Discuss the relevance of Animal Farm in the 21st century.

Animal Farm is relevant in the 21st century because George Orwell provides insights into the corrupting influence of power and the dangers of disseminating misinformation through propaganda. The allegorical novel helps readers understand the importance of checks and balances in government and the importance of freedom of speech and a free press.

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Animal Farm is eerily relevant to the twenty-first century. In this moral fable, Orwell shows that ordinary citizens in any nation-state need to be ever vigilant to make sure that an authoritarian leader does not seize control of their government. Orwell aimed his work at critiquing the totalitarian dictatorships of Nazi Germany and especially Stalinist Russia, but his ideas can be universally applied to any authoritarian regime.

Orwell shows that Napoleon and his small, elite cadre of fellow pigs, along with the dogs (who represents the use of violence to protect elite privilege) have employed two main methods to consolidate and maintain power. One, as mentioned above, is establishing a police state to quell dissent. The second and possibly even more dangerous weapon the pigs use is propaganda. Propaganda involves twisting the truth or using outright lies to promote your own group's advantage. With Squealer as his spokesperson or spokespig, Napoleon twists the truth to be self serving. For instance, at the same time that he is oppressing the other animals in a way that is worse than Farmer Jones ever did, he is telling them their lives are getting better and they are privileged to be living on Animal Farm. Whenever anything goes wrong, Napoleon blames it on others, usually Snowball, never taking responsibility for his actions.

Unfortunately, today's twenty-first century world has been characterized by the rise of unethical strongmen not dissimilar from Napoleon. In countries such as Russia, Hungary, and perhaps other nations, authoritarianism twists truth and oppresses the average person. Further, the rise of social media and the ability to quickly spread lies and distortions allows propaganda to be amplified and become dangerous.

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In the nineteenth century, Britain’s Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The reality of this quote is proven in Animal Farm. Almost eight decades after its publication, Animal Farm remains relevant primarily because George Orwell demonstrates through his animal characters that power has a corrupting influence. Although the character Napoleon was always power hungry, he needs assistance to achieve his goal of despotic rule. The clever manipulation of information is essential to his strategy. Snowball emerges as his key ally through the propaganda campaign he skillfully deploys.

The animals on the farm have lived in an autocratic society in which Farmer Jones controlled their actions. Although they achieve liberation from his tyranny, they lack training in self-governance. This void opens the door for power-hungry individuals to establish a new form of tyranny. The character of Napoleon succeeds in climbing to the position of despot in part because he understands how to manipulate public opinion and distort the truth. The government’s absolute control of information—a theme that Orwell would develop much further in 1984—is necessary for control over the subjects. The good intentions of Snowball, who was once the third member of the ruling triumvirate, prove inadequate enough to ensure that his grandiose plans come to fruition. Idealism, Orwell cautions, is not enough to make democracy succeed.

In the twenty-first century, there are many more forms of media than there were in the 1940s. Nevertheless, in some countries government still controls access to information, both through having only a state-controlled press and blocking access to social media.

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The revelance of Animal Farm in the 21st century is the lesson that it teaches regarding the nature of communism and socialism and how both systems do not work.  At the heart of the communist system is power, controlled by a few elite who dominate and control everyone else who is made dependent by the state's control of every aspect of human existence from basic survival, food, job, housing to the lifesaving necessity of medical care.

In a Communist or Socialist environment where there is central control, power, authoritarian power focused on controlling the lives of the individual, squashing individual freedom, making everyone the same in the name of "equality" or "justice."  When in fact this brings neither justice or equality.

There is no justice, no equality for members of the communist state only repression and misery, suffering and want.  The only equality that is rendered by Communism and Socialism or Fascism is to spread the misery, to everyone equally. Except those who hold the reins of power, the few, the elite, the dictators, the Stalins, the Hitlers, the Castros of the world.

The lesson is to avoid this type of government, it brings poverty, it brings misery, it brings suffering.  It does not create a utopia, such an existence cannot be, it never was and never will be.  Animal Farm is an example of how Communism and Socialism breed corruption, state sponsored corruption of a nature that is shockingly criminal, yet continues unabated.

While Napoleon and the other pigs, dogs and his new friends the humans, the animals who were part of Napoleon's class enjoyed life, spending money they did not earn, living in luxury.  While the working class animals, who broke their backs to produce the good that were sold to make Napoleon rich, starved, worked harder and harder and if they complained, they were systematically eliminated, executed.

Beware of government officials, leaders claiming to be able to provide utopia for all, it doesn't exist, it can't exist.

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Much of the message of "Animal Farm" is less relevant than it used to be now that communism is so much less important in the world.  However, there are some themes from the book that remain relevant.

  • The book looks at how people (especially in power) manipulate words for their own benefit.  We see the importance of this as we see governments and interest groups fight over which words will be used to describe various things (pro-choice or pro-abortion, for example).
  • The book looks at how some animals are denied their "human rights" because they are the wrong kind of animal.  This is important in many societies today where people face discrimination based on race, religion or some other factor.
  • Finally, the book looks at truth and the rewriting of history.  We do not see this in a systematic way in most countries, but we do definitely see cases where governments try to shape historical accounts to make themselves look good.
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