Movies and Books

It’s been a good year for movies and books that defend liberty. Here are my choices.

Gladiator. An inspiring film about the ancient world, a story of how a real man, an aristocrat, came to fight for his principles against a despotic government. Hume, Mises, and Rothbard always emphasized that government can only operate when it has at least the tacit support of the majority. In this film, the despot Commodus loses the support of the masses and collapses in a heap at the end. If the general Maximus hadn’t killed him, the people would have. Overall, this a wonderful depiction of how governments exercise power (“beatings and hangings,” as Mises says) and try to hold onto power (yes, the emperor’s minions toss bread into the crowds at the circuses). Only one complaint: it was far too kind to the blood-stained philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius, who murdered Christians by the thousands, and made his monster son, Commodus, his successor.

The Patriot. Amazing, isn’t it, that there aren’t more movies about the American Revolution? Well, maybe not so amazing: it’s a story about how a group of property-owning male aristocrats seceded from a government that taxed and regulated them too much. That’s not a story that Hollywood has much interest in telling. But Mel Gibson’s film succeeds in making up for lost time. This grand epic could have focused more on the ideological origins of the Revolution, but you have to appreciate the way the film casts the war as one man fighting for his right to be left alone. For the average American colonist, that’s what it was about in any case. This film was blasted by the Left for showing a young boy with a gun. What puritans these people are!

Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years by James Bovard (St. Martins, 2000). You’ve heard about Monica Lewinsky, but however unseemly, the affair didn’t violate the rights of a single American (until the feds started cracking down on people willing to talk about it). Far more important are the amazing rights violations chronicled in James Bovard’s encyclopedic work. Bovard seemed determined to let nothing get by him, though he would be the first to say that this is only the beginning. No anti-Clintonian, no libertarian, should be without this book. In fact, we need such a book about every presidency.

The Irrepressible Rothbard by Murray N. Rothbard, edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. (Center for Libertarian Studies, 2000). No, this isn’t self promotion. All the essays are by Murray himself, and what a collection this turned out to be. It puts on display only a small part of Murray’s journalism from the last ten years of his life, and it proves, contrary to the left-libertarian smears, that Murray became more radical with age. His sights are set on the Clintons, Republican warmongers, sellout libertarians, the cultural enemies of liberty, and every social trend that threatens the rights of Americans. Here is Rothbard, the people’s anarchist, standing up for bourgeois civilization against the egalitarians who seek to destroy it. This volume is as much a pleasure to read as it was to put together.

Lord Acton: A Biography by Roland Hill (Yale University Press, 2000). Will there ever be another historian like him? Probably not. The great classical liberal was the product of the sort of education no longer available, of the glorious 19th century, and of the old Catholic Church. The biographer himself notes that anyone writing about Lord Acton should have a working knowledge of all the languages he wrote in, and have the ultimate travel budget. Hill had neither, but he writes a spectacular book in any case. He not only tells us about Acton, but also about his times. We learn about the complications of politics and religion in the Victorian era, and how a giant of scholarship and probity responded to them. Acton ardently defended the right of the American South to secede, among many other courageous stands. The book should also remind us of the all-important contribution the European aristocracy has made to the defense of liberty.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, This article was originally published on

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