The Wachowski boys’ movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta is being roundly cheered by libertarians, including my friends Brian Richardson and Butler Shaffer. Butler quite rightly says it’s not only the greatest anti-state movie ever but one of the best films (regardless of content) ever made. I’d add that until somebody has the balls to faithfully adapt Vin Suprynowicz’s The Black Arrow for the screen, V for Vendetta is the new standard by which tomorrow’s politically radical films will be measured. But I think many libertarians are missing (or avoiding) an important point when they applaud the movie as merely a powerful “political fable” or “cautionary tale.” V is an out-and-out cinematic tract about the eternal right of revolution, an issue essential to historical radical libertarian theory but largely ignored by today’s broad freedom movement.
“People should not be afraid of their governments,” exhorts V. “Governments should be afraid of their people.” Responds critic Roger Ebert in his review of V for Vendetta: “I am not sure V has it right; surely in the ideal state, governments and their people should exist happily together.” Ebert, like most “good citizens” nowadays, believes that people exist at the behest of government, not the other way around. Dare I quote the Declaration of Independence, Roger? “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...”
In V’s Britain, “consent” has been wrung out of the governed through lies, repression, and torture. Revolution, as defined by John Locke, Algernon Sidney, and Thomas Jefferson, is absolutely justified. But how does V’s call for revolution apply to us Americans, right now?
Several years ago, in the pages of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Lew Rockwell similarly asked: “If a manifestly abusive government can be justly overthrown, is the U.S. government an example of such a regime? Has every other avenue for changing our course been closed? Should the American people be considering extreme measures to deal with their plight? Finally, is it morally obligatory for men of good will to pursue the path of revolution right here and now?”
The answers, any right-thinking Libertarian Leftist will tell you, must be yes, yes, yes, and yes. As the late Samuel Edward Konkin III used to say, “Well, wake up and smell the tear gas!”
If a manifestly abusive government can be justly overthrown, is the U.S. government an example of such a regime? In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson listed 27 specific complaints against the British Crown. Go on. Look ’em up. The complaints still sound reasonable, and not just to 18th Century ears. By Jefferson’s standards, the present U.S. federal government is tyrannical.
Has every other avenue for changing our course been closed? What avenues are actually open to us in this so-called “democracy”? Most Americans are now rightfully cynical about pursuing change through referendums. They’ve seen every “populist” state initiative, covering issues from immigration to medicinal marijuana to Affirmative Action, shot down by the federal courts after having passed by landslide margins. There’s a tremendous disinterest in electoral politics nationwide. But maybe disinterest is the wrong term. Perhaps a better term would be lack of faith.
Should the American people be considering extreme measures to deal with their plight? Americans already are. Many are reading the Bill of Rights for the first time — and challenging the federal government’s interference in their neighborhoods and communities. The issue of eminent domain is discussed critically in newspapers, on blogs, and on talk radio, by both Right and Left. The idea of secession is now a hot button both Right and Left. The home schooling movement is also still growing, as people have begun questioning not just the quality or safety of, but the very philosophy behind, oppressive and repressive government schools.
Is it morally obligatory for men of good will to pursue the path of revolution right here and now? That’s the question being posed by V for Vendetta in theaters this weekend. And it’s a question that should be on the hearts and minds of all members of today’s freedom movement.
Let the debates begin!
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