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Film Page: Amazing Grace


Tags Media and Culture


This film is in theaters now, but unfortunately not for long. Please get out to see this film! This is our story, a libertarian story.

See more films about liberty and the state at the film page.

Amazing Grace (2007)

What could be more opposed to the principle of self-ownership than slavery, an institution that is, very possibly, older than the state? And what, therefore, has been a greater victory in the modern age than the peaceful (outside of the U.S.) abolition of slavery? This movie tells the first crucial part of that inspiring tale: the abolition of the deadly slave trade led by William Wilberforce.

The story begins with Wilberforce wanting to leave politics for religious reasons. John Newton, a reformed slave trader (and the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace"), urges Wilberforce to remain in politics to fight for the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce and other abolitionists work feverishly to gather evidence against the slave trade so they can present a bill against it. When the bill goes up for a vote it is easily defeated. This disheartening failure leads them to realize that they are going to have to change public opinion first before political change will happen. Thus the battle of ideas begins.

Who are the enemies in the film? Of course there are the businessmen in the slave trade and the politicians in bed with them. But there is also a conservatism that stands by the unjust institution simply because it is old. There are even wrong-headed economic arguments, like that the prosperity of Britain is built on slavery, (as opposed to, say, the industrial revolution). But the enemy that looms over the whole long crusade is simply despair. It is hopelessness and the desire to give up that Wilberforce struggles with most when initial efforts fail.

As one would hope from the story of one of the greatest libertarian victories, strategic lessons abound:

  • The abolitionists are radical but patient.
  • Gradualism is not an aid to attaining abolition, it is deployed to slow it down.
  • The fundamental argument is a moral one, based on an appeal to natural law.
  • The abolitionists carefully document and publicize the violence and brutality of the system.
  • Public opinion can win even against massive entrenched interests.
  • War is a strategic obstacle to liberation and a support for entrenched interests.
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