Home/Daniel Larison/Why Do Libertarians Love Vendetta?

Why Do Libertarians Love Vendetta?

The right wing hates this movie, and it isn’t hard to see why: it explodes all their pretensions about being the party of “freedom,” and it pretty clearly parallels the hypocritical cant of the War Party as it pretends to battle “terrorism” while engaging in a campaign of state terrorism that far surpasses anything a small band of amateurs could possibly hope to dish out. They must find particularly galling a subplot in which evidence emerges that a deadly series of biowarfare attacks attributed to “religious fanatics” (and we don’t mean George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell) turn out to be the work of a sinister cabal inside the government – the perfect excuse for a crackdown. All of this – economic collapse, political turmoil, the dictatorship of “the Party” – is clearly identified in the film as the product of a series of wars, stretching from Iraq to Syria to Iran and beyond. I was particularly intrigued by references to “the former United States of America,” and hints of a future history in which imperialism has drained the once mighty U.S. until it is a pitiful husk of its former self, crippled by economic dislocation and embroiled in civil war. ~Justin Raimondo

It might seem that I tend to pick on libertarians a lot, especially in the last few months, but I would like to think that I give them the benefit of the doubt and don’t go out of my way to find fault with them until they make arguments that are just impossible to take. But the libertarian enthusiasm for V for Vendetta, one of the weaker “graphic novel”-based movies of recent years(perhaps only Daredevil surpasses it in stupidity) and one of the worse movies of the year, is really too much.

It is not a big surprise to me that many libertarians have taken to a movie that takes note of a number of their cultural shibboleths and redacts a Catholic soldier (not exactly a libertarian icon) as an anarchist revolutionary archetype, but what I suppose does surprise me is how they have taken the negative reaction of Christians to the movie as proof of enduring “red state fascism.” It also surprises me that Mr. Raimondo would elect to describe opposition to this movie as coming from “the right wing,” when it is his stated purpose to make out these “right wingers” into statist cheerleaders and therefore all together left-wing. When Mr. Raimondo chooses to anoint this substandard film as a sign of cultural resistance to the regime, we can see that his standards for what passes for culture are apparently not especially high.

If V for Vendetta is a cultural symbol, as I suppose it could be, it is that of the paranoid and hysterical left that fears, a la Kevin Phillips and Damon Linker, incipient theocracy and concentration camps for homosexuals. Ultimately, the message of Vendetta is as vacuous as the program of the nihilist Bazarov in Fathers and Sons: it is not our task to worry about what will be built later, but only to destroy what exists! So let me blow up Parliament, and apres moi, le deluge. If Vendetta is supposed to be the “anarchist” and libertarian cinematic symbol, libertarians should not be surprised when few Christians (or real conservatives) find anything libertarians have to say very compelling. If we can bestow the name “culture” on this travesty of film, it is a cultural symbol that announces loud and clear that libertarians have an inherently very dim view of Christian conservatives and assume that the latter are just waiting for the chance to send them and everyone they know to the equivalent of Guantanamo (or worse). If this is true for some today, and if it is it is usually not because of their Christianity (not that the movie would be able to make that distinction, so flat and superficial is it), it is also unjust to a great many others, quite a few of whom usually regard libertarians as generally being on the right side of a great many political questions.

Incidentally, contrary to all of the amazed movie reviewers who find it striking that such a strongly “dissident” movie could be made in the Bush Era (perhaps because Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, Capote and Brokeback Mountain were obviously the products of studios deeply concerned with adhering to a Bush party line?), it might be argued that channeling hostility to the regime into such a tepid piece of junk as V for Vendetta serves to distract its viewers and, through its foreign and futuristic, dystopian setting, even to reconfirm in the minds of loyal supporters of the administration that “it could never happen here.” Maybe, maybe not, but the fact that this movie has been a box office success does nothing so much as to convince me that the public is preoccupied with entertaining itself and not with holding its own government accountable–and I have little expectation that viewers of this film will be inspired to become more critical of their own government, as they will come away thinking of all the ways in which their government is unlike the heinous and all together implausible Sutler regime. (Admittedly, there were some knee-jerk reactions in defense of all the evils of the Bush administration in some reviews of this movie, as there was enough resemblance between Mr. Bush’s policies and those of Sutler in some respects that it must have made the reflexive Bush supporter uncomfortable in the extreme, but if there is any danger on Mr. Bush’s watch it is not that the Qur’an will be banned but that it will be treated as a wholly benevolent religious scripture that has nothing to do with any actual Islamic terrorists.)

The intent of identifying the Sutler government with Bush (“a very religious man from the Conservative Party” is the description of Sutler we are given) was apparent, but what comes across is not the irony that Sutler, like Bush, governs in ways that are in manifest contradiction to the requirements of his faith and conservatism, but that the writers are telling us that everything Sutler, like Bush, does can be attributed to that background. The none-too-subtle cruciform flag of the movie’s fascist regime drives the point home even for those apologetic libertarians who want to ignore the anti-Christian bigotry. The libertarian argument that “real” Christians and “real” conservatives would not act in this way is all very well and good, but what the movie says is that this is exactly how Christians and conservatives can be expected to act, because this is exactly what the Brothers Wachowski think of these sorts of people.

For some American viewers of this sorry film, there is apparently the experience of some anti-imperialist Schadenfreude at the prospect in the movie of a post-imperial breakdown of America in the near future, to which there are all of three references in the movie (two of which, I might add, could just as easily be considered planted stories aimed at shoring up the Sutler regime), which might serve as a cautionary warning about our present predicament but hardly seems to warrant the veritable glee with which some reviewers have greeted the idea of future American disarray and collapse. Bad enough for conservative and libertarian critics of the government that we are constantly denounced as anti-American without actually lending any credibility to the accusations.

As I said when the first libertarian responses to the movie were coming out, it may be little wonder that a lot of ordinary Christians take libertarian apologies and hosannas for anti-Christian films, such as this one, as insults and consequently come to identify libertarians as foes when it comes to all sorts of political and cultural questions. If ordinary Christians associate those who make radical critiques of the state with slanderous or inane attacks on Christians, which this movie does both implicitly and explicitly, it should not come as a surprise if they keep their distance from advocates of anti-state views. If libertarians want fewer “red state fascists,” they might start by not pushing Christians into the “red state fascist” camp by tacitly or explcitly arguing that the Christians naturally belong with the fascists in the first place. That is what V for Vendetta implausibly argues, and that is what libertarians who heartily endorse that movie are supporting.

To draw an historical analogy, when I read libertarians endorsing things like V for Vendetta and then elsewhere expressing shock that Christians tend not to see things their way, I am reminded of a certain political blindness that liberal historians of European liberalism possess when they are constantly shocked and bewildered at the demise of liberalism in Europe after the liberals did their very best to summon up mass movements of hostile Catholics and workers against them through deliberately hostile and repressive policies. As my reading of Michael Burleigh’s new and excellent history, Earthly Powers, has reminded me, liberalism in the 19th century (those happy halcyon days of the “classical liberalism” that all together too many “conservatives” and libertarians think was rather wonderful) was characterised in no small part by anticlericalism and very often a virtually monomaniacal fear and hatred not only of Catholicism, their main political foe, but also of Christianity generally, established or otherwise. This invoked a fairly maniacal fear and hatred of liberalism and any who might be associated with it, and the unhappy results of this clash are known to all.

This is not, pace Kuehnelt-Leddihn (who was trying to reconcile his positions as a Catholic and as an Austrian liberal), some bizarre accident of history that all “real” liberals rejected, but something fundamental to a liberalism nourished on the myths of 1789 and 1848 and the anti-Christian elements of Enlightenment criticism. How appropriate that this sort of hostility should be reprised in a film that revises a fairly fanatical Catholic into a symbol for an anti-establishment revolution against a regime unmistakably identified with Christianity. If Guy Fawkes had a modern-day spokesman, he ought to sue to get the rights to Fawkes’ face, lest the poor man be forever associated with the idiocy that is V for Vendetta. Bad enough that he has been made a symbol of treason and mockery, but now he has to endure being a symbol of infidelity as well.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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