A Critical Analysis Of Totalitarian Governments History Essay
On September 12, 2009, more than seventy thousand protesters - the largest in recent times-marched toward the US State Capitol to demonstrate against the actions of their government. As the current government increased its size and scope, numerous US citizens have been disenfranchised. The changes the current administration has brought to health care policy, environmental policy, and foreign policy has left many US citizens feeling betrayed. The novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and the movie V for Vendetta demonstrate the dangers of bureaucratic leadership bodies, as they abuse language to their advantage, betray the loyalty entrusted to them, and eventually shift toward totalitarianism.
Just like the dictator from V for Vendetta, the Party in control of the government in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four did not want to relinquish control of or loosen their grip on the nation. They secured their power by controlling the thoughts of the populous and reality itself. (This story takes place in a country called Oceania, which covers what is modern-day Britain and the Americas.) The government of Oceania was divided into four ministries: the Ministry of Peace, which was responsible for the never-ending wars Oceania was engaged in; the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for the meagre food and supply rations; the Ministry of Love, which maintained records, spied on citizens, and tortured rebels; and the Ministry of Truth, which was responsible for ensuring the accuracy of all the statements of the government through any means necessary. The names of these four ministries and their actions could not have been more opposed. The citizens of Oceania could reconcile these blatant contradictions since they all actively practiced doublethink: the act holding two seemingly conflicting ideas in mind and accepting both of them subconsciously. The Ministry of Truth would forge the historical records so that the one-party state was never lying. The main character in this book, Winston Smith, was an editor at the Ministry of Truth. He would edit and alter documents and images to remove all mention of people would were executed by the Ministry of Love:
"People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word." (Orwell, NE, 40)
Contrary to their name, the Ministry of Plenty was always reducing the food rations. However, they would also boast that production and the rations were increasing. Part of Winston Smith's duties involved changing past food ration records to conform to the claims of the Ministry of Plenty:
"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record." (Orwell, NE, 45)
The last measure the government took to control thought was Newspeak: a new, English-based language with less words that would make "unorthodox" thoughts impossible. They believed in the principle of linguistic relativity, which states that the actions and thoughts of a person are a result of the depth of their language. Accordingly, thoughts could be limited since Newspeak, as Winston Smith described it, was "the only language in the world whose vocabulary [got] smaller every year".
In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the dominant species also used lies and propaganda to secure their power. Squealer was the pig who served as the public relations person for Napoleon, the dictator of Animal Farm. Squealer used several techniques to persuade all the other animals. For example, he would take the Seven Commandments, the de-facto constitution of Animal Farm, and distort any connections the animals made between the actions of the pigs and the commandments. For example, when the pigs started trading with humans, the animals show vacillation. Squealer then simply states that there was no explicit commandment prohibiting trade with humans; he omits the fact that Major, the founding father of Animal Farm, unambiguously advised them not to have any relationships with humans. Squealer also used explanations that seemed scientific to convince the other animals. For instance, when the animals inquire why the pigs got all the milk and apples, Squealer simply states that the pigs need the milk and apples for their health. Unfortunately for Squealer, these two methods would not always work. For those situations, he would present one pair of options: obey the pigs or else the Man will come back. Just like most of his speech, this was a lie as well. Squealer was also similar to Winston Smith from Nineteen Eighty-Four, since Squealer also edited records. The Seven Commandments were displayed in the public for everyone to see. When the actions of the pigs and the commandments were in disagreement, Squealer would simply add a few words to the end of the troublesome commandment. For instance, the fourth commandment originally stated that "No animal should sleep in a bed." Squealer added "with sheets" to the commandment. Using propaganda, Napoleon and his cronies ensured their power (Bloom, 1987).
Even though Squealer was able to convince and persuade the animals, there was still a sense of uneasiness among them (Gale Cengage, 1998). Near the end of the story, Boxer, the hardest working animal on the farm, was terribly sick, and all the animals wanted to help him, including Napoleon and the other pigs. Accordingly, Napoleon arranged for a veterinary hospital to treat him. When the van was leaving for the hospital, one of the animals noticed that the van was labelled "glue factory." The animals began to shout and tried telling Boxer to escape. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, Boxer did not come back alive from the hospital, or even come back. This event was by far the most saddening for the animals (Bloom, 1987). More importantly, none of the animals were able to express their feelings about this incident. Napoleon used to routinely carry out public executions of various animals that had allegedly committed treason. While the animals never publicly commented on the killings, they did not wholeheartedly agree with them:
"Some of the animals remembered--or thought they remembered--that the Sixth Commandment decreed 'No animal shall kill any other animal.' And though no one cared to mention it in the hearing of the pigs or the dogs, it was felt that the killings which had taken place did not square with this." (Orwell, AF, 60)
Another way Napoleon and his cronies removed any potential revolt was by removing the middle class:
"Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer- except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs." (Orwell, AF, 88)
By maintaining a large disparity between the upper and lower echelons of animal society, Napoleon could easily prevent any uprising, should it occur (Bloom, 1987). When Napoleon demanded the hens to surrender their eggs to him to sell, the hens refused and withheld their eggs. They protested against this action. The hens were so determined to prevent Napoleon from taking their eggs, that they would lay their eggs from a high point so that the eggs would be destroyed. In retaliation, Napoleon withheld their food rations, and eventually nine of the hens died of starvation. In both of these cases, the animals wanted to oppose the actions of the governing establishment, but they were not able to do so. In effect, all opposition was removed.
In V for Vendetta, Chancellor Sulter's government also took measures to remove all resistance. In the story, V sends thousands of British citizens Guy Fawkes masks and capes, so that they can join him in his revolution. Naturally, the costume became very popular. Sulter's government wanted to curb its popularity, so they began to arrest anyone caught with the costume. In fact, "arrests [were] as high as they've ever been" (McTeigue, 2005). They spared no one, as even a little girl who tried resisting her arrest was shot. Any attempt to disrupt the current established was swiftly removed.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother also took measures to eliminate any rebellious movements. One of the ways they could do this successfully was by monitoring each and every person in Oceania. The ubiquitous telescreens were able to monitor and communicate with any citizen at any given moment:
"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face...; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..." (Orwell, NE, 80)
Furthermore, it was normal for the secret police to comb through residences. One of the ways the thought police was able to find Winston Smith's impure thoughts was through his journal. As with all the other rebels before him, Winston Smith was eventually executed. Afterwards, the Ministry of Truth would remove all mention of him - in effect they would be removing all mention of his resistance (Reilly, 1989). Since most citizens did not know about the multitude of uprising movements that had occurred in the past, it became virtually impossible for them to fathom one (Rai, 1990). Thus, not only did Big Brother remove all opposition, they also reduced the possibility of one to nil.
After Big Brother established control and removed the likelihood of a revolution, they had secured absolute authority over the population of Oceania. Since the thought police and the telescreens were able to collect information on everyone, the Ministry of Love was also able to customize torture techniques for each person. Room 101 was a torture chamber that the Ministry of Love, that would use the person's greatest phobia and fear against them. For Winston Smith, they used rats. Another way they exerted their power was by eliminating emotion (Reilly, 1989). It was not possible to love anyone except Big Brother. Moreover, it was not possible to marry for love, as marriages of this sort would not have been approved:
"All marriages between Party members had to be approved by a committee appointed for the purpose and though the principle was never clearly stated-permission was always refused if the couple gave the impression of being physically attracted to each other" (Orwell, NE, 57)
Without any sense of love or companionship, it became impossible to trust:
"No one dares trust a wife of child or a friend any longer." (Orwell, NE, 170)
Even intimacy was frowned upon by Big Brother:
"Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema." (Orwell, NE, 76)
Through these means, Big Brother kept their hold on power with no restraint (Reilly, 1989).
The governing Norsefire party used similar measures to strengthen their control on Britain. The government used to actively enforce a mandatory curfew for all citizens (McTeigue, 2005). This, along with other measures, greatly reduced the amount of freedom the citizens of Britain had. Given that personal freedom and government control are polar opposites, the Norsefire party had secured their power by simply removing free will from their citizens. More importantly, as part of a single-party democracy, it was virtually impossible for another political group to take power. As such, governmental power rested solely in the ranks of the Norsefire party.
In Animal Farm, authority rested exclusively with Napoleon. At regular intervals, he would try and execute animals for treason. Even though many of the animals did not agree with the killings and believe that the accused were guilty, Napoleon could carry them out without any reservations whatsoever. At the start of the revolution against Man, all the animals were guaranteed a retirement. The only animal that approached retirement was Boxer. Near the end of his life, he was sold to a glue factory. The fact that this was not a popular action among the animals did not bother Napoleon even the slightest; he simply did as he pleased. Squealer was able to modify the constitution of Animal Farm on numerous occasions throughout the story because absolute authority rested not with the animals of Animal Farm, but instead with Napoleon (Gale Cengage, 1998). Given the above incidents, it is reasonable to assume that Napoleon did have absolute power over Animal Farm.
Therefore, bureaucratic leadership bodies establish control through propaganda, remove all opposition through draconian measures, and then secure absolute authority. Even though these stories do not seem to be applicable to us, there are numerous lessons that can be derived from each of these stories. For example, there is growing apathy among voters. This is evident in the turnout of the last federal election, which was at an all-time low. In Animal Farm, there were many times where the animals felt troubled. However, none of the animals were able to take action or voice their opinions and bring positive change. The main reason why they were not able to do so is because they were functionally illiterate and inarticulate. This shows us the importance of functional literacy. Additionally, the animals were not competent in discerning between rhetoric, fallacies, and truth. This was the main reason why the animals were not able to bring about change (Bloom, 1987). This is just one example of a lesson that can be derived from just one of the stories studied in this essay and many, many more lessons
George Orwell (Bloom's Modern Critical Views). Library Binding ed. United States of America: Chelsea House Publications, 1987. Print.
This source provided a critical analysis and comparison of Animal Farm and the rise of the Soviet Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was extremely useful.
Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels (Novels for Students). New York: Gale Cengage, 1998. Print.
This source aided in examining the fragile relationship between the upper and lower classes in Animal Farm. It was semi-beneficial.
Rai, Alok. Orwell and the Politics of Despair: A critical study of the writings of George Orwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print.
This source provided a critital analysis of the elements of despair within both of the Orwell novels studied. It was exceedingly valuable.
Reilly, Patrick. Nineteen Eight-Four: Past, Present, and Future (Twayne's Masterwork Studies). new york, new york: Twayne Publishers, 1989. Print.
This source provided a comparison of Nineteen Eighty-Four and various political time periods. It proved to be mildly effective.
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