October 8, 2014 – I was recently asked to choose some of my favorite films with libertarian messages. Below is a (by no means definitive) list of ten films that provides rich insight into the heart and soul of libertarianism. The criteria? Simply a film containing a libertarian lesson to be learned, whether intended by the filmmakers or not.
Office Space (1999).
Office Space acknowledges the desire of most Americans to be free from the often miserable drudgery of their working lives. Office Space offers a critique of corporate culture and trickle-down conformity, revolving around the emancipation-of-sorts of Peter, an office drone who leaves behind the things that crush his imagination and capacity for happiness. Added bonus: Office Space is especially cathartic for anyone who has ever wanted to take a ball-bat to an office printer. Though this violates the libertarian Nonaggression Axiom, it still represents a freedom of-sorts. Either way, as the mullet-sporting Lawrence might say: “F*ckin’-A.”
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
The reason for this inclusion is simple: equal freedom and justice for all — the heart, soul, and head of libertarianism.
Star Wars (1977).
A rag-tag group of “rebel” freedom-fighters voluntarily join together to fight the evil “empire” – The State. Good (freedom) versus evil (force — The State). Good wins. “The Force” is not force at all, but rather voluntary, cooperative action directed toward the ends of freedom, peace, and prosperity. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” is right here, right now. Time to “restore freedom to the galaxy…”
Director Alexander Payne’s dark comedy skewers American culture and politics. The story centers on a high school election for student body president, and touches on the soul-stifling conformity of compulsory education, bureaucracy, and suburbia. Mathew Broderick plays an uninspired and restless civics teacher overseeing the election, giving a wink to the possible decades-on fate of his once-youthful and innovative character Ferris Bueller. And Jessica Campbell’s Tammy summons a libertarian message, delivering an honest mockery of the proceedings to a packed gymnasium. She might as well be addressing the current political class in DC.
A Bug’s Life (1998).
This from Pixar, is a spin on Aesop’s Fable – The Ant and the Grasshopper. A Bug’s Life stands as a cautionary tale against the evils of socialism. The productive ants work hard all year, storing for winter. The grasshoppers produce nothing, then come to forcibly confiscate the fruits of the ants’ labor. Many Americans have increasingly learned to do likewise through the voting booth. Our politicians have been doing it far longer. Watch the clip. See the grasshoppers as the parasitic politicians, and the ants as the American taxpayers. This is what your politicians on both sides of the aisle truly think of you: “Those puny little ants outnumber us 100 to 1, and if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life!”
Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb (1964).
Libertarian in that it illustrates the absurdity of men scheming to kill men. Stanley Kubrick at his best. A satire of power, the Cold War, the existential madness of the burgeoning military-industrial complex, and nuclear annihilation. America’s “leaders” ironically sum their own absurdity: “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room.” Also, Slim Pickens rides a nuclear bomb like Seabiscuit.
V for Vendetta (2005).
This film, released in the midst of W’s military adventures and assaults on civil liberties, offers a blistering critique of The State. Under Obama, it’s urgency has grown. V is speaking directly to you, right here, right now: “…there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? …if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense…” It must be noted though, that the anarchic V’s acts of “terror” are not in accordance with the libertarian Nonaggression Axiom. And, many libertarians look far more favorably on secession and independence than revolution, which historically replaces tyranny with more tyranny.
At first glance, this may seem an odd inclusion. But the pulse of the film can be found in the libertarian-analysis-fueled monologue of Donald Sutherland’s character X: “The organizing principle of any society, Mr. Garrison, is for war. The authority of the state over its people resides in its war powers.” Director Oliver Stone raised more questions than answers. But Stone planted a very serious seed of doubt concerning the truly unbelievable conventional narrative of JFK’s assassination, and worked to unmask the reality of The State in the process. Maybe Stone should next set his sights on the Federal Reserve.
The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976).
The timeless wisdom of Clint Eastwood’s Josie Wales: “Governments don’t live together. People live together. Governments don’t give you a fair word or a fair fight. I’ve come here to give you either one. Or get either one from you… I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another…”
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
Considered by many to be the greatest anti-war film of all time, which makes it one of the greatest libertarian films of all time. Offers a sobering critique of warfare-state nationalism and institutionalized propaganda. The WW1 era teacher implores his students: “Sweet and fitting it is to die for the fatherland.” Lew Ayres’ Paul comes back from the front, confronting his former teacher with a heart-wrenching argument to the contrary.
What do you think of the libertarian merits of these 10 films? Feel free to comment and let me know what films I missed.