A few weeks ago, the one and only Jim Amrhein stretched your brains with “The Ned Beatty Prophecies,” a.k.a. “The History of Western Politics in 18 Horrific Minutes.” Now Jim is back to fully round out this groundbreaking exploration of cinematic and political discourse. As always, let the opinions flow and I’ll pass ‘em on to Jim: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taipan Daily: The Ned Beatty Prophecies (Part Two) by Jim Amrhein, Contributing Editor, Taipan Daily
In part one of this series, I attempted to lay claim to a piece of publishing history as the first to comment on the incredible political symbolism in a classic work of American cinema, 1972’s Deliverance. And so far, no one has mentioned anything that would lead me to believe I haven’t achieved this goal…
However, many of those who wrote in response to the first article did mention being deeply intrigued by it, and eagerly anticipating this second installment. That means I also achieved the primary goal of every piece I write for Taipan Daily: To engage and challenge my readers.
For your letters, those who wrote, I thank you — even the guy who said I had “no class” for characterizing the Obama White House and Democrat Congress as a Marxist regime. To him, and all of his mindset, I ask:
What would you call an administration that seeks to nationalize key manufacturing industries and financial institutions, mercilessly penalize achievers and redistribute their wealth across the “have not” spectrum, socialize the healthcare system, limit individual rights, subvert the free market, and leverage class envy to accomplish a wide-reaching domestic agenda?
If that’s not a system rooted firmly in Marxist theory — and wholly antithetical to the ways in which America became great — then I’m going to call the University of Maryland system and demand a refund on my political science degree.
Of course, this whole “Marxism” angle is pivotal to this series of essays, as I’ll get into a little later. But for right now, as promised, let me show the most important — and singularly American — of Deliverance’s political lessons…
Patriotism of Subversion
I made the point in the first part of this series that Deliverance — though powerfully resonant to the American condition on many levels — is most importantly a microcosm of Western politics. The way that Lewis, Bobby, Ed, and the doomed Drew deal with the life-and-death struggle they find themselves in while paddling down the Cahulawassee River is a striking metaphor for the evolution of democracy, from prehistory to modernity…
To recap briefly: The foursome’s troubles begin once they’re downriver far enough to be beyond the reach of the rule of law — like being thrust back in time to a place before politics, where the only law is force, the only motivator self-interest. Once outside the system’s protection, and at the mercy of a pair of rape-minded deep-woodsmen, the alpha of their group (Lewis) seizes control and commits a homicide on behalf of his “tribe.” After the rapist is dead and his accomplice driven away, the four then shift from a tribal to a democratic mode of behavior, engaging in more or less reasoned debate about what to do with the body, followed by an equal-share vote on the matter. Voilà: Western politics from the state of nature to social contract in 18 minutes of screen time.
But that’s not the end of Deliverance’s political lessons. The seminal film contains one more key aspect of this metaphorical evolution through Western political models — one that’s distinctly American in nature. Here it is:
When Lewis, Bobby, Ed and Drew are deciding what to do about the dead hillbilly, the idealistic Drew posits that to do anything other than transport the body downstream and turn it over to the state police would be illegal. And as such, he argues, the course of action is not debatable. “It is a matter of the LAW!” he rails…
Lewis, on the other hand, sees it differently. “Law!? HA! What law? Where’s the law, Drew?” he retorts manically, arms upraised to the vast wilderness. His point is a sobering one — that while the law’s reach was not sufficient to protect the men on the river, it may well be sufficient to condemn them in town. He raises the point that if they take the body downstream, the trial the system gives them in exchange for their own adherence to it is one that’ll be the farthest thing from fair.
“All these people are related…” Lewis observes, noting that when it comes time for a trial-by-jury on the charge of murder, the four men are likely to be judged by some of the dead cracker’s family: His aunts and uncles — maybe even his parents.
In the end, Bobby and Ed agree that Lewis’ plan to hide the body is indeed the most prudent for the group. They conclude via majority vote that the system itself cannot be trusted…
And they democratically decide to subvert it.
Do you see why this is so such a distinctly American political angle?
The notion that it’s the rightful province of citizens to subvert flawed government is called the “Right of Revolution.” And although this is not an originally American concept (it has Far Eastern roots, and a version of it is articulated in the Magna Carta), the Right of Revolution was what put the teeth in The Declaration of Independence.
However, it could be fairly argued that America claims the lion’s share of ownership in the notion that this right applies to individuals, not simply the majority (“The People”)…
This concept was undoubtedly most fully articulated by American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, in his essay Resistance to Civil Government. This work is commonly known as Civil Disobedience, the name under which it was republished in a later collection of works.
But interestingly, it’s this re-titling of the essay that has contributed much to the misinterpretation of its meaning. Many wrongly assume from the newer title, Civil Disobedience, that the essay is about the exercise of orderly, humane or socially acceptable disobedience to the government one feels is unjust…
However, when one considers the original title, Resistance to Civil Government, plus the fact that the essay itself was derived from a series of lectures titled, “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government,” it becomes perfectly clear that Thoreau meant “civil” disobedience to mean active defiance and resistance to the state.
In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau maintained that an individual’s conscientious judgment is not by definition (or even by the dictates of logic) less honorable or virtuous than the judgment of a majority. Therefore, it’s not an individual’s duty simply to adhere to the law — but only to adhere to what is right.
Whether the majority in question is Thoreau’s democratic government or Bobby, Drew, Ed and Lewis’ jury, the point is that individual citizens have as much of a natural right to revolt against (resist, confound, overthrow, whatever) unjust rule as mobs.
This is a principle that’s firmly in America’s historical wheelhouse. And like some other key developmental stages of our nation’s politics, it’s right there in Deliverance.
But now, back to Marx.
Thinkers of the Nation, Unite!
Some would argue that the Framers’ organized revolt against King George and Lewis and friends’ makeshift-democratic subversion of the small-town system are little different than the plan Marx tried to hatch: That the workers of the world — wage-earners with little or no personal property — should unite, revolt and overthrow the unjust rule of capitalism-based systems the world over by force of arms…
But the flies in that ointment are many: First, Marx’s conception of the Right of Revolution is not fungible across other systems or classes of people. His idea of a rightful revolt against unjust rule applies only to a specific class of people (the proletariat), not wealthy visionary capitalists (like the Framers), victims of ethnic persecution, those in search of religious freedom, etc. And definitely not individuals…
Second, Marx’s grand plan does not include a provision for the Right of Revolution past the establishment of his system. The “workers of the world” are supposed to seize control by guns, blood and violence — then give up the means and right to ever do it again. Then, of course, they’re supposed to adopt a collectivist “dictatorship of the proletariat” way of living, first socialism and finally communism…
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It’s scary how close the United States is drifting to the Marxist model today:
Rise of the Workers — In American politics nowadays, unions run the show. Their lobbies dictate policy. Their bloated contracts jack up prices of hard goods. And the “legacy costs” those contracts stipulate drive American manufacturing giants to bankruptcy. All of this breeds protectionism, a staple of socialism and communism. Also, we’re swelling the ranks of the working class by importing millions more workers from the south, conferring upon them all the benefits and privileges our society (access to services and programs, medical care, protection under the law, etc.), but without all the pesky naturalization and citizenship hassles. As if that’s not enough, we’re ratcheting up taxes on the entrepreneurs and capitalists to redistribute their wealth to the lower-income classes (documented or not) in the forms of ever more benefits, programs and entitlements.
Fall of the Individual — Installed for our “safety,” taps on our phones and cameras at every highway underpass, bridge, tunnel, airport, mall entrance, coffee shop, traffic light and street corner tell us that our lives aren’t our own, but that our every move is the business of The State. Ever-increasing gun control measures thwart us from defending ourselves. Whole departments of government at every level are increasingly dedicated to telling us what we can drive, where we can live, what we can do with our own private property, where we can exercise what freedoms we have left (like smoking), what kind of light bulbs we can use, when and how much we can water our lawns, and how we must raise and educate our children, and monitoring us to see that we do it their way.
Governmentalization of Industry — In just the last year or so, the government of the supposedly free-market capitalist USA has seized control (or outright ownership) of key players in the banking, mortgage and major manufacturing sectors. This is THE central tenet of communism: Government ownership of the means of production.
I could go on and on. Today, we in America are clearly overthrowing capitalism and adopting collectivist policies. If we keep this up, it’s only a matter of time before we’re pledging allegiance to the hammer and sickle instead of the Stars and Stripes…
But what’s mind-bogglingly ironic to me is how few Americans are exercising civil disobedience or their Right of Revolution or anything in the face of this transition. The closest thing I’ve heard of were those tax-day “tea parties.” Don’t get me wrong — these are great to see, and very symbolic. But with the system that made us great being Marxified more and more every day, I wonder if it’s enough.
I wonder if we’ve forgotten that revolution is something we have a right to.
I wonder if we’ll remember it before The Unified State of Amerika gives us all the Ned Beatty treatment once and for all…
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