The Art of Resistance

At James Madison University this week, there was a flyer inviting people to a Virginia Anarchist’s Weekend. Only one person in the whole world thinks I am an anarchist, and that is Clifford May at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Dr. May gets around, but he wouldn’t know an anarchist if he tripped over one.

I visited the website for this anarchist convention. Plenty of interesting topics, but to me, the whole event seems too politically correct, too self-obsessed, and too needy.

On the other hand, a few days ago I watched the movie Casablanca.

It was not the first time I cried over the problems of three little people in this crazy world. But this time, I had two new experiences. I recognized something about our country that was hideous and frightening, and at the same time saw the wonderful, uniquely American solution to our modern political hideousness.

Poor Ugarte, purveyor of exit letters. He is chased and shot by Vichy police. And yet for all that state power, Herr Strasser of the Third Reich, political lord of Vichy-controlled Casablanca, can only politely sit at a table and converse with Rick. Of course, Rick has done nothing wrong.

Yet, amazingly to the modern American, Strasser is equally limited with folks in Casablanca who are intensely wanted for crimes against the German government. As with Rick, Strasser also may only sit and drink with freedom fighter and concentration camp escapee Victor Laszlo!

Conspiratorial intrigue and danger are in the air. Strasser and Captain Renault, in his role of the moment, do intend to get their man. Remember, as we are constantly reminded today, there is a war on!

In Casablanca, and every other place where war is a backdrop of a city’s life, a demand is created for exit visas and other escapes. At the same time, a rich smorgasbord of bureaucratic corruption is laid out like manna in the governmental wilderness.

The American imperial establishment knows well that this smorgasbord satisfies and delights, and is even downright addictive. But I digress.

Casablanca is beloved for the memorable dialogue and repartee. We adore Rick’s lack of self-obsession, his lack of political correctness, his lack of neediness. He fearlessly self-depreciates and in doing so, becomes a new-old model for Americans who would stand up to our present-day police state.

Many in this country are looking for a Victor Laszlo — a patriotic freedom fighter, a man or woman of convincing words, great courage, someone to print underground newspapers, and to challenge authority at its face. Indeed we have many Victor Laszlo’s in America today, and God bless and keep every one.

But what we need desperately — and what this country is uniquely designed to produce — is more Rick Blaines.

Rick was no anarchist. But his cynicism about central authority and the continuous war made by states against people — to include his own past efforts against such states — was presented as an admirable character trait.

Today, such an attitude — or perhaps sheer bad luck — might get you thrown in an American jail indefinitely without access to a lawyer. No doubt Herr Strasser would be green with envy.

Rick was no political activist. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand credits her husband as the source of the famous response to the question asked by a self-important and powerful collectivist Ellsworth Toohey, “What do you think of me?” The response was something to the effect of, “Why, I don’t think of you at all!” Rick Blaine would understand this perfectly.

When government agents desire personal information they have no business to, Rick is more than happy to explain and cooperate. Captain Renault asks, "Why did you come to Casablanca?" Rick says "…for the waters." Renault points out that Casablanca is in the desert. Rick famously says, "I was misinformed."

Many Americans have been misinformed, misused, and live in a country that is today no longer a Republic in its purest and best-loved form. Yet we are the people, and it is our country.

Rick lived outside of America for a time, and it was not clear that he would ever return. Yet in exotic and out of the way Casablanca, he stood for everything that has made our country wonderful in the past.

I was disturbed when I watched Casablanca this week, because I realized that the Vichy French colonies in 1942 were freer than downtown Washington, D.C. today. I was disturbed when it dawned upon me that today Herr Strasser would be completely at home in New Orleans or American-ruled Iraq.

But in the example of Rick Blaine, I glimpsed a remedy for all that. We need more Rick Blaines to stand casually unimpressed by vicious, corrupt and unjust government. We need more Rick Blaines to refuse to be intimidated. We need more Rick Blaines to show us what real independence looks like.

By the end of the movie, Rick moves into a more active, perhaps more committed, phase of resistance. Rick’s opposition to centralized, brutal and immoral government power becomes violent and irreversible when he kills Herr Strasser.

But we suspect the beautiful friendship between those who resist, in the myriad of ways that resistance is expressed, was there all along. Brother Rick, where art thou?