The Man Behind the Mask

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Perhaps you will say that I am prone to hyperbole,
but I'll say it anyway. The film I have just watched is the most
important of our age. It is not the clearest explication of the
dangers of oppressive government, nor is it, as some critics would
hold, outrightly anarchist. I am told that the book on which it
is based is explicitly anarchist, however. It is, however, the only
libertarian themed movie I have seen after which a Texas audience
gave a standing ovation. This is a film that, unlike many more scholarly
or more directly anarchist films, stirs the emotions. At two points
in the movie, I myself felt tears well up in my eyes; I sat transfixed
after it was over. I asked myself "How is it that this film
was able to be made? How is the producer still alive? And, most
importantly, where is our masked man?" The film, of course,
is V for Vendetta.

I face a difficult dilemma. I most passionately want to adequately
review this movie, but cannot. The plot is so tightly woven and
the ideas so complex that to say anything specific about it seems
to be giving away too much. I urge you to immediately drop what
you are doing and see this movie. Now. If it is already playing
when you arrive, buy two tickets, one for the current showing and
for the next, and walk in, regardless of how far along the movie
is. It is that important. Nonetheless, I will attempt to explain
why this movie is so important.

Unlike many dystopian films, this one is about a world which
we can easily see evolving from our own, without much imagination.
If we still have trouble, the movie provides many helpful hints.
It is amazing to me that this novel was written at a time when 1998
lay in the future, although I do consider the possibility that it
was updated for the film adaptation. The hero is a libertarian,
who begins the movie by violently intervening as policemen prepare
to rape a young woman. We need films demonstrating that the proper
behavior towards policemen is the same as proper behavior towards
anyone else — that defense is not made immoral when the person to
be defended against carries a badge. This film does precisely that.
It forces the viewer to see government officials as people — people
engaged in horrifically immoral behavior. It is direct, it does
not allow for philosophical doubletalk about "evil organizations
composed only of good people." It compels us to notice that
those who do evil bare the blame for their actions, and should be
punished, no matter whose name they claim to do it in.

Importantly, the audience is constantly reminded that the hero
is no violent nut. His violence is targeted only against government
officials, and it is clear that he does not relish it. Rather, he
sees it as the only way to fight back against his tyrannical government.
When told that he should stop resisting because if caught he will
be punished, he declares "People should not fear their government;
governments should fear their people." What more can we ask
of a movie hero?

Just this — that he give hope to a world desperately in need
of it. I speak not of the dystopian Britain of the movie — I speak
of our world. We are in need of a non-compromising advocate of freedom,
one who acts instead of just talking. But not a mindless brute —
remarkably, this hero, in addition to being an accomplished fighter,
is also an accomplished scholar. As he kills, he recites classic
poetry, quotes philosophers, and explains economics. A man surrounded
by books who nonetheless is willing to fight and risk his life for
his ideals — this is the hope our world needs. When Ruby Ridge was
seized, many liberty-minded individuals traveled there to protest
against their government. This is a good thing — but is it enough?
Isn't it a clear example of treating the government as a non-evil
entity? No one will stand by and protest during a mugging or a raping
(other than government police during parades in NYC, anyway.)

Conclusion

As
important as libertarian activism is, I submit that more people
can be swayed to the cause of freedom by watching a libertarian
action hero than by hearing even Hans-Herman Hoppe's most inspirational
lectures. Films like this may bring more people to our side than
anything else ever will. Yes, I did hear many people commenting
"Well, of course, but that was a tyrannical government, nothing
like ours" as I left the theater. But I saw on many faces a
look of recognition, a sense of deep wrongness and conflict. I heard
some people speaking about Guantanamo, about Japanese Americans,
and about American installed dictators. This movie makes people
think this way. In this limited sense, Rand may have been right
about the value of a hero. V is a true libertarian hero, and the
sight of him is deeply inspirational. When you walk out of the theater
wondering when we will have a man in a mask, just remember this
— he probably will be found near the most important movement within
the libertarian world. I think you know what movement that is.

March
27, 2006

Joshua
Katz [send him mail] is
a graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M. He has studied philosophy
of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and is presently looking
for work after the academic term. He enjoys a glass of port and
a wedge of Brie as a way to start his day.

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