A free society represented in cinema

No, sorry, I don't have one for you. I'm asking you for examples.

I'm interested in finding a movie that depicts a free, libertarian society. There are plenty of portrayals of dystopic societies, from the over-regulation of Demolition Man, to the "Rube Goldberg bureaucracy" of Brazil, to the abhorrent futures of AI and Minority Report. Can anyone refer me to a film featuring a society in which libertarian values have been embraced by the population, where the government is small and has only limited influence on the lives of individuals?

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Right off the top of my head

Right off the top of my head I would say that many westerns exist in a Hobbesian anarch-libertarian realm. "Unforgiven" is such an example.

Of course, in westerns, it takes a sheriff (leviathan) to restore peace.

If one were to make a movie about peaceful anarchy, provided no such movie exists, what historical period would they base it upon? When and where has peaceful anarchy existed?

I'm going to think about this one.

Such a movie would face

Such a movie would face problems of tension and structure, Kevin. If the libertarian political backdrop were important to the story line, the scriptwriter would have to find a way to introduce major discords arising from that state of affairs -- no conflict, no story. On the other hand, if the libertarian backdrop were unimportant to the story line, that's just what it would be: unimportant. You wouldn't notice it.

I'm attempting to deal with the problem in the novel I'm writing. The political context of the book is an explicitly anarchist colony world named Hope, as hostile to the State as Anarres in Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed. However, there's a Cabal at work -- for entirely benevolent reasons, of course -- which imposes a "hidden hand" on the life of Hope. I'm trying for tension between a people who think they live in freedom, but are actually completely helpless before an omnipotent power that could literally kill all of them, should it decide to do so.

Current verdict: This is not easy. I think it would be orders of magnitude harder in a movie.

I've heard some people cite

I've heard some people cite The Matrix as a libertarian-themed movie. I'd say it's not, embodying as it does the most pathetic pseudo-intellectual pretentions of the Hollywood establishment, but I can see why the temptation is there.

Cinematic treatments of the anarchic order are almost uniformly negative, and are generally confined to a post-apocalyptic environment in which the order, security, and prosperity of the pre-anarchic world is remembered with vague longing.

Maybe the quintessential example is The Postman, in which it is perhaps the most wasteful government monopoly in existence that symbolizes for the people salvation and a return to the past glory of the nation-state. That the harbinger of hope himslef, the "postman", is actually a liar and a fraud is maybe the only saving grace of the movie's otherwise pro-collectivist theme.

Less extreme examples might be Mad Max, or even Castaway.

In short, don't hold out hope that the people who gave us Independence Day are going to start churning out libertarian fare any time soon.

Tatooine. Most Star Wars

Tatooine. Most Star Wars planets seemed fairly free from government interference (sure, an occasional Imperial patrol, but not really doing much to most people).

the matrix reloaded is as

the matrix reloaded is as bad a piece of unthinking tribalist nonsense as i've ever seen. the 5 minute? 'rave' scene is so bad its almost laughable. attempting to portray these collectivist idiots as the 'righteous' is sad.
your right, its difficult to envision a film with a underlying libertarian message that isn't watered down or complete nonsense.

I'm collecting a good list

I'm collecting a good list of books I'm going to order and read once this monstrosity of a semester is over with, including THIS, THIS, andTHIS.

But, regarding the subject of this comment thread, I also put THIS interesting-looking book on my list. See what you think...

the hobbits in Lord of the

the hobbits in Lord of the Rings and every stupid Bollywood film.

francis, I understand that

francis,
I understand that you are on a libertarian board, but it seems silly to assume that it's difficult to do a libertarian movie because there'd be no conflict. That sounds like a reason not to do a utopia movie in general, but certainly you wouldn't claim that no scriptwriter could even begin to consider conflict in a libertarian society, right?

Kevin, I can't think of a

Kevin,
I can't think of a portrayal of a specifically libertarian society in the movies offhand. I can however think of movies some with libertarian/individualist/anti-statist themes, whether intentional or unintentional:

Traffic
LA Confidential
Training Day
Just about any western
Braveheart
A Clockwork Orange
The Phantom Menace/Attack of the Clones
Three Kings
Shawshank Redemption
Platoon
The original Star Wars trilogy
Ghostbusters

It's much easier to find books with portrayals of libertarian societies.

Brendan, If one were to make

Brendan,

If one were to make a movie about peaceful anarchy, provided no such movie exists, what historical period would they base it upon? When and where has peaceful anarchy existed?

Probably the closest thing was the Icelandic Free Commonwealth which existed at the turn of the first millenium and lasted about 350 years. There was a single part-time government employee. Law enforcement was secured solely over the market, and there was no criminal law, only civil law.

If it's not too far

If it's not too far off-track to mention the written word, Eric Frank Russell's short story "And Then There Were None" is one of my favorites. Ken MacLeod's *The Sky Road*, like Russell's story, was set in a kind of individualist anarchist utopia, but with some Georgist features thrown in.

I think you may be

I think you may be romanticizing iceland a bit. There wasn't much of a market, from what I understand- and there were tremendous communal bonds (which I think will obviously be severed by libertarianism.)

I think you may be

I think you may be romanticizing iceland a bit. There wasn't much of a market, from what I understand- and there were tremendous communal bonds (which I think will obviously be severed by libertarianism.)

No, the protection industry was entirely free market. No coercion was involved. A person could freely choose his protection service independent of geographic location. Or he could choose none at all.

How are communal bonds severed by libertarianism?

well, that maybe for the

well, that maybe for the protection industry. I'm no expert.

Markets reward self-interested, profit/wealth/power-maximizing behavior. Libertarian theories treat humans as little autonomous utility-maximizers. That is, if you don't conform to libertarian conception of human nature (which seems to me gravely erroneous) then you limited. disadvantaged, or even punished. In such systems- any communal bonds (by which it is obviously meant "non-monetary/non-power relations") are punished by "inefficiency."

For instance- do you hire somebody (your sister's husband) based on need even though he's little slow for the position? If you do you are punished by an efficient market. How about giving money to charity? That money could've been invested and given you a much better return. Only when it's advantangeous to appear as if you're generous will people be generous, ideally.

Markets reward

Markets reward self-interested, profit/wealth/power-maximizing behavior. Libertarian theories treat humans as little autonomous utility-maximizers. That is, if you don't conform to libertarian conception of human nature (which seems to me gravely erroneous) then you limited. disadvantaged, or even punished. In such systems- any communal bonds (by which it is obviously meant "non-monetary/non-power relations") are punished by "inefficiency."

You have a flawed understanding of libertarianism. Libertarianism simply espouses freedom from violence so that individuals can make their own choices, whatever those choices may be. Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, and Amish society are all compatible with libertarianism. Once they are free to go about their business without a gun held to their heads, it is up to the individuals to decide what actions they want to pursue, whether it be providing something that millions of people want (such as Bill Gates) or setting up a shelter for the homeless (such as Mother Theresa).

you're sounding pretty

you're sounding pretty evangelical, man. I assume that by libertarianism you mean "american libertarianism" or anarchocapitalism. Milton Friedman: "a working model of society organized through voluntary exchange is a free enterprise exchange economy;... competitive capitalism." Sound right?

The argument goes
1. all human behavior is exchange
2. because people are self-interested all free exchange will, mutatis mutandis, maximize people's interests
3. Limiting all exchanges to voluntary exchanges will result, a posteriori, in Pareto optimal bliss with unicorns and candy as far as the eye can see.

one of my many issues with this syllogism is the treatment of humans as "self-interested" to the point where all exchanges are only to be seen as utility maximizing actions. What you actually wind up doing is rewarding behavior that conforms to your opinions of human nature (and punishing those who don't.) Thorstien Veblen correctly recognized that our economic system should seek to reward the most desirable traits of humanity- not the least.

Add to Jonathan's

Add to Jonathan's list:

Enemy of the State
Especially any Louis L'Amour Western and Lonesome Dove
Lion King

matt, I'm not sure where you

matt,

I'm not sure where you are getting your informatinon, but please don't stereotype me based on what you have heard elsewhere. You might call it evangelical, but I simply call it exchanging ideas. If I am being evangelical, so are you.

I have big problems with the entire concept of Pareto optimatalities and the theories of Milton Friedman, yet this is not the first time you have assumed that Milton Friedman is my hero.

The argument goes
1. all human behavior is exchange
2. because people are self-interested all free exchange will, mutatis mutandis, maximize people's interests
3. Limiting all exchanges to voluntary exchanges will result, a posteriori, in Pareto optimal bliss with unicorns and candy as far as the eye can see.

No, I don't agree at all. It wasn't libertarians who thought that their philosophy would lead to 37 million Homers and oceans filled with lemonade.

My philosophy is about letting people pursue their own ends without coercion, whatever those ends might me, including charity, sadomasochism, listening to Good Charlotte, or becoming a hermit.

I have no idea what you mean by maximizing utility because, as I have repeatedly stated to you before, I don't think interpersonal utility can be compared. Further, I don't think people can have utility, but rather that they assign utility to objects. All I want is a society in which people are left free to pursue their own self-defined subjectively determined ends.

Matt is confusing

Matt is confusing Libertarians with Neoclassical economists.

Being that Brad DeLong (a statist & apologist for interventionism short of central planning) is a Neoclassical economist, that datum alone should disabuse one of the notion that Neoclassical econ = libertarianism.

Libertarians are not easily classified by one economic theory, in any case, although it is safe to say that one cannot be a libertarian and a socialist at the same time (diametric opposites).

Matt said: The argument

Matt said:
The argument goes
1. all human behavior is exchange
2. because people are self-interested all free exchange will, mutatis mutandis, maximize people's interests
3. Limiting all exchanges to voluntary exchanges will result, a posteriori, in Pareto optimal bliss with unicorns and candy as far as the eye can see.

Actually, I believe that #1 is true, yet this doesn't automatically lead to "profit/wealth/power-maximizing behavior".
People have other interests than money and power.
As long as they pursue them without trying to use an armed gang to get me to participate against my will, it's fine with me.
#2 is only partially true. The interests of those who enjoy bullying others will be harmed by a system of free exchange, but hey...
As for #3, I think Pareto and every other statistical economist was on the wrong track. They are sort of trying to "sneak up on reality".
What a completely voluntary society will give us is the best possible outcome, not perfect, but the best we can hope for.

One can only hope. Would

One can only hope. Would you accept Galt's Gulch, Kevin?

Brian, although it is safe

Brian,

although it is safe to say that one cannot be a libertarian and a socialist at the same time (diametric opposites).

Actually, this is not necessarily true, depending on how one defines the term socialist. Obviously state-socialism is incompatible with libertarianism, but anarcho-socialism is fully compatible with a libertarian society. In fact, as Matt likes to mention repeatedly, a family is an ideal socialist institution, where resources are distributed according to need and want, rather than ability to pay, etc. I have no problem with people living in extended families, communes, etc, as long as everyone is free to leave and those who remain do so voluntarily.

Matt,

It is difficult to categorize all of the bloggers on Catallarchy. I am probably the closest to neo-classical economics among the group, others are a bit more Austrian. I don't think any of us believe that "all human behavior is exchange" (Is masturbation exchange? Is prayer exchange? Is visiting a dead relative's grave exchange?) or that humans always operate out of self-interest (voting is a prime example). The self-interest assumption is useful when doing neo-classical economics, but it is far from absolute.

The main thread tying us together seems to be a healthy skepticism of government, a belief in the fundamental autonomy of the individual, a preference for markets over command-and-control, and an awe of technology.

Re: Cinema I happened to see

Re: Cinema

I happened to see Runaway Jury over the weekend, the film adaptation of the John Grisham novel. Good film with a talented array of actors (I've always liked John Cusack and Gene Hackman), but this movie is far, far removed from libertarian ideals. In fact, much of the courtroom scenes will leave you frustrated. In short, a gun manufacturer is held responsible for the crimes committed by office desk-jockey who went and killed several people. In other words, they are being sued for $100+ million for engaging in a legal business. Unsurprisingly, the gun manufacturer's attorneys are cold, uncaring, ruthless... similar to the underground Syndicate on the X-Files. The bereaved widow's attorney (Dustin Hoffman) is portrayed as your down-to-earth next door neighbor. While I still recommend the film, it's no champion of the Second Amendment. (Never mind that Grisham's novel was about the tobacco companies, not guns)

Speaking of X-Files, I would imagine this would be a good TV series showcasing government power/corruption. The X-Files feature film all but blasts the federal government and FEMA at every corner.

Kudos to Jonathan for mentioning Shawshank Redemption, possibly my favorite drama of all time. Although a bit ironic featuring lifetime activist Tim Robbins. ;-)

Traffic was definitely one of the best movies in recent years, both for its overall entertainment value and the message behind it. Another along the same subject matter was the harrowing 1970s film The Midnight Express. A guy gets thrown in a Turkish prison for attempting to sneak drugs out of the country.

I don't think my ideas

I don't think my ideas unfairly characterize the Austrian school of economics- that's what I was trying to do... I wasn't trying to assume you guys were neo-classicists. Actually though, I think the Austrian and Chicago schools are just Bastiat's "exchange is political economy" carried to it's logical extreme with the Austrian school as the Rationalists and the Chicago school as the empiricists.

Menger (where Mises and Hayek got their fundamental ideas) was the first (or maybe jevons) to use this "radical exchange" theory. Menger's simple example about food vs. Tobacco was a perfect example of utility-maximizer theory.

Another good example Hirshleifer's "consumption is exchange among persons"/"production is exchange with nature."

Adam, your response to #2 misses the point of the theory- bullies don't "freely exchange" with the bullied. The bullied tend not to like it.

Jonathan, you and I have the same philosophy then. I just think libertarianism promotes "do whatever you want so long as it is socially valued by consumption/donation. Or else you will starve to death." That's not quite the same. Fourier is absolutely hilarious by the way- I just covered him in class. I am also not fond of Pareto, though if you like the austrian school, you should know that the principles are based in utilitarianism. More specifically the theories are "want-regarding" utilitarianism (Bentham) without Interpersonal Comparisons of utility (though I don't think those are impossible.)

My apologies for any stereotypes, honestly.

Brian, by the way- I don't think you are right about libertarianism vs. socialism neccesarily either. You could have market socialism in which all businesses were worker-controlled.

I just think libertarianism

I just think libertarianism promotes "do whatever you want so long as it is socially valued by consumption/donation. Or else you will starve to death."

Yes, this is an adequate characterization of libertarianism. Any other theory necessarily involves coercion. For those not familiar with the baggage behind Matt's statement, it is a result of an lengthy email exhange between Matt and I. The relevant question is: how can an individual survive in an uncoercive society? He can either be self-sufficient, engage in mutually voluntary exchange with others, rely on the voluntary benevolence of others, or fail to survive. Every other social relation involves coercion.

Matt somehow thinks this is cruel and unusual - to have no guarantee against allowing people to starve. But the only guarantee a non-coercive society can offer is the willingness of its members to help their fellow man in need. Some people may still starve - provided not enough of us care, just as some people starve under modern welfare statism, just as millions upon millions of people starved under state socialism. Were these statist societies any less cruel simply because they claimed to solve this problem by offering a system of positive rights, even though they did not (and can not) deliver on this promise in practice?

The relevant question is:

The relevant question is: how can an individual survive in an uncoercive society? He can either be self-sufficient, engage in mutually voluntary exchange with others, rely on the voluntary benevolence of others, or fail to survive. Every other social relation involves coercion.
so then what you mean is: there are no uncoercive societies. My opint in making this argument is not to knock down the whole of libertarianism, but to clear away its foundations. The idea that under libertarianism "everyone is wonderfully free to do whatever they want" is bogus. Markets privelege things. CBA is market paternalism with a stick. There is no ultimate valueless freedom that is being advocated.

But the only guarantee a non-coercive society can offer is the willingness of its members to help their fellow man in need.
as thorstien veblen (who is the man, by the way) correctly recognized designing a society that emphasises certain qualities in (wo)man is perhpas the most important thing. If there's anything we know about human nature, it's that it varies (that is certain qualities are more prevalent) with conditions (not in a behaviorist way.) Advocating conditions in which every man is set opposed to every other and selfish, profit-maximizing behavior is rewarded and then expecting charities to continue is nonsense. There isn't a fixed, immutable human nature with 10% altruism guaranteed to us. Driving on Toll Roads with my private army and suing the road owner if there's too much pollution is not the way to "the brotherhood of man." It's actually a bit like what I'd imagine hell would be like.

so then what you mean is:

so then what you mean is: there are no uncoercive societies.

Huh? How do you get this from my statement?

The idea that under libertarianism "everyone is wonderfully free to do whatever they want" is bogus.

How is this bogus? Under libertarianism, everyone is wonderfully free to do whatever they want so long as they do not violate the equal freedom of other people.

Advocating conditions in which every man is set opposed to every other and selfish, profit-maximizing behavior is rewarded and then expecting charities to continue is nonsense.

I'm not sure how you get from "a libertarian society allows for every possible social arrangement other than coercion" to "every man is set opposed to every other". Do you honestly think that coercing people to give to charity encourages them to be more noble and want to help their fellow man? Or does it make them feel like they already did their part when forced to do so?

m:so then what you mean is:

m:so then what you mean is: there are no uncoercive societies.

mg:Huh? How do you get this from my statement?
because the choice between "producing a socially valued good" and "starving to death" isn't a choice at all. It's clearly coercive, unless you're willing to say that a thief who offers you the "choice" between giving up your wallet or dying isn't coercive.

How is this bogus? Under libertarianism, everyone is wonderfully free to do whatever they want so long as they do not violate the equal freedom of other people.
right- they're free to play piano all day (assuming of course that they find a way to get a piano and private property in which their free speech is protected). But what if no likes the way it sounds? Then they're perfectly free to starve to death. Just like slaves were.

I'm not sure how you get from "a libertarian society allows for every possible social arrangement other than coercion" to "every man is set opposed to every other".
well, you obviously have a "market" economy right? Competition sets people against each other. As does having to hire a private army to protect you from theft.

because the choice between

because the choice between "producing a socially valued good" and "starving to death" isn't a choice at all. It's clearly coercive, unless you're willing to say that a thief who offers you the "choice" between giving up your wallet or dying isn't coercive.

You are misusing the word coercive. Who is doing the coercion here? Not people, unless you first assume that people owe each other positive rights, and you have not established that. Without positive rights, the only thing doing any "coercion" is nature itself. The thief in your case is actively taking something from you. Society (or "other people") in my case is passively not giving something to you. One is clearly coercive, the other is not.

But what if no likes the way it sounds? Then they're perfectly free to starve to death. Just like slaves were.

Except slaves weren't free to go around to different property owners and offer their services (and recieve the value of their marginal product of labor in return).

well, you obviously have a "market" economy right? Competition sets people against each other. As does having to hire a private army to protect you from theft.

Competition both sets people against each other and brings people together in order to work and produce. So too, democracy brings people together and sets them against each other at the same time. This whole "cooperation vs. competition" dichotomy is completely bogus.

You are misusing the word

You are misusing the word coercive. Who is doing the coercion here? Not people, unless you first assume that people owe each other positive rights, and you have not established that.
if you set up a system in which humans are valued solely according to their production of "valuable" goods then you are doing the coercion. The system is not value free- you're picking certain freedoms and rights to be preserved, and in doing so you (de)value human life in a certain way.

Without positive rights, the only thing doing any "coercion" is nature itself. The thief in your case is actively taking something from you. Society (or "other people") in my case is passively not giving something to you. One is clearly coercive, the other is not.
what was it? "In a land where the toothfairy is thought to be real, pulled teeth are a valuable commodity." You're just setting this up as a tautology without making the case.

Except slaves weren't free to go around to different property owners and offer their services (and recieve the value of their marginal product of labor in return).
exactly. You have hit the nail on the head here. The only "defect" to slavery that has been solved is the fact that slaves get to choose their masters now.

Competition both sets people against each other and brings people together in order to work and produce.
the ethic rewarded is direct self-interest. Any other bonds (like hiring your underqualified, but hard-working kid-with-cancer-having brother) are economically penalized under perfect competition.