learn foreign languages, and lean towards the old comfort of ‘splendid isolation’. I think that, as Orwell says on p.12, it’s fine and warranted to identify general differences between countries – we are very distinct, especially in Europe. However, Orwell’s view makes Englishmen at large seem simple-minded, which is not the case – even where we’re overly concerned with the trivial over the practical, it’s still better to be engaged than idle, and doesn’t match up with our merits and achievements on paper. Orwell also downplays our history a little too much: of course we should avoid the mentality of the jingoistic minority he describes (p.18), who sound like UKIPpers to me, but I think most people could still name a military victory – Waterloo and Trafalgar come to mind, or Agincourt if you want a land battle specifically. (He’s right about Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade though – the same poem would not have found popularity in another country.) Although the navy has always been important to us, we don’t place them in the same esteem as Americans do with their servicemen: though I think this is a modern phenomenon over there, we can see that military men get a bad rap in Austen (General and Captain Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and in Pride and Prejudice, Colonel Fitzwilliam and, of course, George Wickham), excepting Colonel Brandon. He points out that naval victories are marked out in our history, but that there’s no such thing as a ‘naval dictatorship’; I’m inclined to say he’s right with a view to ‘recent’ history (I mean the last two or three centuries), but I would cite the Athenians’ Delian League (in the 5th century BC) as a counter-example – naval dictatorships are possible; they’re just uncommon. Maybe a better point would be that naval dictatorships tend to be more about imposition of authority on other states than in one’s homeland – a point about thalassocracy and colonialism (both British and Athenian) could work here. His points about the rule of law are sound, though I fear more rich people are willing to sell us out now (as the Russia-Brexit connection sadly demonstrates). In times of crisis, we band together, but this is not always enough to avert crisis, let alone to incite real change (the cause that Orwell champions in the latter parts of this mega-essay). We do the same thing, not the right thing (p.27) – this is a problem when the people in charge don’t have public interests in mind (a problem Orwell addresses later). I agree with his problems about ‘mentality’, but I think Orwell may be selling us short because of his aversion to class differences: he wishes to celebrate the working class (which is understandable) but this leads him to diminish the middle and upper classes, almost to the point of pretending that that’s all there is. He shouldn’t disregard the historical achievements of high culture, or of the learned mentality, and we shouldn’t either – we should call England ‘Albion’ more often. On the bright side, our sense of togetherness saves us from overt hostility. It also means that we’re mostly tolerant of others, and that differences of opinion don’t have to carry too much resentment at the end of the day. On the other hand, the rich, even if they’re not deliberately hostile, are primarily interested in their own advantages, and are not afraid to sabotage their own people to get them: they were (and are) self-interested, but not necessarily pro-Fascist. His complaints about the rich and their lack of scruples over their business decisions (see the quote above) reminds me a little of today’s fiasco over selling arms to Saudi Arabia, even if they are purportedly allies to the west. However, once war is imminent, surely businesses will opt to focus on arms and metal industries, and the government can become ‘patrons’ of sort and commission what’s needed out of the military budget, so this needn’t be an insurmountable problem. Orwell’s solution is not the only solution. However, he also notes problems with the media (p.52): “the press…lives on its advertisements and therefore is interested in keeping trade conditions normal”: this is still very much a problem today. Orwell compares England to a Victorian family (p.30): everyone has a right to feel included, but the wrong ‘relatives’ hold sway, in a difficult, stiff, awkward environment. The ‘good’ people, in Orwell’s eyes (generally young, always working-class) have little to no power. I think this is a critical but mostly fair assessment of British culture: then and now, we were really ‘made’ by the Victorians and their mores, and as a naturally (small-‘c’) conservative country not much has changed. In fact, this sort of structure may have worked rather well in the 18th and 19th centuries, before (according to Orwell) the ruling class qualitatively deteriorated as they became less relevant. In Ancient Greece, aristocratic influence declined as democracy became popular; similarly, as the English middle class gained political influence through votes, the aristocracy’s importance declined, combined with the ‘social decay’ of businessmen entering the upper class and ruining their exclusivity. It doesn’t help that the older people who dominate the ‘Victorian family’ structure (p.54-5) tend to be rather clueless about change, and with the passing of time they don’t know what’s going on (and this has never become clearer than today, when so many MPs are clueless about how the Internet works, and the role it plays in people’s lives). It’s only natural that they become Conservatives who long for the ‘good old days’. However, Orwell sees the classes as static, which I feel may be an oversimplification that favours his own view of the classes ‘at war’: the working class become middle-class over time, in habits and economically, so they don’t take political action as one might expect – they either work for the prospect of a better life, or don’t care enough to do so – but that isn’t in line with most socialist discourse. Leading on to the relationship between the economy and the war effort, there’s much focus on weapons manufacturing and how to stimulate it: however, I feel like Orwell slightly twists the narrative again for his own argument. We were undeniably old-fashioned in our tactics in 1914, especially in the use of horses, bayonets, and the like, but by the end of the war we’d progressed remarkably, inventing tracer bullets, aircraft carries, and the tank. (This is not to mention perhaps the most significant invention, radar, which was not conceived until the Second World War.) There was a big difference between 1914 and 1918: we learned our lesson, although we would have to learn it again in the Second World War. Orwell’s criticism is fair, but I feel he was neglectful on the point of adaptation. Another point that could use elaboration is the navy: part of our disadvantage was that, militarily speaking, seapower was less relevant by that time than it had been in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is still in decline today. This inevitably threw the empire (and its governing class) into imbalance, creating another obstacle for the aristocracy. In conjunction with this, I disagree that, as Orwell says, the navy is less aristocratic than the army – it’s definitely favoured by the wealthier classes, then and now, and generally considered more specialised, but this may have changed over time (today the working class dominates the army). Since this, again, demonstrates the relationship between military activity and social class, I think this a relevant point. There have always been at least a handful of wealthy patriots, and it has historically never been abnormal for noblemen to die in battle (although, for obvious reasons, they tend to have a lower mortality rate than foot soldiers). Given all of this context, we generally expect the rich to be free market conservatives (then and now), but their position does not necessarily lend to a proclivity for the far right. The Nazis provided government-funded public projects (p.49), showcasing their collectivist wartime streak (or, controversially, the ‘socialism’ in the ‘national socialism’ misnomer), but the rich liked that they remained rich. Fascism is alien to the upper class (p.35) because they’re not disciplinarian or, indeed, ideological in general, though it’s worth noting Edward VIII’s Hitlerian sympathies, not mentioned here. This may not have been the long-term state of affairs, but perhaps in wartime people are more prone to take things one day at a time. Fascism is efficient through state control, and benefits from showcasing this, but doesn’t need to interfere with the rich, although there are cases where this can and does happen. I’m inclined to think that the Conservative Party today, despite appearances, may not be so partial to fascism either, but more motivated by an opportunistic desire to ‘stick it to the left’, as with the American Republican Party (demonstrated by their cosying up to the DUP), perhaps spurred on by a false sense of security, accustomed to being the ones in power themselves. Even in the war the upper class wouldn’t give up their privileges (p.57), which is quite sad. I can understand Orwell’s concerns here, and it almost makes me glad that the hardships of the war forced things to turn around. Orwell is right that one of our great weaknesses as a country is our anti-intellectual streak (pp.39-40), particularly in the working class: we’ve never had ‘room’ for intellectuals, in contrast with France, and we treat ‘cleverness’ as a cause for suspicion. I don’t think many would find this assessment surprising: the common culture is never intellectual, and intellectual life is inherently isolating (involving lots of quiet reading and lectures with only the like-minded in attendance). They have more in common with their European counterparts, although the latter are generally far less ostracised. On the positive side, despite this problem, we still manage reasonable self-awareness about our own collective flaws, often where other countries tend to self-aggrandise. In fact, I would link this trait to the pacifistic misjudgements of Orwell’s time: I find it hard to believe that some pacifists were really pro-Hitler (p.62) when the image of fascism relies so heavily on militarism, but if we take Orwell at his word this corroborates my theory. I think the British were aware of their own militaristic shortcomings, paired with the guilty conscience borne by an imperial history, and, although I make no excuse for them, this may have produced the disastrous foreign policy of the time. This is where things become more difficult for reviewing purposes: I can see Orwell’s logic, and how the socialist system could have worked, but this doesn’t make it the only effective path (and we know with hindsight it proved not to be), or that, if it had been established, it would have provided a successful system after the war. His points about socialism in wartime are valid, but a capitalist government can achieve the same things by demanding production (or offering money in return for it) quite easily. We live in a capitalist state, but not an entirely free-market one – the government still has leverage, albeit through capitalistic means, and ultimately this is in large part the approach that they actually implemented. Orwell’s p.92 point about the distinction between being defeated and accepting defeat is extremely powerful, but also distinctly Churchillian – a figure he neglects to mention. I don’t expect him to predict the future, but I wonder where Orwell would have fit him into all this: like Nelson, he exemplifies the upper-class naval officer leading Britain through the war, despite being the opposite of a socialist, and despite typifying the old ruling class that Orwell argued was dying out. He seems to be the main weakness to the argument. So, why was Churchill ultimately the one who took down the Nazis? I’m not sure if there’s a consensus among historians, but it seems to me he simply did what needed to be done while the war was ongoing, but was not necessarily concerned with working towards a more egalitarian society, and certainly didn’t share Orwell’s views (on the economy or on, say, the liberation of India). This attitude worked spectacularly in wartime, but did not make him popular PM after the fact. Ultimately, I think it came down to strategy rather than ideology, though Orwell would probably not be happy with that conclusion.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    A very good read. Such clarity of thoughts. George Orwell's views on Political atmosphere are most sober in nature. There is no clouding that generally exists because of political motivations and jargon. Though he himself is a nationalist, he honestly talks about the paradox of otherwise meaningless fights that nationalism brings with it: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. Th A very good read. Such clarity of thoughts. George Orwell's views on Political atmosphere are most sober in nature. There is no clouding that generally exists because of political motivations and jargon. Though he himself is a nationalist, he honestly talks about the paradox of otherwise meaningless fights that nationalism brings with it: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.” He believes in nationalism (as against a world government which he considers not viable) but concludes that a nation is beyond political or military cultures. He would rather drive his nationality in England's law, literature and commercial culture (a nation of shopkeepers). He is also critical of many political movements, among which, his statement on pacifism stands out even today.: "Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement. Some of the extremer pacifists, starting out with a complete renunciation of violence, have ended by warmly championing Hitler and even toying with antisemitism. This is interesting, but it is not important. ‘Pure’ pacifism, which is a by-product of naval power, can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions. Moreover, being negative and irresponsible, it does not inspire much devotion." He argues that it is fatal to be pacifist in world full of wicked powers. He argues that for any country to hold a difficult war over long time, a kind of minimum socialism is must - Here, by socialism he meant an economic system and not a one-party political system (for later apt word is communism -the two concepts are often confused). There is also, among other demands, demand for merit based education system.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

    Funny how fuck all's changed xoxo Funny how fuck all's changed xoxo

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ibrahim Niftiyev

    I am not keen on these themes and problems Orwell discussed, nevertheless, he did it in a simple way, so anyone can understand. This work is extremely local, meaning England-focused. It is normal that you can not understand some things. However, if we simplify, there are two big parts (not 3 like the author divided) in the work: the first - general description of the terrible war situation England found itself and the second - the critique of the upper class in the society. I am not gonna go dee I am not keen on these themes and problems Orwell discussed, nevertheless, he did it in a simple way, so anyone can understand. This work is extremely local, meaning England-focused. It is normal that you can not understand some things. However, if we simplify, there are two big parts (not 3 like the author divided) in the work: the first - general description of the terrible war situation England found itself and the second - the critique of the upper class in the society. I am not gonna go deep and explain the main ideas of the book or my personal opinions. If you are interested in the socio-political analysis of the WWII England's history, go ahead and read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen McQuiggan

    Written during the onslaught of the Second World War, Orwell builds up a treatise on how that conflict could be used to bring forth a quiet English revolution. He argues, and argues convincingly, that patriotism, far being the sole reserve of the conservative or scoundrel, is a natural and integral part of democratic socialism; that the present democracy is nothing more than private capitalism; that the cowardly intellectuals of the Left who wanted Britain to lose the war are the same individual Written during the onslaught of the Second World War, Orwell builds up a treatise on how that conflict could be used to bring forth a quiet English revolution. He argues, and argues convincingly, that patriotism, far being the sole reserve of the conservative or scoundrel, is a natural and integral part of democratic socialism; that the present democracy is nothing more than private capitalism; that the cowardly intellectuals of the Left who wanted Britain to lose the war are the same individuals who have only helped the growth of the Far Right. Obviously, this has dated in places and a lot of his predictions, what he saw as inevitabilities, have failed to come to pass - but there will be other wars, other political systems; will there ever be another Orwell?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    So much of this is still relevant today. Sad how little so many things have stayed the same.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Curran

    “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Beat that for an opening line. I picked up The Lion and the Unicorn having listened to Billy Bragg speaking effusively about it on the Backlisted podcast and realising that I had never read it, even though I thought I had. The activist and singer credits it with forming his long held political viewpoint, which he describes on the podcast as ‘patriotic socialism’: two positions that he maintains are not incompatibl “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Beat that for an opening line. I picked up The Lion and the Unicorn having listened to Billy Bragg speaking effusively about it on the Backlisted podcast and realising that I had never read it, even though I thought I had. The activist and singer credits it with forming his long held political viewpoint, which he describes on the podcast as ‘patriotic socialism’: two positions that he maintains are not incompatible. For Orwell, patriotism is in truth the opposite of Conservatism, it being a devotion to something that is always changing (but felt mystically to be the same). I won’t summarize the arguments made, just to say that Orwell writes with such clarity that, while reading him, it’s impossible not to nod in assent. Dispiritingly, the many of the observations he makes about the English at a time of war (the pamphlet was written at the height of the Blitz) still hold true today: we are still “a family with the wrong members in control”, still “governed by the rich, and by people who step into positions of command by right of birth”; a “land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly.” Orwell’s one big mistake as he wrote these pages was being overly optimistic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jackson

    'Orwellian Socialism is rather neat and tidy' says the unforgivable bloke who reads Animal Farm as an allegory about the Cold War. Scathing and helpful insight into the English identity as it came under more cracking pressure than ever before! 'Orwellian Socialism is rather neat and tidy' says the unforgivable bloke who reads Animal Farm as an allegory about the Cold War. Scathing and helpful insight into the English identity as it came under more cracking pressure than ever before!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Kell

    don’t read, NOT about unicorns.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dominick

    This is an interesting historical artefact: Orwell's 1941 argument for the necessity of a socialist revolution in England, if the war was to be won. He ended up being fundamentally wrong about that, of course, even if he is really right about many another point (e.g. the inherent problems in capitalism). Nevertheless, he offers up a lucid and insightful critique of the then-current political environment, and some of what he says remains depressingly true today--indeed, perhaps even more true tha This is an interesting historical artefact: Orwell's 1941 argument for the necessity of a socialist revolution in England, if the war was to be won. He ended up being fundamentally wrong about that, of course, even if he is really right about many another point (e.g. the inherent problems in capitalism). Nevertheless, he offers up a lucid and insightful critique of the then-current political environment, and some of what he says remains depressingly true today--indeed, perhaps even more true than it was in 1941. He does have a something of a tendency to rely on gambits such as "anyone with eyes can see" that a certain argument is irrefutable, without doing the legwork necessary to actually make the case. I can sympathize with someone who thinks a certain point is so obvious it doesn't need to be argued, but as a polemical strategy, it is ineffective, as it really only works on those who already see what you do. Nevertheless, the pleasures of Orwell's strong and pellucid prose style make this worth reading on a purely aesthetic level, never mind the political.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Esperanza Navas

    Writting in 1941, I like Orwell's different points of view and analysis of the Europr future in the middle of IIWW (or what he wanted to have). Very hard and real with his fellows citizen, although also somehow practical (English monarchy will stay despite any revolution. - that is how English mentality can be. Full of contrast). Not my gener, but I cannot resist Orwell and a brave easy when Hitler was a potential candidate to rule Europe. Writting in 1941, I like Orwell's different points of view and analysis of the Europr future in the middle of IIWW (or what he wanted to have). Very hard and real with his fellows citizen, although also somehow practical (English monarchy will stay despite any revolution. - that is how English mentality can be. Full of contrast). Not my gener, but I cannot resist Orwell and a brave easy when Hitler was a potential candidate to rule Europe.

  18. 4 out of 5

    José Cruz Parker

    This is one of the most important texts in the history of humanity. It hasn’t lost any relevance despite the fact that it was published almost a century ago. In The Lion and the Unicorn, Orwell’s main thesis is that England has to become a socialist country in order to defeat Nazi Germany. Why? Well, read the essay and you’ll know.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Orwell is a good writer and writes with a forceful confidence which is impressive when he’s making a prediction or a statement on something true or revealed to be true and is not impressive when he’s bullshitting. This is mostly the latter.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Concise yet cutting, so many of Orwell's arguments draw attention to the systemic failures of linear hierarchical systems. Concise yet cutting, so many of Orwell's arguments draw attention to the systemic failures of linear hierarchical systems.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    Politically open, fascinating and bold. Shows perfectly that times of crisis are ingredients for times of change.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Harry Willis

    4.5 stars Short but great. It's not turned me Socialist, but Orwell's observations of England and the War are fascinating 4.5 stars Short but great. It's not turned me Socialist, but Orwell's observations of England and the War are fascinating

  23. 4 out of 5

    lauren

    i love george orwell !

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elham Sarikhani

    Read this enjoyable essay to see the English national character though the eyes of George Orwell!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Keira

    Still one of my favourite essayists.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Annie Bose

    {a summary scattered with some thoughts on George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1941)} Insightful journalism has a name, and it is George Orwell. Orwell, I think, is one of the few writers I've read who truly rages against socio-political apathy (even though he sometimes resorts to moralisms, but he doesn't do so without justification or relevance), and writes not just disdainfully of that which he criticises but also proposes change, not leaving the onus of reform on others in seats of p {a summary scattered with some thoughts on George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn" (1941)} Insightful journalism has a name, and it is George Orwell. Orwell, I think, is one of the few writers I've read who truly rages against socio-political apathy (even though he sometimes resorts to moralisms, but he doesn't do so without justification or relevance), and writes not just disdainfully of that which he criticises but also proposes change, not leaving the onus of reform on others in seats of power (which would be ironic, for it is the inaction and stupidity and lack of foresight of those in seats of power that he is frustrated with). Everything, and everyone falls under his critical lens. He also has an eye for nuance even in that which is considered terrible. His arguments are logical, founded on historically collected data as well as first-hand experiences and an urgency to move towards a future against a fainéant attitudes towards the social and political spheres of life. Orwell is brilliant at replicating and explaining the hidden implications behind the language used by the media and the nation's political rhetoric. His awareness of war-time propaganda is palpable in this works. In Part I, he begins by citing the first abstraction that divides and necessitates politics as we have historically known it: the idea of "country". The modern world is steeped in ideas of 'patriotism' and 'national loyalty'. He re-employs the ambiguous language of the Authorities to delineate the ways in which it offers the justification for all its actions. These Authorities have come to power because they have not only grasped the concept of 'nation' well, but have also learnt how to manipulate it through language. According to Orwell, nations are differentiated from one another not based on geography, but on a difference in outlook; people are not all the same, human behaviour is different from country to country. That individuals, even from the same country, are "characteristic fragments" of a national "scene". Having set this premise, he delves into a delineation of what England is, before he analyses what role England can play in the then current global political scenario. Beginning with an analysis of the current English working class, he mentions some national characteristics that anyone hailing from England might possess. It is important to identify these national characteristics, no matter how trivial they seem, in order to understand the conditions that perpetually replicate these characteristics across such a wide population. One such characteristic that he calls to question is the their (hypocritical) anti-militarist attitude. He elaborates that in England, if the military made a show of their power through parade, the English would laugh. The English working class care not for shows of power within England and are largely ignorant of the Empire. England's atrocities have vastly taken place over and across the sea [here, Orwell says, "there is no such thing as a naval dictatorship" (p.10)], not within the country and within England; the working middle class's hypocrisy lies in their ignorance of the Empire. Orwell is building up to the following point: England needs a democratic Socialist revolution to cut through the current hypocrisy of socio-economic class distinctions. In 1941 England, the Law is absolute. Regimes of totalitarianism that operate on having absolute power, where there is no such thing as Law, have not yet succeeded in England because the people still believe in the power of the Law, which in 1941 continues to be barbaric and anachronistic. The abstraction of the Law and its ideal implications are so deeply entrenched in the English that despite knowing it has separate standards for the rich and the poor, the people have immutable faith in the justice system. They are yet to believe the Law is also a compromised network of intricately told lies. In this accusation, Orwell implicates the language of the Marxist intelligentsia from the academic circles as well. I lose him, however, when he says that the English have displayed their talent in literature before but literature does not, or rather "cannot cross frontiers" (p.17). He cites the popularity of poets like Shakespeare, Byron, Wilde and gives reasons for it, but there's also poets like Blake, Shelley, amongst others, who have been overlooked to make this argument. He also makes a similar claim about England producing no philosophers, but I think he makes this omission because he's on a tangent here to establish a lack of ordered systems in English thought. He calls England "a family with the wrong members in control" (p.20). England, says Orwell, is the most "class-ridden country under the sun" (p.19). So far he has steadily established that there has been a decline in the action of the ruling classes of England, yet they have managed to maintain their position and status by replicating themselves, their ambitions in the emerging class (he cites the decline of power of the land-owning aristocracy in 1832 who sustained their status through associations with merchants, manufacturers and financiers) who now controlled the market. "England was ruled by an aristocracy constantly recruited from parvenus" (p.21). Unless there is a bigger tragedy that befalls the nation, such as prolonged subjugation by another bigger power, England will not lose its national identity, and therefore will retain all of its national attitudes. In 1941, Orwell writes that if England survives the war that is upon them, it will survive it by dispelling its ignorance through an informed democratic-Socialist revolution. In Parts II and III, he delineates how this can be possible. He implicates the English Left-Wing intelligentsia of being stagnant too, for they offered neither constructive solutions nor did they mobilise any significant call to action. They mostly concerned themselves with the military and imperialist middle class and their shortcomings. Why did Hitler's declaration of war come as a surprise to the English? After a swift delineation between Socialism and Fascism, Orwell moves to critique the mode of private capitalism in Britain. In Part II, Orwell extrapolates the current mode of capitalism to argue that private capitalism has and will necessarily lead to the downfall of the nation. "British capitalism," he writes, "does not work, because it is a competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main objective" (p.41). He cites examples wherein England has gravely blundered time and again in pursuit of profit and has been directly responsible in aiding and enabling the Germans prepare for war. England's blunder was in continuing to divert the greater part of the national income in consumption goods and refusing to spend adequate funds in obtaining armaments. One is reminded here of the 'guns or butter?' argument made in economics. In addition to this, until the end of August 1939 (and at a time when the British army was barely beyond the standards of 1918), "British dealers were tumbling over one another in their eagerness to sell Germany tin, rubber, copper and shellac--and this is the clear, certain knowledge that a war was going to break out in a week or two" (p.41). In Part III, Orwell argues that what England needs is "a conscious open revolt by ordinary people against inefficiency, class privilege and the rule of the old" (p.47). He calls for a Socialist revolution and argues that England cannot win the war against Hitler without changing its class structure. He also believes that England winning the war will inevitably introduce Socialism in the British political economy. For Orwell, "the war and the revolution are inseparable" (p.57). This movement, however, has failed in the past because the only party which could make it possible "stood for a timid reformism," while the "Marxists were looking at the modern world through nineteenth century spectacles" (p.61). He enumerates (and explains, because of course, this is Orwell; he doesn't just state problems, he gets to the root of them) the problems with the Labour Party in England, the "only one Socialist party that has ever seriously mattered" (p.58). In their primary interest to improve the wages and working conditions of the British workers, lay the Labour Party's interest in the prosperity of British capitalism, particularly in the maintenance of the British Empire ["the standard of living of the trade union workers, whom the Labour Party represented, depended indirectly on the sweating of Indian coolies" (p.58)]. His complaint with the British Communists was that they had alienated the middle-class from Socialism and appealed to only the middle-class intelligentsia. Other Marxist parties failed because they did not have the prestige and money that the Russians had, and they insisted on remaining tied to the nineteenth century doctrine of class war, "never drawing an inference from the fact that it got them no followers" (p.60). Orwell interprets the war as "a race between the consolidation of Hitler's empire and the growth of democratic consciousness" (p.64). Hereon, he sets forth to describe the Socialist movement that could not only help England win the war but also turn the Revolution into a realisable policy. In so-doing, he devises not the perfect plan (as it would be impossible to achieve everything he has suggested here, and he acknowledges this too), but offers a direction. He suggests and explains a six-point programme that shall require England to change its policy internally, as well as with relation to the Empire and the rest of the world. These include: (i) nationalisation of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries, (ii) a limitation of incomes, (iii) democratic reform of the education system, (iv) immediate Dominion status for India with the power to secede any time, (v) formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the "coloured" people are also represented and (vi) declaration of a formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of Fascism (p.65). Finally, he criticises the fatalistic and hedonistic approach of the Left-wing intelligentsia and says that that kind of attitude is exactly what England does not need, especially at a time when morale is important to survive the atrocities of war. To be clear, Orwell doesn't hate the British Left-wing, but he does hate their Pacifism and their manner of setting out to be anti-Fascist ["in a purely negative way-'against' Fascism without being 'for' any discoverable policy" (p.77)]. In "Part One: England, Your England", Orwell lays down the predominant English attitudes of hypocrisy which include obstinate anachronisms that have resulted in the dead stagnancy in English politics that he has witnessed over the last decade, which has led to a larger dissonance between the past and what needs to be done to embrace the future, outdated and asinine foreign policies and national welfare programmes, the conservation of economically disparate classes. The hypocrisy of the English lies in their ignorance and fatuousness. In "Part Two: Shopkeepers at War", Orwell bemoans the grave political and military blunders that English capitalists have made, blinded by the prospect of making profit, catalysed by their sheer ignorance, leaving them unprepared for the war they now find themselves in. England has compromised on its political security in order to maintain the pretensions of social classes, more specifically that of the moneyed class. In "Part Three: The English Revolution" characterises the failures of the Left-wing parties in England thus far. Lack of an independent policy outside of domestic matters degenerated the Labour Party post 1935 into a "Permanent Opposition" (p.59) to the Tories and making them hypocrites who fight for the betterment of English workers at the expense of the Empire's labour, the Communists have alienated a large percentage of the population and the Marxists don't understand their loss of relevance in losing their popularity amongst the masses. Proposing new changes in policy, Orwell announces a call to action for a Socialist Revolution and champions the urgency and necessity of the same. "The Lion and the Unicorn" was published in 1941 at the height of German bombings in London and was Orwell's argument in championing a democratic socialism. Traces of the arguments and suggestions he makes can be found in his later work, "Animal Farm" and I'm guessing "1984" (which I've yet to read) too. It marks a vital stage in the development of his socialist ideas which were strengthened after the Spanish Civil War. The book charts his attempt to tie socialism to patriotism (I feel the need to clarify here that Orwell was patriotic not to the idea of the nation but to a political democracy), to defend and differentiate democracy from totalitarianism, to draw upon a relation between democracy and the English working class and finally to offer a defence for domestic cultural pluralism. Orwell made some predictions in the final two pages of the book anticipating the turn of events that could take place post-war if Hitler lost, which leads me to believe he wouldn't be surprised, but definitely disappointed in how things turned out eventually. The title is a reference to the insignia on the British soldier's uniform buttons, which he thinks will not change over time, just like some British traits he thinks will live on in saecula saeculorum. I also believe he'd realise his worst nightmare if he was alive to witness 21st century politics.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Bowen

    Written at a time when Britain was battling to survive in the early days of World War Two. It really is amazing as to how much of Orwell’s writings still resonate quite strongly today. Read on Election Day in 2019.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karla

    But all through the between-war years no Socialist programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared; basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives. The Communists wanted to go on and on, suffering a comfortable martyrdom, meeting with endless defeats and afterwards putting the blame on other people. The left-wing intelligentsia But all through the between-war years no Socialist programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared; basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives. The Communists wanted to go on and on, suffering a comfortable martyrdom, meeting with endless defeats and afterwards putting the blame on other people. The left-wing intelligentsia wanted to go on and on, sniggering at the Blimps, sapping away at middle-class morale, but still keeping their favoured position as hangers-on of the dividend-drawers. Labour Party politics had become a variant of Conservatism, “revolutionary” politics had become a game of make-believe. I dunno....this mindset also feels a lot like American Centrist Democrats (voters & party leaders) in 2020, tbh....

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Adams

    Written in 1941, as "highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill" him, this text outlines Orwell's vision that only through a thorough socialist revolution, can the England and the free world hope to defeat both Communism and Fascism. At times, his statements about the greatness of the English people gets a little overbearing, but he makes some interesting points nonetheless. I would suggest that this be required reading for anyone who has ever said that President Obama is Written in 1941, as "highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill" him, this text outlines Orwell's vision that only through a thorough socialist revolution, can the England and the free world hope to defeat both Communism and Fascism. At times, his statements about the greatness of the English people gets a little overbearing, but he makes some interesting points nonetheless. I would suggest that this be required reading for anyone who has ever said that President Obama is a Socialist Fascist anti-Imperialist, but I'm not sure how they would process the dissonance between their completely illiterate misguided understanding of any of those terms actually mean and an open throated call for outright Socialist revolution written by someone so prominently regarded as being anti-Totalitarian.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Luke Ingram

    Orwell gets a lot of things wrong but before I criticize lets get his case neatly packaged and digestible. 1 - The particular queerness of English character makes them more resistant to totalitarian messaging and more complacent with the status quo 2 - The English system more than any other is set up almost solely in the interests of the moneyed classes. 3 - Hitler's conquest of Europe has shown the supremacy of central planning over laissez-faire 3a - Laissez-faire results in under-consumption, a c Orwell gets a lot of things wrong but before I criticize lets get his case neatly packaged and digestible. 1 - The particular queerness of English character makes them more resistant to totalitarian messaging and more complacent with the status quo 2 - The English system more than any other is set up almost solely in the interests of the moneyed classes. 3 - Hitler's conquest of Europe has shown the supremacy of central planning over laissez-faire 3a - Laissez-faire results in under-consumption, a continual surplus of goods not consumed (a Marxist holdover). 3b - Laissez-faire only produces what is profitable not what is needed (conflicts with 3a...) 3b - Central planning means the economy pulls in the same direction and, if democratic, in the interests of the people. 3c - The power of the German war machine is evidence of the superiority of central planning. 4 - Therefore, England can only persist if a Socialist revolution happens 4a - The socialist revolution entails the nationalization of all major industry 4b - ... and the rough equalization of post-tax incomes (10 to 1 ratio maximum) 4c - ... and independence for the colonies 5 - Hitler enjoyed the support of the capitalists, safe in the knowledge that though he would control their businesses, they would be left to own them. My critique: 1 - Agreed, but there's the sense I get from Orwell that anyone who disagrees is merely pulling in the direction of his class without a view of morality or societal ideal, a sleepwalker. For someone with a sensitive finger on the pulse of class in England, he was forever insensitive in his judgement of ideologies that differed. He could also quickly switch from full throated endorsement of a position and full-throated disavowal, as he did with first his virulent opposition to the coming war with Hitler which became a complete endorsement. An author can at least be expected to offer a sensitive handling of a position he held yesterday evening. 2 - The explosion in living standards during the 1850s to the 1900s, which Orwell puts down to technology, stands in defiance of Orwell's point. Orwell tries to have it both ways; economic destitution is placed at the feet of the unequal system of capitalism yet flourishing is explained by "technology". The real explanation is that the bourgeois rich, as separated from the titled, landed rich, made their money by enriching the average man with goods and services. Consider the sacrifice in material standards of living that are made in times of war, when the state needs money to make ever more ingenious methods of slaughter, and compare this with the introduction of new goods and technology under a system of private property. The former is done at the expense of consumer goods whereas the latter results in ever more quantities of both tinned goods and automobiles. This continual growth of technology depends on profit. 3a and 3b clearly contradict. 3a is unfounded, and while bringing a product to market is no guarantee that it will be sold (because none of us are fortune tellers and consumer desires and circumstances change) a business that piles up unsold goods, tossed into the trash heap, would obviously not last long. The problem of surplus is easily solved by simply lowering prices. 3b is false because it ignores the coordinating function of prices, profits and losses in directing capital to its most highly valued ends. A central planning agency would need some unit for both accounting and coordination, and the argument of free-market types is that decentralised money prices based on the actions of free buyers and sellers are indispensable for economic efficiency. 3c - Production of bombs and bullets (b&b) is not production of consumer goods. First the state is a monopsony in this respect, second the production of b&b happens at the expense of actual consumer goods, to the detriment of both the Germans and the English, and thirdly the soldiers do not get a choice in the gear they have to use, as opposed to the power consumers wield in private society. 4 - Here the actual course of the war lies in stark contrast to Orwell's prediction. England did not undergo a glorious revolution during the war, but after the dust had settled in 1945, in which the first Labour government was elected and nationalization of 20% of industry commenced. England managed to weather the storm of Nazi Germany without ushering in Socialism. 5 - This is a common myth concocted by Marxists, which amounts to a complete rewriting of history. Big business supported anyone but Hitler before he was elected, and we would expect this (see Henry Ashby Turner's "Hitler and Big Business"). Nazi control of industry was total and complete (see Reimann's "The Vampire Economy"). Just think about it, imagine yourself as the owner of some big German enterprise, and that some upstart radical is making a leadership bid and intends to bring your enterprise and all others under the dictate of the state. You will no longer be free to conduct your business as if you owned it. Does it seem likely that you would support this candidate? Of course not, and German big business was a supporter of the the status quo before Hitler, and supported the new status quo under Hitler (but they hardly had much choice, did they?)

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