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Films on Liberty and the State

February 9, 2004

I've added two new films to the film list, the Clint Eastwood western The Outlaw Josey Wales and the documentary The Commanding Heights. I get a slow but steady stream of e-mail suggesting movies for the list or wondering why I select the films I do. So, a brief explanation is in order.

My two main criteria for adding films to the list are that they have a libertarian angle and are quality films. I take a "Gideon's army" approach... A shorter but carefully selected list rather than throwing anything that is suggested on there. There are at least two ways in which films can be libertarian: by showing a triumph of liberty or by giving insight into the nature of the State. Unfortunately it is much easier to find films illustrating the evils of power than demonstrating the virtues of liberty.

The Castle, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Commanding Heights, Shenandoah and Tucker are outstanding and encouraging exceptions that show liberty in a positive light and also strip the gilding off the State while they're at it. I also feel free to subversively interpret films that I think make astute observations but lack the theory to make sense of what they are observing.

The two films that address the welfare state, Hate and Once Were Warriors, are examples of this. In both cases I suspect the filmmakers would be shocked to learn they had made libertarian films. But their attention to detail and accurate portrayal yield devastating portraits of the corrupting power of the welfare state for those with eyes to see. I use two filters for aesthetic quality, the consensus of film critics and my own judgement. I would only overrule the critics if I thought their generally statist/PC attitude made them blind to the virtues of a particular film. Two examples of films I've rejected despite repeated suggestions: The Matrix and The Patriot. The Matrix is probably the most suggested film for the list. Though I think it passes the quality test, I have trouble seeing it as a libertarian film. The filmmakers purposely designed the film to be interpreted in any number of ways: Marxist, Christian, libertarian, Buddhist, whatever. I prefer more clearly libertarian films. The Patriot, on the other hand, probably passes the libertarian test since it deals with the American secession from Britain, but it fails the quality test. Critics didn't treat it well. I was ready to overrule based on the subject matter anyway, but found myself looking for housework to do during the last third so decided it was just too boring to recommend. I try to keep an international flavour to the film list. It wouldn't do for the film list of an institute in Alabama devoted to the work of a Viennese economist to be parochial.

One further comment. I work on this list very much as the editor for a group effort rather than an opportunity to show off my own quirks in taste, (otherwise I would have already added The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension). At this point, most of the films on the list are from suggestions sent to me rather than films I thought of putting on the list on my own. Also, interpretations are often from others, (e.g. the penetrating analysis of The Third Man is Jeff Tucker's). I take ultimate responsibility though by watching all films myself and writing the text of the reviews. I do not accept submitted reviews, though they may sway my view of a film. None of the films on the list bored me. All were either enjoyable or deeply moving (some, which I have noted, are devastating) or both. I recommend them to you.

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