Animal Farm

Author : George Orwell
Genre : Fiction, Philosophy, History/Satire

Many people ask me what would be the simplest book to know about politics and human behaviour. Animal Farm it has to be.

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 and  taking control. They want to create a just society and elect leaders amongst them. sadly, towards the end, these new leaders become much like the previous leaders – ready to exploit and kill and keep all the riches for themselves.

Beneath the naive storybook are some deep intellectual thoughts: Why do oridnary people allow themselves to be exploited, how original high ideals of a revolution degenerate to tyranny, how leaders become totalitarian and corrupt, the medicine becoming worse than the malady. And finally 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. Pigs and horses and dogs and hens… all reflecting human society.

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 genuine ideals on which each revolution is based. And how all players start with being reasonable and visionary. And early successes based on just principles. 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 in Zimbabwe start out as the big savior and revolutionary?

Animal Farm has influenced me greatly, and contributed to developing in me 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. The present state of the world – with so many strong but false leaders, dividing us to retain power, is a strong reminder that the world will always need the wisdom of Orwell.

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.

Goodreads Link: Animal Farm by George Orwell | Goodreads