The Avengers: A Libertarian Perspective

The Avengers: A Libertarian Perspective

Libertarian messages in films - Avengers This past week the DVD was released for the blockbuster hit of 2012, The Avengers. Director Joss Whedon remains one of the greatest advocates of libertarianism in popular culture despite his repeated denial of being a libertarian.

Whedon first gained notice among libertarians with his television series Firefly and the follow-up film Serenity. Both of which added numerous quotes to the libertarian lexicon.  Such as, “A government is a body of people, usually notably ungoverned.” or “That’s what governments are for — get in a man’s way.” We see this same libertarian orientation seeping through in The Avengers.

The central conflict in The Avengers is between Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and The Avengers, a team in conflict recruited by a super-secret government agency to stop Loki’s plans for global domination.

There are three critical scenes that I want to focus on. The first is Loki prior to his arrival on Earth. Following the events of the film Thor, Loki has fallen-in with a mysterious alien benefactor willing to give him an army with which to take control of the Earth. From Loki’s point of view, he is meant to be a king, and if he cannot be king of Asgard, then he will be king of Earth.

Upon his arrival, he makes a show in Germany where he commands a terrified crowd to kneel before him and says, “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

In defiance an old German man refuses to kneel before a man like Loki. Not actually being human, Loki finds this amusing and informs the man that there are no men like him. The man replies, “There are always men like you.” This appears to be an allusion to Hitler, but on a more surface level it is the simple recognition that all men who presume to rule over others believe themselves to be special, when in fact they are no more than bullies. So perhaps it is no surprise that the first Avenger to fight Loki is Captain America, who in his own film declared his motivation being his dislike for bullies.

Despite his swagger, Loki sees The Avengers as a threat and seeks to prevent them from interfering by sowing discord among them in hopes that they would destroy each other. Nick Fury, the director of the spy organisation SHIELD, thwarts this by giving a speech about the importance of heroes. He taps into their sense of common purpose. Of course, they unite to defeat Loki and his alien army.

In the final scene, an alien soldier reports to Loki’s benefactor, who turns out to be a major villain from the comics called Thanos, saying, “Humans… They are not the cowering wretches we were promised. They stand. They are unruly, and therefore cannot be ruled. To challenge them is to court death.”

Whedon has set two points in the story. In the first, Loki says that humanity’s natural state is to be ruled, but at the end the message is that humans are unruly and therefore cannot be ruled.  Here we have two conflicting statements about humanity and both are true.  One is collectivist and the other is individualistic.

Of course no politician in his or her right mind would give the same speech Loki gave concerning human nature, but when we look around we find no shortage of politicians willing to bully (or nanny) into submission all who defy their vision. We also see people more than willing to accept these infringements on their freedom. They may not be cowering before Loki’s magic spear, but they are in effect kneeling before the threat of fines or imprisonment dealt out by government enforcers.

Loki also has a point concerning freedom. In another scene Loki says, “Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.” History is filled with tales of freed slaves who missed being taken care of by their masters and who fear the self-responsibility that comes with freedom. Likewise, there are those who happily receive their benefits from the government and accept the dependency it purchased.

The alien army did not face humanity. It faced the Avengers. Humanity, with one notable exception, knelt willingly and easily before Loki. The leaders, in the form of the council that Nick Fury reported to, were willing to destroy Manhattan rather than fight. Humanity is not portrayed very heroically.

The Avengers are the heroes of the film and as heroes they are presented to us as examples to emulate. They are a diverse group of men and women with unique backgrounds, ideas, and motivations who work through their conflicts to unite under a single vision.

And what is that vision? It’s pretty simple on the surface, to prevent Loki from conquering Earth, but it goes deeper than that. It’s Freedom.  If I do not violate the life, liberty, or property of someone else, then I can do whatever I want and I will not be ruled. These unruly Avengers are not that much different from Whedon’s other group, the crew of Serenity who “aim to misbehave”.

This same message has resonated throughout British and American culture for centuries.  Such as in the song Rule Britannia when it declares that Britons will never be slaves. Or on a more populist note, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Marion Ravenwood is being kidnapped through the streets of Cairo she cries out, “You can’t do this to me. I’m an American.”  To be true to the traditions of Britain or America is to be unruly in defence of your rights.

I would like to think that The Avengers pulverised box office records because this message resonated, whether people consciously got it or not. At least this is the message that I got: the world is full of bullies like Loki, so be unruly humans, work together despite your differences, fight back, be free…and then get shawarma afterwards.

Daniel Logan-Scott
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Is a writer from Los Angeles, California and has been living in Glasgow, Scotland for the past fifteen years. His written works focus on the Cultural Philosophy and History of the Romantic Era (1776-1929).

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