Michael Moore and Freedom

First Published: 2004-08-03

Posted on www.Mises.org July 29, 2004

When has there been a single piece of art, theater, or literature that has had such a profound impact on politics as Michael Moore's latest film, "Fahrenheit 9/11"? Released at a pivotal time in both international affairs, in the wake of a much-debated military action in the ever-uneasy Middle East, and domestic politics, on the eve of the United States presidential election for the most powerful office in the world, the film has caused an unprecedented raucous. Moore is a teacher to millions.

The reason for this response is simple, for Moore's film strikes a universal chord within the consciousness of people from all cultures, classes, and ideologies: the fear of power and the love of freedom. The single greatest asset, and indeed only legitimate premise, of Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is that it publicizes the coercive, grim face of the inevitable impoverishment that is the result of warfare. It investigates the rapid growth of the United States government and its trend of trampling the rights of individuals, and the corporatism that is spawned out of the close ties between big government and big business, especially in wartime.

However, these undeniable strengths of the film are also its greatest weaknesses, for Moore focuses his efforts on the conservative Bush administration instead of addressing the crux of the matter: the institution of government itself. Also, given the passionate disgust that the filmmaker has for the current authority at the helm of the United States government, and the equally passionate fondness he has for an alternative dictator, one may rightly question whether Moore's motives are sincerely rooted in liberty or merely in detraction.

Referencing Ray Bradbury's dystopian sci-fi novel "Fahrenheit 451", "Fahrenheit 9/11", according to producer Moore, was titled as such for being the "temperature at which freedom burns." One need not see Moore's latest work to conclude, based on any viewing of his past work or his website that he is certainly not the freedom fighter he espouses to be, but is actually the exact opposite.

Moore, and millions of others who accept his ideological premise that the warmongering state can be stopped even as big government expands, favors an expansion of power in the name of social welfare. Surely, he and his cohorts would valiantly argue to the contrary by drawing attention to the bigness of the imperialistic warfare-state that is currently being bred, but what both the modern left and right wings of mainstream political thought fail to realize is that the welfare-warfare state, empirically speaking, is a unified beast.

Thumbing through the pages of any history textbook, let alone a focused work such as Robert Higgs' Crisis & Leviathan, one will notice the radical growth of government regulations, programs, and public policy that occurs in conjunction with wartime. In these periods of national unrest the time preferences of authorities shift and decisions are made to satisfy some short-run interest with little, if any, regard for individuals, their natural rights, or the long-run repercussions of such decisions.

Moore undoubtedly realizes the evils of the military-industrial complex, and indeed sets out to prove it in his new film, but what he fails to understand is that this same formula also applies to the socialist government apparatus that he backs. Certainly, in the market, interests and plans change to accommodate unforeseen alterations, but individuals, being held accountable for their actions in such a setting, have a tendency to react with a greater concern for the well-being of others, even if such a concern stems purely from their own self-interest.

Government, be it welfare or warfare, holds a monopoly of power in the territory it administrates while private individuals and corporations are vulnerable to shifts in the market, namely the competitive market environment resulting from changing preferences of their fellow market participants, and are therefore encouraged to satisfy these changes in order to survive.

A logical depiction of Michael Moore's ideal system, a socialist welfare state, marks out how misguided such aims are, what such a system would hold, and Moore's contradiction of supporting such a system in light of his supposed support of freedom and peace. State socialism, the epitome of modern left liberalism and the logical end of its philosophy, is the antithesis of free market capitalism and, hence, all of the freedoms afforded the individual in the natural order setting of capitalism.

Socialism encompasses the absence of private property rights and the concomitant trade and markets that evolve from this propertied capitalist system. National socialism, the state-coordinated socialist system of Moore's sort, is the culmination of the state, a system wherein the individual has little if any choice but is rather regarded as a mere component of the state and granted rights and privileges to the state's property and resources.

While the utopian communist philosophers throughout history, which the modern left liberal sentiment resembles and often emulates, envision great prosperity and peace, such ends only achievable in a free market environment, basic logic concludes otherwise. Ludwig von Mises's Omnipotent Government does just this, mapping out the logical path of the rise of the total state and total war and the historical examples of such a system. The blueprint is quite concise: socialism, being the absence of markets and trade, and hence the inability to utilize any resources beyond the states' borders, necessitates conflict, in place of trade, to acquire those previously unattainable resources. This is the implicit contradiction that Moore makes of attacking the current warfare state and yet supporting the welfare state. For a consistent application of Moore's stances on economic issues would, in time, necessitate war if the total state wishes not perish.

The "freedom" favored by Moore and those of his ideological orientation is the "freedom" of government to tax, regulate, and grow so long as it is managing economic, social, and cultural life. Free market capitalism is positively the only manifestation of the natural right that each individual has to the ownership of oneself. It is also the system that Moore, a self-proclaimed civil rights activist, undeniably rejects with much conviction. For capitalism is the only system wherein consensual acts between consenting individuals are permitted, be they civil or economic.

Further, capitalism is the only system in which unprovoked, pre-emptive aggressions and rights violations committed by individuals or bands of individuals are prohibited. In his opposition to capitalism, Moore is explicitly opposing the only solution to the war-mongering imperialism he purports to counter. Government, a zero-sum game at best, is often times a negative sum game, notably during war or conflict, which necessitates orchestrating actions and policies such that those who benefit do so at the expense of others.

Free market capitalism, the only system of positive sums and liberty, for that matter, does not earn the approval of Moore or his followers because of it offers individuals the right to voluntarily interact with whomever they please, utilize and trade the fruits of their natural, diverse abilities, and profit from these exchanges. Indeed every piece of legislation or public policy initiative that redistributes wealth in any way, or pumps more money into an ever-failing public work or government program, most of which Moore openly supports, subjugates the fundamental freedom of self-ownership from which all other legitimate freedoms stem.

Therefore, one must ask: is any credit due to Moore, and if so, how much? Consider this historical analogy: a German Neo-Marxist in the 1930s-40s making a film on the terrors of the Nazi rise to power. The film would speak of the obvious, and even do great good, but the motives and ends are almost just as bad or worse.

Until Moore and his like reconsider their stance on the many forms of welfare statism they support, they will continue to be everything but the advocates of freedom they would like the public to think they are, and the philosophical framework of their bantering will yield not freedom from power but merely a shift in the ideological justification for power itself.

Erich Mattei is a graduate student in economics at the University of Georgia.

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