Libertarian Media of the Year 2017
Warning – Spoilers Abound!
By Richard Storey
Movie: Bladerunner 2049! Never mind if you’re unfamiliar with the original masterpiece; this tech-noir classic is still perfectly viewable as a standalone. The reason being its timeless theme which explores human nature, free will and the evil of meddling with the natural order of the human world. Many will intuitively think the libertarianism I am celebrating here is the absolute capitalism of the universe of Bladerunner. Not at all! The stygian hellscape of the city is a cold sea of favelas and countless disregarded economic units. This is not for a lack of socialism but, rather, a lack of personalism. Let me explain.
The dark backdrop is simply a macrocosm of the inner-struggle of our protagonist – a replicant (android) called Officer K. His job is to ‘retire’ older models who had rebelled from off-world slavery and escaped to earth, seeking a hidden, simple existence. K’s perpetually deadened state is ensured after each job through a 1984-style gruelling, called a baseline test. But his latest kill’s last words begin his spiritual stirring. Another replicant has miraculously conceived a child and K is tasked with finding the child and tying up all loose ends; he hesitates, having never retired something with a ‘soul’.
In this sense, Bladerunner 2049 is simply a reimagining of the greatest story – the one we celebrate at this time of year – that of the birth of Christ. The dark world is simply one dead in sin, blind to the love of the individual soul. The devil of our piece makes it clear that he is just that and seems to occupy the title of ‘the god of this world’. Niander Wallace is a megalomaniac with a god-complex, hell-bent on ‘storming eden’ and having power over life and death; he wishes to spread his empire of emptiness and automatons to trillions of stars, referring to the newer, controllable replicants as his ‘good angels’. Herod-like, he also wants the miracle-child found and erased. Jared Leto’s performance is surprisingly good as the power-mad dictator, upholding an unnatural and illusory order.
In contrast, the brave knight and martyr finds his soul and, perhaps, redemption. Seeing a glimpse of the divine in himself, he makes the choice to refuse the wicked and tyrannical authorities and pursues the most noble of human goals – dying for what is good and true. Whilst he loses everything, including his beautiful and likable holographic girlfriend, he realises his whole life was artificial and chooses to sacrifice himself to reunite the miracle-child with her natural father, Harrison Ford’s returning character.
It doesn’t get more libertarian than this. You have the pursuit of the spontaneous, natural order of free persons in a world overrun by modernist, centrally-planned artifice. After all, the sacredness of individual free will is the goal of libertarianism, isn’t it? Isn’t this what makes us truly human and more than brute beasts? If not, the question posed by Bladerunner 2049 is: What does?
Book: This year’s choice is non-fiction, a mighty tome, but certainly one of the most important historical works produced (at least) this decade; doubtless, it is well-worth your time and money. The brilliance of Freedom’s Progress? A History of Political Thought, by the delightful Prof. Gerard Casey, cannot be overstated. With well-deserved five-star reviews across the board, the praise doesn’t come much higher than David Gordon’s (probably the most intelligent man I have ever spoken to): ‘Gerard Casey’s monumental book is the best history of political thought I have ever read. Casey is a first-rate philosopher, and he advances acute new readings of all the major figures of the Western political tradition. The book includes discussion of the major anarchist and libertarian thinkers, all too often neglected by authors who lack Casey’s deep commitment to individual liberty.’
Particularly praise-worthy was chapter 9, ‘After Rome’, in which Prof. Casey dealt with the fascinating history of post-Roman patristic thought. He presents, in a most readable way, the theory that Rome was a ‘highly centralised, highly bureaucratised, heavily taxed, legally unified political and military entity that had been the Roman Empire in the West was about to disappear.’ This was not because of the barbarians, who were usually welcomed, along with the more libertarian lifestyle they brought, but rather because of people fleeing the coercive, centralised power of Rome. What would emerge was the mixture of Christian Rome and Germanic kingship to form Medieval Christendom, which was, if anything, a reinvigorating of the ‘aristocratic-libertarian spirit’ which typifies Western civilization.
TV show: Many may have in mind the gritty Western miniseries, Godless, but I have chosen Knightfall for this year’s choice. The show portrays the last days of the Knights Templar, 15 years after the Siege of Acre and the loss of the Holy Land to the Saracens, as well as the literal, miraculously powerful Holy Grail. But the use of Athurian themes is more liberal than that – scandalous affairs, deceit, vengeance and a farmboy called Parsifal. This is not some serious action-drama, like Game of Thrones, but is even further along the fun and cheesy scale than The Last Kingdom. If you want swords ‘n’ sandals, and mystery, Knightfall is for you. But what makes it libertarian?
The Knights Templar formed a powerful but private organisation. They exercised an influential role in the culture and politics of the time. Indeed, the Church presents an important counterbalance to the lustful desire for greater power exhibited by the villain – King Philip IV of France’s lawyer and adviser, William de Nogaret. The importance of the Church (and other private groups) in keeping statism at bay in Europe was an important one. Just consult Prof. Casey’s suggested book (above). Yet, many libertarians are unaware of this valuable part of our cultural history.
Whilst not the most historically accurate TV show, it is at the very least a bit of fun for those with an affinity for the medieval, and with a refreshing performance from Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) as Pope Boniface VIII. Instead of some malevolent, rabid paedophile (as the BBC would doubtless try to portray him), the Pope is depicted as warm-hearted but also the sharpest political tool in the drawer. Those who want power, want him out of the picture; he wants what is best for Christendom. But, will the quest for the Grail lead them all further from their God and their morals?
Game: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is sixth in the Uncharted game series and technically a spin-off. However, it doesn’t lack any of the excitement, humour or drama of the preceding action-packed, light-hearted, Indiana Jones-styled games. The plot follows three fortune hunters on the trail of the fabled Tusk of Ganesh. Amidst a civil war, they are in a race against time, through the Hindi mountains, as a sociopathic warlord would use the artefact to establish himself as a cruel dictator.
Of course, this was celebrated primarily for touting two female and racially diverse protagonists, both featured in previous titles – half-Australian, half-Indian cat-burglaress, Chloe Frazer, and former-villain, gun for hire, Nadine Ross. However, I rather looked beyond the diversity hiring and the unrealistic, typically American, gooey dialogues between several of the near-death sequences and saw a white-knuckle ride moved along by top animation, the return of memorable, likable characters and, especially, the excellent performance from Australian actress, Claudia Black (Farscape, Stargate SG-1, Pitch Black etc.).
What made this libertarian? The main characters are outlaws; well, let’s just say they like to get the job done with minimal state-interference. Frazer’s character begins with dreams to fulfil her father’s archaeological legacy but it soon becomes a matter of honour and principle as she forgets prospects of glory and money; rather, she engages in the more personal quest to stop the villain from realising his dream of violent domination. Out of sheer friendship, the supporting roles come to her aid. The life, freedoms, history and culture of Frazer’s people are saved and fellowship triumphs over evil – again, what could be more libertarian?