If we fail to feel any anxiety for the manipulated left, then are we not just like my adolescent students who think that the animals of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” are just stupid? If we do not pity them, aren’t we a part of the proverbial problem?
Animal Farm is a work I have taught to high school underclassmen a number of times in the last decade. (I personally fell in love with the work when I was that age.) The level of symbolism in this allegory never ceases to amaze me, and every teaching of the book leads me to look for more allusions. A few years ago, I uncovered a new reference. After the pigs have ensconced themselves in the farmhouse, George Orwell says that Napoleon “took his meals alone, with two dogs to wait upon him, and always ate from the Crown Derby dinner service which had been in the glass cupboard in the drawing-room.” Being neither British nor a porcelain connoisseur, I did not know what “Crown Derby” meant. I had assumed it was merely a reference to horseracing-themed plates, and that Napoleon’s eating from the Crown Derby dishes was symbolic of Stalin’s living off the work of the proletariat—a class symbolized by the equines in Animal Farm. However, the capitalization of “Crown Derby” got the better of my curiosity one semester, so I decided to see if Crown Derby dinner service was a real thing.
It was and still is. “Established in 1750, Royal Crown Derby manufactures the world’s finest tableware in the heart of England.” Their work has not been limited to dishes either. Royal Crown Derby has crafted a variety of exquisitely decorated porcelain pieces, and—in the late 1800s—the company was appointed “Manufacturers of porcelain to Her Majesty.” One cannot help but see an allusion to the role that the famed Fabergé played for the ill-fated Romanovs. Still, one last nugget of symbolism remains. Royal Crown Derby is dedicated to making what is known as “fine bone china.” Bone china is exactly what it sounds like: porcelain made with animal bones. In eating from the Crown Derby dinner service, Napoleon’s exploitation of the animals could not be more complete or revolting—and neither could Stalin’s exploitation of the farmers and proletariat of Russia have been more complete and revolting. So much symbolism in one short phrase offers further testament to the allegorical power of this short book.
With all of this said in praise of the depth of Orwell’s allegory, it is also possible to “ignore” the symbolism and just read the story as a fairytale, throwing one’s heart and soul in with the horses, cows, chickens, and aloof donkey. At least, the temptation is always there for me to read the book with the heart of a child. After all, the work is subtitled “a fairy story.” My students, however, do not usually feel this temptation. When asked if they feel sorry for the animals, my students nearly always reply, “No! The animals are stupid.” Maybe I am too romantic. Maybe I am too sympathetic. Maybe too many of my students have been sons and daughters of farmers, and maybe farmer children possess too realistic a view of farm animals to anthropomorphize them and pity their fate.
Or maybe there is a deeper problem in the inability of these conservatively raised youth to pity the victims of Animal Farm. The year 2020 brought many cries of social injustice, and the cries are going nowhere. Much of it is doubtlessly stirred up by the radical left—by neo-Marxist leaders hell-bent on changing the world order. Giving them any pity is arguably foolish. However, not everyone on the left is hell-bent thusly. Rather, many are merely manipulated by the ever-radicalizing leftist leadership. Sadly, the right is full of those who lump all leftists into one camp, borrowing Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” mentality. We see this in the divisive rhetoric from sectors of the right—from people using unhelpful epithets like “libtards.” Of what benefit is it to lump all leftists together in such a pejorative manner?
Yes, the radical left is incredibly dangerous to society; I do not mean to diminish this threat to Western Civilization. However, as life would have it, injustice does exist in society, and as Western Civilization would have it, justice is a cardinal virtue. If those on the left want to talk about injustice, those on the right should be ready to engage in conversation and not just snarky criticism. In the spirit found here at The Imaginative Conservative, we ought to “approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility,” realizing that “part of our mission is to raise the tone of intellectual exchange and to persuade, not alienate, others.” Many members of the left—however mistaken they are in their ideas—believe that they take the right stance by fighting for leftist “justice.” These people are the Boxers and the Clovers of the rebellion: warm-hearted generous souls fighting for the wrong cause. If the radical left wins, their fate will be the same. If we fail to feel any anxiety for the manipulated left, then are we not just like my adolescent students who think that the animals of Animal Farm are just stupid? This is unacceptable. If we do not pity the animals of Animal Farm, if we do not reach out to the manipulated left, we are only part of the proverbial problem.
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The featured image is “Farm Scene With Horses, Pigs and Chickens” by John Frederick Herring, Sr. (1795–1865) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. It has been brightened for clarity.