September 18, 2019

The Brilliance of the Original Frankenstein Films

bride-of-frankenstein-729-91Ever since I was a kid in the pre-internet, pre-cable 1970s, I’ve loved the classic horror films of the 1930s and 40s. Black and white alone seemed to lend a mysterious, nightmare quality missing from later technicolor slash-ups flowing with redder-than-life blood. But it was more than just black and white. The old classics were works of art, often weaving literary themes and social commentary into stories borrowed from the great masters.

James Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein are perfect examples and my personal all-time favorites. They really should be viewed back to back, as one continuous film, even though that was not Whale’s original intention. He was reluctant to make a sequel to his 1931 original, and Boris Karloff didn’t like the idea of having the monster talk (although it did in the Mary Shelley novel). Thank goodness neither got his wish.

Frankenstein

If you’ve never seen these films, you’re in for a different kind of treat. I don’t know that they were ever really scary for me, even when I was very young, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Every scene in the first film is a classic, from the opening in the graveyard to Colin Clive’s famous, “It’s Alive!” scene to the memorable climax in the windmill, where the camera alternates between Frankenstein’s and his creature’s faces as they stare at each other through a turbine.

You needn’t have a film degree to appreciate Whale’s cinematic mastery. After viewing any of his films, watch it again with the sound turned all the way down. Even his 1936 musical Show Boat still works as a silent. This guy was good.

But there is more than cinematic mastery at work. Whale’s two-film masterpiece has the kind of depth usually found only in great works of literature. On the surface, it is a morality play about Man not infringing on God’s prerogatives through scientific discovery. Indeed, that is how the Mary Shelley character in Bride describes the first film’s story. The theme is solidified during the iconic “It’s Alive!” scene when Colin Clive as Frankenstein, in hysterical joy over the success of his experiment, exclaims, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

In Defense of Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life


lionel-barrymore-its-a-wonderful-lifeDecember is upon us and that means plentiful opportunities to watch the enduring classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of viewers completely misinterpret Frank Capra’s dystopian nightmare as a heartwarming Christmas tale.

The emotional appeal of angels getting their wings is undeniable. Crying out for correction, however, are the vicious slanders regarding the film’s real hero, Henry Potter.

We first hear of Potter from George Bailey’s father, Peter Bailey, who badmouths Potter with the usual  falsehoods about businessmen. But during Bailey’s envious rant, we learn something important: Henry Potter is a board member of the building and loan. We later learn Potter is, in fact, a stockholder.

That puts a somewhat different light on his subsequent motion to liquidate the business upon Peter Bailey’s death. Yes, we hear George Bailey repeating the familiar socialist tropes his father did: that Potter only wants to close the building and loan because he “can’t get his hands on it” and considers the little people cattle, etc. But Potter responds with some rather inconvenient facts: the building and loan has been making bad business decisions, providing what we’d now call subprime loans to people who can’t pay them back.

We don’t know how Potter became a stockholder, but the Bailey Building and Loan does not appear to be a publicly traded company. The most likely explanation is Peter Bailey asked Potter for capital, just as George Bailey does later in the film, in between rounds of disparaging Potter as a greedy capitalist. That would be perfectly consistent with today’s “progressives,” who rail against capitalists out of one side of their faces while sucking up to them for money out of the other.

But regardless of how Potter became a stockholder, Peter Bailey has a fiduciary duty to him to run the business for maximum profit, providing Potter and the other stockholders a return on their investments, something George Bailey confirms they never intended to do. Instead, the Baileys squander their investors’ money on a do-gooder, subprime loan scheme to make everyone a homeowner. It worked out in fictional Bedford Falls about as well as it did in early 2000s America.

Meanwhile, the Baileys constantly slander Potter’s rental houses as “overpriced slums.” These are the same Baileys whose housing opportunities are more expensive than Potter’s.

Their accusations constantly beg the question: If Potter’s houses are so bad, why do so many people choose to live in them? It’s constantly implied Potter’s customers have no other choice, but what exactly does that mean? Why has no one else, including any of the businessmen on the board of the Bailey Building and Loan, developed rental properties that are higher in quality, lower in price, or both?

The inescapable truth is Potter is wealthy because he provides a product that most satisfies his customers’ preferences for quality and price. If there were an opportunity to provide a higher quality product at a lower price than Potter was charging, a competitor would do so and take market share away from Potter, until Potter either raised his quality, lowered his price, or both.

The Baileys burn with resentment that so many residents of Bedford Falls prudently choose to live in Potter’s less expensive housing than buy a house they can’t afford, financed by the Baileys’ Ponzi scheme. Thus, even after shirking their fiduciary duty to run the business properly, the Baileys spend decades assaulting Potter’s character in a transparent attempt to lure away his customers.

When the Depression hits and the Bailey Building and Loan is exposed for the fractional reserve fraud it is, Potter offers to come to the rescue with a generous offer to buy out its customers. It is noteworthy there is a run on the Bailey Building and Loan and the local bank, but Potter is financially secure enough to save them both, proving once again he is the only honorable businessman in the film.

But we must give the devil his due. George Bailey, the ultimate huckster, saves the building and loan without Potter’s help, convincing the yokel mob making a run on his business to keep their money tied up in his fundamentally insolvent confidence game.

That brings us to the one regrettable act Potter is guilty of, which is concealing the $8,000.00 the incompetent Billy Bailey inadvertently handed him while attempting to make a deposit. It’s true this was an underhanded act, although not unprovoked.

We don’t know how much Potter had invested in the Building and Loan to become a stockholder, but suspect it was a lot more than $8,000. One could make the case he was merely getting back some of the money the Baileys had previously defrauded him of, but there are courts for such matters and Potter should have sought their help if he had a case.

Nevertheless, two generations of Baileys had led a decades-long assault on Potter’s good name, resulting in most townspeople disliking him, even though he has quite literally saved their lives on numerous occasions. Without him, a large portion of Bedford Falls would be unemployed, have nowhere to live, or both. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Henry Potter, Bedford Falls would cease to exist. Yet, thanks to the Baileys, he is the most hated man in town.

Compare Potter’s vindictive reaction when George Bailey crawls to him for help after the $8,000.00 is lost to Potter’s reaction at the board meeting at the beginning of the movie. At the board meeting, Potter dismisses George’s unhinged attack upon him and redirects the discussion to the subject of the meeting: what is best for Bedford Falls. By the latter confrontation, Potter tries to have George arrested for embezzling.

Potter’s dastardly act is totally out of character with the Potter of the earlier scene or any other event we know of in Potter’s life. As far as we know, he has always been a hard-nosed, unsentimental businessman, but has never committed a crime or held a grudge, as he does now. Everything we know about Potter up to this point tells us his vindictive attempt to have George Bailey prosecuted is precisely the kind of emotional decision-making Potter has avoided for most of his life. That is why he is so wealthy at the beginning of the film.

Everyone has a breaking point. Potter had evidently reached his. Had he been prosecuted for keeping the $8,000.00, which may have been tricky from a legal standpoint, given that Billy Bailey had handed the money to him, he could easily have plead temporary insanity caused by years of psychological warfare waged against him by the Baileys.

We’ll never know, because before Potter has any opportunity to allow his passion to cool and clear up the misunderstanding, George Bailey sets off on his suicide melodrama, followed by a long, self-aggrandizing hallucination about angels and how Bedford Falls would be worse without him. By the time he concludes his childish escape from reality, the same yokels he previously conned during the Depression are now bailing him out once again, foreshadowing so many future bailouts of dishonest financiers whose assets should have been turned over to better management in bankruptcy court.

In one of the darkest moments of the film, George Bailey’s Christmas tree is jostled and one of the bells adorning it rings. George Bailey, now confident he and his fraudulent real estate scheme are safe, suggests the bell signifies an angel has earned his wings, as if his dishonest business dealings and ruthless defamation of legitimate competitors had divine sanction.

Nothing more is heard of Henry Potter, the man without whom Bedford Falls would not exist. He is left friendless and without the one thing he could cling to before George Bailey, the Devil incarnate, wrested it from his grasp: his honor. As the credits roll, evil has triumphed. The economic fallacies inherent in Baileyism become accepted truth, resulting in disaster after disaster, including the most recent in 2008.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Elysium: One freedom thumbs up, one down

TAMPA, August 25, 2013 – It is 2154. A small, wealthy elite live on Elysium, a floating paradise orbiting the earth with stately mansions, majestic landscapes, clean air and perpetual sunshine. The rest of humanity lives on overpopulated, diseased and polluted earth.

The wealthy enjoy 22nd century medicine that can instantly cure any disease or injury, no matter how severe. The earth dwellers have overcrowded hospitals where care is backwards and rationed.

The film doubles as allegory on the illegal immigration issue, with the earth dwellers representing Mexicans and Elysium the United States. Most people on earth appear to be bilingual in English and Spanish, while the elitists in Elysium speak English and French.

It sounds like a typical, leftist Hollywood narrative and in some ways it is. However, it also contains some of what used to be good about the left. Elysium is generally good on criticizing the police state and bad on economic freedom.

The plot revolves around Max, a former petty criminal who has gone straight. Early in the film, Max is harassed and assaulted on his way to work by robot police officers who ask him what is in his bag. Max must then discuss the encounter with his robot parole officer, who extends Max’s parole based upon the incident.

The central conflict is created when Max is ordered by his boss to enter a compartment where a mechanical door has jammed. When Max frees the door, it slams shut on him and the compartment floods with radiation, delivering a lethal dose to Max. His only hope to save his life is to get to Elysium.

When Max learns that his childhood friend has a daughter with terminal leukemia, his quest becomes one to save not only himself but the sick girl. In order to do so, he must make a deal with an outlaw revolutionary to obtain access codes that will open the door to Elysium to whomever possesses them.

The film succeeds in painting a dreary picture of a society that has allowed unchecked government police power to combine with technology. Max’s entire criminal history along with data gleaned from ubiquitous surveillance is instantly available to robot cops and parole officers, who use that data against him despite his being innocent of the current charge. The film also succeeds in conveying the hopelessness that accompanies a society where upward mobility is actively suppressed by an entrenched elite.

The film fails from both an artistic and freedom perspective for several reasons. First, it leaves too many questions unanswered. How did those who build Elysium acquire their wealth? Was it through production and trade or some form of plunder? How do they maintain it? If the earth dwellers are uniformly poor, who does Elysium trade with? Why are the earth dwellers unable to build their own wealth? Why are they unable to develop the same miraculous healthcare technology? The viewer is left to speculate.

Based on the film’s conclusion, one can interpret the film as an indictment of private property itself. The earth dwellers cannot improve their condition because the elite own all of the natural resources and means of production. Their property rights are enforced by the brutal police state, which also suppresses any attempt by “undocumented” earth dwellers to enter Elysium. This leaves them no alternative but to toil away as “wage slaves” for the corporations.

Typical of Hollywood, the film makes no distinction between those who have acquired their wealth in exchange for enormous benefits bestowed on others and those who have acquired it through tax-funded government contracts or privileges. The only private company we are told anything about is Max’s employer, which ironically manufactures the robot policeman who assault Max at the beginning of the film.

That’s a government contract, funded by taxes, which are collected by force. But all government contracts ultimately rely on someone, somewhere creating real wealth, i.e. goods and services that actually improve the lives of consumers enough that they will voluntarily exchange their money for them. Where are these private companies? Where is the justice for them at the conclusion? The film is silent on these questions.

The healthcare issue is treated in an overly simplistic manner that even critics of private, for-profit medicine would be disappointed in. In short, the film removes all economics whatsoever from healthcare. The treatment machines used in Elysium are so miraculous that there is no discernible cost to curing people, outside of manufacturing the machines themselves. It cheapens the healthcare question by characterizing it as cartoonish elitists who simply refuse to allow the rest of society to access care out of contempt for their inferiority.

This allows the film to avoid confronting the real barriers to healthcare access. It doesn’t ask why the price of healthcare constantly rises while the prices of computers and cell phones fall. Perhaps the answers wouldn’t conform with the film’s narrative.

The idea of scarcity in general seems to be lost on the producers. They do not acknowledge that either healthcare or the other riches of Elysium are scarce or confront the way in which wealth is created and exchanged. The conclusion of the film suggests that if all of humanity were simply allowed to divide up society’s products equally among themselves, everyone would live happily ever after.

The immigration motif is equally unrealistic. Depicting Elysium as the United States and the earth as Mexico doesn’t work, because the Elysium and earth of the film together represent the real United States. That seems to be the whole point of the rest of the film. Simply opening the borders wouldn’t change anything. The immigrants would simply find themselves joining the lower class or forming a new, even lower one.

Ultimately, the film fails to face several realities. One is that all property is eventually private property. An apple cannot be owned “collectively” unless no one ever eats it. Once someone does, he has excluded every other human being from eating it. This is true of all goods and services. Even in Soviet Russia property was privately owned. What was different was how it was acquired. How would property be acquired more justly in Elysium? The film is again silent.

The film assumes that private property ownership is a purely artificial concept invented by “exploiters,” which persists only through violent oppression of the exploited. The police state is mischaracterized as an enforcer of property rights instead of a violator of them.

No consideration is given to whether producers have any right to keep the wealth they have produced or whether those who wish to acquire it from them have any obligation to obtain their consent. There is no explanation of why the “have nots” have any more legitimate claim to Elysium’s wealth than the “haves.”

On a more practical level, the film also ignores the question begged by resolution. After the wealth of society is divided up equally among everyone, who will produce what is needed tomorrow to sustain even bare subsistence? What will motivate them to produce it?

The Soviet Union and 20th century China couldn’t answer those questions. Elysium doesn’t even try.

Elysium gets one freedom thumbs up for its ominous depiction of the police state. It gets one freedom thumbs down for its attack on private property and an additional freedom thumbs down for its oversimplification of complex economic problems, even by leftist standards.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

To the People of Texas: Concerning the Republican Presidential Primary

It is no accident that so many of the books and movies about the Old West are set in Texas. There is something about Texas that stirs the soul. It is the yearning for freedom.

From before its birth as a republic or a state within this union, Texas has been a place where people have gone to be free. As an isolated state in the Mexican republic, Texas provided a sanctuary for all who wished to live their lives without interference from a distant capital. When the Mexican government attempted to exert centralized, despotic power over your ancestors, they fought with Santa Anna and the federalists. When that general later repudiated liberty and betrayed the Texans, they stood against him and won their freedom again.

Americans have always thought of Texas as an independent state that only reluctantly joined the union, with one foot out the door ever since. It is not that Texans are unpatriotic. On the contrary, Texas is the last place in America where the principle of federalism still seems to live. None doubt that Texas will support and defend her fellow states. However, Americans have always fondly imagined Texas’ stance towards the federal government to be, “Don’t push us too far or we’ll leave. We’re quite capable of taking care of ourselves.”

In an age where centralized power has reached into every aspect of our lives, only Texas exudes a spirit of resistance. When Americans think of a well-armed, independent populace, they invariably think of Texans. If the federal juggernaut is ever to be checked, who better to lead?

The limits on government power have been under attack since the birth of the republic. Now they are all but gone. The government no longer protects your life. It claims the power to kill you without trial. It no longer protects your property, but loots it to fund its failed social programs and foreign adventures. Worst of all, it no longer recognizes your God-given right to liberty. It believes that it can tell Texans what they can eat, what they can drink, how they must run their businesses, what they can and cannot do on their own property, and even what they can think.

Sadly, most Americans have forgotten how abhorrent these ideas are. Many of us like to think that Texans have not forgotten. Have you? You have an opportunity to answer that question during this election year. There is one man running for president that opposes everything that is wrong with America. It is no mistake that he comes from Texas.

For Texas Republicans, every election must bring back the sting of Santa Anna’s betrayal. Republican politicians are elected specifically to cut the size and scope of government. They never do. The Democratic Party openly admits that it seeks to expand government at all levels. At least they are honest. The Republicans claim to oppose that agenda, but have expanded government whenever they have been in power.

This election year is no different. Certainly, Barack Obama makes no promises to shrink the government. He believes that all economic growth originates from some sort of government intervention. He believes that the purpose of government is to redistribute wealth. He opposes the basic ideals that made America great. He makes no secret of this. At least we know where he stands.

It is the Republican candidates that represent the potential for another betrayal. As usual, they say that they intend to cut federal spending and power, but they will not name one specific program that they will cut. None of them, that is, except Ron Paul.

Congressman Paul has stood alone for decades against the unchecked growth of government and is the only candidate committing to cut it. He has already published a budget that cuts $1 trillion from the federal budget during his first year as president. It eliminates five federal departments, not only saving money, but reestablishing the principle that the federal government has no business regulating education, housing, commerce, energy, or “the interior.” These are all powers properly left to the states or to the people. His opponents do not make similar promises because they do not truly believe in these principles.

You may have been told that Ron Paul is “unelectable” because of his foreign policy. What is that policy? It is that only the American people may decide to go to war, through their elected representatives in Congress. Ron Paul insists that no president or general may usurp that power. If war is truly necessary, then there should be a debate in the Congress and a declaration of war. When America followed this constitutional process, we won wars. Since America has abandoned it, we have never really won a war.

We instead send our soldiers to far-off lands with no definition of victory. Their hands are tied with confusing rules of engagement that prevent them from winning and allow the wars to drag on. This benefits those who profit from war, but not those who give their lives or are forced to pay. How much longer will we go on like this? Sixty years later, what is the U.S. military’s mission in Korea and when will it end? Germany? Japan?

Ron Paul will end those missions now and recommit our military to defending this country. Most importantly, if war should comes during his presidency, he will have it properly declared by Congress and will allow our military to win it. Do you truly believe that any of the other candidates will do likewise? Make no mistake, Ron Paul is the only president that will win the next war.

Our nation is on the verge of socio-economic collapse. Every reasonable person recognizes that the federal government is the root of the problem. Who will stand up and oppose it? Every media outlet is arranged against Ron Paul and anyone else that suggests pushing back. Americans are bombarded daily with propaganda supporting the status quo. The Republican Party leadership doesn’t oppose it at all.

Ron Paul is our last hope. A vote for anyone else is a vote for more of what has led us here. Time is running out on the option to reverse course. Courageous people in many states have already cast their votes for liberty in large numbers, but they have not yet given Ron Paul a victory.

You can change that when you hold the Texas Republican Primary. You will have an opportunity to strike a blow for freedom. Texas commands 155 delegates. A Ron Paul win in Texas can prevent another big government elitist from clinching the Republican nomination. Most importantly, it sends a message that a large and prominent state has rejected the unnatural form of government that we have adopted. It says to the federal government what our forefathers once famously said to the British, “This far shall you go and no farther.”

It is the responsibility of every individual to defend his or her own liberty. It is the responsibility of every state government to defend the limits on federal power. Texas cannot do it for the other states, but she can lead by example. The stand against tyranny must begin somewhere. If not in Texas, where else? If even Texas does not resist, who will?

There is a yearning for freedom within every American heart. Ron Paul has reawakened it in millions. The forces of tyranny recognize this and are uniformly aligned against him. They despise freedom and independence. They thrive on dependence and control. One side is going to win. Freedom can only prevail with Texas leading the way. Do not let us down. Give Ron Paul a victory in the Texas Republican primary.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

Road to Independence Sets the Record Straight (Movie Review)

Today, we celebrate another 4th of July holiday with less understanding of what we’re celebrating than ever. For most 21st-century Americans, the 4th is simply a day off from work and an excuse to drink beer, eat hot dogs, and watch fireworks. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing such happiness. However, an understanding of exactly what it’s all about could only add to the enjoyment of the festivities.

If you want to do something different this year and discover the true meaning of the 4th, you would do well to watch Road to Independence – The Movie, directed by Sirius Radio personality Mike Church for Founding Father Films. This animated feature bills itself as a “Docudrama,” defined as a historically-accurate dramatic film. For the majority of Americans who have been taught an incomplete or distorted version of American history, this film is not only historically accurate but highly entertaining.

The film opens with a prologue focusing on 4th of July speeches by President’s Lincoln and Reagan, with voiceover narration warning that many U.S. presidents attempting to evoke the meaning of the Declaration of Independence “have gotten it so wrong.” The film thus sets up its purpose – to get the story right and allow the viewer to recognize past, present, and future departures from the ideals of the American Revolution by those leaders supposedly charged to uphold them. It is noteworthy that Church, known primarily for his conservative talk show dominated by criticism of the left, picked two Republican presidents as examples, demonstrating how pervasive the misunderstanding or distortion of those ideals has become.

After a clever animated sequence in which the film’s credits are written in script upon the parchment version of the Declaration itself, the film moves to an 1821 interview with Thomas Jefferson. His narration will frame the rest of the story, with frequent cutbacks to the interview to remind us that we are getting the story from Jefferson. However, while Jefferson’s autobiography and other writings were apparently one source for the content, the producers have obviously researched the events depicted in the film far beyond Jefferson’s own recollections.

Within the framework of Jefferson’s narration, the film also makes frequent departures from strict chronology in order to show the viewer how events in the characters’ pasts affected or were relevant to events happening in the present. For example, the film depicts the sad state of Washington’s army at Cambridge in January, 1776. Washington discovered upon taking command that not only was his army poorly fed, clothed, and equipped, but that they were also outrageously undisciplined, frequently drunk and infrequently bathed. From that scene, the movie flashes back to John Adams’ nomination of Washington for the command. At that time, Washington expressed reservations due to his modest military skills. He now finds that not only might he be inadequate to the task, but that his entire army might similarly be found wanting.

One of the film’s outstanding successes is the bringing to life of these iconic, quasi-mythical personalities. For most Americans, Washington, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams are larger-than-life epic heroes. Other, equally important founders like George Mason and Richard Henry Lee are all but forgotten. Road successfully puts the importance of these characters in perspective and brings their personalities to life – showing how the different characters and temperaments of these historical titans affected the course of history. Particularly successful is the depiction of John Adams, at once brilliant and boorish, obnoxious (by his own estimation) and charismatic. As the Jefferson character relates in his narration, he was also a “colossus for independence,” without whom it may not have been accomplished.

In terms of historical facts, the film is chock full of them, both crucial and trivial. Among the latter category, the viewer learns that the Declaration of Independence was not in fact signed on the 4th of July by most of the Congress, but only by the president and secretary. Other members signed it in August. As to more important revelations, we are startled to learn that even upon the eve of the July 2, 1776 vote to declare the colonies independent states, there were still many colonies unwilling to take that step. Out of 13, only 9 were ready to declare independence. South Carolina and Pennsylvania were both against independence on July1, while Delaware was split and New York abstained. The film does an outstanding job of depicting the political wheeling and dealing at the zero hour, including Ben Franklin’s persuading John Dickinson to leave the Congress before the final vote on independence that led to its unanimous passage.

The reluctance of the colonies to take the final step of separation from Great Britain is part of a larger motif that runs throughout the film. As the film’s voiceover narrator explains at the very beginning, the struggle was about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, the colonists were primarily concerned with securing their rights, with separation from England only one possible means of doing so. Throughout the film, we are reminded of the lengths to which the colonists were willing to go to obtain redress of their grievances without leaving the British Empire. The division at the end was really between those who believed that they had no other choice but to separate and those, led by John Dickinson in the Continental Congress, who believed that protection of their rights could still be restored without resorting to rebellion and war.

The viewer also learns that the Declaration of Independence itself was not a groundbreaking piece of philosophy born solely in the mind of Thomas Jefferson, but rather the culmination of a long philosophical tradition that took shape over centuries. Jefferson himself tells us that “Virginia led us to independence,” and one cannot help but note the similarity of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written largely by George Mason, to Jefferson’s more famous Declaration of Independence. Indeed, we learn that it is inaccurate to attribute the Declaration solely to Jefferson, as it was heavily edited first by Adams and Franklin and then by the Continental Congress as a whole. Rather than the work of one brilliant mind, it was an expression of the general ideas about liberty shared by virtually all of the founders in 1776, put into words by one chosen for his brilliance with the pen.

The film sets out to set the record straight on the American Revolution in general and the Declaration of Independence in particular for Americans whose leaders have “got it so wrong.” It accomplishes its goal not with heavy handed pronouncements, but with the facts themselves. The viewer is left to ponder the questions, “What did President’s Lincoln and Reagan (and most other presidents) get so wrong? What have I learned here that corrects those errors?”

Assistance is provided by the young man interviewing Jefferson in 1821. He asks if the Declaration “defined America’s mission.” Jefferson responds emphatically to the contrary. The founders were not interested in founding an empire with a collective “mission.” Instead, they were men who sought to live in a state of liberty and who quite reluctantly, after exhausting all other alternatives, decided that leaving their country was the only way to do so. The film captures this brilliantly when depicting the grave expressions on the congressmen’s faces after passing the resolution to separate.

As the father of a five-year-old girl, the fact that the film is animated immediately piqued my curiosity as to whether it would be appropriate for young children. It probably is a bit beyond the early grammar school student, not because of any “mature content,” but because the ideas expressed are just too complex for that age group. However, this film would be a perfect supplement to any junior high or high school American history course or for homeschool students age 12 and older. Its entertaining style and rich factual content would provide a strong foundation in understanding this crucial period in American and world history.

Overall, Road to Independence is an overwhelming success. Despite Church’s reputation as a highly-opinionated conservative radio host, this film succeeds in teaching without preaching and letting the facts speak for themselves, leaving the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. Resisting the temptation to embellish the facts or invent composite characters for dramatic effect, the film successfully tells a story that already has all of the drama that it needs. Rather than semi-legendary figures who live only in paintings or marble busts, the founders come alive in this docudrama as flesh and blood human beings, complete with strengths and weaknesses, individual quirks, and a wide range of personalities. We experience first-hand the real people, historical twist and turns, and evolution of ideas that culminated in the Declaration of Independence and founding of the united States of America. I would recommend this film to all students of American history, both young and old alike.

For more information about this film or to order your DVD copy, visit Mike Church’s Dude Gear Store here.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

© Thomas Mullen 2011

Why Progressives Will Enjoy Atlas Shrugged, Part I

I had the opportunity to see Atlas Shrugged, Part I on Saturday in the only theater in which it is being shown in Tampa, FL. It is running at Cinebistro, a specialty theater where you can enjoy a high-end meal and fine wine served at your seat, which is very similar to a first class airline seat. Admittedly, it is just the kind of venue that progressives might associate with an elitist gathering of selfish capitalists. However, the movie itself tells quite a different story than they might expect if their understanding of Rand is limited to her interviews with Phil Donahue or Mike Wallace.

Like libertarians, Rand’s Objectivist economic theory was rooted in what we today call “the non-aggression axiom,” which Thomas Jefferson and the liberal faction of America’s founders called “the law of nature.” According to this philosophy, each individual has an inalienable right to keep the product of his labor and to dispose of it as he sees fit. The non-aggression axiom forbids any individual or group from using force to take away the justly acquired property of another. Neither does it allow for anyone to interfere with voluntary contracts, as long as those contracts do not involve the initiation of force against anyone else.

This prohibits the government, which is by definition the societal use of force, from redistributing wealth or enacting laws which go beyond prohibiting aggression. Establishment media figures who interviewed Rand immediately focused on the implications of her philosophy for social safety net programs, charging that Rand’s philosophy would not allow for programs for the poor or handicapped. While this is true, it obscures the most important implications of Rand’s philosophy for economic policy in the United States.

What would likely startle progressives watching the film is its emphasis on the evils of what free market proponents would call “crony capitalism.” This is completely consistent with the novel, which demonstrates that the beneficiaries of government regulation supposedly enacted for “the common good” or “the benefit of society” are really the super-rich. Indeed, the film never criticizes the beneficiaries of social programs. Instead, it spends all of its time demonstrating the difference between those “capitalists” who acquire their wealth through government privileges and those true capitalists who acquire their wealth by producing products that consumers voluntarily buy.

This is a crucial distinction that has eluded progressives from Woodrow Wilson to Michael Moore. After seeing Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story, I pointed out in my review of that film that there was very little that libertarians would disagree with. All of Moore’s criticisms of what he calls capitalism are really the result of crony capitalism. The biggest culprit in the economic collapse of the last decade was the Federal Reserve, a central planning/wealth redistribution institution that Rand explicitly condemns in her novel. Unfortunately, Moore incorrectly concludes that the economic distortions, inequitable distribution of wealth, and widespread harm to middle and lower income Americans were the result of a free market.

Rand would agree completely with progressives on the injustice of today’s American corporate state. That might also surprise progressives who probably assume that Rand would have supported the mainstream Republican policies of George W. Bush. Not only would Rand have condemned Bush’s version of state capitalism, but she was openly critical of Republican hero Ronald Reagan. When asked by Phil Donahue about Reagan during his administration, Rand said in so many words that he should have stuck to acting.

The only opportunity that progressives might have to disagree with anything in the film is the portrayal of the labor union official who tries to sabotage Dagny Taggarts launch of a new railroad line. This encounter takes all of about 3 minutes of the 113 minute film and is not a condemnation of labor unions in principle, but rather the illegitimate power that corrupt union officials can wield because of government privileges. 

However, the true villains in the film are not union officials, beneficiaries of entitlement programs, or any other group associated with progressive philosophy. The villains are exclusively corporate executives and the government officials they get in bed with to illegitimately acquire wealth. The heroes are those who acquire their wealth by productive achievement and voluntary exchange. If one had to sum the film up in one sentence, it is an effective demonstration of the evils of crony capitalism and its difference from a truly free market.

I encourage progressives to see this film and to read Rand’s novel. If there is one thing that I hope they take away, it is that even great wealth can be acquired legitimately, when it is the result of human beings trading the products of their labor with the mutual, voluntary consent of all parties. Once progressives begin making the distinction between legitimately acquired wealth and wealth acquired because of government privilege, they will find libertarians and all other proponents of truly free markets standing by their side, fighting the evil corporate state.