To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade-plus history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian work of sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing since 2019 a series of Appreciations of all past award-winners.
Here is an Appreciation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the 2011 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction.
By Michael Grossberg
The title of the allegorical work may make Animal Farm sound like a children’s fable, but it isn’t.
Oh, the short novel certainly can – and probably should – be read by teenagers and more mature younger readers, who likely will enjoy it and also grasp its perennial theme about the corruptions of power and the absolute corruption of absolute power.
Yet, the cautionary themes of George Orwell’s enduring 1945 work truly are aimed at adults.
The British writer, best known for his Prometheus-winning Hall of Fame novel Nineteen Eighty Four, conceived the brilliant and sly notion of retelling the story of the murderous communist Russian Revolution in the literary form of a beast fable.
Set on a poorly run farm near Willingdon, England, the story shows how pigs conspire to take advantage of the alcoholic farmer’s neglect by gradually establishing a dictatorship at the expense of other farm animals through the use of new rules and propaganda.
Gradually, the pigs start to take on human qualities as they add privileges and power for themselves as an elite, while betraying their revolutionary promises, failing to improve the lives of the other animals and changing the governance of the farm from a democracy to an authoritarian cabal.
The story introduced the phrase “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” which has been borrowed innumerable times to pillory many political movements that claimed to be fighting for equality.
Orwell’s story is widely considered both a classic work, and a devastating critique of Stalinism. (Napoleon, a large Berkshire boar with a reputation for getting his own way, was reportedly modeled on Joseph Stalin; while Old Major, an aged boar who provides inspiration for the initial animal rebellion, allegorically combines Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.)
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that Animal Farm and its not-coincidental writing during the second World War, reflect the post-World War II disillusionment of many communists and socialists (like Orwell) with the unanticipated excesses and extremes of their ideal of collectivism. It’s not widely recalled today (unless you’re reminded by well-researched nonfiction books like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism) that collectivism of both the so-called Left and Right was widely embraced in all or most of its stripes by most political, intellectual, cultural and artistic leaders in the 1920s and 1930s as the ideal or inevitable wave of the future.
Communism, after all, was and is beastly in how such dictatorships, as and after they come to totalitarian power, treat other human beings as less than human – often, like cattle to be slaughtered. (The same thing can be said of communism’s historically and philosophically related variants of undiluted socialism, national socialism and fascism).
Yet, sadly, decades after the collapse of communism around most of the planet, Animal Farm remains timely and compelling as a warning about a perennial human tendency.
Time magazine rightfully chose the book as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005), while the Modern Library list of best 20th-century novels ranks it at number 31. (I’d rank it somewhat higher.)
More than most works of fiction, Orwell’s cautionary animal fable clearly and simply exposes the coercive, elitist and inhuman tendencies latent in the still-widely-embraced ideals of radical egalitarianism, which pervert and invert the notion of equal liberty (which libertarians embrace) into a monstrous form of inevitably class-based tyranny that simply switches which class is on top.
Equality and liberty, rightly understood, are not antithetical ideals, but often are in tension in society, especially when individual rights are sacrificed in the name of a false equality that masks ambitions of power.
Orwell’s Animal Farm, highly recommended for adults and younger adults alike, continues to resonate generation after generation because it lightly strips off the masks to reveal the beastly behavior that has always dehumanized our fellow man.
Note: George Orwell (1903-1950), whose real name was Eric Blair, was ranked in 2008 by The Times among “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”
He is one of the few writers to have such a wide and lasting impact on ideas and culture that his name has become an adjective: Orwellian.
Orwell, author of the seminal essay “Politics and the English Language,” also received Libertarian Futurist Society recognition in 1984, when his classic anti-authoritarian, anti-communist and anti-fascist novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.
* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.
* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.
* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans .
Libertarian futurists believe culture is as vital as politics (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive in the longer run) in spreading positive visions of the future and achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.