Orwell’s Oracle (3): Animalism

"The Cornell Farm" (oil on canvas) by Edward Hicks (1848).

“The Cornell Farm” (oil on canvas) by Edward Hicks (1848).

When the animals rebelled in Orwell’s Animal Farm, they promptly set up a system of government based on a political philosophy called “Animalism.” Among its Seven Commandments, the last and final commandment painted on the barn wall read: “All animals are equal.”

Orwell’s fable (subtitled “A Fairy Story”) has been read as a political satire of the Russian Revolution. In this view, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are surrogates for Stalin and Trotsky, and the indictments and slaughter of the animals accused of counterrevolutionary activities are an allegory of the Moscow Trials, etc.

In our smug self-sufficiency, we forget that parables, allegories and prophecies always refer not only to a particular set of historical events. When one reads the account of “the three hens who … now came forward and stated that Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon’s orders,” Animal Farm becomes Salem, Massachusetts, and is also a precursor of the U.S. Congress during the McCarthy era.

Parting from the disturbing premise that Animal Farm is a moral tale for us, I find several illuminating correlations:

First, we are ruled by a government of pigs and dogs. No surprise here; I find this to be a mere confirmation of a creeping suspicion which assaults me every day after taking in the morning’s news.

Second, I understand the economic development of the United States since the Ronald Reagan “Revolution:”

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer—except, of course, for the pigs and dogs.

Third, the fate of Boxer gives pause to all of us who have been grouped as Moochers of the 47 Percent. After a lifetime of work, dedication and fierce defense of Animal Farm in its two battles against humans, Boxer was sold off to a glue factory just before his superannuation, in exchange for money to buy a case of whisky for the pigs.

Lastly, a defining threshold is reached in Orwell’s fable when the Seven Commandments of Animalism are substituted by a single Commandment:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

A version of the flag of "Animal Farm." (Credit: Positiv / Wikimedia Commons)

A version of the flag of “Animal Farm.” (Credit: Positiv / Wikimedia Commons)

The animals are forbidden to address each other as “Comrade,” the white hoof and horn are removed from their green flag, and the name of the farm reverts to “The Manor Farm”—the name the property had under its human owners.

This is the moment—foreseen by Orwell—when Communist ideals are betrayed by those in power. After economic and social hierarchies are re-imposed in Animal Farm, Mr. Pilkington (leader of the neighboring farmers) toasts Napoleon: If you have your lower animals to contend with, we have our lower classes!”

This is also the threshold moment when Democracies become nascent Empires. In the last page, a boisterous quarrel breaks out between Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington. They had been playing cards, and they each had played “an ace of spades simultaneously.”

OG

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