Is the One State Practical?

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” is an iconic example of a dystopian society that is threatened by individuality.  The One State and its inhabitants were a supposed perfect population who had found happiness through conformity and rationality.  The citizens of the One State were kept under the watchful eye of the Benefactor as well as his secret police force, the Guardians.  In order to eliminate individuality, people were given numbers instead of names (D-503 and I-330), as well as a large sum of rules and regulations to abide by throughout their lives.  From dawn to dusk, and even into the night, the people of the One State were told when to wake, when to sleep, when to eat and when to take breaks.  Social interactions, even how to conduct one’s sex life, were all regulated by the Benefactor.  D-503 was the submissive One State citizen turned hesitant revolutionary and ultimately returned to mindless member of the One State, and although he was the main character of the novel, my interest lies in the Benefactor and his view of how society should function.

According to the Benefactor, the population before becoming the One State “wanted someone, anyone, to tell them once and for all what happiness [was].”  People wanted a paradise where there was no love, pity, or desire.  A society where everyone is healthy, works efficiently, and believes in the vision of the One State is required to make this a reality.  The ideology of the Benefactor is exceptionally clear and in my opinion would in theory work in a small scale system, however implementing a system like the One State on a large scale is impossible.  Love, pity, and desire are all fundamental pieces of human emotion that may be able to be controlled for a small few, however with a population as large as the One State, a system like that does not function.  When the quantity of people living together is that great, the same effect arises as did in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The proximity of people to one another encourages the spreading of ideas, which is exactly what occurred in Zamyatin’s “We”.  After reading the novel, I was left with the question: after seeing countries fail to achieve perfect communist systems, on what scale would a system like the One State be a practical solution to human unhappiness and individuality?

One thought on “Is the One State Practical?

  1. I would say that in a fictional universe containing the technological capability to restrict and control emotion, the One State holds the capability to rule indefinitely, barring a catastrophic and widespread shift in popular perceptions and outlooks. Seen in We, A Brave New World, and 1984, once a political power gains the strength to convince its full population that the norm is utter domination it is near impossible to overthrow. Despite the occasional voice of dissent, it requires a sizable portion of a population to affect a meaningful fundamental shift in the ruling ideology of a nation. The true impracticality of the One State lies not in its maintained rule but in its rise to power. The magnitude of the loss of life necessary to subject an entire population to willing slavery is almost impossible to imagine, and the idea of the “slippery slope” does not present a drastic enough slide to enable such severe and universally recognized loss of individuality.

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