Skip to content

Animal Farm

March 23, 2011

An old Cover of the Novella

Over the course of the last couple of weeks and readings related to the French Revolution, I couldn’t help but draw a parallell to this book that I read a couple of months ago. It’s a novella written by George Orwell and published first in England in August 1945, and has often been touted as one of the best works of English literature ever written. Orwell as a critic of Stalin and was a democratic socialist and wrote this book as a commentary on socialist Russia under Stalin.

The story of ‘Animal Farm: A Fairy Story’ is as follows:

Old Major an old Boar in Manor Farm, calls all the animals and tells them that all humans are parasites, and teaches them a revolutionary song called ‘The Beasts of England’. When Old Major dies two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, take charge and turn Old Major’s vision into a philosophy and drive drunken the farmer Mr. Jones out of the farm, and then rename the farm “Animal Farm”. They then write the Seven Commandments of Animalism on the Barn wall. The most significant of the lot being ‘All Animals are Equal’. The farm runs smoothly for a while. Snowball teaches the animals to read and write. Napoleon take some pups in his retinue and makes them his guards. They fight off Mr. Jones and beat him in the “Battle of the Cowshed”. In the midst of this however, Snowball and Napoleon fight for power. When Napoleon and snowball diasagree over a windmill,

Napoleon drives Snowball away using his dogs, and assumes the role of the leader. The pigs and he abuse their power and rest of the animals are oppressed. They are made to work harder on the windmill, which Napoleon proclaims was his idea, and when it crumbles in a storm, he uses Snowball as the scapegoat saying that Snowball sabotaged it in spite. Napoleon then continues his oppression, purging the farm of Snowball’s supporters. The pigs re-write history, making Snowball the villain and glorifying Napoleon. When the pigs are found abusing the Seven Commandments, they are re-written in favor of the pigs. Similar such incidents take place where the pigs oppress the rest of the animals. Years pass, and the pigs learn to wear clothes, walk upright and carry whips. Napoleon is congratulated by all the human farmers around for having the largest produce on the smallest feed. He outlaws the practices of the Revolution of years ago and renames the farm – Manor Farm. The faces of the pigs begin changing and now they cannot be told apart from human faces. The Seven Commandments of Animals have been reduced to a single one – “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Do any of these incidents sound familiar?

I am pretty sure they do. Aren’t these incidents exactly what Rousseau commented upon in his reflections on the french revolution. When the monarch is over-thrown (Mr.Jones), the revolutionaries (Snowball and Napoleon) take over and profess freedom and liberty to all. Soon in the name of freedom the animals begin dying. Towards the end, the revolutionaries are no different from the original monarch they overthrew. I can’t help but relate this to More when she writes:

“To cut every man’s throat who does not think as I do, or hang him up at a lamp-post! – Pretend liberty of conscience, and then banish the parsons only for being conscientious! – Cry out liberty of the press, and hang up the first man who writes his mind! – Lose our poor laws! – Lose one’s wife perhaps upon every little tiff! – March without clothes, and fight without victuals! – No trade! – No bible! – No sabbath nor day of rest! – No safety, no comfort, no peace in this world – and no world to come!”

To conclude, there is no better piece of literature that resonates Rousseau words:

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”

  1. moshinsky permalink
    March 23, 2011 4:41 PM

    I loved this post. I agree with the author on the self repetitive cycle of revolutions and oppressive regimes. I think the issues argued here, concerning unjust, new governments is especially poignant considering the bevy of revolutions occurring in recent months. When I first heard of the unrest in the Arab world, I felt inspired. Here were thousand, millions of normal people standing up for their rights, and battling much stronger, unjust forces, and many of them were winning. Numerous theorists, Locke, Nietzsche and others all support people revolting when the government is not serving their best interest, but what happens when the new government is as bad or worse than the one overthrown? Gaddafi, who is now reviled by most of the world, was seen as a hero forty years ago when he himself overthrew King Idris. Nietzsche has a very cut and dry answer to this: continue to revolt. It is not going out on a limb to say, however, that it is incredibly hurtful for a country to be in a continuous state of revolution. Locke argues that if a government is not acting towards the benefit of its citizens then, it should be overthrown, and so he too agrees espouses the idea of revolution until satisfaction, through which an interesting question arises: At what point will the people be satisfied with a not wholly satisfactory government? How bad does a ruler have to be for it to be worth the risk and sacrifice to overthrow them?

  2. apnash permalink
    March 23, 2011 9:03 PM

    I have to disagree with the assertion of this post. I do not believe that a government equally bad or worse necessarily follows a revolution. As a matter of fact, we are living proof that it does not. The American Revolution was more of a war for independence, but an oppressive government was cast off and we now have a successful constitutional republic. I agree with More’s point that we cannot revolt “at every little tiff”, but I believe that the natural difficulty of organizing the citizenry to support revolution serves as a check on this becoming a reality. The problems raised about revolution do not lie in the revolution itself but in the events that follow. If afterward some powerful warlords seize power and instill a tyrannical government that serves only their own ends, the fault for the oppression falls on the warlords themselves, not the citizens who were fed up with the oppression of the former regime. All this being said, I don’t think that there is a reason that a revolution has to be violent, and I would find it difficult to support a violent overthrow of a government. But if like Gandhi did in India and the Egyptian people did only a short time ago, people organize to claim their rights to self-governance, the threat that a new and still unacceptable might take power is not enough to dissuade me that revolution is the right thing to do.

  3. vanesam permalink
    March 27, 2011 3:53 PM

    First off, I have to say that I love this post! I remember reading Animal Farm back in 9th grade and I always found it to be sad but blatantly true. The summary of the main events of the book are really helpful because they show how good intentions for a revolution can quickly turn into bad ones. I agree with the author that Rousseau’s famous “men in chains” quote can clearly be seen in the book and that in a way people are always in chains. For example, even if we do live with probably the most freedom of any people, there are still rules in place and breaking those rules does mean facing the consequences. However, Rousseau even said that there is a difference between a sovereign and a government, and in our case we have a sovereign system which aims to fulfill the general will of the people. In the case of Animal Farm, although the animals fought to basically get their freedom from the chains and to finally have a general will, they ended up with a government with a monarch who only focused on his own will. This also goes back to Rousseau’s argument that savage people were better and that once people started communicating and wanting to show off their worth, they became worse off.

  4. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    March 29, 2011 11:14 PM

    Err. I don’t think that Rousseau made any comments on the French Revolution, or reflected on the French Revolution for the simple fact that his works anteceded the Revolution.

    Perhaps you mean that the French Revolution took inspiration from Rousseau’s Social Contract in which he argued that for there to be liberty, the people, together should be able to engage in lawmaking, and subsequently be able to revise those rules on later occasions? What Rousseau does was that he proposed that humans were free in a State of Nature, but the civilization (and its progression) has has resulted in societal and economic inequities, as well as put one man dependent on another. Still, I think that there needs to be a distinction here. After all, Rousseau was not arguing for a reversion to the State of Nature, rather, Rousseau proposed that politics can help restore that semblance of order. This is done when one submits one’s individual will to the collective will that has been established through discussion and agreements with others. Hence, the French Revolution, with its slogans of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ was a protest against the ancien regime and an absolut monarchy. They took inspiration from Rousseau because, Rousseau, like Locke, argued that men are naturally created as equals, hence, no one has a natural right to govern another. As such, the French Revolution sought to establish a society in which a justified authority was one that emerged out of a consensus.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: