The Lion And The Unicorn

In his essay The Lion And The Unicorn: Socialism And The English Genius, George Orwell aimed to outline his ideas about the society he lived in at the time. His opinion was how the English class system was hampering the war effort during World War II, and how this could be rectified.

The text remains as relevant and well known today as it was when it was written in 1941. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the essay and see just why it remains so important, especially to the UK at large.

The Background Of The Essay

The Lion And The Unicorn was first published on 19th February 1941, as the first volume of a series through the Searchlight Books series by Secker & Warburg. These volumes were edited by Orwell and T. R. Fyvel.

The essay itself is one of the first publications of Orwell’s that expressed his beliefs and his concerns about totalitarianism. These are ideas that would then go on to be part of his most famous works, such as 1984 and Animal Farm.

Part One: England Your England

The essay is split up into three parts, the first titled England Your England. Many critics have given the opinion that this part works as a self contained essay itself.

In this section, Orwell is looking to work against the idea that all humans are alike, and really show the English people as they are. The first line of the essay reads, “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

He uses this to talk about patriotism and national loyalty, noting that if a German bomber were to succeed in killing him, he would not “sleep any the worse for it”, thanks to the fact he would be serving his country.

Orwell uses this to talk about how the English people view patriotism, especially through the class divide. He calls England two separate nations, one of the rich and one of the poor. He believes, though, the war will actually help to dismantle the idea of class altogether.

However, even if class is done away with, Orwell believes that the character of the English people as a whole won’t change. There are several characteristics that will remain, such as “The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms”.

Part Two: Shopkeepers At War

Moving into the next section, Orwell outlines the idea of socialism that he wants for his country, as well as denouncing the ideas of fascism and capitalism.

He views the war as proof that capitalism as it stands does not work. He goes so far to describe Adolf Hitler as “a physical debunking of capitalism”. In Orwell’s view, capitalism is wasteful as it leads to overproduction, and always leads to unemployment by some people in the country.

Instead, he outlines a system that he believes would work better for England. A model of socialism that allows for state administered production would, he writes, be better for the people. He asserts that this would ensure there’s no waste, and ensure that everyone gets what they need.

In this model, he also describes a need for political democracy. Everyone in a socialist society should have the same as those in government, as well as a say in what happens in that government. Overall, every person in that state should be equal.

As a counterpart to this model, Orwell also describes fascism as the opposite, and denounces it. He describes the German fascist model in particular as a capitalist structure, using some aspects of socialism to make it “efficient for war purposes”.

The system is capitalist as the state of Germany essentially is in charge of everything, making the state the manager. As such, a caste system is created, and he describes the driving force behind the Nazi Party as the belief in inequality.

Part Three: The English Revolution

In this part, Orwell describes how the English people can, and already have, started to dismantle the idea of class and create a revolution.

He notes that he believes a revolution had already begun slowly in England, but the onset of war has sped up the process. As such, he wrote the essay in part to reach the English people, and show them that the idea of socialism is really possible.

He criticizes the UK’s Labour party too, as they were the only socialist party that he felt had any power. While they were socialist, he believed that their messaging wasn’t clear enough, and so the English public were left confused about what socialism truly was.

As such, he felt that socialism wasn’t going to come from government, and instead it would have to come from the English masses as a whole. To aid this process, he outlined a six point program that he felt would help that transition. This includes the nationalization of industries, limiting high incomes, education reform, and so on.

The Impact Of The Essay

Although written during the Second World War, The Lion and the Unicorn still holds a lot of power today in the UK, and further afield. In 1993, UK Prime Minister John Major referred to the essay when giving a speech on essay, alluding to a time when the UK will be a place of peace and prosperity.

While the essay outlines ideas on socialism that many would agree with, there are ideas that others feel are too insular. Throughout the text, Orwell always refers to England, rather than the UK. He believes that English people have a character all their own, and he focuses on that. However, some feel that the ideals need to spread further, and encompass the needs of those living in the UK as well as abroad.

Orwell’s writings here give a preview of the politics of his later works, which he becomes most famous for. They still have relevance today, even in a post Second World War era. Many still do find a lot to consider and apply to the world today, in the ideas of this essay.