Author – George Orwell
Genre –Fiction, Philosophy, History/Satire
Written like a children story book, Animal Farm appears to be simply a tale of myriad animals in a farm rebelling against their brutal human masters, taking control and trying to organize an equal society. The story details how the original high ideals degenerate to tyranny and totalitarianism as the new leaders, the pigs and dogs, get corrupted. And how the masses, in their ignorance and stupidity, allow false leaders to be formed.
The theme is not new. Lord Acton lamented, ‘Power Corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Orwell’s genius is however, in the masterful use of allegory, and making a complex subject so simple. Eric Blair (who adopted the pen name of George Orwell) was born in India. His strong views against any kind of totalitarianism were formed in the Spanish Civil war, and he was very open in saying that this novel was a satire on Stalin and Communism. Incidentally, this was why the book, which has now sold more than 20 million copies, was initially rejected by all publishers. Soviet Union was then a war-time ally of UK, and Orwell was one of the few early people to see through the grave risks of communism.
What I loved most was Orwell’s balanced depiction: He rightly highlights the need for revolution, and the high ideals on which each revolution is based. And how all players start with being reasonable and visionary. And the early successes. But then the dark road to power, propaganda, policing and pain. Staying in Africa, I have seen this repeated all too often in multiple countries. Didn’t Mugabe start out as the big saviour and revolutionary?
Animal Farm has influenced me greatly, and contributed to developing a strong distaste for any totalitarian regime. The complexity of governance and polity dawns on us: we know capitalism has its sins, but communism, despite all its promises, is simply not an alternative. Maybe that will be our tragedy: there is no perfect system and we just have to choose the lesser evil.
Why should you read the book: Learn how power corrupts, how good ideas get executed badly, how we allow our leaders to fool us… Also how to talk of serious topics in a simple way