George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

THE LION AND THE UNICORN

1941


61.

Dwight Macdonald, Partisan Review

March 1942, pp. 166-9

Dwight Macdonald (b. 1906), American editor of Partisan Review (1938-43) and Politics (1944-9), author of Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1957) and Against the American Grain (1962).

In its virtues and in its defects, The Lion and the Unicorn is typical of English leftwing political writing. Its approach to politics is impressionistic rather than analytic, literary rather than technical, that of the amateur, not the professional. This has its advantages. Orwell’s consciousness embraces a good deal that our own Marxists have wrongly excluded from their data (though Marx himself most decidedly didn’t): such as that British army officers wear civilian clothes off duty, that the British are a nation of flower-lovers and stamp-collectors, the contrast between the goose-step of the German Army and the ‘formalized walk’ of the British. There is also a human quality to Orwell’s political writing; you feel it engages him as a moral and cultural whole, not merely as a specialist. For this reason it has a life, an ease and color which our own Marxist epigones seem to feel is somehow sinful; and its values are rarely inhuman, however muddled they seem at times.

But there are also the defects of the amateur: if Orwell’s scope is broad, it is none too deep; he describes where he should analyze, and poses questions so impressionistically that his answers get nowhere; he uses terms in a shockingly vague way; he makes sweeping generalizations with the confidence of ignorance; his innocence of scientific criteria is appalling. What can one make of a statement like: ‘No real revolutionist has ever been an internationalist’? On page 62 he writes:

-191-

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