Saturday, April 10, 2021

Notes on Review of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE(dir. Stanley Kubrick based on Anthony Burgess Novel) in Counter-Currents

although A Clockwork Orange is often hailed as a classic, I thought it was dumb, distasteful, and highly overrated

Dumb, no. Distasteful, yes, but how could it be otherwise given the content. Highly rated by some but denounced by just as many, and the film continues to have detractors who, while acknowledging Kubrick's mastery, take exception to this treatment. It was as underrated as overrated.

They... use a confidence trick (“There’s been a terrible accident. Can I come in and use your phone?”) to invade a couple’s home, whereupon they beat the man, rape his wife, and trash the place. The whole sequence is deeply distasteful. Violent sociopaths like Alex and his friends should simply be killed.

But how could it be tasteful, especially when most of the film is from Alex's subjectivity? Alex is a crazy guy, and the whole film is seen through his predatory eyes. He isn't a man of taste(by conventional standards) though he does think rather highly of himself as an aesthete who reveres the genius of Beethoven. As he sees it, he's cut above the rest, a natural leader. He is anti-christ, and his droogs are merely anti-disciples. Also, he sees himself as an artist of mayhem. There is flamboyance to his aggression, a vision to the madness. It's as if his crime spree is a performance art, an ultra-violent version of the pantomime troubadour in Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP. Alex feels as a natural aristocrat, a pop-Nietzschean star of the streets who makes up his own rules. No wonder Kubrick thought of casting Mick Jagger in the role. Sympathy for the Devil.

That Alex should be locked up or executed reads like a non-sequitur. It's social commentary unrelated to the film and its purpose. I don't know of Kubrick's stance on justice and capital punishment, but the film is not about what kind of punishment should be meted out to people like Alex. I highly doubt Kubrick was cheering on the violence or thought the Alexes of the world should be treated leniently; after all, he led a life not unlike that of the writer whose home is invaded. Rather, he features an horrific act from both objective and subjective modes, which makes the scene all the more disorienting. On the one hand, Kubrick just watches and takes note in 'cinema verite' style; it's like reportage of rape done by the Maysles Brothers. Yet, it's also like the pig-hunt in LORD OF THE FLIES. William Golding made the reader share in the ecstasy(with sexual overtones) of the pursuit and kill. It's something more than search for food. It's the thrill of violence and unfettered freedom.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, in presenting the violence raw, oscillating between cold-eyed detachment and wild-eyed exuberance, was being daring(with unprecedented depiction of violence) and also daring us to find our own equilibrium. Traditionally, violence by bad people was presented with strong moral overtones, like when Liberty Valance robs and assaults people. It's as if even the bad guys knew of the moral equation. In being fiendishly mean and nasty, they were proving a point, paving the way for good guys to put things to right. That element made violence in older movies less disturbing and more comforting. Plenty of villains act nastily in Cecil B. DeMille movies, but we know it's bad-guys-acting-bad and furthermore our sympathy is directed toward the victims(who are often featured as noble or saintly). Or in Ida Lupino's THE HITCHHIKER, we know the villain is a real scumbag, and we never stop worrying for the hostages. Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO comes close to making us identify with Norman Bates, but the moral conundrum is resolved by featuring him as a hopelessly sick person(in the clinical sense).
In contrast, ACO is the-world-according-to-a-sociopath and hardly wavers from that position. Also, unlike BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE WILD BUNCH that halfway try to ennoble or humanize the characters — Robin Hoods in hard times or outlaws who fight for honor — , there is nothing redemptive about Alex who exults in nihilism in the final scene. One could argue Kubrick chose not to do the moral or emotional homework for us. Another director might have padded or slanted the film to make it clearer that Alex is a bad guy, a brutalizer, even a killer of innocents. (A good example is the TV movie HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL that leaves no stone unturned that Hitler was a bad, bad, very, very bad-bad guy lest anyone get the wrong idea. Though Hitler is almost always on screen, he is made repellent at every turn. It's well-known Hitler was an animal-lover, but the TV movies denies him even that; a dog senses his demon soul, barks at him, and is killed by him. DENIAL, the movie about David Irving, is also slanted to leave no doubt that he's Mr. Miserable, evil incarnate. In contrast, Kubrick chose to give the devil his due in ACO and leave it up to us to judge or not. Alex plays it like he's the son of satan but too wily even for his other-father who'd do better with Damien in the OMEN movies.) Some might argue that Kubrick went too far and overly indulged Alex, i.e. he isn't merely presented as a sociopath but like a rock star, a rebel with cause-celebre. But then, the film is essentially seen through Alex's eyes and narrated by him. It is not an objective presentation, like with Hitler and cohorts in DOWNFALL. It makes for an interesting contrast with the next film BARRY LYNDON with its third-person narrator. While it remains with Barry from beginning to end, it's never quite his story. He is the observed than the observer. In contrast, Anthony Burgess wrote the book as a tall-tale of a demented youth, and it has the advantage of the 'unreliable narrator'. As with Voltaire's CANDIDE, we can never tell if the story is true in its entirety. In contrast, it's more difficult to suggest unreliability in movies that show everything in detail.

In some ways, the rape scene in ACO is even harder to take than the one in Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS. While both are disturbing, the violation in the latter is presented gravely, one where senses and emotions are pushed to the limit. Also, the rapist in STRAW DOGS has strong feelings for the woman, and even as she resists, a part of her surrenders to the alpha of the pack. It's a serious transgression done with serious emotions.
In contrast, the rape in ACO is like an extension of the joy-ride with the stolen car. The rape meshes tragedy with comedy(even with a musical). The gaiety of the moment(for Alex and his droogs) is utterly indifferent to the gravity of the act. At the very least, both the perpetrator and the victim in STRAW DOGS were agreed on the seriousness of the situation. The rape in ACO has an element of elation, even ecstasy, but it's also childlike, and perhaps there is a relation between sociopathy and child psychology. As deviant and nasty as Alex is(he is also intelligent), there is something 'innocent' about his deeds and emotions. Children have limited empathy, which develops later. At least in part, sociopaths may be dangerous precisely because something within them fails to grow out of childhood. So, even as they develop adult ambition and sexuality, a part of their psychology remains childlike and fails to appreciate the full consequences of their actions on others. Just like children are fixated mostly on 'my fun', sociopaths see other people as their 'toys'. The rape scene in ACO is like child-play with adult-victims as 'toys'. That creates emotional dissonance in the viewer. The scene is like an episode of Romper Room with Rape. So 'innocent' in its perversion.
It throws us off-balance. How are we to react to the scene? One possibility is to laugh along in the manner of Animal House, but then, we would have to be pretty demented. But even if one settles on moral outrage, the scene lurches between indifference and exaltation, denying us a safe-seat of judgement. And when Alex breaks into "Singin' in the Rain", it's all the more bewildering. (HENRY THE PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER takes it even further in mayhem, but the sheer grimness has a consistency and may be less exasperating than ACO is to some. As for MAN BITES DOG, that's just pointless.)

The rape scene is disorienting(precisely because it was done with skill & intelligence and can't be chalked up to mere exploitation or dementedness) and either acts as a challenge or a monkey wrench, especially in relation to our feelings about Alex through the rest of the film. If Alex were a grim and humorless figure like the character of HENRY THE PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER(which I detest as much as Nani Moretti does), it wouldn't matter so much. At the very least, it's impossible to see Henry as anything but a man-monster from beginning to end. But there are moments in ACO when Alex is funny, charming, and inspired(and even a bit endearing, but then, who says bad people can't have winning qualities?) He isn't merely funny like Joe Pesci's characters in GOODFELLAS and CASINO. There, even when you laugh at his antics, you know he's just a lowlife killer, a goomba. But Alex isn't just a sociopath but a rare breed(whose fiendish grin sweeps sins under the rug), and there's the risk of our overlooking his true nature(or even being seduced by it). There is something of the Marquis De Sade about him. Especially in the Rock Era when so many music stars' bad behavior were overlooked or even hyped for their cool factor, not to mention the effect of 007 movies and Spaghetti Westerns, it's easy to see why ACO became part of the Zeitgeist.

In a way, ACO is like a cold-eyed distillation of the driving forces behind the 60s. Boomer youths fancied themselves as idealistic and 'committed', but events like May 68 owed more to youth narcissism/nihilism than to any real understanding of the world or justice; unlike earlier forms of leftism, they were products of too-much-prosperity than too-much-poverty, more about demand for meaning than struggle for material needs, and one thing for sure, Alex's dementia can't be blamed on 'poverty', which was the pat formula for ideologues, especially in relation to bad black behavior. And yet, the search for meaning soon turned into pursuit of thrills in an era when youths were enticed with dreams of sex, music, drugs, and unfettered expressions in arts/entertainment. It's like the ending of the German film MEIN BAADER-MEINHOF KOMPLEX where the original radicals soon discover that the movement is most attractive to those with a penchant for destruction for destruction's sake; for them, ideology is really a veneer, a moral convenience, as with the would-be murderers in ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD who rationalize their murder plot with 'social justice' theories of getting even with the rich 'piggies' in Hollywood.
In a way, ACO does to youth culture what DR. STRANGELOVE did to the Military-Industrial Complex. Just like the generals and wargamers of the Cold War satire are driven as much by sex and territoriality as by principles and patriotism, ACO implies that the driving spirit of youth is less idealism than ultra-narcissism. Indeed, a world where Rock Stars and the like hog the limelight of 'morality' really makes us wonder.

Alex is high-handed and cruel to his buddies as well, using treachery and violence to assert dominance over them. This merely breeds resentment.

But we can understand why. Alex is clearly superior to them in will and wit. He's got bigger brains and even bigger balls. He is the natural leader among them. In any rock band, some have more star power than others, more innate authority. Mick Jagger was the front-man for the Stones. John Lennon was the dominant force in the Beatles, even if Paul McCartney did more of the heavy-lifting. Alex is too good for his droogs, and they know it. They resent him but also envy him. They stick by him because he inspires them to do things they wouldn't on their own. But he pushes too far, and they betray him, but this happens in rock bands as well. Some have speculated that Alexander the Great was a victim of a conspiracy by his own men. Alex just can't help himself. He's a diva, he hogs the attention, and he must be boss.

All of Kubrick's films are ruminations on the game of power. ACO is about Alex who plays like knight on a chessboard but is reduced to a pawn.

The tough(and loud)talking chief guard(who could give Sgt. Hartman of FULL METAL JACKET a run for the money) can be a real son of a bitch, but he takes his job seriously and does it well. He’s totally dedicated to the system and his role in it, and such stuff interested Kubrick more than the novel’s theme about free will. ACO gave Kubrick an opportunity to delve into the workings of power. In order for the well-spoken elites to treat Alex with pseudo-civility, men like the chief guard must play the roles of enforcers, bull mastiffs. It says so much about the structure of the once-great British Empire. A world of genteel men guarded by ham-fisted men with big sticks. Those with the most power outwardly display it least because those with less power, the enforcers, strut with threat of blunt force.

The happy ending is that Alex returns to being a violent sociopath, but this time he will enjoy the patronage and protection of the state. Thus the tale veers from pat moralism to pure cynicism in the end.

But the film never dabbled in pat moralism. If anything, Kubrick upset a lot of people precisely because of the near-total lack of any kind of moralism. Indeed, Alex's troubles out-of-prison are not treated as 'lessons' as Trevor Lynch would indicate: "Let that be a lesson to you."
It's less a lesson and more a joke on him. Alex develops a strange relationship with the audience. Because of his zany devil-may-care charisma, the audience is partially with him for the ride, a vicarious participation in thug-life. But because some of his acts are unspeakable, the audience also feel sickened as voyeuristic 'accomplices'. It's almost as if Kubrick was pulling a Ludovico Technique on us but in reverse. If Alex-the-sociopath is made to feel sick about mayhem, the audience(presumably made up of mostly normal people) is made to feel almost giddy about the violence. (Over the years, the real problem has been desensitization, especially as even young ones now grow up watching slasher movies and playing violent gory video-games. Today, a normal person is probably inundated with loads and loads of violent images, the kind that used to haunt only psychopathic minds in the past. What is the long-term psycho-social consequence of this? A nation of normal people with heads filled with manifestations of abnormal psychology?) There's a kind of love/hate feeling for Alex on part of the (normal) audience.
In a way, Kubrick's lack of judgement is not without moral value, at least in that he allows the viewer the free will to find and choose his/her own responses. In contrast, what is so offensive about PULP FICTION is Tarantino opens the sewers of demented ugliness for laughs but then pretends at the end to wrap it up with hipster-sermonizing, which is totally unconvincing.

Kubrick was fascinated with the fallibility of the perfect plan or system(most notably with the Hal 9000 computer). The ruling regime and Alex arrive at an understanding of the Perfect Solution that would satisfy both parties(and the third party, the public, as well). Due to the Ludovico treatment, Alex would be set free, which is good for him. He would no longer commit crime, which would be good for the public, and it would mean good press for the government, a boost for the ruling elites. But, as so often happens in Kubrick films, the perfect system(or the perfect game) goes awry. Alex is free but becomes the hunted, public support falters, and the regime must backtrack.
At the highest levels, it's really a matter of power, a game of who rules what, than a matter of justice. The opposition that uses Alex, even driving him to attempted suicide, is capable of anything to embarrass the ruling regime so that its members can take power. And the regime changes its tune on Alex and restores him to his original self not out of any real concern for him(or the public) or ethical principles but merely to minimize the damage to their power. To take or hold onto power, both sides will do anything. Indeed, something is a bit suspect about the Ludovico Technique. If its purpose is to prevent criminality, why show images of Hitler and the Third Reich? What does that have to do with street crime or home invasions? Hitler was a killer but not a criminal in the conventional sense. It could be the Jewish Element among those who procured the treatment, and the conditioning seems to be as ideological as medical. But then, we see this with the Covid-hysteria. It was politicized and weaponized. It was promoted as a medical issue but was really driven by politics of power among the contending elites. Granted, the US is less a two-party system than a two-puppet system with both puppet-parties having their strings pulled by the Jews. Still, even among puppets, there is the wish to be the top puppet. It's like school. No matter who is class president, he or she has to take orders from adults, but there's still prestige in the label.

Had ACO's ending been truly cynical, it would have been less disturbing. After all, DR. STRANGELOVE ends on a cynical note, and it was universally praised. The problem is the triumphalism, a kind of thug-version of the Star Child at the end of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Alex, the creature of hell, has entered the heaven of ecstasy with the backing of the powers-that-be. How did Kubrick really feel about this?

One problem is Malcolm McDowell's the only one with star power whereas everyone else plays a caricature. They do it really well, but they are relatively cartoonish in comparison to the Alex who is at least three dimensional. Star power may not make a person sympathetic, and it’s hard to imagine anyone sympathizing with Alex’s vile exploits. But star power provokes a more dangerous response in us, an adulation of the ‘cool’ nihilist who has the audacity to make up his own rules. There is the Id in each of us, but we keep it caged for good reason. But even as we fear it, we are excited by it, which is why law-abiding people root for bank robbers in movies. Or for Tony Montana with ‘balls’ in SCARFACE. Alex may not be sympathetic but is certainly made pop-mythic.

If ACO has a moral problem, Alex’s balls are too big and aglow with star power whereas his victims have been flattened into two dimensional cartoon figures who look ridiculous and don’t elicit our sympathy. It didn’t matter in DR. STRANGELOVE because EVERYONE there is a caricature and there’s consistency of vision: Mad satire from beginning to end, with everyone deserving ridicule.
In contrast, ACO is like 1/3 spectacle(not unlike SPARTACUS and 2002), 1/3 drama, and 1/3 comedy. Alex is given some dramatic gravitas, which is denied to everyone else, even his hapless victims. If Alex is humanized(and even idolized), why is everyone else only good for mockery, ridicule, or unconcern?

Apparently, the book’s final chapter was “redemptive,” but this was omitted as being contrived—as if that weren’t true of the whole story.

It was excised from the American book edition, long before the making of the film. Kubrick went with the American version. I'm of two minds about the ending of the original novel. It seems plausible given that people do change with age. But it also comes across as an afterthought and even seems irrelevant as the novel is really a satire, more about society than about any fully-realized character. Alex is an embodiment of a trend, a cultural 'icon', than a realistic individual.
Still, it works better in the novel because Alex is younger. In the film, Alex is all grown-up, a young adult than someone on the verge of adulthood. And Alex of the film is far nastier than his counterpart in the novel. In contrast, we can believe in Barry Lyndon's transformation when he loses his son and everything else. He was created as a genuine character than constructed as a social symbol.

The Ludovico technique is based on the observation that normal people have a distaste for violence and cruelty directed at the innocent. Then it simply ignores the fact that normal people don’t necessarily have a distaste for violence, even cruelty, directed at bad people. It also reverses cause and effect, reasoning that since normal people feel distaste at violence, if they can create a mechanical association between violence and sickness, that will somehow make Alex a morally normal person, curing him of his violent sociopathy.

This isn't true. The people behind the Ludovico Treatment don't overlook the fact that normal people have a taste for violence, even cruelty, directed at the likes of Alex. At the presentation, a male performer humiliates and beats up Alex to the delight of 'normal' people. The audience loves the fact that Alex is getting his comeuppance. They look forward to the prospect that people like Alex, when righteously humiliated by 'good normal' people, won't be able to fight back. Try as he might, Alex is defenseless at the abuse directed at him. He wants to strike back but can't. And the crowd applauds. If anything, this becomes the undoing of the Ludovico Treatment. 'Good normal' people take advantage of Alex's defenselessness and drive him to the edge, indeed to the point where he becomes the victim.

Also, the Ludovico Treatment was never aimed at turning Alex into a morally normal person. It's made clear that the powers-that-be don't care what Alex thinks or feels AS LONG AS he is physically incapable of committing crime. The idea is to make him physically free but emotionally caged. So, Alex can be as evil as he wants to be on the inside. What the treatment promises is that he won't be capable of acting out his evil; he will be as harmless as a child on the outside. That's it. It's not a moral treatment but a behavioral one. In other words, it's not meant as a moral or 'spiritual' cure, which is precisely the theological argument presented in the film. The powers-that-be argue that, regardless of what Alex feels inside, he is harmless AS LONG AS he doesn't commit crime, which is the reverse of Christian teachings that say the SIN is essentially a matter of the heart.

Also, this has to be seen in context. There was a time when B.F. Skinner(author of WALDEN II) was a major influence in the West. He disregarded psychology & free will and focused on behavior and conditioning. Skinner's disciples rejected the notion of 'personality' & 'individuality' and believed that people are just the sum of their conditioning.

Of course, this whole theory completely ignores the element of empathy. Normal people feel disgust with violence and cruelty because they can empathize with the victims. Sociopaths lack empathy, and the Ludovico technique does not change that.

Actually, a more disturbing point would be that seemingly normal people often empathize with violent victors over the victims. Consider the Southerners who sympathized with Jesse James and the Younger Gang. Outlaws were often romanticized in American lore. 80% of blacks cheered for O.J. Simpson and celebrated his win in court. And most Americans cheer for powerful Zionists and feel zero sympathy for Palestinians. (Also, moral outrage turns off moral considerations for whom we come to hate. Jews are so morally outraged over 'antisemitism' that they are blind to the suffering of goyim, especially those suspected of anti-Jew hatred. But then, Germans under Hitler were so angry with Jews, who acted atrociously during the Weimar Period, that many of them didn't care what was done to Jews by the Nazis. And given what Jews have done to the white race in the past fifty years, I doubt if many Alt-Right types would much care if there was another Holocaust. Moral outrage makes us immoral or at least amoral toward those who outrage us.) And even normal people enjoy watching romanticized portraits of criminals. Gangster movies were sensations from the beginnings. Lots of people loved BONNIE & CLYDE. The film I watched the most times is THE WILD BUNCH. I loathe crooks and criminals, but I love that film and feel for the characters. Oliver Stone is an anti-imperialist radical but swoons over Alexander the Great and his imperialist exploits; apparently, the man who was saddened by all those dead Vietnamese rationalizes the wanton destructiveness of Alexander whose empire-building turned entire worlds upside down.
ACO as a movie phenom demonstrates the problem of 'normal morality'. Why did so many Normal People praise this film? Why did they find themselves laughing along and cheering for Alex the killer? It's almost as if charisma or the Cool Factor has a logic of its own. Alex has devilish charm. Despite his vileness, he has a winning quality. Morality takes backseat to mythology, and Alex possesses the stuff of myth-making. Consider Muhammad Ali. Boxing had many tough mean bastards, and Ali could be as nasty and brutal as the rest of them. But most boxers lacked his showmanship, his knack for performance. So, he got away with stuff that most boxers would never have. In the strictest sense, Alex is a lowlife street punk, but he has a kind of power, the means to charm and disarm, like the friend in A SEPARATE PEACE, who can talk and smile himself out of any situation.

Of course utter stupidity is no objection to most progressive social uplift schemes, so it doesn’t exactly make such a “cure” for crime implausible.

While the treatment could be deemed 'leftist', it could just as easily appeal to anti-crime rightists. If something like Ludovico Treatment could be administered to crazy Negroes, many rightists would probably be onboard. Who cares about Negro souls or free will? Wouldn't it be better if black thugs were psychologically stripped of their Jafric-Jiver tendencies? Imagine a vile Negro who wants to rob an old white lady but underwent the Ludovico treatment. Even the thought of transgressing would make him feel agony and go, "Sheeeeeiiit, dis pain be a mothafuc*a!" And imagine if, by 'accident', the treatment also made him associate fried chicken and watermelon with pain. That'd be amusing as hell. "Sheeeeiiit, I can't eat chicken no mo'!"

Burgess’s “deep” objection to the Ludovico technique is equally crude and dumb, but in a different way. The prison chaplain argues that the Ludovico technique is evil because it takes away Alex’s freedom, which takes away his humanity...
But if this is a dehumanizing assault on freedom, what are we to make of our own disgust with Alex’s behavior? Is that also a dehumanizing form of unfreedom? Presumably so. Does this mean that when Alex becomes a violent sociopath again his humanity has been restored? Presumably so.

But that's gumbic logic. Actually, Burgess's objection is philosophically and morally sound.
First, free will isn't the same as freedom. Burgess and the prison chaplain are not arguing for granting freedom to Alex. They believe a man like that should be locked up, maybe forever. Because scumbags used their free will to commit heinous acts, they must pay for their crimes and, if possible, seek redemption. Free will means that each of us is an individual who is responsible for one's decisions and their consequences.
Without the Ludovico Treatment, Alex would remain in prison and would have to pay for what he'd done. Still, he would have his soul, and of course, soul can be evil. He would have his free will, and that would make him human. Now, 'human' isn't the same as 'humane'. Being human means having the freedom to choose between good and evil. According to most religions, being human is a curse, a state of fallenness, a sinfulness. Man is of flesh, and in this man is like an ape or animal that also lives by flesh and instinct. He has animal drives despite culture and civilization. Still, unlike animals that are trapped in their world of instinct, mankind has consciousness, the means to gain higher understanding, though it may take more time for some. This is possible even for sociopaths. That is the basis for human dignity. Sure, killers will be killers, and sociopaths will be sociopaths. But they still have a uniquely human quality. Dogs and cats can be full of love and affection, but they cannot understand right and wrong. But moral understanding is possible even for a sociopath. It's like what the priest says to Frank(Robert DeNiro) in THE IRISHMAN. One can BE sorry even if one doesn't FEEL sorry. Unlikely but within the realm of possibility. One can understand even without feeling it.

So, Burgess wasn't arguing for freedom for people like Alex. Rather, even they shouldn't be denied free will, the individual choice between good and evil. As the prison chaplain says, the New Alex can't really be good or reformed because true redemption requires a change of heart. But as the authorities see it, such are archaic sentiments or obsolete ideas. Science can alter behavior, and what does it matter if Alex is rotten inside as long as he doesn't cause harm on the outside?
Of course, the victims may argue it is still unfair that someone like Alex should be allowed to walk free(even if they won't cause harm) because they haven't paid their debt to society. After all, if I commit murder but is given a chance to walk free if I undergo a treatment where I can't murder again, I might take the offer; and the family of the victim would be upset that I didn't serve my full sentence and is a free person. Still, a free person without free will. Free on the outside, but imprisoned on the inside. I suppose one could argue that Alex, even following the Ludovico Treatment, has free will. He can still choose to be evil than good or choose to be genuinely good on the inside. He just can't ACT OUT bad deeds. Ludovico effect kicks in only when he tries to ACT on his vile or evil impulses. It doesn't rob him of the freedom to have bad thoughts. So, one could argue it robs him of free action than free will. His inner soul still can choose between the good and evil.

As to the restoration of Alex's 'humanity' at the end, we need to be careful with words. It's not a matter of humanity but of human-ness. 'Humanity' connotes humane-ness, where human-ness encompasses the totality of what makes us human, from good to evil. So, Alex-as-sociopath is still an inhumane monster, but he's human in the sense that he can choose good or evil out of his own free will in conflict with his twisted nature. Think of the sociopathic character played by James Woods in THE ONION FIELD. In terms of film-making prowess, it is maybe 1/10th or 1/100th that of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but it's a penetrating study of a sociopathic mind. In some ways, the killer in that film will never change. At the fundamental level, he is not like us. Still, in certain respects, he does grow as a person. Age and experience do affect him. He mellows and grows more reflective, though not sufficiently for social norms.

Since Alex the sociopath can contemplate violence without any feelings of disgust, whereas normal people cannot, does this mean that Alex is both more free and more human than normally constituted people? If so, this is a pretty good example of a reductio ad absurdum.

Again, you're confusing 'human' with 'humane'. Human-ness encompasses everything from dark evil to shining nobility, the full spectrum of thoughts, passions, and actions in the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. Also, the moral theme of the novel is about free will, which mustn't be confused with freedom. Free Will simply means one's conscious moral-personal-existential choice between good and evil. Burgess wasn't arguing for granting freedom to sociopaths. He was merely acknowledging the autonomy of free will. If people choose to do evil, make them pay the price. Lock them up and throw away the key. And if there's any chance of them reforming, it must come from within their hearts in concert with their minds. True goodness must be a conscious choice, the product of reflection and realization. (Is empathy really necessary for decency? Dogs probably can't empathize with what it means to be human, but they love us and treat us well. In contrast, many intelligent people can empathize with other people but use the knowledge only for control, often deviously and/or ruthlessly. Also, given that the world is so full of tawdry people, wouldn't empathy make us sense the tawdriness of others more acutely, making us think even less of them?)

Of course, Kubrick used Burgess's novel to explore his own ideas. ACO is like a debased pop-version of the Napoleon story. Unlike Napoleon who had revolution, nationalism, war & glory, and justice & liberation as the canvas for his megalomania, Alex has only a future world of soulless modernity defined by pop-consumer culture. He lives in a 'world of shit', a post-enlightenment world that Andy Warhol might have designed. As horrible as things were in Napoleon's times, there was faith in the future, that somehow things will get better. It was proto-modern, whereas the world of ACO is post-modern, very much the world we find ourselves today.
Yet, as trashy as Alex is, he has one thing in common with men like Napoleon. His sense of freedom is limitless. He is unbound as a free spirit who follows his bliss, however depraved it may be. Nothing stands in his way. Even in prison, as rotten as he is, there's perverse integrity in remaining true to his viciousness, as if he is the master, the king, the lord of all things.

Alex wastes his energies on pointless destruction, but he has something in common with great leaders and great artists. Alex doesn't care what anyone thinks. Artists and leaders also score high on sociopathy. Richard Wagner, for example, used and abused everyone and felt zero remorse because, so convinced of his own greatness, he felt others existed merely to serve his genius. And great leaders believe it's worth expending countless lives for greater vision, national glory, and/or higher cause. But buried beneath all those flowery concepts, how much does it have to do with egomania, narcissism, vainglory, and sense of destiny?
What sets Alex apart from artists and leaders with sociopathic tendencies is he lacks any higher vision or cause... though, unlike most hooligans, he has the greatest appreciation for Beethoven. His mayhem is like an anarcho-orchestration of Beethoven's music. In a way, it's a perverse act of sacrilege, but in some sick twisted way, he has a point. While Beethoven's music is lofty and inspired, it is the sublimated product of raw passions. It is ape-hood willed into angel-ness.

In some ways, Alex is worse due to a total lack of any concern beyond his ego, and yet, it's refreshing because his primal energies aren't speciously wrapped in high-minded concepts. He has no pretenses of saving the world, the oft-used excuse of closet-sociopath crusaders who are really driven by megalomania and power-lust.
In a way, it would be more honest if all those creeps in the Deep State exposed their Alex-side than pretended to care for stuff like 'human rights' and 'muh democracy'. They are really gangsters and thugs. People in the war department love war for war's-sake. The world is one big football game, and they want action. They invoke all sorts of principles to drop more bombs and kill more people, and all without remorse. Against such sham morality, there is an honest quality about Alex's honest immorality. It's like Charlie(Harvey Keitel) in MEAN STREETS secretly admires and envies Johnny Boy who, though utterly demented, is true to himself and without pretension. Also, when Alex destroys or kills, it's totally his thing. He decided and he did it. In contrast, deep state goons and soldiers depend on higher authority to do all their killings. Agents lack agency.

The elites fear people like Alex, an equal-opportunity attacker owned by no one. He attacks poor and rich alike. In contrast, Red Guards and Antifa are controlled goons, so useful to those in power. Antifa doesn't attack the Deep State but does its bidding. Red guards were Mao’s minions. They acted on his whims(though they did get carried away).

But to the Ludovico technique, virtue is indistinguishable from Pavlovian conditioning, and moral sentiments are indistinguishable from a sour stomach.

No, the Ludovico treatment doesn't take virtue into account at all. It is based on science or scientism. It believes concepts such as 'virtue' and 'free will' to be outdated, much like most scholars today don't take ideas like 'natural law' seriously. It seeks to bypass 'sentimental' notions such as 'virtue' and 'morality' and get right down to the business of behavior and conditioning.
Genuine virtue requires individuality and free will, but the scientists in ACO don't believe in either, or they believe such notions run counter to social policy. They would have to trust the people to make the right decision out of their own free will; they would have to only deal with the bad ones who end up in prison. They can be reactive but not proactive. But why clean up after the storm if you can prevent the storm itself?

In a way, it's the problem of modernity. More freedom for individuals means more possibility for bad behavior. Even if not outright criminal, modern freedoms have led to people making all sorts of stupid decisions with over-eating, drugs, sex, and other vices & indulgences, all of which have had degrading consequences for society. Can we rely on virtue to inspire people to clean up their acts? Moralists say yes, but most social thinkers say no. In a way, the latter is right. People were less self-indulgent in the past not so much out of virtue but as the result of repression and communal repercussion. People then only seemed to act more virtuous out of fear of the whip or the shunning(especially at a time when people couldn't escape into their own TV-worlds). People whose morality or virtue is based on fear or approval aren't truly virtuous.
A truly virtuous person chooses the righteous and good even when he has all the freedom and opportunity to indulge in the bad. For most of history, most people never had such an opportunity. They lived in a harsh world where social punishment could be swift and social rejection agonizing. But then came the modern world of tolerance and plenty with more than enough to go around. More people than ever finally had something like real freedom and real choice. But when faced with choice, they often went with vice over virtue. Virtue requires self-restraint, which stands in the way of 'liberation'. Also, capitalism depends on people choosing vice that leads to more greed, vanity, and materialism that fuel the economy. And, so-called 'liberals' disdain the notion of virtue as repressive and 'anal'. Furthermore, many believe that 'virtue' is often invoked by the powerful as a means of social control when, in fact, the men of power themselves lack virtue and maintain position & privilege by hook or by crook.
So, if virtue-as-foundation-of-social-order has been an illusion, what way is there to maintain social control in a liberated world? More rules and regulations and more reliance on technology in an ever-increasing surveillance state. As miserable as this way is, a plea for virtue won't work, and indeed, it never worked. In the past, people didn't so much choose virtue as it was chosen for them, like many marriages were arranged. But because people didn't want to admit they were coerced, they chose to believe that the decision was their own in favor of virtue. Minus the return of those old harsh social controls, the ideal of virtue alone won't work because too many people will choose vice over virtue if given the freedom.

From the chaplain’s point of view, the freedom of the mind is so separate from the body, habit, and feeling that a sociopath’s lack of virtue or moral sentiment actually make him freer and thus more human than morally healthy people.

??? You're just putting words into his mouth. He meant no such thing. He is saying true goodness requires a change of heart based on free will, something God bestowed unto each man. Also, his spiritual view does take the body into account. According to Christianity, man must wrestle with the drives of his flesh and fend off temptation if he's to reach higher states of being. Alex is very much a sensual, sexual, and physical creature. He lives for fleshly desires and thrill of the moment. The chaplain would never say the body doesn't matter. Body is always there, tempting man to act the animal than angel. At any rate, in order for man to rise above bodily desires, he must rely on free will to choose the good and pursue the way of God. For the chaplain, freedom alone isn't good enough. He knows well enough that freedom can mean freedom to be evil or good. Still, it is free will that offers man a choice between true good and true evil. There is NOTHING in what he said that would indicate that he thinks sociopaths are more 'human' than morally healthy people.

Also, the fact that the chaplain works in a prison indicates that he does believe in the power of habit. After all, prisons exist to deny bad people freedom-of-movement. Prisons exist to force bad men into daily routines and non-aggressive behavior. It is about control of bodies and conditioning them into new habits of routine and respect. And a good deal of Christianity is about how to shape and discipline the body and one's habits toward moral and spiritual goals.

Kubrick’s treatment of sex and violence veers between the pornographic and cartoonish. The entire movie is crude and cynical parody, with an ugly cast, grotesque costumes, hideous sets, and dreadful over-acting.

My main issue with the film is its visceral power overrides its literary meanings. Burgess's book is a novel of ideas, but Kubrick's film is a spectacle of nihilism, especially because Kubrick prioritized cinematic expression over thematic exploration. The themes are there, but Malcolm McDowell's star power and Kubrick's visual prowess take center stage. The result is something like The Triumph of the Villains.

One may argue that anyone who enjoys the film as a thrill-ride is missing the point, the theme of free-will, but art operates on several planes, and this is especially true of cinema that not only works as story but as spectacle, made all the more overwhelming with music. Form is content; the two is inseparable. The form of ACO doesn't merely contain the message but is also the message, and it is "Wow, this is really exciting."
It's like APOCALYPSE NOW may have been intended as an anti-war film, and Colonel Kilgore is meant to be a crazy guy, but anyone who watches that film can't help but experience war as a rock opera and swoon at Kilgore as the awesome god of war. So, those who 'missed the point' actually got the bigger point, i.e. that cinema works on several levels, and the visceral experience may well overpower its 'moral intention'. Sam Peckinpah was never convincing when he said the point of the violence in THE WILD BUNCH was to make people sick in the stomach. No, it's too exciting and powerful, even beautiful, for that. Of course, some people make out-and-out specious moral arguments, like Martin Bregman's BS about Brian DePalma's SCARFACE being an anti-drug movie. Sure, the movie shows the sordid side of the drug business, and Tony Montana comes to a bad end, but what a rollercoaster while it lasted. It made morons want to be gangsters. And WALL STREET made more people want to work for the likes of Gekko or, better yet, be a Gekko. Even as Oliver Stone disdained the notion of 'greed is good', he presented Gekko as a god.

‘Sociopath’ has moral, political, and medical/clinical meanings.

Alex is a clinical sociopath who acts crazy on his own.

Most political sociopaths aren’t clinically deranged, but their ambition drives them to areas of power that are intrinsically(necessarily) and systemically amoral. If you work for the CIA, you have to be morally sociopathic to remain an insider and on grounds of ‘us vs them’.

It’s like murderers and soldiers both slaughter people, even innocent civilians. But murderers do it on their own whereas soldiers do it on orders.

Granted, extreme situations can unleash the repressed Id of blood orgy even among those who aren’t clinically sociopathic. Thus, Nanking massacre and other craziness.

One could argue that Alex, even following the Ludovico Treatment, has free will. He can still choose to be evil or good on the inside. He just can’t ACT OUT bad deeds. Ludovico effect kicks in only when he tries to ACT out his vile or evil impulses. It doesn’t rob him of the freedom to have bad thoughts. So, one could argue it robs him of free action than free will. His inner soul still can choose between the good and evil. Even as he's forced to be 'good' on the outside, he can choose to remain evil on the inside. Thus, he's not wholly robbed of free will.

Is a sociopath lacking in empathy or sympathy? Empathy means putting oneself in others’ shoes and seeing things from their points of view. Some people are capable of this, but they nevertheless feel no sympathy for others. They understand the mentalities but don’t care or share in the emotions of fellow human beings.

Also, lack of empathy doesn’t necessarily mean lack of sympathy. Dogs can’t empathize with humans or cats, but they often care about humans and cats(if friends in the same household). Some simple-minded people are too dim for empathy but they are full of love for others.

Is there a term for someone who lacks not the concern for others but the sense of autonomous self? If sociopaths care about themselves but feel nothing for others, what about someone who is totally concerned about what OTHERS think/feel about him or her but seriously lack the pride of his or her own thoughts or feelings? It seems lots of East Asians or yellows are like this. Very weak sense of self but very real concern about how OTHERS think/feel about them. Jews are into Jewishness, blacks are into blackness. But yellows seem to be about how-others-feel-about-them. Blacks attack them, but yellows say nothing about it because the dominant power would disapprove of such complaints. Instead, yellows go with the approved narrative and blame ‘white supremacism’. If sociopathy is lack of concern for others in society, could a weak sense of self or lack of autonomy be called ‘autopathy’ or ‘indepathy’ or ‘selfpathy’?

What were Alex's leadership skills like? Leadership qualities vary from context to context. You see this among animals. Certain species are more aggressive and predatory, like wolves and hyenas. To be a leader among those animals requires more forcefulness and brutality than to be a leader among sheep or prairie dogs.

If you’re a leader of a church with mostly nice people, you won’t have to be high-handed because most members are decent and trusting. Mere kindness can go a long way. But if you’re the leader of a gang, you need street cred. You must show you are tough and don’t take shit from anyone. Alex is a leader of wolves or hyenas. They are social predators, and he must always show he’s tougher than others; and if some are stronger than him, he must prove his superiority with wit and daring. If he’s seen as weak, another will try to take over as alpha. Of course, if he is too rough with the others, they could turn on him… which is what they do.
This was Leon Trotsky’s problem. In some ways, he had remarkable leadership skills, and many looked up to him. He was tough and ruthless, absolutely essential traits among radicals. But he was also supremely arrogant and insulting, and this made many choose Stalin over him. Stalin was also a mean son of a bitch who was often rude, but he could also be diplomatic and outwardly conciliatory(while plotting for future battles).

In ACO, it seems the droogs stuck by Alex for sometime. They didn’t immediately turn against him but reached a point where they decided to stick it to him.
In the world of thuggery, Alex has to walk a fine line between not appearing weak and not alienating others. It’s an unstable relationship as ‘honor among thieves’ usually is: Sociopaths or thugs trying to trust and support one another.
But such relations are common in all walks of life. Most politicians are untrustworthy as most of them will usually go with the strong horse and routinely stab anyone in the back to save their own skin or to further their own career. It's the same in the business world. Friends today, enemies tomorrow, and vice versa. The seemingly loyal underling in Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW turn on his boss and go with the rivals who gain the upper hand. Pachanga turns on his friend in CARLITO’S WAY. In those cases, the underlings thought the boss had gone soft and lost the edge.

In other cases, betrayal is about revenge, like when Carlo did a number on Sonny who beat him up in THE GODFATHER. And Fredo, long humiliated by Michael, conspired with Hyman Roth and Johnny Ola in THE GODFATHER PART 2. Carlo found Sonny overbearing, and Fredo resented the younger brother bossing him around. In contrast, Sal betrayed the family in part one because he thought the Corleones were on the decline and Barzini was the strong horse to bet on.

Donald Trump sure found out you can't trust anyone in the world of politics teeming with the likes of Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney. Not murderous sociopaths but careerist ones who will do anything to save their own skin or play the game. Granted, Trump himself isn’t trustworthy. (But then, even Peter denied Jesus three times.)

There was a successful coup against Benito Mussolini. There was a plot against Adolf Hitler that came close to killing him. There are rumors that Josef Stalin was finally done in by his own men, perhaps with poison. Whether it’s Alex playing war in the streets or big leaders playing war among nations, such extreme games of ambition and violence are never stable in terms of loyalty and trust.

Obviously, Hitler and Alex are different creatures. For one thing, Hitler came to power in his middle age. He was ‘wiser’ by then. Alex is still young and driven by crazy hormones. What they do have in common is a bohemian(artistic) streak and love for classical music. Hitler was obsessed with Wagner, Alex is crazy about Beethoven. The difference is Hitler came of age in a more sentimental and romantic era, whereas Alex is very much the creature of post-modern irony and vapid youth culture. Had Hitler been born in the 1960s, maybe he would have taken up punk music. It’s hard to say. The skinheads in AMERICAN HISTORY X are pretty demented and degenerate, not least due to the youth culture all around them.

Difference between Hitler and Alex is the latter loves violence for violence’s sake whereas violence was a means for Hitler(though he found plenty of excitement in playing war games with the lives of millions). A combo of Hitler and Alex would be the David android in ALIEN COVENANT. Like Hitler, he has grand vision and a mythic sense of destiny; but like Alex, he revels in violence for violence’s sake and feels nothing for all the dead.

Alex is almost totally without sentimentality(though his feelings are genuinely hurt when his parents reject him upon his release). Hitler could be very sentimental and feel strong fondness and attachment to things. Alex seems to mock everything(except Beethoven, his god whose music is to art what Napoleon was to history). Julius Streicher was also sentimental. He wept over his dead canaries. He was an animal lover, as was Hitler. And yet, their feelings were narrowly restricted to certain people, things, and themes. For certain others, they not only felt indifferent but contempt and hatred bordering on pathology.
This is not uncommon among white supremacist types. Their love for their own race is genuine and true. But their disdain, derision, and hatred for outside groups can be extreme, indeed as a compulsive need to dump on the Other.
Now, it’s natural for most people to favor their own over others. It’s like a person favoring one’s own family. Still, loving one’s own family doesn’t mean one should hate other families or not acknowledge their equal value as human beings. So, even though I probably won’t be emotionally moved by the death of some neighbor I know little about, I would still understand that it’s a tragedy and people who loved him would be filled with grief. I wouldn’t feel sad but nevertheless understand it’s a sad thing that someone died and it's painful for those who loved him.

The problem with Hitler wasn’t his love for Germans or ‘Aryans’. Germans should love their own kind. It was his contempt for other peoples whom he deemed as lesser humans. Perhaps, he loved his own people too much. When you love your people too much, you may come to believe they deserve everything under the sun, indeed more than other peoples do. (An Italian mother who loves her son too much hides him from the Law even when he did something wrong and must face justice.) As other peoples stand in the way of your people’s rightful place-in-the-sun, they need to be wiped out or enslaved to serve your people. This was Hitler’s vision of Lebensraum. He came to power in Germany with his love for the German people, that much is true. But he later turned much of the world against him when his plan was Germany uber alles at their expense. Russians and Slavs had no meaningful place in Hitler’s grand plan. They would either be killed or enslaved.

So, what was Hitler? A Nationalsociopath? A person who is capable of great love for his own kind but lacking in even the modicum of human feelings for outsiders or those deemed expendable. In THE GODFATHER movies, it’s obvious Michael is capable of affection and love. He loved his father. He loved his brother. He loves Apollonia and he loves Kay. But he is also capable of having a prostitute murdered in cold blood to gain control over Senator Geary. For his empire, he will sacrifice a ‘lesser human being’.

Jews hate Hitler, but they are also big on nationalsociopathy. Just like Hitler loved Germans and ‘Aryan’s, Jews love Jews and ‘Semites’. But just like Hitler was willing to sacrifice millions of non-German lives to make room for his beloved Germans, Jews are willing to destroy countless goy lives in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Russia just to have Jews Uber Alles.
The fact that Jews did so much to get Jonathan Pollard sprung from jail is proof that Jews have strong affection and love for one another. But what about all the victims of Pollard? Pollard’s betrayal led to deaths of double-agents in the USSR. Jews don’t care. Jews feel, ‘He did it for the tribe, so he’s okay’.

So, Hitler and Jewish Supremacists have something in common. They feel real and genuine love for their own kind BUT feel zero feeling for outsiders. To Hitler, Jews and Slavs were expendable. Though he didn’t want to kill them for the hell of it, he was willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater glory of the Germans. Likewise, Jewish Supremacists probably don’t want to kill goy lives just for the hell of it; they are not murderous or sadistic in that way. But their main obsession is Jewish Hegemony based on tribal pride and arrogance; as such, they believe anything standing in the way of Jewish Destiny must be smashed.

In some ways, Hitler was worse than Jewish Supremacists. Whereas Jews all work together as equals for the good of the Tribe, there was something of higher value in Hitler’s mind than German glory and interests. He was a megalomaniac who saw himself as a Man of Destiny, one of those gods/heroes of Wagnerian operas. Thus, he was bigger than the Germans, and even as he loved them, they existed to serve him and his vaunted role in history as the epoch-making greatest conqueror and ruler of all time. In the end, Germans existed to serve him than vice versa. Germans gave him everything in the most devastating war in world history, but he felt no pity for them in the end because they failed him. In his eyes, Germans deserved to vanish as a race because they didn’t live up to his expectations.

In this, Jews have been wiser. Jewish Power is shared, and Jews are mindful of other Jews. Jewish Power is the culmination of many Jews with strong personalities and pride. In contrast, German National Socialism was about so many Germans submitting their individualities to Hitler’s megalomania.

If a Hitlerowicz rose among Jews, other Jews would speak up and bat him down. Jews would tell the Hitlerian Jew to knock it off. They would remind him and each other that Jewishness is about Jews working together for Jewish Eternity than about a single Jew hogging the limelight as the super-Jew. It’s telling that Jews have been waiting for a messiah forever but he never came(or the Jews never accepted anyone as messiah, not even Jesus). And so, Jews keep going on and on like the energizer bunny.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Notes on THE WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE by John Ford(as reviewed by Trevor Lynch) — Power of Myth & Narrative — Anglos and Irish in American History and Politics

John Ford’s last great film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) enjoys the status of a classic. I find it a deeply flawed, grating, and often ridiculous film... John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, both fine actors given the impossible job of playing men in their 20s, even though they were aged 54 and 53 at the time. It just doesn’t work... The film is poorly paced as well, burning through screen time... Shinbone was built on a soundstage. Ford was known for shooting on location because he loved authenticity. But Shinbone’s cleanliness and newness—its clear artificiality—were quite deliberate representations of progress and the end of the frontier.

It's certainly an old man's movie. It was made at a time when the Western too had grown old and was on the way out, ironically not least due to its great success on the TV screen. When the Western became generic fare in every living room, it lost the silver screen luster, and in a way, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE seems to be addressing the issue of TV and its impact on the Western. The use of sound-stage over actual locations suggest at this. Not only has the West been tamed but the Western itself has been tamed as weekly TV shows on all three networks. (Hitchcock likely also had the impact of TV on mind when he made PSYCHO, especially as he lent his name to a TV series.) Likewise, Sam Peckinpah's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND is partly a commentary on the rise of home video and its impact on culture, not least cinema.

In a way, the West had a second life through the Western. Already by the time the first Western movie hit the screen, the Wild West was mostly thing of memory. The West had already become 'old'. But the Western genre made it 'young' again, and a very handsome John Wayne was there almost from the beginning, especially as the star of Raoul Walsh's magnificent THE BIG TRAIL. It was as if Manifest Destiny reborn, happening all over as American Saga in the form of the Western. The West was old but the Western was young, and in movies like STAGECOACH John Wayne conveyed that youthful spirit of the frontier. Indeed, John Wayne aged along with the Western. By the time he made THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, he'd aged along with the genre that was soon on its last legs. And John Ford was even older.

So, LIBERTY VALANCE takes on different meanings depending on the context with which one watches the movie. Minus any context, one will notice many 'flaws' that may even seem ridiculous. Why didn't John Ford insist on using makeup to make Wayne and James Stewart look younger? Why do they look VISIBLY OLDER than the characters they're playing? And yet, this 'flaw' becomes a point and takes on meaning if seen as Ford's commentary on the Western and his place in it. As a story of recollection, it's taking place inside the soundstage of Ransom Stoddard's crusty old mind. It's sort of like a ghost-play. It's also as if Stoddard has forgotten how young they were and revisits those young days trapped in an old-man mentality. Thus, what seems slow-paced and even boring has to be seen as unfolding at an old-man's mental pace. It's a narrative with cobwebs. Stoddard has to rummage through the closets and attics of his mind to recall how things had been. Also, there's added tension because Stoddard's intention is to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but personal memory is never a sure thing. The stage-like quality of the movie conveys this: the past has to be reconstructed to be deconstructed. Also, as the story is essentially subjective, drawn from Stoddard's memory, and shows the limitation of Stoddard's perspective. He's a man of words & ideas and never felt at home in the actual Wild West. He was too busy building order out of it, and the narrative and the setting are ordered and arranged like so many toy houses and train set. However, for a story that is largely subjective recollection, there are scenes without Stoddard. How could Stoddard know of them if he wasn't there? At best, he could have heard of what happened elsewhere or surmised with his own intuition(and limited imagination). Or, maybe John Ford just used the age-old convention where the flashback, though initiated as subjective memory, turns into a kind of omnipotent survey of the past. But then, LIBERTY VALANCE is less about actual facts of the West than about a certain myth. In the end, all the details of something, true or not, matter far less than the key issue of myth. And the element of myth was inseparable from the West and especially the Western. In a way, a Western trying to be real or truthful is a fool's game as its very essence is the myth. Pull on the loose thread of truth from the Western fabric and the whole thing comes apart. This was because the Western was constructed as a myth than as history, and John Ford played as big a role, maybe the biggest, as anyone else. Initially, in movies like THE BIG TRAIL, the Western had yet to be formulated into a genre or convention and could be lots of things. Indeed, CIMARRON, unjustly overlooked, features so many real-life aspects of the Old West. For the Western to live on as popular entertainment, it had to dispense with too-much-truth and too-many-details and be streamlined more into myth of movement and heroism. With STAGECOACH, John Ford contributed to the formulation of the Western into a tight genre, but he also remained true to the original vision of the Western as a sprawling and unruly genre with big cast of characters, which is why THE SEARCHERS is such a rich movie: it's about far more than Cowboys and Indians. Ford generally showed more of life and community than fixating on the 'lone hero'.

One of the central myths of the West was the good guy winning at the end, but of course, it wasn't so. Often the bad guys won, and the West grew out of corruption, compromise, and tyranny as much by morality, community, and civilization. The Western Myth says there was this Wilderness full of savage Indians and unruly outlaws who made it difficult for good decent hardworking folks. But then, some redemptive hero or upright sheriff came to town and cleaned things up, and the good triumphed over the bad. But in truth, those with power generally kept the power, got to appoint the lawmen, and cut deals with politicians. In the West, the big ranchers won over the 'sodbusters', especially as the land there wasn't much good for farming.
This was suggested by HIGH NOON where the good folks in town want Will Kane(Gary Cooper) gone. Why have him stick around and fight for honor and pride when what the town needs is Good Publicity that will attract investment? Frank Miller may be a bad egg, even a rotten egg, but his ilk will always be around and may even loosen things up for business as profits are associated with vice. It's like Pottersville is a more 'happening' place than Bedford Falls in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. So, the Western Myth is just that, a fiction for the most part. It was not the case of mostly good folks terrorized by a handful of wicked folks who were vanquished by the hero who then rode off while the good folks finally had their community. Rather, civilization came with the power, corruption, compromise, and violence. Indeed, it is the very forces of business and progress who hire the goons in MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER to be rid of the 'independent' businessman. (And today, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Wall Street work with Deep State to crush the opposition, slander dissidents, and suppress critics.)

Many conservatives were offended by HIGH NOON though it later came to be loved by them. For classicists like Howard Hawks, it wasn't only an affront to the American Way but the Western genre. He hated the way the hero acted, filled with doubt and desperately hoping for support. And finally, he killed Frank Miller with the help of his wife who scratched the bad man's face. Ford may have agreed with Hawks in some respects, but he had his own doubts about the West and the Western, and it surfaced in THE SEARCHERS but especially with the later three: SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, CHEYENNE AUTUMN, and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. The Woody Strode movie SERGEANT RUTLEDGE is the most blatantly political one. An innocent upstanding Negro military man is charged with rape, and etc. It's a bit too stiff and preachy. Some see CHEYENNE AUTUMN as a kind of atonement on part of Ford who often featured Indians as shooting ducks but also formed a bond with Indian communities who respected him. It's a good movie but, like SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, marred by the heavy-messaging. Ford was good as a sentimental moralist but didn't fare well as a preacher or pontificator. Of the three movies, LIBERTY VALANCE works best because the message is slowly revealed and reflected on than just pushed in front of us.

It's been said it's impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, and this was true enough of John Ford(but not so with John Huston, but then, he was always young-and-lion at heart). John Ford understood this about himself and didn't try to keep with new trends. That said, he was aware of what was happening in world cinema, and his later movies, while resolutely and unmistakably Fordian, reflected on the changes. Thus, THE SEARCHERS is more complex than his earlier movies, and some might even say LIBERTY VALANCE borders on a kind of experimentalism, a kind of Ford's version of CITIZEN KANE and RASHOMON(or even LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD).
In style, one might say it's even stiffer, stodgier, and stuffier than Ford's earlier movies, but the very deliberateness suggests Ford's intentions were artistic than economic. It's more threaded than threadbare. Andrew Sarris rated it higher than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA(which he detested) and even JULES AND JIM(which he loved), but then, he was a Ford-nut. Also, just when many cineastes in America were favoring Foreign Cinema(as art) over the American(as tired entertainment), French critics(who would turn out to be very influential), argued that the Hollywood 'auteurs' were not only great entertainers and genuine artists but remarkably personal, experimental, and innovative in their own right, thereby relevant and inspirational to New Cinema.
So, the man who shot THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE was far more than he let on. Though Ford to the end claimed he was nothing more than a maker of Western movies, part humility and part pride in the common-man, but the care put into works like MY DARLIING CLEMENTINE and THE SEARCHERS show he took film-making very seriously. He was a drunk but no slouch. At any rate, perspective shaped one's view of Ford. For those who didn't take him seriously as an artist but acknowledged his skills as entertainer, his earlier works were the best for their relative simplicity and straightforwardness. It's like Pauline Kael loved early Hitchcock and could tolerate an early Ford, but she had little use for later and more elaborate Hitchcock and even less for movies like THE SEARCHERS that some of her colleagues were beginning to take seriously. From the vantage point of Ford-as-entertainer, LIBERTY VALANCE is the work of a tired old crank. It seems stiff and stodgy. But from the vantage point of Ford-as-artist, the work seems stark and striking in its barrenness. It's like a musical artist going unplugged or picking up an acoustic guitar with minimum accompaniment after working with a band and electricity. Also, LIBERTY VALANCE, with its unmistakable studio-setting, which renders it more like theatre than cinema, reminds us of the artificiality of all cinema, whether shot in a warehouse or in actual locations. So, even as LIBERTY VALANCE seems less real and 'authentic', it could be said to be more honest in the make-believe-ness of the movies.

When Ford first used James Stewart in TWO RODE TOGETHER(which I haven't seen), he surely had in mind the latter's roles in Anthony Mann Westerns that significantly deviated from the 'classic style'. They were like Noir Westerns, far darker and twisted. And Stewart played it neurotic, bordering on unhinged over trifles. WINCHESTER 73 boils down the violence to childhood psychology, kids fighting over toy guns. Not just 'boys will be boys' but 'men will be boys'. Granted, Stewart already displayed amazing range in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, surely one of the greatest movie performances, ranging from light comedy to the darkest tragedy. Mann and Hitchcock, especially in MAN FROM LARAMIE and VERTIGO, picked up this side of Stewart. (Stewart in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH also played someone faced with the crisis of uttering the truth.) They used Stewart like the homo-preacher was going to use Joe Buck in THE MIDNIGHT COWBOY. There was an All-American straightness to Stewart but also an element of hysteria to the can-do boy-wonder exuberance. Mann picked up on this one-man Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde quality about Stewart who plays straight-man to his own repressed craziness bursting forth.

In the Western Comedy DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, Stewart played a lawman who doesn't carry a gun, at least initially. By the time Mann got around to casting Stewart, things got a lot darker, and this may have owed to Mann making his mark in Film Noir before he moved onto Westerns. While actors like Marlon Brando profoundly changed movie to movie, the classic Hollywood stars carried their careers like a baggage. They weren't just playing the latest roles but representing the entirety of their screen persona. So, by the time Stewart signed onto Ford movies, he couldn't help but carry over the changes to his stardom in the 1950s, especially under Hitchcock and Mann, and this adds to the meaning of LIBERTY VALANCE.

From the beginning, the American West was rife with myth, not least because it was part wild and wild settled. It was settled enough for messages to get out by horse, train, and telegraph, but wild enough that tall-tales and legends could win out over facts and truth. It's like the opening of EXCALIBUR. Dark Ages give rise to legends and myths because stories, unverified, take on a life of their own, transformed as they go from person to person who embellish them with their own imagination, lapses, and biases. In a way, the Wild West was like the history of Western Civilization itself from barbarism to civilization in truncated form over less than a century. It had elements of the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Modernity. Some of the wildest, most savage, and most pristine land were transformed within two or three generations into the Modern World.
In the established part of the world, the truth could be just as false. Indeed, at the end of LIBERTY VALANCE, it is the media elites of Shinbone, now a completed town, who reject the fact and keep with the legend. And it's hardly different today with the myth of MLK who was really a lout and punk as well as the spokesman of a great movement. And who can forget the myth of John F. Kennedy'? (Also, the JFK conspiracy theories, far from favoring facts over falsehood, have only added to the myth of 'Camelot'.) Still, if the powers-that-be determine the Narrative, whether mostly true or not, in the developed/established world, the power of narrative was far more democratic and unruly in the Wild West, a kind of worldwide-web-on-horseback, and so many tales and legends proliferated. In a way, the newspaper man in LIBERTY VALANCE is a courageous champion of freedom and truth, but he also represents the coming of the institutionalization of information, with all its problems as well as advantages. It's like the media conglomerates today make a lot of noise about misinformation and disinformation on the internet(which is an understandable concern) but use their great power and reach to spread their own 'fake news' and PC nonsense, like BLM and 'mostly peaceful riots'. And who can forget WMD. And the official story on 9/11 seems far from complete. Ideally, the powerful will defend truth against falsehood, but in truth, the powerful push whatever, factual or false, that favors its power. That being so, it's better that the masses have their own power to lie as well. Lies vs Lies is still better than Only-These-Lies.

In a way, LIBERTY VALANCE is a study in futility. After all, most Americans got used to the Western Myth. Most Americans knew that all those stories of Billy the Kid in books and movies weren't the real truth. Same went for Jesse James(though his story was more Southern than Western). Europe had its Dark Ages, and the Near East was a place of God and gods in the Ancient World, but America was founded on Christian probity, material ambition, and rational politics(based on the Enlightenment). Those had great advantages but lacked in the stuff of myth. Granted, even the rationalist underpinning of Americanism had its own lore and myth, like the fake story of young George Washington chopping the cherry tree but vowing not to lie to his father. But because America was founded on rationalism, it envied the Old World with its deep history where gods, dragons, fairies, and heroes once dwelled. And yet, the Wild West provided an opportunity for such tales to develop. While Western heroes weren't exactly knights with magic swords and Western villains weren't exactly dragons or monsters with horns, their stories happened in a world where most information spread as tall-tales or songs.
So, given that the very appeal of the West and especially the Western was based on its mythic content, one may wonder why a work like LIBERTY VALANCE was necessary. It wasn't as if anyone took the Western as the real story of the West. And yet, it mattered to John Ford because he was perhaps the most important practitioner of the myth. Also, even if people consciously knew that the Western is myth than real history, it still exerted tremendous influence on Americans(and people around the world) in how they regarded America. In a way, all the more so precisely because myths are more appealing than mere history. It's like the appeal of so much of Black History is more myth than reality. In a way, Black America serves as something akin to the Last Frontier or the New Dark Ages where strange tales and mythic lore can rise because things are so crazy, murky, and chaotic in them parts. But even as blacks on the street are 'democratic' in their power to spin their own lies, it is the powerful Jewish-controlled media that select whichever of those lies are most useful to the Establishment. In 2020, it was evil 'racist' white cop killed saint George Floyd in TRUMP'S AMERICA. And the same is done with events in the Middle East and Ukraine, which seem as distant to Americans as the Wild West once did to Americans in the established Eastern cities. Just as those in NY media picked and chose the Wild West narratives that were useful to themselves, the current oligarchs of American Media pick and choose only those narratives in Syria and Ukraine that suit their agenda. "Assad gassed his own people." More things change, more they remain the same. So, what's been true of the Western Narrative has been true since the beginning of time and shall be to the end of time. After all, there are four Gospels, and they don't exactly agree on all the details. Also, even academics who obsess over 'texts' and 'subtexts' are less interested in the truth than on how the power used those 'texts' and how the current power should manipulate the 'text' to push a certain agenda. Today's academic put power above truth. Truth is everything and anything, and man lives with power, not truth. Power selects certain truths and mixes them with useful myths to create an alloy of authority. But then, what is higher than power itself? The gods, or what is considered holy and sacred. In the Current Year, the holies are Jews, Negroes, and Homos, and so, the big idea is that power must be summoned and solidified to serve those gods.

To those interested in 'textual' arguments, LIBERTY VALANCE is useful because it reduces everything and everyone into what is now called a 'trope'. It has all the elements of past John Ford westerns and even seems something like a 'highschool reunion' for the old gang(like in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED). But they're so much reviving their older screen personalities as wearing them as 'conventions'. It's like everyone is carrying a cardboard replica of themselves. It's John Wayne as 'John Wayne', and the same goes for the rest of the gang. It's old John Wayne playing young John Wayne, which is both poignant and awkward.

Consciously or not, Martin Scorsese, a great admirer of John Ford, made a couple of films that have something in common with LIBERTY VALANCE. The controversial THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, or The Man Who Would Not Be Christ. In the fantasy sequence, 'Jesus' came down from the cross and chose the life of a normal Jewish man with wife and family. Later, he comes upon 'Paul' and accuses him of spreading lies. He, 'Jesus', didn't die on the cross. But 'Paul' says it doesn't matter what happened as long as the legend sticks as myth and fills so many lives with happiness. In other words, 'Jesus' doesn't need to die on the Cross for the myth of Christianity so spread and dominate the world. The myth is bigger than the man. And yet ultimately, 'Jesus' cannot accept this. No matter how successful and powerful Christianity may become and change people's lives, it would be based on a lie if he didn't die on the cross, and so, he returns to the cross and accepts his fate. A similar kind of logic underlies MEET JOHN DOE where a powerful social movement grows from a lie, that a certain John Doe chose to kill himself as protest against the inhumane world. The lie is exploited by the powerful as 'truth' but then 'exposed' as a lie when 'John Doe' turns against them. But then, 'John Doe' decides to really kill himself to give the movement a foundation in truth.
The other Martin Scorsese film on Man vs Myth is THE IRISHMAN. Though almost certainly based on a lie(especially on how Jimmy Hoffa was killed), it examines the contrast between the world of appearances and of the world of shadows(or disappearances). In the end, the film is less about how-Hoffa-died than how a man squares himself to himself, his family, and finally God in terms of what he knew, what he felt, and what he did. Quentin Tarantino, a harsh critic of John Ford, did something opposite to LIBERTY VALANCE with ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD. If Ford was aiming for the truth hidden by the myth, Tarantino fantasized a myth over the ugly reality of what really happened to Roman Polanski's wife. Tarantino is his own Noodles, the camera is opium pipe, conjuring a fantasy of what-might-have-been. But then, he's a very pomo creature.

Watching THE IRISHMAN, it struck me how the film-making takes after John Ford’s ‘elements of style’, or the economy of poetics. Gone is the flashiness, the visual flourishes borrowed from Fellini, the house-of-mirrors of Welles. Scorsese was drawing on Ford’s way of paring it down to essentials and serving it straight. A tribute to Ford? Or, lesson mastered by pupil in late stage?

Ford thought that drunkards and men with funny voices were hilarious... There is also a great deal of scene-chewing overacting and overbroad parody that often seem downright cartoonish. Beyond these lapses of taste...

Ford was not a man of taste, and even though he could make relatively high-toned dramas like MARY OF SCOTLAND, he felt most at home with folkish tales of rough men in vulgar worlds. THE QUIET MAN certainly isn't a work of 'taste'. This is the meat-and-potatoes of Fordism. You got to take it all or not take it at all. The folkish style especially fell out with the rise of the Cool where most Americans became embarrassed to be associated with hee-haw and anything old-fashioned. This even affected Westerns. PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID has the first 'California Teeanger' in Beaver.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance also contains Left-liberal messages on race. For instance, Devine’s Marshal Link Appleyard is married to a Mexican woman... This must have been Ford’s preference... Wayne’s character Tom Doniphan has a loyal negro sidekick named Pompey (Woody Strode). Pompey even endures the indignity of being refused service at the saloon, but Doniphan stands up for him, although he does refer to him as “my boy Pompey.” ...Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) teaches reading and civics to a class of white adults, plus Pompey and a brood of Mexican children. (All the children in Shinbone are nonwhite, a poignant sign that white civilization has not yet been established there. Now such classrooms are signs of white civilization in decline.) Lawyer Stoddard teaches that the fundamental law of the land is the Declaration of Independence, which holds that “All men are created equal.” The Declaration, of course, is not the fundamental law of the land. That would be the Constitution, which says nothing about all men being created equal.

This is reverse-PC and ideological bean-counting. I would have an issue about mixed-race marriage in a movie is out-of-place, unlikely, and/or pushed as a message. But Shinbone is set in the Southwest. It could very well be a Texas town, and there were lots of white-Mexican marriages there. The legendary Billy the Kid had many Mexican girlfriends, and Pat Garrett was married to a Mexican woman. So, the fact that a white man has a Mexican wife in Shinbone hardly seems out of place or unlikely. Could there be a message in there somewhere? But it's hardly 'left-liberal'. The white man mating with non-white woman goes back to Pocahontas in American lore. Possibly the greatest American song, "Shenandoah", is about some white guy in love with the daughter of an Indian chief. In a way, these could be construed as love-conquers-all stories, like in ROMEO-AND-JULIET, but they could also be taken as white sexual imperialism. After all, sex has never been neutral between men and women. It's a matter of who does what to whom. As men are the dominant sex, the race with the men humping the women of another race has the upperhand. When whites ruled over blacks, most interracial offspring were white-male-and-black-female. Today, with black men dominating sports and rap music and kicking white butts in schools all across America, most mulattos are products of ACOWW or Afro-Colonization of White Wombs. When the Mongols invaded Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, it was yellow men sexually conquering white women. When white Americans militarily took over South Vietnam, it was a case of white(and black) men sexually colonizing me-so-horny yellow women. In a way, one could argue that even white-male-and-non-white-female pairing is 'anti-racist' in its 'interracism', but it was also used as a form of imperialism. This was especially true in South America or Latin America, traditionally far less 'liberal' than North America. There, Spanish men took many brown wives and created the mestizo race.

Doniphan-and-Pompey is a traditional relationship of that time. LIBERTY VALANCE takes place after slavery has been abolished, but if the South had won the Civil War, Doniphan could be Pompey's master. (Ironic that a former slave would be named 'Pompey' after the great Roman general. It either suggests Americans are ignorant of history or hints at black ascendancy in the future.) The thing is, apart from social distinctions, there is a personal bond between Doniphan and Pompey that go beyond the political. Doniphan is surely no racial egalitarian(and even Ransom is rather condescending to Pompey who is later given 'pork chop money'), but he's generally not a mean person(when he doesn't have to be) and much appreciates Pompey as his loyal sidekick, his Tonto.
Of course, Pompey might be happier joining with Liberty Valance. Then, he could be a wildass ni**a, the mode of most blacks these days. I read somewhere that 20% of all cowboys were black, and most Westerns never took this into account. Among them, there must have been some crazy fellers so different from Pompey. Sergio Leone brought out the dark side of Woody Strode in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. There, he is a menacing badass ni**a than a loyal servant.

A lot of children in Shinbone are Mexican because Southwest had a sizable Mexican population. Indeed, parts of the SW had already been settled by Mexicans and taken from Indians long before white folks arrived in numbers. Unlike the Great Plains and Northwest where white man took the land from savage Indians, the story of the Southwest was about white man taking the land from the semi-civilization already established by Mexicans, from whom Anglos also picked up lots of cowboy tricks.

While the Constitution isn't the same as the Declaration of Independence, the spirit of the latter is reflected in the letter of the former. After all, laws aren't just laws but guided by a spirit. If guided by monarchical spirit, laws reflect royal authority. But the US Constitution was guided by the spirit of the Declaration, and it's why the direction of American History and its Laws has been toward securing more rights and equal protections to all regardless of race, creed, and color.

Ford did not, however, identify with outsiders against America’s WASP ethnic core because he was Jewish. Instead, he did so as an Irish Catholic.

Chances are that, during most of John Ford's life, most WASPS were more 'progressive' on race than your average Irishman, Ford included. As a matter of idealism, Wasps were the main pushers of 'liberalism' on race. Jews pushed it for reasons that were more tribal than idealistic(though there was some of that too as many leftist Jews back then sincerely believed race was skin-deep). Many Irish were Democratic but more for ethnic and economic interests than high-minded idealism. Generally, Irish Catholics followed the Wasp lead on racial politics. While most Irish were opposed to stuff like the KKK(who bashed Catholics as well as Negroes), even the Irish Democratic Machine operators were a bunch of Archie Bunkers at heart.

Judging from Ford’s cavalry trilogy—Fort Apache (1948), She Wore the Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950)—the West could not have been won without the help of golden-hearted, silver-tongued Irish drunkards. These stereotypes seem rather broad and offensive today, but Ford—a heavy drinker himself—obviously regarded them affectionately and thought their inclusion to be progressive.

They wouldn't be offensive today because PC only cares about Jews, blacks, and homos. Mocking or making fun of whites or white groups is not only okay but obligatory. John Ford was profoundly Irish but in attitude and swagger than identity politics. He wasn't into Irish victimology or separatist thinking, but one can't help sensing the distinction between the Anglo way and the Celtic way in some of his works. It's buried somewhere in LIBERTY VALANCE as well. Ransom is very much an Anglo-kind of character. Very Waspy, whereas Doniphan is Irish-like. And the movie hints at the troubled but symbiotic relationship between the Anglo and the Irish. Anglos led with their big vision and ideas, and yet, no civilization is merely the work of ideas and principles, not even the US founded on liberty and rights. A lot of dirty work had to be done, and as the Irish and Catholics were generally poorer, cruder, and disadvantaged than the Anglos and Protestants, they ended up taking up a lot of the 'dirty' jobs involving muscle and sweat. Often, it was ham-fisted Irish cops who kept the blacks in line. In battles, the officers were more likely to be Anglo, whereas the Irish took the lower positions as footsoldiers. Granted, the Irish gained real fast in America, but the Anglo-Irish thing was like an ethnic version of the class-divide in England between the gentleman 'caste' and cockney-speaking laborers. In the film RAGTIME, the privileged family that takes in the Negro orphan is very Waspish, whereas the firemen who harass the Negro driver are visibly Irish, right down to the red noses from too much drink. In some ways, the rowdier side of the Irish could be seen as more honest and real, but it could also be seen as brutish and bigoted. The Irish developed a dual mindset in regard to Anglos. In a way, they were the first victims of British Imperialism, and their resistance later inspired other rebellions against the empire. And yet, the Irish were also like the pitbulls of the empire. They went wherever the Anglos went, terrorized the darkies, and did the 'dirty work' as overseers and enforcers. Thus, to those on the ground, the Irish seemed even more bigoted, tyrannical, and exploitative than the genteel Anglo who gave orders on horseback. Irish were at once the hammer of the empire and under its heel, and it's no wonder that today's Irish are both filled with victimology but also share in the 'white guilt'. (But then, blacks have been no different. They were oppressed under white rule but also benefitted from white victories and took part in neo-imperialist aggressions around the world. Blacks in today's military don't ask why they are ordered to bomb Syria or to threaten/invade other nations. They just do it, just like the Irish under Anglo orders long ago.)

The film’s message is deeply anti-liberal. Indeed, although Ford could not have known it, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance illustrates many of Carl Schmitt’s criticisms of liberalism.

It depends on what you want to see. One could pick out the 'anti-conservative' elements of LIBERTY VALANCE and include it in 'left-wing cinema'. This is a fool's game. While some works are clearly 'liberal' while others are 'conservative', LIBERTY VALANCE can't be ideologically pigeonholed one way or another.

Played to cartoonish excess by Lee Marvin, Liberty Valance is a cold-blooded murderer and thief. He’s also a drunkard and a petty bully. The entire town of Shinbone lives in terror of him. He’s the kind of man who needs killing, so decent people can plant crops, raise children, and sleep at night.

Actually, Valance plays it both ways. He is a thief and killer but not at all times. He isn't merely a wolf or coyote but a weasel. When he robs a coach, he covers his mask. But in town, he act just lawful enough to pass as a member of the community. If he were a total outlaw(like the bandits in THE WILD BUNCH), he would be no use to the ranchers. In contrast, Valance wears many masks. He steals when he can, but at other times takes up regular jobs with the ranchers. In that sense, he's more like a proto-gangster, the creature of civilization, than a classic Western outlaw. Valance can easily adapt to the New Order. Indeed, the likes of Jimmy Hoffa operated as criminals as well as labor bosses. In the West, there were outlaws and then there were OUTLAWS. One bunch couldn't do anything but rob and steal. Another took up stealing as a hobby or side-job while doing other things as well. They had their feet on both sides of the fence, and Valance is quite an adaptive bastard. Thus, even as he intimidates the people of the town, his ilk can co-exist with change because the Power always needs muscle for hire. Today, the likes of him could work as a mercenary and blow things up in Syria.

It seems odd that an American movie would have a villain named Liberty. Isn’t America the land of liberty? But Liberty Valance is not really an American. He’s a man of the Wild West. America is a Republic with laws. The West is the state of nature. Liberty Valance represents the liberty of savages in the state of nature, where one man’s liberty is exercised at the expense of another’s.

It's also odd that the good guy's name is 'Ransom', usually associated with kidnapping and extortion. Anyway, I don't think Valance represents only the Wild West. His name 'Liberty' doesn't represent the state-of-nature or savage-freedom. Rather, it's ironic, a suggestion that American Liberty has always been compromised, corrupted, and hypocritical. Also, the name of 'Ransom' suggest that American Progress was brought about by holding all of us hostage to some faulty narrative.

For no sensible reason except that he likes her, Tom(John Wayne) awakens Hallie, who works as a waitress at a local eatery, to help tend to Stoddard’s wounds.

Doniphan doesn't see Ransom as a rival, understandably so as the latter is just barely alive after getting beaten up by Valance. He figures Hallie is ideal for taking care of Ransom as if he's a little child beaten up at school by bullies. He has more manly things to do than playing nurse. It's almost like finding an orphaned doe in the wild and handing it off to a woman to take care of.

Incidentally, there's a scene with a woman nursing a man in SERGEANT RUTLEDGE as well, and it might have been Ford's way of, wink-wink saying, THE NEGRO IS GONNA ROB US OF OUR MANHOOD. Unlike scrawny James Stewart, Woody Strode was a well-built guy, so there could have been sexual tension when the white woman tends to him though the times discouraged that stuff when it was made. On the one hand, Ford as an Irishman with bitter national memories, sympathized with Negroes who faced discrimination. But he was also mindful of racial differences. On the set, he often mocked John Wayne's manhood as movie-fake and pointed to Woody Strode as the Real Athlete of the bunch.

Rance doesn’t see any difference between force used by criminals and force used by decent men against criminals. He’s an idealist who apparently thinks the laws can magically enforce themselves.

No, Ransom isn't against guns or use of violence. He's against vigilantism. For the law to work, it has to be properly enforced by legal authority. And Ransom wants the people of the town to create and uphold a system that can ensure peace and stability by rightful use of force.
But the state is weak in Shinbone. Its fatso sheriff is a nice guy but weak and a flunky. Doniphan is a good guy and perhaps has the ability and popular appeal to rally the citizens of the town to together to sustain proper law-and-order, but he's too much of an individualist and maverick(in his own right) to do what's good for the whole community. He's usually out for himself and into everyman-for-himself, something he favors precisely because he has the natural talent to take care of himself. He knows Valance is bad, but as long as Valance doesn't mess with him, he doesn't mess with Valance. He lacks a sense of the common good. He's a proto-libertarian and has something in common with Valance, the difference being Valance is nasty whereas Doniphan isn't. Doniphan has a good nature but doesn't stick his neck out any more than he has to. He believes it's up to every man to protect his own life and plot of land. The problem is that not everyone is made of the same stuff. Doniphan is big, strong, good with the gun, and has natural courage. He could take care of himself, but he's an exception than the rule. Most men, even though they own guns, dare not stand up to Valance. Valance feels he can rough up just about anyone, and Doniphan feels he has no obligation to protect anyone but himself and those closest to him. Such cannot be the basis of social order. In contrast, Ransom knows that justice-for-all can only be ensured by the enforcement of the law by the state. He's for the law-for-everyone than everyman-for-himself, which is essentially Doniphan's position.
Indeed, the argument over the steak between Doniphan and Valance is less a matter of general principles — "it is wrong for Valance to act that way anywhere and with anyone" — than a matter of personal pride. Doniphan is enraged because Valance messed with HIS steak. If Valance had messed with another man's steak, Doniphan might just as well have looked the other way(and even despised the weakling who couldn't fight for his own steak).

(Ransom) is spindly, priggish, progressive zealot. He reminds me of Barack Obama.

No, Obama is no zealot, no real progressive. He's a smooth version of Valance, a globo-gangster and weasel with many masks. He could play race-hustler, cultural-marxist, cosmo-elite, genteel buppie, machine crook, warmonger(for the Jews), Wall Street shill, deep state flunky, and etc. Whatever faults Ransom has, he is a true man of principles. Also, he's very courageous, in some ways more than Doniphan, who is naturally big and strong and grew up doing all the Western things. In contrast, Ransom is an outsider who sticks his neck out even at the risk to his life and for total strangers. When the coach is robbed, most people just stand around passively and afraid. In contrast, Ransom rebukes Valance to his face. Foolish perhaps but it took real courage. Obama is just a gangster who looked around, noticed Jews got the power, and played their waterboy to be president.

Rance’s role in the community, however, is distinctly feminine. In a land where men wear guns and settle problems for themselves, he refuses to wear a gun and expects the law to settle disputes . . . somehow. Thus in the Ericsons’ restaurant, Rance wears an apron while washing dishes and occasionally waiting tables. (Obama also allowed himself to be photographed in an apron.) When Rance learns that Hallie can’t read, he takes on another stereotypically female role: schoolmarm.

Ransom not only expects the law to settle disputes but pushes for changes that finally bring that about. Thus, he's a visionary, and he's keen on practicing what he preaches, something rare these days. While it's true that Ransom partially comes to appreciate Doniphan and his ways, reverse is also true. Grudgingly, Doniphan acknowledges that Ransom has his own kind of toughness, courage, and resilience, a real tenacity. They sort of merge into one another, like Lawrence and Ali in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and Mendoza(Robert DeNiro) and Gabriel(Jeremy Irons) in THE MISSION. Mind envies the muscle, the muscle envies the mind.

Plenty of men in the West wore aprons. Sure, Western movies focus on the gunslingers, but most men did regular work to build the West. Butchers wore aprons. Grocers wore aprons. So many men wore aprons. It was not a woman's thing. It's like what Nixon's pa says in the movie:

Nixon's Ma - "Could thee at least remove that apron, Frank?"

Nixon's Pa - "This blood pays the bills, Hannah. I'm not ashamed of how I earn my money."

The problem of the Western Formula was it so over-emphasized the men-with-guns that it relegated to insignificance all the men who did the real work to make the West work. Naturally, we want to see men with guns than men with aprons & ladles, but the earlier Westerns did have a wider and more embracing vision of the West. The real West wasn't about men-with-guns and men-with-aprons but men-with-aprons-and-guns, and womenfolk learned how to use guns too, like the woman in RED RIVER. It's like the guys in GOODFELLAS both cook and kill. Paulie has a system of slicing garlic. And Clyde nearly got crushed by a man in an apron. In MIDNIGHT COWBOY, Joe Buck is someone who works with an apron but goes off to New York to play cowboy stud, a gunslinger with the ladies. He chases after the myth and runs from reality. In New York, he sees other men like himself working with aprons in restaurants. He is one of them, a regular Joe, but has been poisoned by the myth that dreams come true for the cowboy.

Of course, a Western could deviate too far from the men-with-guns narrative. There was a recent one called FIRST COW(which should be called FA**OTY MOO) that was 'gayish' or 'homo-social'(as its writer calls it) as shit. It was about two fellas, one Jewish and one Asian, in the Wild West stealing milk from a cow to... get this, bake muffins. It is the fa**otiest thing I ever did see, though I turned it off after 30 min. I didn't see BROKEBACK MOUNTIN', but even two cowpokes poking each other's bung is less 'gayish' than the idea of two guys out in the rough frontier having nothing better to do than bake muffins with stolen milk. Can anyone imagine Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark forming a team to milk a cow in the middle of the night to go bake cupcakes? It's the sort of tooty idea only a comfy city-slicker can cook up in his own world of creature comforts. "Gee, what if a sensitive Jewish guy met a naked Asian guy pursued by Russians(!!) and formed a 'homosocial' bond where they pick flowers and bake muffins together?" Total pukeville, but a favorite among critics, but they're a pansyass bunch who probably went off to get a muffin at Starbucks after the screening.

How is teaching someone how to read being a 'schoolmarm'? The hero of VIVA ZAPATA is ashamed he can't read. And the Viking leader in 13TH WARRIOR learns to scribble some lines from an Arab. Word is Power. Granted, teaching womenfolk(except for lesbians) to read beyond perusing personal letters(like Laurie in THE SEARCHERS) may not have been a good thing as most woman-minds aren't fit for real thinking and easily get confused. It's like what the girl says in KINGS OF SUMMER about her 'woman-brain'. Incidentally, if the tough guy loses the girl to the idea-guy in LIBERTY VALANCE, it's the opposite in KINGS OF SUMMER, more along the Arthurian Tale.

This too is an attitude more commonly associated with women. Ford clearly thinks that manliness is connected with a willingness to fight over matters of honor.

No. Often in Ford movies, women love the fact that men fight for stuff like land, honor, and pride... and especially over women. In THE SEARCHERS, Laurie, trying to be a Good Girl, beseeches others to stop the fight between Marty and the guitar-guy but soon loves the fact that two men are fighting over her. In THE QUIET MAN, the Irish beauty played by Maureen O'Hara doesn't mind that John Wayne's character wins her heart by knocking out other men. Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls(though, in our globo-homo age, boys will be girls, and girls will be boys).

Pro-Law stance of Ransom is essentially beta-male-ish as force is used by legal institutions to secure rights and protection for all men. Still, even though Ransom is physically beta-male, he has alpha-male ego when it comes to pushing others to follow his lead.
Legalism can be advantageous or disadvantageous to whites. Clearly, laws based on equal protection eroded white power and privilege in the South vis-a-vis the Negro. But laws of equal protection, if properly applied, can be good for whites because individual fights for honor between blacks and whites will favor the blacks. If a Negro and a White fight over a steak, the chances are the black guy will win 9 times out of 10 or even 19 times out of 20.
Honor as a personal code is a wonderful concept. For example, if you give your word, the honorable thing is to keep it. But in the Western setting, honor wasn't so much a matter of personal ethos as proving one's worth by guns or fist. But force doesn't favor the good over the bad. A good decent man can lose a gunfight to a total son of a bitch. Such 'honor' is really a matter of might-is-right, and naturally, Ransom has to oppose it. But would most white males want such an 'honor' culture living with blacks? Most times when white guys decide to fight Negroes for 'honor', they get beat up and lose their 'honor' of manhood, which is why it led to White Flight. Also, the reason for higher death rates in the black community is they fight over 'honor' of who done 'dissed' whom. They shoot each other over who stepped on whose gym-shoes. They are crazier than Wild Bill of Walter Hills movie where people are beaten or killed over 'hats'.

Rance furtively buys a gun and sneaks off to practice shooting. Why the deception? Because he can’t really reconcile it with his self-image and the image he has established with the public.

Ransom isn't opposed to guns per se. It's about who uses it and how. Ideally, he believes, lawmen with the backing of the community should have the power of guns to do away with the likes of Valance. But more importantly, he keeps his practicing with a gun secret because he doesn't want to lend the impression that he's a gunman and draw the wrong kind of attention from Valance and the like, especially as he has poor chance of winning any gunfight. He keeps a gun as a last resort. It's like, if a bully is messing with you, you might take up martial arts lessons and weight-lifting but secretly because it will take time for you to learn how to build up strength and learn how to fight. If you do it openly, it sends the message that you're cruisin' for a brusin'. (Indeed, weaker nations build up their military without fanfare. The last thing they want is attention.)
Also, when Doniphan toys with Ransom by shooting cans and dousing him in paint, Ransom throws quite a punch and knocks Doniphan down hard. Ransom has quite a temper, just like when he stood up to Valance in their first encounter. One thing for sure, Ransom is the way he is out of commitment than cowardice.

There’s also a love triangle in the mix. Tom is in love with Hallie. Everybody sees it. But he hasn’t screwed up the courage to propose. It is his one failing of nerve as a man.

No, it's not due to a lack of nerve. Rather, he's so sure that Hallie will be his that he takes it for granted and goes about at his own chosen pace. It's like the hare that takes a nap in the race with the tortoise. He figures he will first build a nice place for them both and then ask her for marriage and then settle down. He's so sure of himself that he doesn't rush it with her.

Rance is pretty much zilch as a man, certainly nobody Tom would regard as a rival.

Dissident Right is full of brainy literary types who are more like Ransom than Doniphan, so I find it odd that Lynch would keep calling Ransom's manhood into question. Also, there are different kinds of power. There is brute power, but there is also the power of the mind and power of knowledge. In brute strength, Achilles and Ajax were far more manly than Odysseus, but Athena favored the latter for his intelligence. After all, what distinguishes man from beast is the mind. Most beasts are bigger and stronger than man, but man has dominion over horses and cows. Why? The power of the mind. In raw power, Uther was many times the man than his son Arthur, but Arthur is the one who creates the New Order based on righteous rule and theory of justice. With Uther, violence is the authority, i.e. whoever wins by might is right. With Arthur, might has to be backed by what's right.
In Hallie's eyes, brutishness is a common feature of the world she inhabits. She's used to seeing problems settled by guns or fists alone. But then, Ransom comes along with a higher/better vision of society, and she is impressed by something so rare in that part of the world. She becomes aware of another kind of manhood, based on knowledge, power of words, and justice. Also, it's a matter of personality. Some women like muscle men, and some women like mental men. Hallie is illiterate but naturally quite bright and curious. Ransom makes a natural pair with her.

But Rance is no longer a child. He has faced death in a duel over honor.

But Ransom was never a child. And everything he did took a good deal of courage, even before the showdown. In a way, it was all the more courageous because he stuck by his figurative guns and kept true to his ideals/principles. It would have been easier for him to just throw up his hands, accept the world as it is, get some guns, and shoot bad guys. Rather, despite all the obstacles and disappointments, he chose to do it right by his principles and conscience. Of course, it too is a kind of personal pride as he doesn't want to admit he's wrong, sort of like Albert Brooks character of BROADCAST NEWS who does care about journalistic ethics but is also driven by ego and pride.
What sets Ransom apart from most people in town? Most are resigned to rule by guns and tough guys. They keep their heads low. And tough guys like Valance and Doniphan also stick with the status quo as it favors them. In contrast, Ransom deviates from both norms, the passive one of most people and the violent one of tough guys. Like Cool Hand Luke, despite all the knocks, he won't give up and insists on doing it HIS way. And in the end, even Doniphan senses that Ransom's way is the better way and, furthermore, manly-in-its-own-right becauser Ransom struggles for the whole community whereas Doniphan's way was mostly for himself. Doniphan always lent a hand to the community but not his heart and soul.

When Tom sees them together, he knows that he has lost Hallie. He gets staggering drunk and burns his own house down in self-pity.

It's something far more than 'self-pity'. It is a genuine moment of personal tragedy.

...when he shot Liberty Valance, he became a man and a hero. It also launched his political career. But none of this sits well with Rance’s puritanical idealist streak. He feels that he bears the “mark of Cain” and is perhaps unworthy of public office.

No, he wasn't so much troubled by personal conscience over what he did. Rather, it's the Narrative pushed by the other side: Cold-blooded thug Ransom killed upright citizen Valance. The Narrative totally reverses the roles. So, he's perturbed by being painted as the very creature that he struggled against with his vision of law and order.
Also, it's one thing to have killed Valance the scumbag, but it's quite another to build a political career on the killing, which reeks of opportunism, like so many politicians who used their war experience to win office as 'heroes'. But regardless of whether Doniphan or he really killed Valance, it can't be win-win for Ransom. If he did killed Valance, he's vulnerable to be clouded by the rival narrative that he's a cold-blooded murderer. If Doniphan did the killing, then his career is built on the deed of another man. Still, when Doniphan tells him the account of what-really-happened, he feels obligated to go in there and fight. He owes Doniphan one, and he felt this debt and burden all his life.

I wonder, though, if Tom’s story is even true. Did it really happen, or did he make it up to spare Rance’s feelings?

What might be true is both Ransom and Doniphan shot Valance at the same time. But surely Doniphan was there on the spot with the rifle because Hallie asked him to, and he couldn't say NO to her. And, why would Doniphan care about Ransom's feelings if he did not shoot Valance? He feels responsible for how Ransom feels precisely because he, Doniphan, was there and took action. Given that Doniphan lost Hallie to Ransom, protecting the latter's feelings would be the last thing on his mind if indeed he did NOT kill Valance. In a way, by telling of his role in the killing, he is owning the narrative between himself and Ransom. Indeed, it serves him more than it serves Ransom. Ransom often derided Doniphan as hardly better than Valance, a tough guy beast and thug, but Doniphan, with the tale, reveals that he is a beast with a heart of gold and even violated the Western code to protect Ransom, even if it meant risking losing Hallie to him. And it is that account by Doniphan that makes Ransom and Hallie feel forever indebted to him and even attend his funeral long after the whole town forgot who he is. Doniphan takes on the role of the 'unsung hero'.

Now, it’s possible Ransom and Doniphan both shot Liberty who was inebriated and didn’t take the gunfight seriously. But one thing for sure, whether Ransom’s bullet did or didn’t hit Valance, Doniphan’s certainly did, especially as he's handy with the rifle, a far more reliable weapon than the pistol in Ransom's shaky hand.

In a way, Ransom took on a suicide mission. He had about as much chance as the sodbuster against Jack Palance's hired killer in Shane. Indeed, Valance shoots him in the arm and mocks him. He toys with Ransom like a cat with a mouse. Why did Ransom decide to fight? It was a matter of rage and honor; every man has a breaking point. Valance just pushed too far, like Tybalt in ROMEO AND JULIET. He beat up the newspaper editor nearly to death. Valance brought out the dark side in him. He has to prove to himself and townsfolks that he can be pushed only so far, live or die. So, he goes after Valance not with any real expectation of killing him but to vent his rage. He most certainly didn’t expect to win. He just wanted to die with rage and honor. But miraculously, he killed the bugger or thinks he did. It’s as if Clarence the angel in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE was looking out for him. He is relieved by the good fortune, comparable in odds to Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson.

Later, he becomes distraught over the affair mainly because of the SPIN used by political rivals. Ransom isn't overcome with guilt about having killed Valance. But he is tormented by the narrative that paints him as a cold-blooded murderer of Liberty Valance, a decent citizen. Now, that’s total BS, but the narrative takes on a life of its own. The real Valance was a killer, but the rival press pushes the story that Valance was a good guy killed by Ransom the murderer. The narrative flips reality and makes Ransom out to be the wild man who resorts to violence to settle matters. So, Ransom’s very words are turned against him, and precisely because of what he’d preached, it hurts to see it boomerang back to him(despite its lack of basis in fact).
In the end, especially in politics, which is all about public perception, it isn’t so much what you are and what you did than what the public is made to believe. Ransom came to the West to create order out of chaos and rid the wilderness of killers, BUT he is made out to be the killer. That is too much for him. Being hyper-sensitive and a social person, he comes to be filled with self-doubt from the negative publicity spewed out by the other side.

Then, we can appreciate the significance of Doniphan spelling out the truth. At least on the personal level, this removes the burden of having killed Valance from Ransom’s shoulders. Also, Ransom realizes that he owes it to Doniphan to get back in the arena and fight. Doniphan did something he didn’t have to do. Also, even though the two men skip over it, Doniphan ended up sacrificing the girl because he saved Ransom. Indeed, Doniphan killed Valance as a favor to Hallie who was panic-stricken over Ransom. More than anything, Doniphan did it for her but didn’t know that she was really in love with Ransom. She meant more to him than anything in the world, and so, Ransom must go in there and keep fighting because Doniphan made the ultimate sacrifice.

Despite Valance’s intentions, his showdown with Stoddard officially counts as a duel, man-to-man. Thus, as both agreed to a shoot-out, it wouldn’t be murder no matter who died. But Doniphan wasn’t party to the duel, so what he did could be construed as ‘murder’.
If two people agreed to a duel but YOU secretly shot one guy to help the other guy, your action would count as murder by law.

But seen in context of what we know, Doniphan’s act wasn’t murder. Valance was a wicked guy and Stoddard was no match for him. Their duel was like the one between Palance’s character and the sodbuster in SHANE.

There’s another factor. Doniphan takes pride in being a tough guy, facing a man straight on. That he killed a man from the shadows isn’t his style. He did something ‘dirty’ even if justified in saving Stoddard. It violated the Western code of standing on your own feet and facing the enemy, live or die. By the code of the West, Valance should have won even if he is the bad guy. In the West, being good and right isn’t good enough. You must back it up with guns. Doniphan intervened to make Stoddard the heroic slayer of Valance, but it was actually a subversion of the Western way.

Worse, it’s not as if Doniphan took Stoddard’s place, which is what happens in SHANE. Shane knows that Big Joe is no match for Palance the Cobra, and so, he acts as champion. Still, he has to duke it out with Big Joe because the latter would rather die like a man than have someone else fight for him. Joe’s pride is hurt, but Shane’s pride is intact because he faces the Cobra face to face.
But Doniphan is denied even this pride of Western glory. He doesn’t take Stoddard’s place and goes face to face with Valance but shoots him from the dark. It’s almost like shooting someone in the back. He did something wrong(by the Code of the West) to do something right(for children and womenfolk), but it’s like the story of the dog looking into the water and losing its bone. Doniphan did it to make the West safe for womenfolk but lost his woman in the bargain.

Doniphan has been a tough guy all his life. Surely, he'd killed people(varmints) before he killed Valance. But he seems unperturbed by his past violence throughout the movie. He seems to sleep well at night without remorse for having used violence on bad guys or to get his way. What really destroys him is not the killing of Valance but losing Hallie to Ransom. He burns down the house he built for their future because he wants her to be happy, and her happiness is with Ransom. The price he pays for killing Valance is not remorse. He feels none. Nor does he face legal or social troubles over the death. Rather, it’s giving up Hallie to Ransom. Had he not intervened, Valance would have killed Ransom, and Hallie would have been his. But he saved Ransom, and he could see her heart was really with Ransom. Also, Hallie thinks Ransom really did kill Valance and feels both admiration for him as a Man and pity for him as the wounded underdog. She embraces not only a wounded 'child' but a 'hero', which makes her love him even more. And yet, the credit for killing Valance really belongs with Doniphan, and yet again, Doniphan doesn't want the credit because he killed Valance in a dastardly way by Western Code. Ransom 'stole' Doniphan's 'heroism' that wasn't actual heroism. Of course, Doniphan intervened without Ransom's plea for help, and so, it was less 'stolen valor' than 'bestowed valor'. However, Ransom doesn't appreciate the 'heroism' that really made his name in town. Doniphan feels all the more cheated. He allowed Ransom to own both the heroism and the girl, but Ransom grumbles about calling it quits over principles and feigned moral outrage from political opponents. Doniphan feels cheated by just about everyone. By the town that acknowledges Ransom as hero, by Hallie who's with Ransom, by himself who betrayed the Western code in the manner of Valance's killing, and by Ransom who doesn't appreciate the good fortune thanks to what Doniphan did. Doniphan is the one with the most to lose, but Ransom feels like he's the poor guy in the whole equation.

Valance is certainly vile, but his evil is petty; he doesn't represent the grander or deeper kind of evil. He's too beastly for contemplation which is at the base of True Evil, which emanates from knowledge, not ignorance. It's like Satan knows, indeed knows more than any entity except God, but he is evil incarnate at the profoundest level. Valance doesn’t represent anything resembling 'totalitarianism' but the very opposite: Anarchy, in which thuggery thrives. Ransom, though no 'totalitarian' himself, has more of a tendency toward authoritarianism. He is an idealist committed to liberty and justice but also a scold and control freak who thinks he knows best, especially in a frontier town deemed inferior to the established East. He disdains the rough freedom of the West. Ransom isn't a tyrant-wanna-be, but he’s the sort of guy who'd push a lot of regulations, some of them good, some of them sure to be a pain in the arse.

Anyway, the movie is more relevant than ever. Look at the Iraq War. Never mind there being no WMD. The mass media in cahoots with deep state said there was. And so, there was war.
There was no Russia Collusion in 2016, but Jewish Media and Deep state said there was. It was the biggest attack on US since Pearl Harbor, said the Jews, and so many believed it.
In 2020, some worthless trash George Floyd died of overdose, but the Media pushed the legend of saint Floyd, and his family got 25 million dollars and there are sacral murals all over. Never mind the reality. It’s the narrative, just like ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ nonsense from Ferguson. And the 2020 election. Lots of funny stuff, but just tell yourself, it’s all ‘baseless’ and just trust the ‘adults in the room’. Of course, many people know it's all a bunch of lies but believe go on believing them as 'noble lies', therefore justified. And LIBERTY VALANCE makes us think of US history and all of history as more legend than fact because people demand myths like hungry chicks screeching to be fed.

What is the true nature of power? It's probably like Angela Lansbury’s speech in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Psychology of power is dark and perverse, and John Ford’s movie, which came out the same year, hints at it. In Ford’s movie, the only truly wicked character is Valance. And yet, even good people need lies to keep it together. Fairytales for adults.

Incidentally, both THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE proved to be prescient of the Kennedy Assassination and its controversie, not least theories about the Grassy Knoll.

(Ransom) no longer thinks his public esteem is based on killing, but shouldn’t he be bothered that it is based on a lie? Perhaps he can live with the lie by telling himself that he is doing good things for the people. But couldn’t he say the same thing about killing Liberty Valance?

Though not stated by Ransom and Hallie, I think the biggest sense of guilt on Ransom's part(as well as Hallie) is not about the killing or the matter of justice but that he took Hallie from Doniphan. That part is shown to us in the movie but surely not told to the newspapermen as Ransom tells the tale. (What we are shown is much more than what Ransom tells the newspaper man.) But what really complicated the three of them was Doniphan gave up Hallie. Seeing her in Ransom's arms, she still belonged to Doniphan if he'd asked for her hand. Not only did he court her for a long time but even saved Ransom due to her pleading. They both know this. But Doniphan knew that if Hallie married him, the bigger part of her would regret it and truly be in love with Ransom. He would rob her of true happiness. So, he let her go. He knows it, she knows it, and Ransom knows it. So, even though Ransom told the truth to the newspaper, he didn't tell the deeper truth, which was personal than political. The real issue involving Doniphan isn't "who shot Liberty Valance?" but "Who took Doniphan's girl?" Doniphan killed Liberty, but in a way, Ransom killed Doniphan who spent the rest of his life rather like Noodles in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Feeling sad, going to bed early.

The real tragedy in the movie isn’t about morality or remorse. It’s about the tragedy of love. (JULES AND JIM is also about the crisis of love among three.) The movie about the tragedy of political violence is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA where Arabia serves like a Western frontier for Lawrence, who is like half-Ransom and half-Doniphan(and a bit of Valance as well). He’s an intellectual and idealist… but also an insatiable man of action who comes to realize he loves violence.

In a way, the key figure in LIBERTY VALANCE is Hallie. She is torn between Doniphan, whom she expected to marry, and Ransom, whom she grows to love more. In the end, she chooses Ransom. She knows this is especially hurtful to Doniphan because he saved Ransom, only to lose her to him. It was a very difficult decision for her to make.

It’s like the decision in THE IRISHMAN, aka the Man Who Shot Jimmy Hoffa. Frank(Robert DeNiro) must choose between Hoffa and Russell. He loves Hoffa like a brother, a dear friend. Also, both are Irish. He respects Russell as a man of power and intelligence(and wisdom in that side of the world). In the end, he chooses the Italian over the fellow Irish. As to why, we can guess, but it’s one killing he could never shake off. He is the ‘Hallie’ in this equation.

The deeper truth that Rance evades is that, for civilization to come to the West, somebody needed to shoot Liberty Valance. It doesn’t really matter who.

Civilization would have come with or without Valance. Cities have always been full of crooks, thieves, and killers as any gangster movie makes clear. Valance is a bad guy but rather crafty and adaptive. Lyndon B. Johnson was equally a crook and politician; he may even have been a killer. What happened with Jeffrey Epstein is a clear indication that civilization is a gangster-operation at the top, and Japan and Italy have been known for fusion of organized crime and politics.

Also, it does matter who kills whom. After all, outlaws, thugs, and criminals are always killing one another. But when a thug kills a thug, the thug is once again triumphant. Had Valance been killed by another Valance, thug would be replaced by thug. So, it matters who does the killing and why. Doniphan is half-Ransom and half-Valance. Like Ransom, he's a good guy and sides with the good people in town. Like Valance, he relishes the wild anarchy of the West where a tough guy is king-of-the-hill, a natural nobleman. He doesn't use his might for evil, but he rather likes might-is-right as it favors his kind of skills. Doniphan is someone who could have thrown his lot with the Valances of the world, but he chooses Ransom, even though he could have had more fun and better relations as a partner of Valance who respects other tough guys. So, that Doniphan kills Valance is significant as it symbolizes the struggle in the heart of power between the good and evil. In killing Valance, he kills a part of himself. It's like the circular opening scene of PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID that suggests Garrett's killing of Billy the Kid was essentially killing himself. But if killing the outlaw is a good thing in LIBERTY VALANCE, it is a bad thing in PAT GARRETT.

The possibility that the story is false is supported Ford’s frank exploration of noble and ignoble lies later in the movie. Although the newspaper editor has pried the story out of Rance by insisting on his “right to the truth,” once the tale is told, he burns his notes and tells Rance he will not print the truth. “This is the West, Sir,” he says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

This makes no sense. The motives of Doniphan in telling his account to Ransom and of Ransom in telling the truth to the newspaper editor are totally different in kind from the motive of the editor in burying the fact. Doniphan really wanted to get it off his chest, mainly because he lost Hallie to Ransom. It was his way of saying, "I saved your ass and lost my girl to you, so you better go in there and fight." He gave up the world as she meant everything to him. And Ransom tells the tale partly out of idealism and partly as tribute to Ransom. There is still that idealistic part of him that believes in truth and etc., and he sees in the newsman his younger self starting out in the West. But he also feels that Doniphan, so long forgotten that few even showed up at his funeral, should be credited as the unsung hero who really killed Valance and saved Ransom's life. Both Doniphan's and Ransom's motivations are in favor of truth. In contrast, the newsman's decision to edit out those facts is political or social. Why overturn a beautiful myth when so many people have come to believe in it? He figures the truth can do more harm than good.
And yet, even his reasons are in sync with Doniphan and Ransom on some level. After all, there is a reason why Doniphan told no one but Ransom and why Ransom kept it a secret all these years. They all understood that it'd be better for themselves and the world if it was kept secret. Doniphan wanted it that way, and in a way, Ransom's revelation is both an act of tribute/reverence and betrayal. He told the story in honor of Doniphan, but Doniphan wanted to take the secret to his grave. And perhaps, the editor understood that as well, and it's no wonder Ransom doesn't object when the editor says, "When legend becomes fact, print the legend."

But why replace the truth with legend? What’s wrong with the truth? The superficial truth deals with who shot Liberty Valance: Tom or Rance? If Tom shot Liberty, he can’t be punished now because he’s dead. Rance, of course, kept the secret. Perhaps there would be legal consequences for that. But the real need for deception has to do with the deeper truth: somebody needed to shoot Liberty Valance so that civilization could come to the West,

But that doesn't make any sense. If what really mattered was that, in order for civilization to take root in the West, SOMEONE-ANYONE had to shoot Valance, then what does it matter if it's revealed that Doniphan did the killing? The editor would have been perfectly happy with the new fact as SOMEONE killed Valance. If the main issue is 'Valance had to go' and therefore, 'someone, just about anyone, had to kill him', then the story of 'Doniphan as killer' would be just as acceptable as 'Ransom as killer'. It'd be a case of "What does it matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mice?"
But in LIBERTY VALANCE, the story is rejected precisely because it is an issue of WHO. The official story has been about Ransom Stoddard, a man who bridged the East with the West with high ideals and vision. He wasn't only a man of books but soon became a man of the West. He stood up to a killer face to face and shot him dead and proved his mettle. And he built a career and served his community and nation well. He is a local hero, even a national figure. So many people have come to admire him and pay him respect. So, it would be a big deal to say that another man actually killed Valance and that the much admired Ransom built his career on a lie. It's like John McCain's career was built on his undying loyalty to America despite being tortured endlessly by the North Vietnamese. Actually, it was a big lie, and McCain and those around him knew the consequences of the lie being revealed. Granted, Ransom's lie wasn't ignoble like McCain's. Ransom really believed he'd killed Liberty, and when he found out otherwise, he knew Doniphan told him the tale to make him go into the political arena and fight. It's not like he stole the glory from Doniphan. Rather, Doniphan did him a favor and wanted him to follow upon it. Still, a lie is still a lie, especially in the public eye.

Liberalism seeks to do away with force and fraud in human relations.

No, liberalism seeks to concentrate force in the state governed by laws. Also, liberalism accepts that fraud is a part of life and ineradicable, and therefore there must be laws and procedures to deal with fraud and violations that will always be with us. Liberalism isn't utopianism, a vision of future where all people will be free, equal, and just. Liberalism is based on tolerance than perfectionism. Liberalism says we will never have perfection, and so, we must learn to tolerate the flaws and failings, but there is still a workable solution by systems of laws and enforcement to ameliorate the worst abuses of society.

Of course, 'liberalism' has many meanings. It could mean classical liberalism or libertarianism. It could mean the New Deal and Big-Governmentism. It could mean high taxes and social-democracy. It could mean the Welfare State and Great Society. It could mean the Nanny State where the state passes ever more rules and regulations(about guns and smoking) to make us do what's right. Or, nowadays, it could mean Neo-Liberalism where the globalists oligarchs, deep state elites, and ivory tower operatives all conspire to gain more control via monopolization, more wars, and hate propaganda against whomever they hate. Currently, what is called 'liberalism' is just Jewish Supremacist Gangsterism with globo-homo and magic-negro as gods.

Liberalism, in short, depends on illiberal men and extralegal violence for its very survival. But, instead of questioning their own ideological premises, liberals simply lie about this fact.

There is much truth in the above statement, but such hypocrisy isn't limited to liberalism. When barbarian lords became kings and fancy aristocrats, they begin to put on airs. Their power was based on violence and brutality, but the kings invoked some divine right. And aristocrats acted as if they were born of finer blood and that their authority was based on culture and sophistication than on exploitation of the masses who toiled in the fields. The Christian Churches pretended their authority was the blessing of God when it depended on an alliance with the military caste that rarely acted according to Christian ethos. Liberalism inherited than incubated such hypocrisy.

This is why we need fascism that is most honest in exploring and explaining how power really works, but fascism was disgraced by the Ridiculous Fascism of Mussolini and Ludicrous Fascism of Hitler who turned fascism into mindless personality cults.

Stewart wasn’t a manly man but he was certainly not effeminate, not to mention ‘gayish’, like Farley Granger. Also, we have to take Ransom's motivation into account. His rejection of the Wild West way is a matter of courage and principle, not cowardice and passivity. There’s a difference between refusing to pick up a gun out of fright and out of principle. Also, most men in town have guns but still cower before Valance. Guns alone are as useless as the Law alone. Guns need to be backed by skill, ability, courage, and resolve(and even a bit of reckless derring-do). People are anxious about resorting to violence not only in fear of bad guys but in fear of the state that might charge them of murder. In our time, patriots who use guns to defend their lives and property are often smeared and charged by the Jew-run system.

Ransom’s long-term vision is the right one. The only way to secure real peace is by everyone working together to create a stable system. That’s the only insurance against men like Valance. If the town relies on men like Doniphan to keep the likes of Valance at bay, it becomes a matter of whim and chance. It’d be like Greeks relying on temperamental Achilles in the war against the Trojans. Sometimes, Achilles feels like fighting, sometimes he does not, even if the Greeks are getting battered. Also, what if there is no one like Doniphan around? The good folks would be totally at the mercy of Valances of the world. So, for there to be real justice, there has to be a system of law enforced by the state, and that system can come about only with everyone playing his part instead of looking to the good tough guy to fend off the bad tough guy. (In SEVEN SAMURAI, the ronin not only defend the village but teach the farmers how to organize and fight.) Of course, until such a system is established, a man like Doniphan sure comes in handy but only as a temporary measure. For justice to be permanent, an impersonal system is essential.

So, Ransom is essentially right. He is wrong in his reluctance to resort to rough justice in the interim period before a more stable system is possible. Still, it’s a fault of detail, a matter of degree, than of design.
That said, one could argue against Law and Order on grounds that people don’t deserve it, i.e. good times for good folks lead to decadence and degeneracy among the young ones who take things for granted and put on dumb attitudes. The ‘greatest generation’ did so much to create a new order for the boomers, but what did the latter do? Indulge in sex, drugs, and rock & roll. And law-and-order did wonders for cities in the 1990s and 2000s. Crime rates dropped precipitously. But instead of being grateful for the relative peace, the progs virtue-signaled about ‘racism’ and waved BLM signs, and we are back to chaos again. And Western Europe got progressively worse because of the prolonged prosperity after WWII. Generation after generation taking the good times for granted and making a mess of everything. Then, maybe good times based on law and order aren’t so good for the people. Once people's concerns deviate from elemental needs, they grow decadent and stupid.

Ransom is troubled by the killing of Valance because he wants to lead by example. But the killing has been characterized by his rivals as cold-blooded murder of an upstanding citizen. Of course, his supporters have no problem with the killing of Valance, a bad guy, but they don’t have a lock on the local Narrative. It’s no different today. We know George Floyd died of overdose, but the Narrative favors the ‘murder’ story. And the officials sabotaged Charlottesville by setting Antifa goons upon Alt Right people, but the Jewish Supremacist Media that control the Narrative blamed it all on ‘white supremacists’.

Ransom is in the long line of heroes who try to do the right thing in the wrong place. Kirk Douglas’ character in PATHS OF GLORY is similar. What decides matters in his world is ‘politics’, but he sticks to principles. There’s nothing he can do to stop the executions of the accused men, but he still does his best. That the men will die is pre-ordained, but he goes against the currents nevertheless in a lost cause. The pragmatic thing would have been to just play along, go through the motions, and further his own career prospects. But he stands by his principles and is called a ‘fool’ by the devious general who is ‘wise’ about the ways of power.

That Trevor Lynch is so harsh on Ransom is a bit odd since he himself is involved in the ‘effeminate’ calling of ‘letters’. Also, he has eschewed the confrontational tactics of Alt Right politics in favor of the Contest of Ideas with books like THE WHITE NATIONALIST MANIFESTO with the hope that the world will accept ‘white nationalism’ as a moral principle; there’s less chance of that than Ransom’s vision of the New West. He was also taken aback by Amazon’s decision to ban his books, as if the corporate world(in cahoots with the Deep State) ever played fair. Could he be projecting onto Ransom some of his own self-doubts?

Ransom is caught in a moral trap. If he sticks by his idealistic guns, he is strong on principle but weak in practice. If he picks up the guns, he’d be stronger in practice but weaker on principles. Not gifted as a natural fighter, his power derives from an innate advantage of intelligence.
Still, he’s not a pacifist nor opposed to the possession of guns. He just believes justice shouldn’t be a matter of which side has more guns or has the faster draw. After all, such ‘justice’ will always favor might. If Valance were to kill Doniphan in a gunfight, then the ‘law’ would be on the side of Valance. It’s almost as if Ransom is his own hostage in this moral trap. It'd be like justice as roll-of-dice as the bad has 50/50 chance of winning against the good. It's just been the convention of the Western that the good guys win the end, thereby creating the false impression that guns in good hands triumph over guns in bad hands.

Ransom is like Kirk Douglas in PATHS OF GLORY in that both men are essentially liberal(minus the current connotations). They do have principles but, when push comes to shove, accept the world as it is and compromise. This is different from Tom Courtney’s characters in KING RAT and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. He is honest to a fault in KING RAT but unlikable because of the setting where pride of virtue is a fool’s game. In DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, he’s more admirable as a purist radical. He won’t make his men do anything he himself won’t do. He charges into battle ahead of his men, and his commitment to the Revolution is total and selfless(as well as ruthless). His radicalism is very different from Ransom’s liberalism, but they have something in common in the insistence of doing it by the letter of the book, be it the laws of liberty or laws of history.
In a way, what happens in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA lends a clue as to Ransom’s dilemma. Lawrence initially looks upon the Arabs as a cruel and silly people who live by petty tribalism and superstition. The Arabs say, “It’s written”, i.e. things are what they are, and nothing can be done about it. One must resign oneself to what is ‘written’. When a man falls off a camel in the desert, Lawrence goes to retrieve him when others just give up on him. His death is ‘written’, or willed-by-Allah, the Arabs say. But Lawrence believes in free will, in agency. So, he goes to rescue the man and brings him back alive. He has taught the Arabs the lesson of Western freedom, the power of the individual will against adversity. After all, he’s leading a campaign that seems impossible, doomed to fail. But later, the very man he saved must be killed by his own gun. Perhaps, the Arabs were right after all. It is ‘written’. Lawrence could alter the script a bit here and there, but in the end, it was as ‘written’. Ransom is a far humbler character than the vain Lawrence bordering on megalomania, but both men believe in their rightness and destiny. In the Wild West, people act as it’s ‘written’ or ‘branded’ that guns decide what goes and that’s that. The Law of the West is written in blood. Ransom has a better vision of the West and works to create it… but in the end, he ends up using the gun according to the Western script. (And of course, it’s ‘written’ in the Western genre script that all roads must lead to a gunfight.)

In a way, Ransom is a pain-in-the-ass, but people like him are why the Anglo World created better institutions and fairer laws than the Latin World and beyond. To be sure, men like Doniphan were also instrumental as to why the Anglo world turned out better. The Doniphans had the balls to stand up to bad guys, and the Ransoms were sticklers for the law and made it stick. In contrast, Mexico had few Doniphans. Most people were like the passive peasants in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Mexico also had few Ransoms, men of the law. The result was a world of corruption and passivity.
And consider THE GODFATHER. It begins with Michael determined to be like a Good American, but an incident turns him overnight into a tribal gangster who no longer has any use for the American Way. Once he goes ‘Sicilian’, he never looks back.

Ransom’s way isn’t easy. And it’s even harder for one who's fallen but vows to crawl out of the hole, the scenario in PRINCE OF THE CITY, a story of a NY cop who joined his partners in corruption but tries to set things straight and de-tox himself of the betrayals. But it means giving up his partners, something he promised he’d never do. Whichever loyalty he chooses, to the Law or his partners, he ends up betraying something. Treat Williams played a labor activist in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA who tries to be clean but soon joins with gangsters as protection. He does the realistic thing but is corrupted in the end.

Cattlemen often fought for land and water with other cattlemen. So, they too put up fences and barbed wire. Cattlemen were very territorial AGAINST other cattlemen. They were for ‘open grazing’ only within their own territory. Indeed, many cattle wars flared up over access to water and pathways. It wasn’t as simple as laid out in SHANE.

Also, unlike the Indians who went away, cattle barons were there to stay, and it’s been a big part of the West ever since. In the long run, the biggest challenge to them was less real estate speculators than Big Government that finally stepped in with regulation and protection of wilderness.

Perhaps, the real dirty secret, one that Ford’s movie doesn’t touch upon, was that the partnership of American ‘progress’ was really between the Stoddards and the Valances. The Stoddards of the world weren’t so clean, and they needed people like Valances, sociopaths willing to do anything for a cut.
Take THE IRISHMAN. Jimmy Hoffa is a legit labor union boss but has goons working for him. Indeed, US government itself is about legit-seeming politicians and officials out in the public, but behind them are sociopaths in the deep state who do the dirty work. US military works alongside mercenaries, soldiers of fortune. And most soldiers joined for benefits than patriotism. The thing about Doniphan is he has too much pride and integrity to do dirty work for powerful men. He wants to be left alone and do his own thing. He likes being his own boss. In contrast, Stoddards of the world want to gain power over others(for reasons ostensibly good) and need others to do the bidding for them: Valances of the world will do anything for anyone for pay; they can be bought in the way that Doniphans of the world cannot be. Valance, though a maverick, is willing to be a flunky for pay. Thus, he is more useful to the powerful than Doniphan is.

In ALL THE KING’S MEN, an idealistic politician soon learns the ropes and surrounds himself with a bunch of Valances, tough guys who play as dirty as the other side, sometimes dirtier... to get things done. After all, civilization in the West wasn’t only about womenfolk & churches and children & schools but saloons and prostitutes. Las Vegas is part of civilization but more about whores and saloons than schools and churches. Indeed, vice industries provide the revenues to run the schools and libraries. And churches took dirty donations from the beginning. And the biggest sinners sometimes had the most money to give.

Perhaps, this is why myths are so important. It’s like the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”:

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

So, there are two layers of myth in LIBERTY VALANCE. The myth within the story that has the public believing that Ransom slayed the fire-breathing dragon-beast Valance. The truth is Doniphan is the one who did the killing.
But one may surmise another myth, one outside the story, i.e. that the entirety of Western Narrative is a myth, the Manichean one about civilization and progress coming to the West to drive out the savages and outlaws for the sake of womenfolk and the children. Rather, it was about gangsters taking over from cowboys who took over from the Indians. In Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the railroad oligarch hires the likes of Valance; indeed, it's significant that Leone hired Henry Fonda, usually associated with virtue in Hollywood movies, to play the hired killer. Outlaws like the bandits in THE WILD BUNCH had to be hunted down, but outlaws willing to work as strongarm of the New Order were highly prized.
It’s like the myth of the Good War Narrative where all the War Criminals were supposedly brought to justice. In fact, especially due to the Cold War, the US protected and worked with ‘war criminals’ in Germany and Japan. While some high-profile ones got hanged, many were made ‘respectable’ as collaborators with the New Order.

The problem with certain facts is it doesn’t end with the fact alone. Pull on the string of factuality, and the whole fabric may come apart. This is why Jews don’t want to give an inch to the Palestinians. If even a key fact of history is conceded to the Palestinians, it may lead to other facts that lead to yet more facts, with the result that the whole foundation of the Zionist myth may crumble like a house of cards. Jews surely know this from their dealing with Anglo-Americans or Wasps. White Power gave an inch of moral authority to the Jews, and Jews kept pulling and pulling on that thread until the whole edifice of White Power came unraveled.
So, the fact in LIBERTY VALANCE isn’t just one fact or single fact. It’s like a brick within the foundation of building. It is hidden and cannot be seen but plays a crucial role in holding up the entire structure. Keep it hidden in its Atlas-like work of holding up the building while people credit the outward design for what makes the building work; it's like people focus on faces, not the intestines. Some facts are mere facts, mere trivialities, but other facts are like keystones or centerpieces. It’s like the game of Jenga. Removing a certain piece, especially near the bottom, profoundly compromises the whole structure.

This is as true of personal myth as public myth. LIBERTY VALANCE is about public myth, whereas MULHOLLAND DR is about personal myth known only to the character of Diane Selwyn. This myth, dark and perplexing as it is, gives her hope and comfort whereas the stark truth is morbid and depressing. She lives in her myth and lives in fear of a certain ‘key fact’ that may break the spell and lead her back to drab and dreary reality where she isn’t just a loser but the murderer of her friend. When dream becomes reality, follow the dream.