Batman as conservative movie

Though, as we posted, the Democrats are making a big deal of the villain in the new Batman movie being named “Bane,” as in Romney’s Bain Capital, John Boot reports that the film is explicitly, unabashedly Reaganite, an overt attack on the Occupy Wall Street ideology:

If The Dark Knight was about the War on Terror, The Dark Knight Rises puts equal force and fury behind a tale about financial crisis and revolution. It’s the first Occupy Wall Street blockbuster, and that Christopher Nolan’s film was well underway before the OWS movement even got started is a tribute to his perspicacity.

The new film is a pleasure, sprawling in its storytelling, satisfyingly brawny, and occasionally moving, particularly in a terrific final act. In addition to all of that, the movie is so unabashed about its conservative message that you practically expect it to end with a dedication to Ronald Reagan. See if you can think of the last movie you saw that shows hundreds of big-city police officers lining up against a rowdy mob — and the police are the good guys. The movie is a counter-revolutionary document with as much damnation for populist revolt as Dr. Zhivago. . . .

Thanks to corporate intrigue [Bruce Wayne has] been marginalized at his company and he’s being hassled by a philanthropist (Marion Cotillard) who wants him to pour more resources into a failed clean-energy project involving a “fusion” reactor that is not only not working but can be converted into a nuclear weapon. With Gotham City at peace, Batman isn’t needed anymore, and thanks in part to the efforts of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), he is regarded as a terrorist psychopath anyway. . . .

When Bane goes to work destroying Gotham City, he first heads for the stock exchange to cause a mini-financial crisis (which, somewhat strangely, morphs into a big action scene that is more enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much). As Selina Kyle warns, in a line that could have been written by Occupy Wall Street, “There’s a storm coming….you and your friends better batten down the hatches.” On cue, her associate Bane launches a full-on proletarian revolution in which the meek are given the support of his thug army as they strike down the rich, the police officers having been caged up. This Michael Moore fantasy, though, is treated with no sentimentality at all. Garbage immediately piles up in the streets and justice is dispensed a la Robespierre, with bourgeois dissenters being sentenced to death without trial. Only Batman, an aristocratic capitalist hero, can restore the balance.

Watching a businessman billionaire smite the forces of a nefarious rabble-rouser who purports to speak for the surly mob is a story line we can only hope to see promoted from the entertainment section to the front page this November. But until then, The Dark Knight Rises is a rip-roaring serving of wish fulfillment, the rare summer blockbuster with a lot of ideas in its head and all of them conservative.

via PJ Lifestyle » Batman, One Percenter?.

The movie opens today.  I’m on the road and can’t see it until I get back.  I’ll leave it to you readers who see it this weekend to let the rest of us know how it is.  Specifically, who is right about the movie?   Is it liberal or  conservative?

Liberty vs. equality

Robert Samuelson loves this country and everything it stands for, to the point of saying “America is my religion.”  Most Americans also love America.  But he notes how love of country is dividing us instead of bringing us together, mainly because of a conflict between the ideals of liberty and equality:

This intense love of country defines Americans and, compared to many, sets us apart. A 2004 study of 33 countries by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago ranked the United States first in national pride. You might think that this powerful allegiance — what I and no doubt millions of others call a religion — would bring us together. Often it does. But on this July Fourth, we face a disturbing paradox: Our love of country increasingly divides us.

Our national debates now transcend disputes over this or that spending program or tax and have become — in the minds of the combatants — a climactic struggle for the nature and soul of America. One side is allegedly bent on inserting government into every aspect of our lives and suffocating individual responsibility and effort. The other is supposedly beholden to the rich, committed to “survival of the fittest” and indifferent to everyone else.

If you believe these are the stakes — and that defeat would extinguish America’s most valuable and virtuous aspects — then the other side is to be despised and demolished. Your very love of country impels you to extremes of rhetoric and belief. It nudges you, increasingly, to hate the other side.

The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country’s core beliefs.

In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.

There’s plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference” and the “state guarantees nobody is in need.” Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany’s 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that “success in life” is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.

The inconsistencies and contradictions won’t soon vanish. But in today’s politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.

via Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? – The Washington Post.

The American ideal has always been BOTH liberty and equality.  I don’t think that equality ever was construed to mean equality of income.  Rather, it had to do with social equality.  Social classes existed, but they were not supposed to bring special privileges or a sense of superiority.  Both sides of these debates today are arguably falling short here, with the cult of wealth on the one hand and the cult of the cultural elites on the other (which are not the same thing).  But what do you think of Samuelson’s analysis?

Today politics “is about nearly everything”

Political scientist James Q. Wilson has died.  Among his many contributions was an article on “Broken Windows”–observing that if a broken window in a building doesn’t get fixed, soon all the windows will be broken, an example of how social order must be established in small things so as to create social order in big things–a theory that led to new methods of police work that, famously, caused the crime rate in New York City to drop dramatically.

George Will sums up some of his other insights:

New Deal liberalism, Wilson said, was concerned with who got what, when, where and how; since the 1960s, liberalism has been concerned with who thinks what, who acts when, who lives where and who feels how: “Once politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything.” Until the 1960s, “the chief issue in any congressional argument over new policies was whether it was legitimate for the federal government to do something at all.” But since the “legitimacy barrier” fell, “no program is any longer ‘new’ — it is seen, rather, as an extension, a modification, or an enlargement of something the government is already doing.”

The normal dynamic of politics, Wilson warned, is a process of addition, candidates promising to add to government’s menu of benefits. Hence today’s problem of collective choice: Can Washington, acknowledging no limit to its scope and responding to clamorous factions that proliferate because of its hyperactivity, make difficult choices? With government no longer constrained by either the old constitutional understanding of its limits or by the old stigma against deficit spending, hard choices can be deferred, and are.

Try, he wrote, to think “of a human want or difficulty that is not now defined as a ‘public policy problem.’ ” The defining is done by elites to whose ideas the political system has become so open that changes of policy often result not from changes of public opinion but from changes in the way elites think. Liberal elites define problems as amenable to government engineering of new social structures. Conservative elites emphasize the cultural roots of many problems and hence their intractability.

America, Wilson said, increasingly faces “problems that do not seem to respond, or to respond enough, to changes in incentives.” This is because culture is often determinative, is harder to change than incentives and impedes individuals’ abilities to respond to incentives. . . .

Wilson warned that we should be careful about what we think we are, lest we become that. Human nature, he said, is not infinitely plastic; we cannot be socialized to accept anything. We do not recoil from Auschwitz only because our culture has so disposed us. Children, Wilson thought, are intuitive moralists, but instincts founded in nature must be nurtured in families. The fact that much of modern life, from family disintegration to scabrous entertainment, is shocking is evidence for, not against, the moral sense, which is what is shocked. And the highest purpose of politics is to encourage the flourishing of a culture that nurtures rather than weakens the promptings of the moral sense.

via James Q. Wilson: America’s prophet – The Washington Post.

Nostalgia liberals vs. accountability liberals

Fred Hiatt, himself a liberal, notices the rise of two different and contending kinds of liberals:  Nostalgia liberals and accountability liberals.

The priorities of nostalgia liberalism are community, social cohesion and preservation of New Deal and Great Society programs. Accountability liberals put more stock in market forces and individual empowerment. Their debate is sure to sharpen over the next four years. . . .

Accountability liberals say reform is needed to save Social Security — and that the only way to protect benefits for the poor is to scale back expected benefits for the wealthy.Nostalgia liberals worry that more means-testing will transform Social Security from broad-based social insurance into a poverty program that will gradually lose political support, and therefore funding.

Accountability liberals believe that failing city schools represent the nation’s biggest challenge, since they deprive a generation of mostly minority children the opportunity to move up. Charters, vouchers — whatever it takes to break them out of that prison is justified.Nostalgia liberals deplore those failing schools, too, but say traditional public schools are where America’s cherished melting pot comes to a bubble: the only right response is to fix them.

Accountability liberals like the idea that people who drive more should pay more. HOT lane fees will discourage driving, which is good for the environment, and keep bicyclists and transit riders from having to subsidize highways they don’t use.Nostalgia liberals agree on the need to discourage gasoline consumption, but they hate what they call “Lexus lanes.” Wealthy people shouldn’t be allowed to buy into better versions of public goods — be they parks, public safety or highway lanes with less traffic — than other citizens.

Accountability liberals favor more merit pay and less lifetime tenure for public employees. Nostalgia liberals put a higher priority on shared benefits and shared protections.

Accountability liberals would redirect the tuition subsidy that public universities give to all in-state residents to poor families who need it most. Nostalgia liberals would say that in-state tuition is part of the package that makes people feel part of their community and therefore willing to pay taxes that support higher education.

via Different liberal camps divide progressives – The Washington Post.

How do you see those playing out in the Obama administration?  The Democratic party?

Could we say that there are likewise similar divisions in conservatism, between those who emphasize social concerns and those that just emphasize the individual?

Christianity & taxes

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama suggested, as some have put it, that Jesus would tax the rich:

President Barack Obama on Thursday tied his proposal to raise taxes on wealthy Americans to his faith, telling leaders gathered for the National Prayer Breakfast that Jesus’s teachings have shaped that conclusion.The rich should pay more not only because “I actually think that is going to make economic sense, but for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,’” Obama said at the Washington Hilton, delivering remarks at an annual event that every president has attended since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

via Obama: Jesus would tax the rich – Jennifer Epstein – POLITICO.com.

I like the response by Mary Theroux of the Independent Institute:

Yes, that Jesus was always looking for ways to make Rome more powerful!

Here we see two different ways of looking at taxes and at government:  Liberals think taxation is virtuous because the government is always helping people, so in order to help people more we need to give the government more money.  Conservatives think government basically exerts power over people, so giving it more money makes it even more powerful and lessens the liberty of its citizens. 

The text that the president cites (Luke 12:48), in context, does not refer to taxes, but it can apply to money as to everything else.  A person who has received much FROM GOD has much that is required BY GOD.  Not the federal government!   The president here is putting the federal government squarely in the place of God!

A person who has been blessed with lots of money should indeed do good with it, including helping those who lack money.  But it isn’t necessary to go through the federal government to do that.  The wealthy person can and should help people and organizations directly.

At the same time, Christians should remember that just about every time the New Testament teaches something about our obligation to our governments, including that of the Roman Empire, it includes an exhortation to pay our taxes.  I worry that our anti-tax rhetoric may sometimes violate the spirit of those teachings, which impose upon us a cross and a discipline that we must submit to, whether we like it or not.

 

Conservative liberalism

Jerry Salyer at Front Porch Republic has written a stunning essay on “conservative liberalism”; that is, people who are conservatives while still embracing the assumptions of liberalism (for example, commercialism, progressivism, radical individualism).  Think of a church that claims conservative theology and values while throwing out all church traditions in an embrace of modern culture that contradicts its ostensible conservatism.  Or a conservative small town that replaces its historic downtown buildings with strip malls, in the name of economic progress.  Or someone who claims to be a conservative but whose decisions are actually shaped by that most liberal of philosophies, namely, pragmatism.

Salyer’s piece defies summary, but here is a tiny sample:

I find it increasingly difficult to sympathize with conservative defenders of liberalism, who praise mass culture yet fret over socialism, who worry about relativism for a living yet dismiss concerns about uglification as reflecting the mere opinions of elitist aesthetes. A conservative liberal is somebody who encourages the prevailing progressive view that the past was benighted and is best forgotten, but then demands respect for the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. . . .

And just what is meant by “ordinary folk?” Does it include the large majority who evidently thought Barack Obama would be a swell president?  Does it include those whose children master the remote before learning to speak? Those who treat birth-control pills as if they were M&M’s, stand assembled outside Toys’R’Us like ravenous zombies in the wee hours of Black Friday, and think dolls dressed like cheap hookers make nice Christmas gifts for little girls? (Of course whenever there’s even the faintest threat that “ordinary folk” might recover a sense of who they are and where they come from, sage passengers on the conservative establishment gravy-train are quick to jettison all traces of populism and denounce the latent nativism, protectionism, and isolationism of ignorant small-town rabble.)

via Who Gets To Be The Czar of Human Evolution? | Front Porch Republic.

Can you think of other examples of liberal assumptions that we conservatives often operate under?  I think this is something we are all guilty of some times.


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