America: is it 'Animal Farm?'

Phil Gengler
2005-06-08 01:41:12

"1984 is here." This basic idea can be found in countless blog entries and comments all over the Internet. Some people look at the techniques of Bush administration and of Congress to 'fight the war on terror' and believe that we are moving much closer to the totalitarian society in George Orwell's 1984. While to some extent, I agree with the sentiment, I think that Orwell's other popular work, Animal Farm, is a much closer analog to the way things are.

The way I read Animal Farm is as a warning about incrementalism, or the danger of letting those in power continually implement small changes that follow from previous changes, with the overall result of making a broad change. I think this is a very close parallel to the actions of the United States government after 9/11 (which was the "revolution" that changed everything). As in Animal Farm, such an event united us all, just as the rebellion united all the animals on the farm. Once everyone is united, then there emerges division. In the case of the United States, it is the division between the two major parties; in the book, it is the constant disagreements between Napoleon and Snowball.

Once Napoleon has ousted Snowball, and sufficiently convinced the other animals that he was a traitor, and remained a danger to the farm, his power grew. As needed, he had Squealer, his mouthpiece, mislead the other animals about the original commandments on which the rebellion was based. The parallel here is to that of our Constitution, the meaning of which continues to be debated and spun to this day.

Once Snowball is chased out of the farm in disgrace (while being pursued by Napoleon's vicious attack dogs), he is used as the scapegoat for all the ills of the farm. When the windmill that the animals devoted their time to building was destroyed, the blame was immediately lain on Snowball. From there, his location is always reported as whichever farm Napoleon is not seeking to trade with. At each turn, when whatever negotiations break down, Napoleon makes the claim that he was not serious, but his efforts were merely a ruse, and that in fact, that particular farm has been harboring Snowball. To me, this parallels some of the actions of the current government, which, while saying one thing, later turns around and claims the opposite. For example, take the current case of the Downing Street memo, which flatly contradicts the administration's claims that it was, at all times, seeking ways to avoiding going to war with Iraq.

One of the ways that Napoleon is able to keep the animals from putting too much thought into his governing was, at any sign of doubt, to evoke memories of the farm under Mr. Jones, securing support by asking the animals (through Squealer) "Surely none of you wishes to see Jones back?" This is echoed in the claims of Bush that "you are either with us, or with the terrorists" or that by allowing or disallowing certain things (such as dissent about government policy, or about the treatment of prisoners, and so on) the terrorists will have won.

Through all of this, Napoleon gradually steps on more and more of the basic principles the animal society lives by. As I have already mentioned, the seven commandments that were the basis of the society were changed in response to whatever acts Napoleon had committed (or would soon commit), such as a ban on the use of alcohol which later became a ban on 'excessive' use of alcohol or a ban on animals sleeping in beds, which was amended to state that animals were not to sleep in beds "with sheets." By labeling some people (including American citizens) as "enemy combatants" and denying them some of the basic protections of our Constitution (such as the right to counsel or to due process) the government is, in effect, altering some of the basic principles of this nation.

This does not mean that I don't believe that some of the ideas of 1984 are making their way into our society. On the contrary, I feel that the intrusions of 1984 are the incremental steps that fill in the broad pattern of Animal Farm. It is of critical importance that we recognize when we are the middle of such steps, and that we take action to halt it. Otherwise, we are likely to end up in a situation just like the end of Animal Farm, which closes with this line: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."