Another defense of The Dark Knight Rises
I’m sure you have been deluged by comments on this issue. Yet you found time to read them and post the most incisive and interesting comments (the one you disagreed with was my favorite).
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The commenter who described the Dark Knight movies as “conservative” is not entirely wrong. This society is so liberal, that any anti-liberal message is instantly interpreted as a pro-conservative message and lapped up by a grateful non-liberal community. [LA replies: Anti-liberal is not the same as conservative. Nazis are not conservatives. Libertarians are not conservatives. The fact that many people call all kinds of things “conservative” doesn’t mean that those things are conservative and doesn’t mean that we have to accept those false definitions.]
Secondly, the definition of “conservative” has become rather elastic. Ever since the neocons hijacked conservatism, there is very little out there in the mainstream that can help the genuinely interested understand traditional conservatism.
With these thoughts in mind, Lawrence, you will be able to understand why there are many who think that the Dark Knight is a Conservative Crusader. [LA replies: I already understand why many people think these movies are conservative, and I and many astute commenters at this site have shown why those people are wrong.] The Dark Knight movies are a critique of an effete, frightened society where an ubermensch type individual rises above the mediocrity and the apathy and molds the world in his image. This ubermensch is not bound by society’s bureaucratic rules and is permitted things that are forbidden to the masses who have not been tempered by the fire of violence and self-discipline like our Hero. [That doesn’t sound remotely conservative; it sounds Nietzschean.]
In a word, Nolan’s Batman is Nietzsche’s Superman. Obviously, there can be nothing traditional or conservative about such a man. But he is not a liberal. He does not believe in molly-coddling criminals nor does he believe that criminals can be reformed. He is about smashing them and locking them up (and throwing away the key for good measure)
The Nolan series is about Wayne becoming Batman as a way to put his rage to good use. Somewhere along the way he turns into a sort of feudal lord, a man who feels a sense of responsibility for his community. But eventually, the monster Wayne has created becomes him. Wayne is a figurative ghost cast in a deep pit from which he must extricate himself and become Wayne once again. Wayne must make peace with himself and Batman must retire for good.
The journey is marked with horrible scenes of violence, casual murders, tortures and other nihilistic plot devices. Also, Nolan anticipates the Occupy Wall Street movement and demonstrates the evil such a movement would inflict. It has the movie’s most amoral character wondering about the whole “bottom rail on top thing.” He doesn’t spare the Occupy types and exposes them for the vile thieves, robbers and murderers that they are.
All in all, it’s a good movie. America doesn’t make traditionalist movies because America is not a traditionalist Nation. This is the best we can hope for under the circumstances.
James N. writes:
I haven’t seen the new movie, I liked number 1 but I found number 2 disagreeably violent.
I do understand the view that these movies are [not] “conservative.” What they are is non-liberal.
In a world where liberalism is to people as water to fish, a contrary view, or vibe, or feeling can excite incipient conservatives. And it should.
People will come to us in small steps (if at all). Making the “oppressed” villains is very unusual, and the “text” sort of conceals the subtext makes it even better.
I’ll write about DKR after I see it.
James’s comment must represent the nth time that, after I have attacked some touted conservative writer or work as not conservative, a reader defends it on the basis that he or it helps lead liberals away from liberalism toward some novice stage of conservatism, with the implication that we should not reject such “conservative” manifestations because that will discourage these budding conservatives.
And for the nth time I reply that my task is not to help liberals make baby steps into some phony or semi conservatism. My task to to reject liberalism whole hog, and to reject the phony “conservatisms” that are constantly being sold to us as the real thing.
And it is only by taking that “mean,” “judgmental,” “arrogant” position (“Who is this Auster to act as though he is the supreme arbiter of what conservatism is?”) that I have any effect. Consider, for example, the number of readers have written to me over the years to thank me for my uncompromising rejection of libertarianism, or for my severe critiques of Mark Steyn, because that helped lead them beyond libertarianism or Steyn to traditionalist conservatism. But if I had done what so many are always urging me to do,—to approve libertarianism, or to approve a Mark Steyn, or to approve the anti-Israel paleos because after all they are our “conservative” allies, or to approve some nihilist movie falsely touted as conservative—I would not have had the positive effect on those readers that I have had.
It’s not good that people see The Dark Knight Rises as a conservative movie. It isn’t. It reminds me of liberals endlessly whining on movie boards that Hollywood is racist, sexist or whatever and still believing that the liberal revolution hasn’t begun to enfold our society. It has. Liberals should stop living in the past and open their eyes. Hollywood is generally politically and culturally liberal. And people should stop praising Nolan’s Batman as a victorious conservative. How is Nolan’s Batman a conservative? By not believing in killing criminals? By not using guns? By opposing the League of Shadows and their views that Gotham City is decadent and beyond saving? By believing that destruction and renewal are not needed? By falling for a feminist painted heroine like Catwoman? By his villain not being Bane but actually a woman? By his not listening to his butler from childhood telling him to give up this hopeless mission of saving Gotham City?
Nolan has fooled everybody. Ultimately it’s not a conservative movie. In reality Batman’s transformation is incomplete. He’s in perpetual conflict between liberal/progressive ideals and being free from such ideals. I think Nolan’s Batman can see the decadence, the horror, the corruption of Gotham City. He knows this. He’s aware of it. But does he rise above this? No. That’s why Batman must symbolically die in the movie and only Bruce Wayne, the playboy billionaire, lives. Rising above Gotham City would get him scorned. Maybe that’s Nolan’s message. Rising above decadence makes ones a pariah.
James N. writes:
I was not advocating that YOU should accept the Batman series as conservative, or even implicitly so.
YOUR work stands, bravely, alone, and I had no expectation that you would not dissect this phenomenon ruthlessly.
I spoke to the motivation of those who, part way along the journey themselves, derive encouragement from things other than VFR — encouragement that the bastions of leftist thought may not be impregnable, that they are not for certain joining the losing side.
Ben S. writes:
I admit that characterizing extreme violence in modern movies as “mere catharsis” is probably giving them too much credit. The inversion of that statement may be closer to the truth: such violence may be merely cathartic in particular films, but generally be a promotion of moral evil. The Dark Knight was the film I contemplated while offering excuses for the portrayal of sadistic violence, and I maintain that those excuses legitimately apply to that film even if they do not apply to most others.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 25, 2012 11:02 AM | Send
The Dark Knight seems to me to be a serious contemplation of the nature of good and evil. The challenge posed by the Joker to Gotham is the challenge that the Devil poses to humanity: Do we really do well by others for the sake of Good, or just because it is usually the best way to get along? Do we assume that we can appease our enemies, or are we prepared to accept that they may accept no terms short of our own destruction? Do we really want life to go on as usual, or would we, in some dark part of our souls, rather see it all go up in flames?
Is there a good reason for giving the Joker’s depravity such creative and compelling expression in the film? Yes, if the audience draws the right lessons. To the extent that they enjoy watching the Joker set his fires, the viewers come to realize that they are not innocent of the lust for destruction that drives him. This realization becomes a warning when it is seen that the Joker treats his assistants as terribly as he treats the rest: do the Devil’s work and it will be done to you.
On the side of Good, a specific criticism you made of Batman is that he will not kill even to stop a murderer. I think that Batman is a special case, because his commitment to non-lethality amounts to a sort of vow, which has both priestly and penitential aspects. Batman’s vow is priestly because it is the limitation he finds necessary to impose upon himself as a counter to the moral threat posed by the extraordinary prerogative he assumes as the vigilante Batman. That is, if Batman sought out criminals to confront AND if he resolved those confrontations lethally on occasion, then his role in society would be vastly different and more perilous. By merely incapacitating criminals, Batman ensures his role is to enhance the rule of law, not to supplant it. The importance of this distinction relates to the penitential aspect of the vow: Bruce Wayne is haunted by his near-murder of his parents’ killer, which he was tempted to do because he found the punishment meted out by the legal system insufficient. Wayne’s subsequent resolution not to kill ensures that his role as Batman does not become a vehicle to indulge in vengeance by proxy. As is made clear in the third film, Wayne has never gotten past his anger over the murder of his parents, so likewise that temptation remains with him.
A final thing to note on that matter is that Batman does kill Harvey Dent at the end, by tackling him over a ledge. Nevertheless, Batman was not actually trying to harm Dent; instead that harm was an incidental that Batman could not prevent once he had done what was necessary. Thus it can be said that Batman does not purposefully kill, but accepts that criminals may die as a result of his actions to protect the innocent.