Although I may have read it as a kid, I didn’t remember much more about Animal Farm than the general plot, and some few choice quotes. Since my daughter is reading the book for school, though I decided to reread it, including the author’s introduction, second introduction, et al.
If you don’t remember the story, Animal Farm is about a farm where the animals stage a rebellion, driving the farmer off, set up their own rules, and run the place. Amazingly, they get along just fine, because the pigs learn to read, write, and adapt the various tools around the farm to their own use. In American schools, we mainly remember the story as a screed against fascism, or communism in a general sense. But to quote George Orwell:
Indeed, in my opinion, nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of Socialism as the belief that Russia is a Socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated. And so for the past ten years I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the Socialist movement.
Mr. Orwell didn’t write this book as a screed against communism, or against socialism, but against hierarchical societies in general — he truly believed that the right way to end all evil in the world is to institute a truly classless society. Hence the pigs learning to walk, and eventually becoming the humans the farm originally rebelled against.
But there is an undercurrent of worldview here that Mr. Orwell doesn’t even seem to have understood. The primary problem with the society on the animal farm is, as Mr. Orwell has written it, that the pigs gain knowledge, and that knowledge leads them to believe they are “more equal” than all the other animals. The implication is that if all the animals were to just stick to hard work, rather than trying to learn what the farmer knew, the animal farm would have remained perfect.
In other words, it’s in rising above our animal state that we become evil. If only we humans could lose our humanness, and become like the the animals, we build a pure, classless, and perfect society. It’s a bit of ironic humor even Mr. Orwell seems to have missed that in using animals to teach his lesson, he teaches that animals in their natural state are better than man in his most civilized state.
And here we have the modern liberal myth full blown.
If only we could find a smart pig who really cares about us to lead, we could rest in peace.
We could rest in peace knowing their taking care of reading all those books and building all those tools in order to help the community, rather than themselves.We could rest in peace knowing they’re willing to sacrifice their time and minds so we can be, well, animals. In this world, if we could all just accept Darwin’s premise that we are hairless apes, and start acting like the apes we are (we all know apes are noble creatures who all live in perfect classless societies), the world would be at peace.
All we need is some pig that’s not so selfish, and the world would be perfect.
Maybe, just maybe, though, the problem isn’t with the pigs, per se, or even the farmer. Maybe we all have a little pig in each of us, and we all become pigs, given enough power. Maybe the point of civilization is to stop us from living in the “perfect classless society” of apes (which isn’t so perfect or so classless from what I hear), and build something a bit better. Maybe if we rise above our animal natures we can build a world in which people’s imperfections aren’t given free reign through limitless power (limited government, anyone?), a world where people’s imperfections are regulated through the love of those who know us best (families, anyone?).
Maybe the problem isn’t with the pigs, but with socialism itself, because of it’s absolutely unrealistic view of people.
Maybe we aren’t Darwin’s apes, but something else entirely — fallen humans who need salvation, rather than perfectable humans who just need the right pigs to lead us.