I rarely go to the movie theatre. I loathe most of what comes out of Hollywood, as well as the debauched lifestyle of many actors and actresses. Yet, I must confess that there are two series of movies that I have looked forward to seeing at the theatre: James Bond films and the recent trilogy of Halloween movies (Halloween, Halloween Kills, and Halloween Ends).
The Halloween movies are bloody and violent. While recently viewing Halloween Ends, the thought occurred to me that it is not only possible, but likely, that some deranged individual somewhere might put on a mask—like Michael Myers, the masked murdering psychopath in the Halloween movies—and kill people. The same thing is true of other horror movies, gangster movies, and any movie with bloodshed and violence. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of books and music with violent themes, and especially sexual violence.
No doubt there are some conservatives who would like to see government at some level ban movies, books, and music that might be responsible (so they say) for “copycat killings.” I can remember back in the 1980s when the National Parent Teachers Association, Tipper Gore (the wife of Sen. Al Gore), and Susan Baker (the wife of Treasury Secretary James Baker) called for warning labels on records that included songs with sexually explicit language, violence, profanity, references to the occult, or the glorification of drugs or alcohol.
(Isn’t it strange that most conservatives don’t object to the military using violent video games as a recruiting tool?)
Conservative J. D. Vance (no relation), the Ohio Republican Senate candidate, wants the government to ban pornography. In an interview with Crisis Magazine in 2021, he said: “I think the combination of porn, abortion have basically created a lonely, isolated generation that isn’t getting married, they’re not having families, and they’re actually not even totally sure how to interact with each other.” At a gathering of conservatives where Vance was the keynote speaker, the writer of the article maintains that he told her that he wanted “to outright ban pornography.” At the same gathering, Vance observed that Americans are getting married less frequently and having fewer children, “and we know that at least one cause of this is that we have allowed, under the banner of libertarianism, pornography to seep even into our youngest minds through the channels of the internet.” Other conservatives have argued likewise.
But then I thought of Ludwig von Mises, the late, great Austrian economist and namesake of the Mises Institute.
Although it is not directly related to the subject at hand, something Mises said in his magnum opus Human Action, in the section on “Direct Government Interference with Consumption,” bears looking at because of the great principle it expounds:
Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.
Bad ideologies certainly cause more death and destruction in society than bad books, movies, music, or drugs. Just read The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression or Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900.
There are people who have committed a violent crime who said they were inspired to do so by a book they read or a movie they watched. Serial killer Ted Bundy supposedly told James Dobson the night before he was put to death in the electric chair that he was motivated to commit violence against young women because of his addiction to pornography.
Yet, millions of Americans read violent books, watch violent movies, and view pornography. They don’t assault anyone, murder anyone, or rape anyone. People are responsible for their actions. Drugs, books, movies, pornography don’t commit heinous acts any more than guns kill people.
The possibility that someone somewhere might, perhaps, conceivably be inspired by a book or movie to commit an act of violence is the price we pay for a free society. The alternative is some government entity with an army of bureaucrats deciding which movies, music, or books are pornographic, violent, dangerous, subversive, hateful, harmful, or immoral, and, based on that, which of them should be restricted or banned.
I will take a free society over a government nanny state any day of the week. I am more concerned about the harmful effects of government intervention than I am about someone reading a violent book. And I am more concerned about government agents with badges, uniforms, and guns than I am about someone watching a violent movie.