Late to the Sith Contrarian Ball

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With Tyler Cowen already having made the case against those unaccountable Jedi and (no big surprise here) Jonathan Last offering a defense of Empire on behalf of the Weekly Standard, you'd think the territory here had been sufficiently mined. But I want to toss out something that's been puzzling me since I saw the wretched Attack of the Clones: Are the Republic and the Jedi on the right side of the war? Or, put another way: Why are the Separatists wrong?

Now, we all know the nasty Sith are behind the Separatist movement that launches the war. On the other hand, we also know that their purpose in doing this is to provoke a response from the Republic. And presumably most of the worlds attempting to split off have reasons of their own for wanting to do so, Sith machinations notwithstanding. So what I find myself wondering is, why shouldn't they just let this original "rebel alliance"โ€”the Confederacy of Independent Systemsโ€”go their merry way? Far from the Confederacy in this case condoning slavery, it seems to be the worlds of the Republic that are satisfied to at least countenance it. And here's what the official site says about their motives:

Despite rosy recollections of a greater past, the Republic succumbed into undeniable decay. Its cumbersome bureaucracy slowed down any attempts at reform, and too many of its constituents had grown corrupt and complacent to enact any change. A feeling of disenfranchisement grew in the galaxy, particularly in outlying systems where heavy taxation was not balanced by improved services.[…]Count Dooku courted the massive engines of commerce in the galaxy[…]with promises of reform and unyielding devotion to capitalism.

And here's something from the shooting script for Episode II, cut from the final version unless (as is wholly possible) I just nodded out:

COUNT DOOKU: As I explained to you earlier, I'm quite convinced that ten thousand more systems will rally to our cause with your support, gentlemen. And let me remind you of our absolute commitment to capitalism… of the lower taxes, the reduced tariffs, and the eventual abolition of all trade barriers. Signing this treaty will bring you profits beyond your wildest imagination. What we are proposing is completely free trade.

Now, that sounds fine and dandy to me. But even if other worlds aren't down with the program, what justifies forcibly preventing secession? Are we supposed to believe there are some sort of pan-galactic public goods that the republic provides, such that whole star systems are effectively non-excludable? It's pretty much stipulated that many of the outer planets are effectively exploited by the central government. What if they'd just let them go?

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  1. Revenge of the Sith, for all its flaws–and they are legion–does address this when Padme wonders if they’re on the right side. And she wonders it rather woodenly.

    I’m positive Lucas didn’t mean this, but I think Anakin was meant to bring balance to the force by forcing evolutionary pressure on a bunch of magical heroes who were hidebound and couldn’t tell there were no WMD–I mean, uh, that the sith lord was in the next room the whole time.

  2. As a refresher before seeing the new episode next week, I watched Phantom Menace (mostly high speed but slowing down for all Darth Maul scenes) and Attack of the clones (much more palatable imo). At one point, I found myself wondering why Obi-wan didn’t join Dooku in his seperatist quest (both movies are a convincing argument against large beaurocracies) but instead chose execution. It was only later that I was reminded that Dooku works for the Emperor.

    I still can’t muster a whole lot of sympathy for the (soon to be extinct) Jedi order that was so easily manipulated instead of fighting for self determination.

  3. Keep in mind, that the while the Sith were in control of the separatists, they were also in control of the Republic. So, they would have made sure that there was a violent response to the secession. If I’m correct, in the second movie, there was a huge reluctance among some senators to creating a standing army, even to counter the secession.

    Considering how two faced the Sith really are, does Dooku really care about capitalism and free-trade, or is he just saying what his audience wants to hear while actually planning on seizing total power. In other words, is Dooku just another Republican congressman?

  4. I caught enough of Clones on FOX-TV Sunday night to think that explicit dissing of capitalism by name was left on the cutting room floor. Annikan did do a lot of grumbling about corruption, while Obi-Wan bitched that Senators, including Padme, cared most about getting funding for their campaigns.

    The Count isn’t the Republican Congressman. That would be the Trade Federation Viceroy, the hamhandedly-named Nute Gunray. George got a dig in at both Gingrich and Reagan in one go.

    Kevin

  5. What does “trade” among the various worlds consist of? Cheap knives, rotgut whiskey, and trashy guns? Barbie dolls, sugar, flour, and butter? Japanese cars, caviar, unfinished steel, copper, and other metals? This is the first thing stupid that struck me when I saw the first Star Wars film. What is the freight cost to transport a barbie doll to another planet compared to the cost of making it there where all the ingredients, knowhow, and the required energy are present?

  6. First – I’m a SW geek (mostly because my wife is) – I’ve seen it twice now, including the midnight Wednesday showing.

    That said, am I the only one who gets libertarian friendly vibes from the whole story (all 6 episodes)? In response to this article, Dooku’s promise of free trade to Newt and Lott Dodd (another subtle naming) appears to me to allude to something slightly different. Namely, these “small government, free traders” are lured to support a certain politician, who ultimately betrays them when he gains power.

    Then, you have a smuggler and a black market miner being heroes in the first trilogy.

    Padme notes that democracy is no guarantee of liberty – “so this is how liberty ends, to thuderous applause”.

    The Jedi are no gods, and in fact corrupt themselves by taking sides in a civil war. Furthermore, the ‘classical’ Jedi are adamant that Luke must kill Vader. Luke, ignoring their counsel, treats Vader as an individual and accomplishes something that he probably couldn’t have done had he followed Obi-Wan and Yoda’s advice.

    The fact that in order for the Force to be a good thing, those wielding it must be altruistic. Of course, this ultimately fails in Sith.

    Finally (for now) – Anakin’s fall is due to his desire to control all risk. In order to prevent the risk to Padme’s life, he makes a deal with the devil. All the people he kills from then on are just “collateral damage” – he doesn’t necessarily want to kill them, it is just a necessary step to saving Padme. (as a side note, another sci-fi vehicle about this subject is Will Smith’s suprisingly good “I, Robot”).

  7. Spoiler below:

    One last thing – it is the actions of Mace Windu that finally, irrevocably, sends Annakin down the path to the dark side. Didn’t anyone else find themselves agreeing with Anakin’s demand at that point?

  8. Annakin’s complaints about the corruption of the Republic echo Hitler’s complaints in “Mein Kampf.”

    Corrupt, inefficient, full of self-serving politicians, the superiority of having a strong leader who will unify the people…

  9. Good points all around quasibill. One nit however:

    “Furthermore, the ‘classical’ Jedi are adamant that Luke must kill Vader. Luke, ignoring their counsel, treats Vader as an individual and accomplishes something that he probably couldn’t have done had he followed Obi-Wan and Yoda’s advice.”

    I don’t remember Obi Wan or Yoda ever telling Luke that he had to “kill” Vader. They said that his destiny was to “face” him. The only thing I think comes close is in RotJ:

    LUKE: “I can’t kill my own father.”

    OBI WAN: “Then the Emperor has already won.”

    Granted Kenobi didn’t tell Luke he couldn’t kill Vader, but I don’t remember hearing a direct command to take out him out.

  10. Annakin’s complaints about the corruption of the Republic echo Hitler’s complaints in “Mein Kampf.”

    …and the debate is over before it really even begins, ala Goodwin.

  11. Akira,

    I agree that it wasn’t explicit, but they do seem disappointed with Luke’s desire to find the good in Vader. My memory of Jedi is that they think there is none left. Essentially, their position is “once a Sith, always a Sith”.

    Maybe I read too much into it – I’m watching Jedi again for the first time in several years tonight (having watched 4 and 5 this weekend) for the express purpose of seeing how my theory plays out. Maybe it’ll shoot my theory all to hell.:)

    Boy, am I a geek or what?

  12. “…and the debate is over before it really even begins, ala Goodwin.”

    You know, Akira, you could have just admitted you didn’t read the book, and remained silent on the question. Godwin’s Law doesn’t eliminate 20th Century German history as a topic of discussion.

  13. “Boy, am I a geek or what?”

    No more than I am. However, even I have some limits. For instance, I may go to gaming conventions, but I flat out refuse to go in costume. I maybe a geek, but I have some sense of dignity.

  14. In a moview series featuring “stormtroopers” whose commander wears a variant of the WWII German infantry helmet, it’s not beyond the realm of reasonable discourse to notice that there are allusions to the Nazis.

  15. Joe,

    I believe Lucas has as much as admitted that much of his inspiration for the “fall of the Republic” aspect of the story is from the Weimar Republic.

    And as your examples show (as well as Lucas’s overly dramatic and wooden dialogue) Lucas is far from subtle.

  16. Joe-The fact that Hitler said x doesn’t mean that x is inherently wrong. While I disagree with the call for a “strong leader”, bitching about corrupt politicians makes sense, regardless of wheter Hitler did the same.

  17. Can someone remind me why the Trade Federation invaded Naboo?

    And yes, allusions to the Nazis are evident in the portrayal of the Empire.

    Live free, fight or fall.

  18. Oddly enough, this is the very discussion I’ve been hoping to see take place after seeing RotS! Of course, I don’t know that expected it on H&R. However, I imagine it’s the place most likely to contain the most intelligent discourse.

    I don’t know that it was ever really made clear what started the secession movement in the first place. Phantom Menace opens with a Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fighting their way out of a failed diplomatic meeting with the Viceroy. Not much, IIRC, to explain what the initial problems were that prompted that meeting.

    From there on, it all gets muddled into confusing statements on the role of government and war. At some points I was wondering whether Anakin was actually wrong, or if I just believed so b/c the Sith were supposed to be the “bad guys”.

  19. “You know, Akira, you could have just admitted you didn’t read the book, and remained silent on the question. Godwin’s Law doesn’t eliminate 20th Century German history as a topic of discussion.”

    It doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean we have to drag it into every discussion. Mentioning Nazi Germany has been beaten do death as a rhetorical device for so long it’s become more annoying than effective. Surely you can come up with something better than that.

    I confess I haven’t read Mein Kampf, nor do I really want to. I took enough WWII history in high school and college to know what it’s about.

  20. Agreed, Number 6. I didn’t opine on Anakin’s comments one way or the other, just noted their provenance.

  21. I didn’t mention Nazi Germany as a rhetorical device. I pointed out an fairly clear parallel that the auteur of the films obviously intended to draw on.

  22. “I pointed out an fairly clear parallel that the auteur of the films obviously intended to draw on.”

    OK, I take you’re point then. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. The trade federation blockaded Naboo in protest of higher taxes on their trade routes, imposed by the Senate to pay for a “burgeoning” bureaucracy.

    The invasion, iirc, was instigated by Sidious’s promises.

  24. “The trade federation blockaded Naboo in protest of higher taxes on their trade routes, imposed by the Senate to pay for a “burgeoning” bureaucracy.”

    So, the whole thing started b/c of a protest of unfair taxation?

    If that’s the case, the Jedi just might have been on the wrong side of the war.

    Anyone know if Lucas was opposed to the Revolutionary War?

  25. I hesitate to get into a discussion concerning the political aspects of a Star Wars movie, but…

    The whole point of the separatiste movement and the following conflict was to put Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious in complete control of everything. By creating a suitably large threat to the stability of the Republic, Senator Palpatine could foster a need for security and centralized decisionmaking. The only thing to do then would be to put himself in position as the one to receive that power. Then, escalate the conflict to the point that all authority must go to him, and the Republic is sundered.

    In this way, Count Dooku’s comments to the Trade Federation were solely intended to create enough animosity to force the conflict, and not representative of the Sith’s own beliefs. The Sith surely have no place for capitalism-loving types like the Trade Federation, whose leaders (spoiler alert!) are all killed by Darth Vader immediately after their usefulness has expired. Even Count Dooku was expendable. The only goal of Darth Sidious was to become emperor. Everything else was just a means to that end.

    The right answer for the Republic was probably to just let the separatiste movement go, but we know from the Civil War that breaking up is hard to do. The Jedi are implacably conservative, which made them easy for the Sith to manipulate. Some of the best moments of II and III are seeing Jedi fighting alongside future Stormtroopers, only putting more emphasis behind Darth Sidious’ remark that good is relative. The Jedi were outsmarted by the Sith who learned one very important piece of wisdom: The only way to ensure victory in a war is to be on both sides.

  26. All I know is: It always seems to be rush hour on those planets.

  27. Joe —

    While there is some resemblence between Vader’s helmet and the German “stahlhelm” (http://www.answers.com/topic/stahlhelm), it more closely resembles certain styles of samurai helmet, and was likely intended as something of a Kurosawa homage. ( see http://web.ukonline.co.uk/bingo275/real_vader_props.htm and http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/newyork/ny-refvader4264605may18,0,3924331.story?coll=nyc-home-buckets )

  28. Oh, and for anyone still tuning in, here’s a quote from a Lucas interview where he refers to it as a samurai helmet: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/_/id/7314866?rnd=1116862661075&has-player=false

  29. Thanks, Akira.

    Thanks, Umbriel.

  30. Doesn’t Godwin’s law mean comparing one of the threads participants to Hitler?

  31. Not A Geek -> I bow before your comprehension. I do, however, intend to curse your name. Seeing as how I will have to go back and watch all the movies again in light of this new insight.

    I had figured I was missing something by looking at it from only one side versus another. The fact that it’s one person playing both sides like a puppet clears it up immediately. In that regard, I’m more inclinded, Godwin be damned, to see the Nazi Germany connections.

  32. Ah yes – yet another thread where people miss the point of Godwin’s Law altogether (the mention of Nazism isn’t the issue as much as the fact that, once it rears its head, meaningful discussion disintegrates as the relevance of the Nazi reference becomes the focal point) and thus fulfill it’s prophecy.

    And speaking of prophecies (how’s THAT for a segue?) –

    The Sith cannot be read as either pro- or anti-capitalist because they play both sides against the middle. Darth Sidious engineers the blockade of Naboo so that alterego Palpatine can use the suffering of the Naboo abos (that being Imperial slang for a world’s indiginous population) to promote his own agenda and get himself elected Chancellor. The Sith then foment seeds of secession among worlds left disenfranchised by the decadance and decay of the Republic (which, to be fair, doesn’t sound like it takes much work – really all the Sith need to do are to appoint a figurehead leader ala Dooku). At this point, the Secessionists have a massive army in the form of the droids donated by the Techno Union, the Intergalactic Banking Clan, and the Trade Federation. The secession may well have been peaceful if the Republic had been unable to muster an army, an act which several senators were actively opposed to. However, that doesn’t serve the Sith ends, so they manufacture an army out of the ether for the Republic (The dead jedi master who ordered the clone army, it is revealed in the extended universe literature, is another puppet of Palpatine’s) so that they can start a war. In the chaos of war, it becomes easy for Palpatine to plant rumors of a Jedi uprising, so that when order 66 is executed there is little to no outcry among the new Imperial subjects – the few who do cry out, one would suppose, go on to form the Rebel terrorist faction that ultimately takes down Palpatine some 25ish years later.

    Of course, the ultimate goal of the Sith is unilateral dictatorial control of the entire Galaxy, which sort of by definition quashes free trade. In other words, it’s evil for the seperatists to secede over trade disputes, but it’s also evil to control all trade from an Imperial standpoint.

    Or more succinctly: the Sith are on no side but their own, and Lucas’ limited mythology doesn’t have room to support an ideology elivating either capitalism or communism.

  33. “Let’s see, Revenge Of The Sith makes $108 Million in it’s first weekend and Lucas has the balls to dis the very system that enriches him.

    What a fucking hack.”

    Isn’t this kind of like saying the only people allowed to complain about society are the ones who haven’t been successful in it?

  34. Considering Lucas’ expressed lack of enthusiasm for democracy , what he thinks of capitalism is down the hill a ways.

    David Brin did a really neat article looking at “Lord of the Rings” this way. Available at http://www.davidbrin.com

    The Joss Whedon-TV show “Firefly” (and its soon to come movie sequel “Serenity”) are pretty cool for this kind of speculation, especially as it’s supposedly inspired by the U.S. Civil War.

  35. By creating a suitably large threat to the stability of the Republic, Senator Palpatine could foster a need for security and centralized decisionmaking.

    precisely — and this addresses the question mr sanchez makes directly.

    bertrand russell once observed that every state faces not one but two threats: tyranny and anarchy. this place almost universally concentrates on the former and ignores (or even praises) the latter.

    but the latter *is* a threat to civility. why fight secession? well, why create nations at all? why enforce any contract? why not simply stand aside do one’s best to live in total emancipation/isolation?

    to avoid the natural state of being famously described by hobbes, of course. and that chaos, when it becomes manifest, becomes the fearful pretext for supporting the most awful sort of tyranny — the final rejection of law and civilization for the will to power.

    liberty within law is paramount — because when the law disintegrates, total emancipation is the pretext for inevitable tyranny. so fight for law and its application.

  36. Gaius-
    You can respect the Rule of Law in the abstract without supporting the particulars of the law we have now. With the exception of Ruthless, I can’t think of any regular posters here who are anarchists.

  37. I can’t think of any regular posters here who are anarchists.

    self-identified anarchists, anyway. but i’d submit that several — dozens, in fact — support the american will to power over any concept of treaty, and support the bush administration’s unilateral rejection of american contractual obligations ranging from the abm treaty to the un to the wto based solely on the will of the president.

    many of these same people would see the filibuster destroyed and the role of the judiciary diminished to make clear that the will of the people is not to be impeded by limitations of procedure and tradition.

    sound lawful to you, ms jennifer? not to me.

    lawful governments aren’t destroyed by bombthrowing crazies. they’re destroyed by people who have forgotten the virtue of self-restraint while becoming obsessed with its vices.

  38. Speaking of Star Wars and capitalism, guess what one of the Trade Federation’s battleships is called: the Invisible Hand. Mr. Lucas is clever.

  39. gaius,

    By your argument, the purpose of the life is for the proles to defer to their betters in all things, and hope that they are cared for in return. Your definition of civility has been previous known as “knowing one’s place”. Fair enought but I must ask, how does one know one’s place?

  40. Wait a minute. Isn’t the Invisible Hand what Darth Vader uses to choke people?

  41. Fair enought but I must ask, how does one know one’s place?

    the fact that you have to ask, mr david, is testament to how far we’ve fallen from that society. a nation of artists we are!

  42. Rich provided more background behind what I said before. If you look carefully in II, you can see how some people are perplexed by how quickly the Republic managed to muster a huge Clone army with which to battle the Droids of the separatists (answer: Darth Sidious had already arranged to have the army created in anticipation that he could force the Republic to want such an army with which to fight the separatists, while likewise putting him in control over it all). This further clarifies the overall point: Darth Sidious is behind BOTH sides of the conflict, and has engineered it to give himself ultimate power in the end. Once he has achieved that power, he wipes out the losing side (the separatists) and reaps his reward.

    The most interesting part of this overall plot came in II when Count Dooku confronts the captured Obi-Wan. Count Dooku tries to convince Obi-Wan to join the separatists by telling him that a Sith Lord is in control of the Senate. This is, as we know, TRUE! The only reason Obi-Wan does not change sides is because he flatly chooses not to believe Count Dooku. But why would Darth Sidious, who controlled Count Dooku, bother making this offer, or divulge that information? What if Obi-Wan in fact DID believe Count Dooku and switched sides? I’m still not sure.

    One thing Rich said that I’d like to discuss a little more:

    “Of course, the ultimate goal of the Sith is unilateral dictatorial control of the entire Galaxy, which sort of by definition quashes free trade. In other words, it’s evil for the seperatists to secede over trade disputes, but it’s also evil to control all trade from an Imperial standpoint.”

    It’s not quite clear how anti-trade the Sith would be. The Empire does try to crack down on smugglers (like Han Solo), but mostly its efforts are directed against squashing the Rebels. If you help in that cause, the Empire is willing to give you a pretty free ride, as the cloud city in V got after Lando turned over Han and company.

    Of course, this is just a series of movies. We can’t expect Lucas to go into much intelligent detail about these things. But it is an open question as to whether things were better, trade-wise, under the bloated Republic. Certainly the Trade Federation had a problem with the Republic–enough so to be willing to go to war over it. This seems to confirm that Lucas isn’t really about the economic aspects of things. It’s about The Force, man. Good and bad. Right and wrong. There’s none of that in Lucas’ economics. But seeing Yoda catch a ride with Stormtroopers in II makes you realize that even Lucas’ conception of good and bad is subject to change.

  43. Oh, and when any one Sith guy is a match in combat for two (or more) Jedi, you gotta wonder on whose side the Force really is.

  44. You can respect the Rule of Law in the abstract without supporting the particulars of the law we have now. With the exception of Ruthless, I can’t think of any regular posters here who are anarchists.

    Anarcho-capitalist here. But I believe in the Rule of Law. I believe in rules. Where I differ with the present set-up is in who gets to make the rules, how they are made, and how people acquire the obligation to follow a given set of rules.

  45. a nation of artists we are!

    Speaking as a faculty member at one of the country’s top photography schools, I fail to see what’s so bad about artists. I’ve taught optics to engineers and I’ve taught taught optics to artists, and I’ve found the artists a more intellectually stimulating bunch to work with.

    Maybe it’s a difference between the two groups of students, maybe it’s just my personality, maybe it’s the difference between being a TA and being a professor, or maybe it’s the difference between a general purpose curriculum (bor-ring!) and a specialized curriculum (fun!), but working with artists has been one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences of my life.

  46. FYI: I can’t find it/them right now, but around the time Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones came out, I read at least one essay claiming that George Lucas was a crypto-libertarian, or at least Misesian, and that the Star Wars saga was really revealing itself as a parable of the U.S. Civil War with a pro-Confederate point of view. Palpatine was Lincoln, suppressing “separatists” needlessly and creating “a Grand Army of the Republic” to make a war that would increase his personal power domestically.

    It seems even less likely now that Lucas was doing any such thing, at least consciously.

  47. the fact that you have to ask, mr david, is testament to how far we’ve fallen from that society. a nation of artists we are!

    gaius,

    Oddly enough, I began college as illustrator/graphic designer. Unfortunately, I never was much of an artist. I guess I must have retained just enough artistry to be ignorant of my place.

    Please enlighten me, is it genetic talent? inherited wealth? Education? Job Status? It seems to me that a good deal of deferrence is already given to those on the high end of these characteristics. Is it some thing more?

    One last question, depending upon your answers. If your “place” is not preordained, how is breaking the notion that the wealthy, the powerful, the influencial are somehow different than the rest of us a negative?

  48. Stevo-

    The Austrians seem to love the movies – they list the series as one of their favorite movies on mises.org.

    I have to admit – as someone who only became educated on Austrian economics between ep II and III – watching the movies from an Austrian viewpoint is like watching them for the first time. I think I’m becoming convinced that Lucas used the films to present that viewpoint in a subversive way.

    The Jedi really aren’t heroic. They are completely and soundly undone by Palpatine. In contrast, Luke wins the battle by refusing to kill his father. The whole arc, starting with “bringing balance to the force” (why did the Jedi want that, pray tell, before they found out about Darth Maul?), proceeding through the decimation of the Jedi and ending with the death of the last remaining Sith, leaving only one proto-Jedi alive, kind of hints that both ‘sides’ of the force needed to be ‘balanced’ (i.e. gotten rid of). And you know, the use of the word ‘Force’ fits right in with Lucas’s hamhanded use of symbolism…

    If for nothing else, you have to admit that Lucas’s main strength is marketing, and therefore I’ll give him some benefit of the doubt about his feelings towards capitalism ๐Ÿ™‚

  49. I fail to see what’s so bad about artists.

    lol — artists are fine, mr thoreau. i like all the ones i know.

    but what is the purpose of the artist? to explore the other — to challenge the accepted, to seek new expressions, to reinterpret the world based on no law but their vision.

    in a healthy intellectual society, great art is critically rejected, denounced by the philistines and the artist’s life is made difficult. most see meaning and value in their cultural existence, and so defend it.

    in our society, everyone is an artist and no art can be criticized because all of it is “personal expression”. the only thing universally undefended is tradition — everyone is looking for a way to blow up the existing order and induce shock, and everyone jumps on the most likely bandwagon to do just that at the slightest provocation.

    artists in the former society struggle to bring change and meet acceptance only later, often posthumously, after much collective reflection and consideration, as an interesting and influential commentary on extant society.

    “artist” ceases even to be a meaningful moniker in the latter antisociety. i’m an artist if i go shoot some photos and hang them up — doesn’t matter what they are, i can imply inward reflection. how abut a giant silver jelly bean? or sundaes? it’s art because it breaks rules! it’s a statement of my inner being and therefore it’s important! it’s the and you’re supposed to accept it as serious on those grounds.

    the implication is that blasting social convention and manifesting the individual IS art — when in fact its the death of art, certainly the death of art’s role as a mirror of society and meaningful commentary thereof.

    artists aren’t bad, then; too many artists and no critics or establishment, however, is bad.

  50. Please enlighten me, is it genetic talent? inherited wealth? Education? Job Status? It seems to me that a good deal of deferrence is already given to those on the high end of these characteristics. Is it some thing more?

    mr david, i’ll dare to be relativist in explanation — the mechanism is local and irrelevant. that there IS a place that you understand you are to be in and that you accept that place as your role in making a better world — that’s the most important part.

    that concept — fixity, role, being a part of something ancient and valuable for the benefit of all — is clearly dead to you, as it is to almost everyone now. but, on the eve of the first world war, that was the widely understood conception of civilization throughout the west, excepting the avant-garde. things have changed.

    i am a westerner. my conception of the right order of things is catholic, lockean, humean. that’s the system, and i have a place in it, an ethic to live up to. but vast numbers of westerners have rejected it — indeed, ridicule it — favoring instead no system, no restriction, no role, no society that could justly be called as much. instead, self-gratification, self-esteem and self-consciousness are the new life.

    and that is wonderfully emancipating — but terribly irresponsible and, ultimately, catastrophic.

  51. gaius,

    Are you living the same society that I am or are you just angry about Jackson Pollock? That, I could relate to because I’ve never had much use for his work. But if you mean to say the the entirety of American society exists uncriticized, that everyone’s choices are respected as the “art” of an individual, that no one is bound by tradition, then I don’t know the world that you experience. It isn’t this one.

  52. i’m not talking of the proletarian dilettante (a group to which i belong, i might add) — i’m talking about the high intellectual life of the west. pollock is an example of praised self-indulgence at work — but isn’t as good an example, imo, as the dadaists and surrealists, who explicitly sought to indulge meaninglessness and subconscious expression — to reject the world of externality and civility for the self — and were widely hailed by the critical establishment in the interwar years. read this exerpt from huelsenbeck to get a picture in detail of what i mean. in 1913, paris had been utterly offended by stravinsky and the ballet russes, considering the ballet an open attack on decency and civility. by 1919, nothing was insulting. in this respect, the west never recovered from the first war — it was a death blow in the most awful sense.

    since then, the more audacious and ridiculous, the better.

    and that has thoroughly seeped into popular culture. this is a culture where no meaningful authority exists to suppress paris hilton — that’s what i mean by zero criticism. plenty of headshaking and wtf, sure — that’s not criticism. criticism without authority, the ability to function as a gatekeeper, is not criticism at all — it’s just opinion-selling. indeed, criticism is not really possible in a world of emancipated individuals who hold their own counsel alone on what they like. the very fact that you hold an opinion of pollock that you consider to be meaningful despte being concurrent with nothing else says volumes, mr david.

  53. The universal panning of “Gigli” suggests that artists are held to more standards than gaius thinks. I think his complaint is that the standards aren’t HIS standards.

  54. I think his complaint is that the standards aren’t HIS standards.

    you utterly don’t understand me, ms jennifer.
    i know i’m talking about something really different from what you believe to be true, but there was once a Right Civilized Order to things that had nothing to do with any individual’s choice. THAT — and not my personal preference — is what i’m trying to describe.

    until people understand how immensely different even those recent times of civility were — and how world-shakingly radical this modern selfish ethic really is — there is no hope of understanding just how unsteady the ground the postmodern west walks on is.

  55. really, i cannot believe with the reams and reams of cultural history available in print that i am the first person that ever forwarded these notions to anyone here. do any of you read about the history of the west? barzun? fussell? eksteins? russell? berlin? my god, it’s no wonder so few understand neoconservatism!

  56. As I think of it, one difference between my engineering students and my photography students is that the engineers don’t really know what they’ll do when they’ll graduate. Some of them will do things that involve a lot of optics, others will do things that involve practically no optics. My photographers, on the other hand, might not know whether they’ll do portraiture or advertising or artistic photography or industrial work or photojournalism, but they do know that they’ll be working with lenses and filters and film chemistry and CCD chips and whatnot.

  57. Gaius,

    Do you suppose that four years of trench warfare made people put things into perspective? I would imagine that it’s difficult to get in a huff about the ballet when you’ve seen friends and comrades die horribly.

  58. Really, gaius. Do you ever take a step back and think to yourself, “Maybe my case that the loss of command and control cultural norms leads inevitably to war of all against all has a few gaps in it.”

    Belief in the rule of law matters. Taste has less than nothing to do with belief in the rule of law. People will stop believing in the rule of law only if and when they decide that there is some alternative. If rule of law is eroded and the strong begin to run amok, I’m betting that people will again consent to rule of law. Obvious mutual benefit is really the only glue that has ever held this thing together.

    A Right Civilized Order must be dictated from someone we all agree is an appropriate arbiter of such an important thing. We won’t agree on the one source of approved culture probably ever again, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I suspect that much of what you read as a harmony of views in the past is due to significantly limited access to alternatives more than any grand sense of high culture.

  59. Do you suppose that four years of trench warfare made people put things into perspective?

    “out of perspective”, i think, mr david, if “perspective” means “in historical context”. four years of trench warfare shot the west past a breaking point that it was headed to anyway — where it had already gone in germany before the war — a transition from law, tradition and society to inwardness, self-indulgence and decadence; from the empiricism of locke and hume to the idealism of nietzsche.

    the war allowed reasonable people to openly reject civilization and the world as worse than useless, and seek refuge and disconnection in the ideal and the self — a rebirth of stoicism, as it were. and they did in droves, even as those ideas abetted the war.

    now we are set to learn again what the romans learned — that inwardness and idealism are the handmaidens of civilizational destruction.

  60. If rule of law is eroded and the strong begin to run amok, I’m betting that people will again consent to rule of law.

    i’d like to hope so, mr ligon, but that’s not exactly the historical lesson. the romans responsed to political violence by supporting dictatorial demagogues. the germans responded to the chaos that followed ww1 by rejecting weimar and adoring hitler. even in the united states, we responded to the great depression by installing fdr for 14 years.

    times of trouble scare people, and fear opens the desire for authority. law is not authority; law is complex and time-consuming and legislative and deliberative. dictatorship is the answer most people seek when chaos rears, and only strong civilizations with strong institutions survive that urge to authority with their freedom within law.

    that doesn’t describe the united states, imo. we’re witnessing all-out assaults on the judiciary, the senate and the press, and i don’t see many people crying out for the institutions to be respected.

  61. it’s part of the fundamental weakness of populism and democracy. the law may hinder you from doing what you want, but what you want may often be exactly the opposite of what you should do. reject law for will, and that firewall is gone.

  62. now we are set to learn again what the romans learned — that inwardness and idealism are the handmaidens of civilizational destruction.

    Gaius, will you please tell us exactly how the lack of official censure of Paris Hilton will bring the barbarians to the gates? Please explain steps A, B, C, D, and E of this process.

  63. How the hell did we get from discussing Star Wars to a serious debate on the state of Western fine arts?

    I mean we’re talking about a movie where the wisest character is a little green guy voiced by the same guy who did Miss Piggy.

  64. Obviously, neither the Jedi, the Republic, or the separatists were right or wrong. They were all duped by Sidious. Sure, the Jedi were too conservative and reactionary, the Republic too bloated, and the separatists perhaps too greedy, but Sidious fooled them all.

    But in the end, if it wasn’t for Jar Jar, Palpatine wouldn’t have gotten his emergency powers. So it’s all Jar Jar’s fault.

  65. Weesa were right to hate him all along!

    The Republic seems like it was modeled on the UN rather than the US.

  66. Please explain steps A, B, C, D, and E of this process.

    it would be more meaningful if you read about them. there are a lot of places to start, but finding modris eksteins’ book would be a good entry. eksteins illustrates britain and germany in detail as the repositories of conflicting ideologies in the first world war, and how the victory of the german rejection of law for will and the nietzschan ethic was aided by the war to become the mindset of the entire west.

  67. In a moview series featuring “stormtroopers” whose commander wears a variant of the WWII German infantry helmet, it’s not beyond the realm of reasonable discourse to notice that there are allusions to the Nazis.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that “stormtroopers” were limited to WW1. I don’t think the German Army or SS of WW2 had any such thing by name . . .

  68. we’re witnessing all-out assaults on the judiciary, the senate and the press, and i don’t see many people crying out for the institutions to be respected.

    Mostly, I suspect, because we are not “witnessing all-out assaults on the judiciary, the senate and the press”.

  69. . . . in 1913, paris had been utterly offended by stravinsky and the ballet russes, considering the ballet an open attack on decency and civility. by 1919, nothing was insulting. in this respect, the west never recovered from the first war — it was a death blow in the most awful sense.

    I actually tend to agree. WW1 was catastrophic for Europe (although not the US). The US had to wait for the ’60s and Vietnam to (almost) “catch up”.

    I tend to think that Western Civ depends upon certain key values, and when those are left behind, you have something that isn’t quite Western Civ, and it may function . . . not quite so well . . .

  70. The behavior that set Luke apart from Anakin:
    Anakin quit his jedi training to save one other’s life at the expense of many others’; Luke bypassed training to save his friends at the risk of his own life. Neither of which follows the established jedi protocol. Obviously, there is a lesson we are being taught there.
    That being said, it seems that some people posting to this page are either are fascists (Fascist Characteristic #11: Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked) or they believe in freedom of expression only as long as they understand what’s being expressed. Or maybe the worst kind of pseudo-intellectual neo-cons have invaded Reason

  71. Ugh! I can’t believe where this conversation has gone!

    Look, the only question anyone should ask after seeing Episode III is this: Why didn’t Yoda just kick everyone’s butt with the flick-of-his-wrists like he did with the Imperial Red Guards in the Emperor’s office?

    May the Force be with you.

    (Before anyone gets upset, I’m teasing.)

  72. You forget that George Lucas is founder of the Lucasian School of Oriental Studies which seeks to subliminally inject the Buddhist cult of relativism on America, this is the real intrigue, it ain’t on film, it’s IRL. The nonchalance with which Lucas kills millions upon millions of Republican citizens is astonishing, but it is no surprise to me that the background to this is the anti-life deathcult that is eastern philosophy, Lucas was Maos favorite movie director, in a parallel universe.

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