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Reading the Classics: Who’s Running this Farm?

This month’s classic falls at a perfect time…election time! Not that my reading of Animal Farm in any way made me feel as if Lawrence is being controlled by tyrants or anything. But election time does always make me focus a bit on the electoral/political process. Election Day makes me thankful for the freedom we have as Americans and the rights we have, electing our leaders among those rights. Yet, even while reminding us how good we have it, a reading of Animal Farm can certainly serve as a cautionary tale of how bad it could be to live under a truly tyrannical regime. The story is an obvious satire of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath…Marx, Stalin, Trotsky, all of that. George Orwell did not even attempt to veil his critique of Stalinism, having virtually one-to-one correlations between his characters and their respective historical counterparts.

But I’m not writing a book report here…as much as I LOVE that kind of blogging! And I could definitely write for hours on my feelings about Animal Farm and all of its political satire. But I think what struck a chord in me most was the way in which Orwell used his “Fairy Story” both as a critique of the Russian Revolution and a caveat for the risk of elected leaders taking control of societies founded on principles of equality.  Sure, on the surface Animal Farm is the satirical allegory of the Fall of Tsar Nicholas II and the Marxist Revolution that led not to government by the people as it was intended but to tyrannical Stalinism. Yet Orwell’s decision to use farm animals in place of humans lends a generic quality to the warnings. Warnings that, yes, this is about Russia…But what if it was an English countryside farm where all of this took place? Could this sort of thing happen anywhere? Could it happen in America? Are we blindly following our leaders? Could we even make them listen to us if we wanted to? Is our memory too short to see that while two pigs were responsible for the overthrow of farmer Jones, only one pig is now in control of the farm…and the other pig is the bogeyman that gets blamed for all things negative? Are we too unable to read the Seven Basic Principles painted on the side of the shed? Have a couple of those principles been changed slightly over time without our noticing? Sure we’re still electing our leaders on the farm, but why are pigs the only ones allowed to run for office? What about me, the hardworking cart-horse? Why can’t I run for office? Well, we’re told in Animal Farm that the pigs are better organizers of government and labor. That’s why pigs govern. Besides, if the hardworking cart-horse was elected to office, who would pull the cart? The pigs? Surely the intelligence of pigs would be wasted on THAT kind of work! And worse yet, the pigs have the dogs on their side so you’d better just pull the cart like you’re told!

Now it’s not that I completely distrust my State and Federal leaders…well, some more than others…but the point I get from Animal Farm is this: Whether you trust your leaders or not, it is always best to remain vigilant. Whether you are capitalist or communist, it is always best to keep your eyes open for freedoms being altered in the name of the State. And mostly, Tyranny doesn’t happen only to other countries. It happens to those countries that aren’t paying attention!

-Dan Winsky, Acquisitions

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