Aside from “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”, it’s been a great year, so far, for anarchist philosophy in film. Anarchism is a terribly misunderstood word: in historical and linguistic terms, “anarchy” does not mean or suggest, by any stretch of the imagination, a society without order or laws. “Anarchy” is in no way whatsoever synonymous with “Chaos”, “Chasm”, or “Void.”
In Ancient Greek, “archon” was a rather generic title for a rule or lord, meaning and semantically similar in meaning to German “Fürst/Führer” or Latin “Princeps/Principio.” “Archaeology” is the study of “beginnings” as everyone known, beginnings of humans anyhow, not quite as ancient as “Palaeontology” which the study of “Old Life Forms” including the “Dawn Horizon” (Eocene) at the border between geology and biology. A Prince (princeps) is a Fürst is an Archon, in any event, and to believe in AN-ARCHY is to oppose Princes (Princeps, principes, Fürsts, or Führers), in other words to believe that society can exist without LEADERS who wield any sort of absolute or even decisive power. That is why our leader under the Constitution was named after the person who simply “presides” over the Congress and government—indeed, the first to bear the Title “President of the United States” before George Washington were ALL merely parliamentary “presiders”… the individuals who maintained the order of debate, recognized speakers, hit the gavel for adjournment and such like distinctly NON-military, NON-coercive functions…. The Vice-President is still the President of the Senate and presides at Joint Sessions of Congress…. but the American President has become a Führer –and shows signs of being the office is showing signs of becoming an hereditary principality—with Roosevelts and Kennedys and Bushes dominating the political landscape for most of a century….
The basic conceptual link between “fürst” “princeps“, “archon“, “archaeology” and “principio” was the equation of “first in time, first in power, first in right” (compare George Washington “First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of his Countrymen). And there were those who wanted to make Washington a real “prince”, “fürst” or “archon“—among them pseudo-Monarchists such as Alexander Hamilton). A similar semantic construct is the “council of elders” out of whom the “Princeps” may be selected, otherwise known as “the Senate.” From Latin “Senectus” = Old Age/Old Man, cf. Cicero’s De Senectute “On Old Age.”
The Hunger Games came out with a bang on March 22, and Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark became my favorite Anarchist leaders of the year (under the Tutelage of Haymitch Abernathy) until they were supplanted (not in my affections, or literary appreciations but in the movie theaters) by Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky (under absolutely nobody’s tutelage but the eventual protection of a brilliantly anarchistic but otherwise “sad, dumb policeman” named Captain Sharp played by none less of a long-time portrayer of anarchistic characters than that legendary Teuton from the cold and free side of the Rhine, Bruce Willis). And this all happened in a very real 1965 spot in New England on the Fictitious Island of “New Penzance” under Wes Anderson’s really fairly brilliant direction and writing (with Roman Coppola).
But just Wednesday a new marvelous and historically founded paean to actual 20th century anarchism, appropriately called “Lawless”, celebrates the Virginia “Hillbilly” Bondurant Family from Franklin County (actually, they lived in the Hills east of the Blue Ridge, southeast of the Shenandoah Valley in Franklin County, so the hills were kind of low….). Turns out that the book “Wettest County in the World” was written by a certain Matt Bondurant who was the grandson of the chief leader of the family.
Unlike The Hunger Games, it is largely devoid of mythological and epic references or archetypes. Unlike Moonrise Kingdom it is neither allegorical nor atavistic. Lawless simply celebrates the last time in the United States when a large portion of the population, the majority in fact, absolutely, positively, unquestionably recognized that “the law was an ass”. Not only Catholics and heavy drinkers of every religion but ALL sane people opposed Prohibition and only perverted-to-pathological idiots and cynical criminals (both in and out of politics) actually supported it. The current “War on Drugs” is in no principled way different from Prohibition, but the mechanisms of propaganda are such much more sophisticated these days that few people appreciate it.
But what unifies The Hunger Games, Moonrise Kingdom, and Lawless is this simple truth: JUSTICE IS AT ITS MAXIMUM WHEN ADMINISTERED BY THE PEOPLE FOR THEMSELVES WITHOUT ANY INTERFERENCE FROM THE GOVERNMENT—ANY GOVERNMENT.
Governments exist, in essence, to defend the people against wars, to enforce laws which make some of the people criminals and disenfranchise them to the benefit of those who either profit from or obtain their identity as “fürstin“, “principes“, or archons from the oppression of others.
Prohibition movies are an old trope, and there’s nothing all that extraordinary about Lawless except that it’s apparently, largely, mostly true… But it DOES so totally fit in with my two leading movies of this year as a celebration of the nobility of the free human spirit to maintain freedom at the cost of blood…. and such values cannot be too often celebrated in these Modern United States of America where everyone seems to be enjoying the ride, enjoying the “protection racket” of the criminal government which has, for the most part, completely enslaved us, and does so no less (but always more) during each successive Republican or Democratic administration….