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Animal Farm's totalitarianism
The evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.
The notion of democracy began in the very early years of humanity, but it has been growing in popularity, especially during the 1900s at the end of the Cold War in 1989. Recently, however, democracy has been at a standstill, and that raises some questions. Forces like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are keeping a totalitarian viewpoint with the use of violence and oppression to stay in control. Furthermore, the conception of democracy is said to be flawed and filled with corrupt politicians.
Though the state of our democracy as of currently is questionable, it is perhaps reasonable to look back at the horrors that once were — and might be — who can really know, I am not sure. This essay looks back at the totalitarian and authoritarian view of, well, initially the soviet union. Today, however, it will take place on a farm in a metaphorical fable, from the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. A different perspective of looking at the same kind of restraint. I imagine it can be helpful to look back at the past to realize if we are repeating any patterns.
A totalitarian regime is a form of government and political system that takes away people’s freedom by taking complete control over society. It is usually characterized by the lack of free speech, the lack of freedom of movement, and the lack of a free election. A totalitarian regime currently can be seen in countries such as North Korea, which is controlling every aspect of their citizens, Russia doing likewise, and China (particularly in the way that they are controlling their citizens through their point system with constant monitoring, which truly reminds me of an Orwellian state) and others. In these states, it is typical that media as well as political opponents are suppressed into silence, with the goal of control and power.
This enters us into the book Animal Farm. It is in this fable from 1945 that Orwell presents us to a relatively normal situation on a farm (’Manor Farm’), where animals are being mistreated by mankind through laying eggs, producing food, and obeying them. “Man is the only creature”, a pig called Major would preach right before his death, “that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals.” They were tired of being controlled—tired of working night and day for the human race, not themselves. And so it is then that the animals decide to overrule the farm and Mr. Jones, the caretaker. They do so with utmost success.
As they gain control of the farm, they set out plans as a community where there will be justice and equality on their new farm ‘Animal Farm’. The animals would run the farm and have seven commandments to be kept at all times.
“THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS: Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. No animal shall wear clothes. No animal shall sleep in a bed. No animal shall drink alcohol. No animal shall kill any other animal. All animals are equal.” — George Orwell
In the beginning, everything was going splendidly for the animals. They discovered that they needn’t humans to run their own system. They eventually got in a fight with neighboring farms, as those farms discovered that they, too, could run a farm by themselves. After winning their first fight, which they called the Battle of the Cowshed, something strange happened. The leader, Snowball, wanted to build a windmill to save labor after it is done. It is then that another animal, Napoleon, disagrees. As he disagrees, he appears with “bodyguards” — large animals that scared Snowball out of town. Napoleon becomes the new leader and decides to build the windmill after all.
It is when Napoleon takes over that the totalitarian switch starts taking place. Little by little, as in every cornered society, the sacred SEVEN COMMANDMENTS were being altered on Animal Farm. It starts out small, for instance when Napoleon began drinking alcohol: “They had thought the Fifth Commandment was “No animal shall drink alcohol,” but there were two words that they had forgotten. Actually the Commandment read: “No animal shall drink alcohol TO EXCESS.” As it reads, clearly, they are changing the commandments little by little, and the animals who can barely read themselves (oblivious to the actual changing of the rules), must rely on others to speak the truth. It also happens on an occasion that Napoleon decides to mass murder animals because they defied him. “All the animals remembered,” Orwell writes, “All the animals remembered passing such resolutions: or at least they thought that they remembered it.”
Furthermore, it is clear that Animal Farm also has totalitarian traits similar to that of 1984 — and indeed, Nazi Germany — where the state takes a political opponent they are scared of, and blames them for all the wrongdoings and happenings of the state. As it were in the case of NSDAP, who blamed the faults on the Jewish people — it happens too in Animal Farm, where Napoleon (the now-leader) blames all the faults on a former opponent of his, Snowball.
This book can teach us a lot of things. It is a perfect indication of the ignorance that a society subject to totalitarianism will face. A totalitarian state can start out democratic — but little by little, leaders will make changes that seem so insignificant and so unnoticeable — yes, perhaps it will even be changes accepted by the society. It is these small changes that are excruciatingly dangerous to eventually becoming a state that is no longer free. This is a documented pattern seen by all states that have lead to totalitarianism, and it is beginning to show in established countries as well. As Churchill himself writes, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government […]”
Until next time,