V For Victory
The movie, "V For Vendetta", is causing quite a stir among libertarians. Reviews and commentaries are popping up all over the place - mostly to praise the fact that such a movie about ideas was even made at all. Better still, a movie about the ideas that libertarians care about.
It's also causing a stir amongst freedom's enemies - as it's not often they have to confront a popular film that has the potential and capacity to change the minds of those exposed to it. Or at the very least, to cause people to question their presently held assumptions.
"V For Vendetta" is such a film.
I'm not going to disclose the plot or review the movie here, save to say that it's about a guy who, having suffered terribly at the hands of the state, decides to take revenge on the perpetrators in a rather spectacular way. And more importantly to use his "vendetta" as a catalyst for something even more significant.
What I'm more interested in doing is outlining and exploring the major theme of the film - and how it applies to our present day situation.
There's no doubt that V is an avenging hero - someone on a moral crusade to rid the world of scum. But it does raise important questions about what means are acceptable in the drive to achieve certain ends.
Some detractors have attempted to portray the film as a mindless glorification of terrorism, and are clearly upset by the moral premises the film explores. And I'm not surprised - as serious questioning of the idea of terrorism is something our dear leaders would rather we didn't get into.
However, if terrorism is defined as wanton acts of violence against innocent people - as a strategy for seeking to achieve certain political ends - then V's actions are not those of a terrorist. Firstly, because he does not target innocent people, and secondly because he is not fighting FOR some political cause, but AGAINST the political status quo - the evil system he lives under.
V himself sees his actions as the application of justice - and that those he targets (in a most violent and bloody way) are simply getting their just desserts. He uses force as defence against the initiation of force - and sees himself as totally morally justified.
But this does bring up the question as to what is a rightful response to the initiation of force. For libertarians this is not a problem, as we see the initiation of force as evil, while any use of force to defend oneself against such initiation as morally right. Libertarians are not pacifists.
However, V's strategy is not to use such force to overthrow the corrupt system directly - but to use spectacular, symbolic acts of force to act as a catalyst for raising the awareness of the masses, so they realise they have the power to simply say "no".
This puts V's strategy into an interesting category. He is not a freedom fighter who is out to replace the bad guys with his own "gang" by all violent means possible. His vendetta is not the equivalent of a violent political revolution, which only ends up replacing the existing violent order with another one - like most such examples in history.
No, his violence is extremely targeted. He targets those who were personally responsible for his own tortuous incarceration, and targets the political symbols of their power - like the final denouement involving the Houses of Parliament.
Then again, V is not a pacifist. He is not like Ghandi who did not believe in using violence to overthrow violent oppression. Ghandi was a pacifist and believed in the power of non-violent action. And there is an element of truth in Ghandi's position, in that if the masses really do rise up peacefully against their masters, then short of destroying total populations, such a strategy could work.
There is a risk here of course, and that's the assumption that no one is so evil as to wipe out an entire population who has the gall to rise up in opposition. History does not give us such assurances, and pacifists could be accused of having too-rosy an image of human nature - at least the nature of some of humanity's worst examples!
What V does is use violence as a wake-up call, a trigger to mobilise the masses. Unlike a typical pacifist or violent revolutionary he understands the power of symbols. He understands the power of the media. He understands the power of ideas. And he understands the archilles heel of those in power - their reliance on the sheep-like behaviour of their subjects.
So V is the archetypal "thinking man's" revolutionary. He is well read. He loves books and music and all things cultural. He has a passion for his cause - a passion borne in the crucible of personal pain. He is a totalitarian's worst nightmare.
Ultimately, his goal is to make the forlorn citizens of this "future" fascist state wake up and realise their innate power, and in so doing confront those in government with their actual powerlessness.
As V states in the film, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
In a way, that statement encapsulates the theme of the film and the underlying ideas that drive it.
And this is what makes the movie so interesting. It presents as its theme the idea that we, the people, should NOT be afraid of our government. That to do so is to invert the reality of the situation. The fact is, they should be very afraid of US.
That's a far cry from reality of course. Government in the modern world is intimidating and ruthless. Yes, they smile and kiss babies while seeking election. But once in the seat of power, they willingly tread over all your rights. They bully and cajole. They frighten and intimidate. They blackmail and punish.
The smiling face can quickly turn into an Orwellian Big Brother grimace, complete with the totalitarian tools of violence and oppression - if you step over the line.
And "stepping over the line" is becoming easier and easier to do.
Are you doing drugs? Are you trying to sell drugs on the side to make money? Are you selling your body for sexual favours? Are you building an addition to your home without permission? Are you doing "cash" business to avoid tax? Are you driving faster than permitted? Are you using inside information to financially benefit yourself? Are you trying to defend yourself against potential muggers and intruders by having a firearm? Are you seeking to end your life because you are terminally ill? Are you seeking to leave your country - or enter another? Are you hiding money in offshore bank accounts to avoid taxation or litigation? Are you trying to protect YOUR property? Are trying to avoid conscription? Are you trying to keep the money that is rightfully yours, and stop it being used for things you find morally reprehensible?
Welcome to the club! Welcome to the world of the "outlaw" - the world of all those who are made such by the ever-widening definition of "crime". Yes, we're all outlaws now!
What keeps governments in power is the facade they present to the public. They talk "service" and act "oppressive". They can make a example of anyone who tries to stand up to them - and inculcate fear into the heart of anyone else considering doing likewise.
This is where the movie "V For Vendetta" provides a clarion call and inspiration. It shows the truth of the matter - in a way that only a work of art can. It presents us with truths that evade us when simply stated in words. But when presented using the art of cinema - a gripping story line, a raising of emotions, a building of tension, the release of relief - such truths take on a new meaning. They present themselves in ways that can seep into one's consciousness and take hold.
That is the power of a movie like "V". Not only can it cause those who don't normally think about such things to go home pondering life's bigger questions, but it can cause those who espouse freedom to go home and think about how they can really achieve it.
"V For Vendetta" is also "V For Victory" - for that is what it is. It is the story of one man's victory over a vicious, inhuman system - and even more significantly, a victory that's ultimately shared by everyone.
The essential and hopeful message of the film is that if one man, with the courage of his convictions (and a vast range of martial skills!), can bring a totalitarian system to its knees - then imagine what the masses could achieve if only they had that same passion, those same ideas, and that same conviction - and the courage to stand up for what they believed in.
V's vendetta is inspiring stuff - the sort of thing to get a freedom loving individual standing up and cheering. There is nothing quite so sweet as to see a political thug finally brought to a place where he is a whimpering mess begging for mercy!
If you like a good story. If you like movies that make you think. If you like movies where good triumphs over evil. And more importantly, if you love movies that champion the cause of freedom in fresh and innovative ways - then I thoroughly recommend you get yourself down to your local cinema pronto - and see this movie for yourself.
It will inspire you to stand up and be counted.
Yours in freedom