Wow. This novel from acclaimed socialist author, George Orwell, stands the test of time with a manifold of modern motifs and subtle lessons for discursive political strife and class struggle.
This book is as important and as relevant as ever. It has subtle lessons about rebellion, self-governance, and propaganda. My only complaint about this book is the farm animals. I am not entirely sure why Orwell decided to write them as mostly dimwitted and unassuming.
For starters, the (supposedly) most clever animals on the farm are the pigs. The role of the pig slowly morphs into a modern and applicable symbol for technocratic overlords. The pigs, from the vantage point they are endowed with from circumstance of birth, convince the animals (slowly) that they are the only ones who can truly bring prosperity to the farm. I also think it is important to understand that even as the times change, this book illuminates a common practice in today’s policymaking world. It is also important to understand that the laws of Animalism, the newly established political ethos designed to be egalitarian, are slowly bent and individually changed with time as it fits with the agenda of the matriculated overlords. As the pigs slowly assume power and control, they demonstrate that power corrupts. The pigs then launch a silent evangelical campaign designed to convince the animals of the necessity of a hierarchy. As the animals become more self-sufficient, the pigs continue to reap the benefits at the expense of the other animal’s labor, doing less of the farm work and taking more than their share of the harvests.
In the beginning the elder figurehead, Old Major the wise pig, dies. Not before his death, though, Old Major gives an inspiring speech to the animals about the state of their union and seizing ownership of the farm. He leaves his comrades with the idea known as Animalism, a guiding principle of equality amongst animals and an intolerance of oppression. By the end, the farm falls under authoritarian control as Napoleon takes power and fills the role of the oppressive human, subjecting the animals to the same torture and hardship they rebelled against in the beginning. The laws of Animalism change to become the opposite of the originally established rules. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
I want to nod to the end of the book. Because this motif is the most prominent, you don’t have to squint too hard to understand the message, subtle as it is. This is the idea that the the pigs are an exponent for coercive power and a warning of the dangers of undermining a representative government. Their willingness to exploit and abuse their comrades elevates them to a high position in the new hierarchy.The lesson here is that self-governance does not work out well, and that all labor is subject to exploitation to benefit a select few. What is also interesting is that the pigs convince the farm animals that this is somehow the way things are just destined to be, that the exploitation is the natural trajectory of the farm and the recipe for prosperity.
Overall I think this book is a necessary read. It’s timely and eerily revealing of discursive political conflict and illuminates operative avenues of corruption. Animal Farm book serves as a lesson that an egalitarian future is possible, but also fragile. And in our current political state, it is easy to see the consequences of allowing an authoritarian strongman to hold one of the most powerful positions in the world—dangerous inequality, erosion of democratic procedures, and barriers to shared progress.