Why Do Liberals Reject Vigilante Fiction?

 

I had missed this essay by Anthony Paletta when it first appeared in February 2012, but it raises a question that the author answers with some good insights — especially near the end:

Why do people on the political left hate vigilante films (and I would add, vigilante fiction generally)?

Now clearly, it isn‘t that leftists reject violence in movies. Despite their typically harsh condemnations of private gun ownership and use, liberals historically have been transported to rhapsodic heights of praise for, and heap loads of Oscars upon, many violent films — from “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Dog Day Afternoon” to “Silence of the Lambs” to “The Godfather” (and many other gangster films) to anything by Quentin Tarantino, and on and on.

 

"Dirty Harry" Callahan -- the vigilante icon liberals love to hate

“Dirty Harry” Callahan — the vigilante icon liberals hate

Yet go read some of the same critics’ older reviews of films like “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish,” or of more recent ones like “Harry Brown” or “The Brave One,” and you’ll see that progressive reviewers simply can’t restrain their vituperation — often even casting these films in political-economic terms, as “fascist” (which reveals their sad ignorance of political and economic definitions, as well).

So, what’s really going on here?

The violent films that progressives prefer typically blur moral distinctions between heroes and villains, between criminals and victims — and simultaneously shower pity and “understanding” on the perpetrators of criminal violence. Nor is there a whiff of protest against “vigilante violence” in their reviews and commentaries when the targets of that violence are the Politically Incorrect — as in Tarantino’s recent “Django Unchained,” or in the old Seventies film “Billy Jack,” or in countless other movies that target racist bigots, unscrupulous capitalists, despoilers of The Environment, etc. Similarly, outstanding thriller authors Lee Child and Barry Eisler, both of whom tilt to the political port side, get away with plenty of visceral vigilante violence in their novels; yet they still retain the approval of liberal critics and readers, solely because of their Politically Correct targeting.

No, the objects of liberal wrath are only those vigilantes who uphold actual justice — not “social justice” (which is its progressive counterfeit). Actual justice is rooted in the individualist premise of personal self-responsibility for one’s actions. “Social justice” is the inverse: It is rooted in the premise that no individual is, or should be held, morally responsible for his actions. In movies upholding the former premise, criminals are brought to account for the evil that they choose to do. In movies upholding the latter premise, criminals are viewed as helpless victims themselves, driven to acts of violence by forces beyond their personal control.

That is why, in contrast to the violent films that liberals like, the ones that they hate draw clear moral boundaries between good and evil and establish a zero-tolerance policy for the evil. But, in a breathtaking lapse of logical coherence and consistency, liberals simultaneously do hold unforgivably accountable those who reject their moral Narrative — the liberal worldview — often gloating when those characters are subjected to the most vicious, violent retribution for their philosophical apostasy.

In a previous essay, I make clear that I do not endorse actual vigilante law-breaking. I explain why what may be satisfying, even morally instructive, in fantasy would be very bad practice in the real world.

But, as a writer of vigilante fiction and of nonfiction that rejects liberal, deterministic excuse-making for predatory violence, I think you may find Paletta’s piece to be morally instructive, too.

 

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  • Jon

    This rejection carries over into real life. This is why progressives make excuses for Islamic terrorism and ask “why do they hate us?” when the terrorists make it quite clear that they’ll continue hating them until they either become muslim or die.

    In the recent Boston Bombing there was an article in Slate in which the author voiced the hope that the terrorist will turn out to be a christian and not a muslim. Progressives have an idea of what is Right and what turns out to be real must never interfere with that.

    • RobertBidinotto

      Excellent point, Jon. The progressive war on individualism as a philosophy causes many of them to regard the core elements of America — its people’s self-assertive independence, its economic system of profit-seeking capitalism, its political system of strictly limited constitutional government — as a moral blight on the world.

      Thus, many progressives reflexively tend to sympathize with those who attack American institutions and symbols, as well as their champions or defenders. Put more bluntly: They feel a kinship, born of shared antipathy, with anyone who targets the symbols, champions, and defenders of those institutions and of self-reliant individualism — such as constitutional conservatives, the Tea Party movement, the self-employed, capitalist entrepreneurs, gun owners, the police, the U.S. military, and the U.S. intelligence community.

      This is why anyone at home or abroad who attacks those institutions, individuals, and symbols — from the home-grown New Left of the Sixties, the contemporary “Occupy” and ACORN thugs, and Earth First! ecoterrorists, to foreign anti-American Marxist dictators, such as in Cuba and Venezuela, or Muslim terrorists everywhere — is granted sympathetic excuse-making, if not open-armed embraces. The rejection of actual justice for “social justice” provides them a theoretical rationale for this moral inversion, and an explanation for their “enabling” of violent evil in the world.

      In HUNTER (and in novels to come), my hero explicitly challenges and rejects this moral inversion, and he takes on its advocates, as well as the thugs they have unleashed on the world. It’s what I think makes Dylan Hunter stand apart from other modern vigilante heroes — and what explains his popularity with thousands of readers who are outraged over the ethical subversion of our culture by “the Excuse-Making Industry.”