I saw Zack Snyder’s film of Watchmen today. I couldn’t think more highly of the graphic novel on which the film is based – I’ve read it at least 15 times, I’ve taught it in classes, I’ve lectured on it, and I’ve published on it. I have a fanboy love for it and a philosopher’s respect for it. I was nervous about the film being made, because it was very important to me that it not disrespect the book. Alan Moore’s works have not fared well being made into movies, and Watchmen in particular is so much a creature of its medium – it’s not only a comic, it’s about comics. Moore and his collaborator Dave Gibbons used the medium to its fullest potential, so it was reasonable on several levels to be concerned about a film adaptation. But the news is good: Snyder did a great job translating the story to film. Part of what I mean by that is to recognize that movies are fundamentally different from comics, so the concept of “being faithful to the source material” is complicated. Some said Watchmen was “unfilmable” – in one sense, that’s literally true: watching a movie is simply a different sort of experience than reading a comic. So too is making a movie different from making a comic. So for me, “faithfulness” here is mainly about staying true to the story – not just the plot, but also the themes, the psychological insight, the philosophical ideas explored. If some layers of depth are left out, that’s sad, but in some cases unavoidable, and in any event excusable provided that the central story is still getting told, and as much of the deep stuff gets in as possible. An example of getting this right would be the film of The Name of the Rose. There was a lot of philosophy and theology and history in the book that couldn’t make it into the film, but I was impressed with how much of it did. On the other hand, the film version of V for Vendetta, while enjoyable on one level, not only lost a lot of its depth, it changed the underlying themes in important ways. Watchmen did not make that mistake. Snyder omitted some story elements, and of course the psychological portraits aren’t as in-depth as in the book, but what made it successful is that so much of the deeper stuff did manage to get in, and Snyder remained true to the main themes. Indeed, he was extremely faithful to the story for the most part. By now probably everyone has heard that he “changed the ending,” but that’s not exactly correct: he changed the mechanism by which the ending was achieved, while leaving completely intact the nature of what has happened, the ethical ramifications of it, and the dilemmas faced by the protagonists in response to it (as well as one of the best lines ever). Was it sad to miss the omitted elements? Of course. The book is richer and deeper. But I like movies too, and this is probably as good a movie of this book as it was possible to make. The fight choreography was spectacular, the visual effects were incredible, the cinematography was very evocative of the panels of the novel. I thought the acting was fine, Jackie Earle Haley’s in particular, but there weren’t any performances I thought were weak. And someone watching the film who has not read the book should be able to grasp the awful dilemma of the film’s end as well as its characters’ ambivalences. That means it was a success. A or A-. I am eagerly awaiting the deleted scenes on the DVD.
UPDATE: some readers have expressed interest in my 2005 essay on the subject, if you don't want to buy the book linked in the post, try here.
Contents include articles by William Glod on paternalism, Clifton Perry on litigation, Kathleen Touchstone on charity, and William Barnett & Walter Block on Hummel's take on Austrian Business Cycle Theory. There's also a long review essay by Managing Editor Carrie-Ann Biondi on Tara Smith's recent book on Rand. The issue concludes with 4 book reviews: Mary Lefkowitz reviews Emily Wilson on the death of Socrates, Jan Narveson reviews William Hudson's book criticizing libertarianism, H.G. Callaway reviews Arthur Schlesinger, and David Gordon reviews Jerry Kirkpatrick's book on education theory.
Special thanks to L&P reader Stephan Kinsella for lots of awesome help with the PDFs, and to Jeff Tucker at LVMI for offering to host the site.
Welcome to Libertarian Papers!
To Authors, Readers, and Potential Libertarians:
A new libertarian journal—a new type of libertarian journal—is born today. Libertarian Papers is an exclusively online peer-reviewed journal. Its home is this elegant, fast, easy-to-use website. Please feel free to browse around.
Publishing online has allowed us to break free of many of the constraints faced by paper-based journals. Scholars working in the libertarian tradition will find dealing with us to be a refreshing change. For instance, we publish articles consecutively, online, as soon as they are peer-reviewed and a final copy is submitted. No waiting for the next issue or printing delays. We have also done away with arbitrary space limits. And we don't care what citation style you use, as long as it is consistent, professional, and enables the reader to find the work referenced. Neither our time nor the author's need be wasted converting from one citation style to another, or wondering whether"2nd. ed." goes here or there, or whether it should be"2d. ed." instead. In a digital age, old forms must give way to new forms.
And as our publications are online and open, you won't find our authors furtively posting a scanned copy of their paper articles on their own sites, while their article is trapped in musty paper on a dark shelf—but if they want to, they are free to do so, since to the extent possible everything here is published under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Want to republish your piece in a book? No need to ask us for permission. We want to spread the ideas of liberty, not impose DRM on them.
And of course readers will love the ease of access. Subscription is by RSS feed, and free. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or other social media to come. And unlike other academic journals, we allow comments on our articles, via the blog posts announcing them. Libertarian Papers is completely free and open, because readers' being willing to devote time to studying the ideas of liberty is payment enough for us. It is the profit we seek. And we think having readers who love to use our site and read our articles is what authors want, too.
A few words of thanks are in order. The assistance and support of Jeff Tucker of the Mises Institute, web designer Aristotle Esguerra, and Lew Rockwell and the Ludwig von Mises Institute have been invaluable in getting the website set up and the first non-issue out. Libertarian Papers is also proud to have an outstanding Editorial Board, with world-class scholars working in the libertarian tradition. Their help and commitment was also indispensable in helping this project come to fruition. And various loyal and devoted friends in the libertarian cadre, such as Gil Guillory, Manuel Lora, and Anthony Gregory, helped in various ways behind the scenes. A hearty thanks to them all.
That brings us to our first issue—or non-issue, rather. We're very proud of our first set of published articles—the seven articles that are being published today, immediately after this post is published (and then rolling them out about one hour apart, consecutively, throughout the day). These pieces include articles by two eminent libertarian thinkers, Jan Narveson (writing on Nozick, justice, and restitution) and Robert Higgs (on depressions and war). Also being published today is a previously unpublished memo from Ludwig von Mises to F.A. Hayek, relaying Mises's concerns and advice about the then-nascent Mont Pèlerin Society, followed by a previously unpublished memo from Murray Rothbard to the Volker Fund, about libertarian tactics and strategy. The last three articles to be published today—about four hours from now—are a fascinating three-part exchange between Nicolás Maloberti and Joshua Katz about libertarianism, positive rights, and"Possibility of the Legitimate State."
Several more articles are in the works. We expect to publish throughout the year—and beyond. Stay tuned.
* * *
We welcome submissions of articles and other suitable materials—even in foreign languages, in some cases (more on our About page). And feel free to send feedback, suggestions, or questions to the Editor, via email or through the comments feature on our blog posts. We hope you—authors and readers—also profit from Libertarian Papers.
UPDATE: those are great answers in the comments; thanks very much to the three of you.
In other news, Mass voters have apparently voted to decriminalize (smallish amounts of) marijuana, but also to ban dog track betting. I've been trying to figure out whether that's a net gain or net loss for liberty, but I'm also trying to get these papers graded.
UPDATE: I did get the papers graded. And I don't think it's an awful thing that the Democrat won last night. I'll get a meatier post on that up as soon as clear my desk of some time-sensitive tasks.
I voted for Ron Paul in the primary (in MA, you can vote in any primary regardless of affiliation; I am not a member of any party) in the possibly-naive hope that the GOP might actually start embracing the free-market policies they so often talk about. But Paul, for whom I voted back in 88, was roundly rejected by the GOP. I still thought I might vote LP or abstain, but what changed my mind was the recent financial crisis. No, it wasn't that the crisis made me long for Democratic regulations and abandon the idea of the market. It was the fact that the crisis was being blamed on"the failed laissez-faire principles of the Republican Party." All of a sudden, free-market ideas and libertarianism were being attributed to President Bush and the GOP. It became clear to me that it's actually worse to talk the rhetoric of free markets and not act that way than it is to openly say you're skeptical. Classical liberalism can't afford another four years of false advertising and blame for effects it's not causing. So I'm delighted that the Democrats are in power again. Let this be a lesson to the GOP: you must stop paying lip service to, but then betraying, libertarian ideals. You must actually produce candidates who want to protect and promote liberty and reduce the scope of government. Then freedom lovers will have every reason to want your party back in charge.
Another factor makes me feel good about yesterday. Although it's been said over and over by every commentator, there was something special about yesterday's outcome. Although he tried not to position himself as"the black candidate," I think it's pretty great that enough voters got behind a black (or to be more precise, mixed-race) candidate as to elect him. I think this aspect of his presidency will have a positive effect on society. Will he be a dogmatic hard-left president? I don't think so. I suspect he'll be open to at least entertaining the notion of market-based approaches, partly because he's young, and partly because he's got some advisors on his team who do think that way, and partly because they're true, and he's smart enough to get that. Maybe I'm wrong, and he'll be hardcore anti-market. But at least he won't call socialist policies"laissez-faire capitalism."
He writes:"Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves….This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism."
Just so. I wish I had written that.
That's all true, except the first part. Sadly, most Americans can't see through the smoke and mirrors of most politicians' economic schemes, don't understand any of the relationships described above, and continue to vote for more of the same.