I prefer the 1981 film version of Clash of the Titans for many reasons. Among them is its nuanced portrayal of Zeus’ decision to release the Kraken upon the city of Joppa. He clearly does this reluctantly due to the immense power and possible unforeseen consequences of letting loose this uncontrollable force. When Poseidon opens the undersea gate and watches the creature emerge, he is clearly awestruck by the size and destructive potential of the beast. One can imagine what question must have been preeminent on his mind. “How am I going to get this thing back into the cage?”
There is no better metaphor for the United States and its government since the turn of the 20th century. It was at that time that government was released from its chains – and it has been on a rampage ever since.
In his seminal book, The New Freedom, Woodrow Wilson wrote,
“We used to say that the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little governing as possible. That was the idea that obtained in Jefferson’s time. But we are coming now to realize that life is so complicated that we are not dealing with the old conditions, and that the law has to step in and create new conditions under which we may live, the conditions which will make it tolerable for us to live.”
While Wilson’s unqualified dismissal of America’s founding principle of government might startle 21st century readers, the reasoning he employs to justify it is even more incredible. Just a few pages after declaring that Jefferson’s system is no longer viable, he goes on to say that the Americans of his time are actually living under Alexander Hamilton’s system. He is to a great extent correct on this. By 1912, the Republican Party, philosophical descendants of Hamilton’s Federalists, had indeed made great strides in establishing the Hamilton platform of corporate welfare, protectionism, and a large and adventurous military establishment.
However, this system was completely antithetical to Jefferson’s truly free market, whereby the government merely enforced contracts and protected individuals from aggression against their rights. Here, Wilson has made a colossal non sequitur – that Jefferson’s system should be scrapped because Hamilton’s system isn’t working. The confusion – between crony capitalism and truly free markets – persists to this day.
Thus, we have not only released the Kraken, but we have done so for completely illogical reasons. It has been rampaging over our lives, liberties, and properties now for over a century and shows no signs of tiring. It is time to either get it back in its cage or find a man on a flying horse to save us.
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.