Keith M Ellis Says: August 8th, 2009 at 11:26 am
This is part of why I said it’s not just a product of the Western US, but also that it’s a product of the Western as a film genre. It’s a fable, a myth, and quite a ways removed from reality. It’s what Americans like to believe about themselves, as exemplified by the Western, and now rationalized into a political philosophy. It egregiously ignores the role that government played in making the settling of the West possible and prosperous and ignores all the ways in which lack of governance allowed horrible exploitation and ruthless monopolies.
I watched Rio Bravo the other night and I think it’s an interesting example in both how it exemplifies a typical exception to this rule and how both the Western and libertarianism square that circle. There is, occasionally, a large landowner (typically a rancher) who is ruthlessly greedy and corrupt. The character of “Nathan Burdette” plays that role as antagonist in Rio Bravo.
But notice that the film mostly elides the government’s role in controlling Burdette and bringing him to justice: John Wayne’s character, Sheriff John T. Change acts on his own (deputizing locals as necessary!) to uphold the law in the town—the courageous individual, the David facing Goliath. It would all be for naught weren’t for the Federal Marshal coming to pick up his prisoners, but we never see this. The entire situation is portrayed as a wholly local phenomena that is resolved locally. But, of course, a great many aspects of it aren’t local and involve government.
Even when one looks at something as ostensibly realist and cynical as the recent TV series, Deadwood, most of the injustices and abuses that arise in anarchy are left off-stage, or, at best, used as stage-dressing and color. Swearengen is a sort of robber-baron, but he’s a sympathetic robber-baron who is, in his own way, contributing to the greater good. What we don’t see is anything beyond the merest glimpses of life among the Chinese. Or, for that matter, the prostitutes. Indeed, even in Deadwood, there’s a lot of hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold mythology that is the essence of the traditional Western tavern girl. And, above all, the show teems with the energy of individualistic desire to build and improve. And this is among the very few most cynical examples of the Western genre, ever!
This careful blindness is precisely mimicked in libertarian philosophy. The poor, ruthlessly exploited by the greedy monopolistic rich, are either off-stage or delivered from their oppression by a brave individual acting on his own moral authority. Good will triumph! It’s a matter of faith and a very selectively blind worldview. 12:24 PM