babble on ‘five
April 19, 2006 4 Comments
Under the leadership of its final commander, Babylon 5 was a dream given form: a dream of a galaxy without war, when species from different worlds could live side by side in mutual respect…. Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. This is its story….”
– monologue from the Pilot, spoken by Londo Mollari
I seem to be one of the very few libertarians who can make the following 2 claims:
- I’ve seen every episode of all five seasons of Babylon 5;
- I really dislike the show…
Not only did this particular libertarian not like the Babylon 5 series, but he can’t begin to understand how any libertarian possibly could.
Is it like Star Trek: statist, but what choice do we have?
That’s not the impression I get. The impression I get is that libertarians see something positive in the show itself — not just scifi eye-candy, but something somehow related to what we believe. If so, I have no idea what that could be.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been listening to a lot of science fiction podcasts while I paint the house. What baffles me about these podcasts is that the hosts of shows I really like will enthusiastically endorse other podcasts that I quickly decide I can’t stand.
One common theme between my discomfort with Babylon 5 and my dislike of these briefly sampled podcasts is their militarism. My two favorite science fiction television shows — Farscape and Firefly — involve ex-soldiers and non-soldiers as heroes and current professional soldiers as badguys.
Now I can imagine libertarian fans of Bab5 pointing out that the military on that show is the badguy, too, but I’m not buying it. First of all, all the goodguys are government officials, all representing world governments. When trade is mentioned at all, it’s either negotiated between governments (a la NAFTA and the rest of the neoliberal agenda), frowned on as black market (violent, criminal, immoral), or sneered at as corrupt and all-powerful “megacorp” (where political capitalism is the only variety of capitalism even contemplated).
The political background of the show is like a love letter to the Clintons, the Democrats, and the Left Establishment in general — the people in charge of the executive branch when the show was being made.
I can imagine a libertarian (one of the decentralist variety) praising the show as pro-secession. Yes, the decentralist would concede, the show opens with the hero pronouncing Abraham Lincoln his hero, and trying to deliver one of Lincoln’s speeches, but the way events unfold (with the station declaring independence from the corrupt world government of Earth) the Lincoln references are clearly there to reassure viewers that the show is not blind to the history of slavery just because it ends up embracing the right of secession.
Even if I were to accept the secessionist argument, it’s still not evidence of libertarianism, since the secessionist government of Babylon 5 is every bit as authoritarian as the world government it has seceded from. (In the same way that the Confederate Hamiltonians took over when the Confederate Jeffersonians went into battle: tariffs and taxes; the first military draft; political centralization, etc.) The station is still run by a military elite who don’t hesitate to boss everyone else around. That doesn’t automatically make the show pro-military — any more than Archie Bunker’s bigoted rants made All In The Family pro-racism — but at no point are we given the sense that any of this hamfistedness tarnishes the armor of Bab5’s supposed goodguys.
Yes, I know: at the end of everything, there are “free” elections, but that’s democracy, not freedom. Majoritarian elections do not equal liberty.
Finally — and here is the biggest problem with Babylon 5 from my perspective — the heart and soul of the show is about the struggle between war and peace, not just in history, not just within ourselves, but as necessities of progress. In one of the very last episodes of the series, the doctor gives a speech about how terrible war is, but how necessary it is to progress.
The two ancient races vying for influence with humanity and the other younger races, represent violence and chaos on the one hand, and peace, order, and stagnation on the other. Them’s yer choices; take yer pick. We want peace, but we need war. Suddenly the love letter isn’t just addressed to the Clintons. Now it’s meant for the Roosevelts and the Keynesians.
Yes, Babylon 5 is five seasons of the Broken Window Fallacy — of the destructivist myth ingrained in us by teachers and textbooks that the progress of civilization is the history of struggle. Peace, it seems, is stagnation.
One of the most profound awakenings I’ve had in my Misesian education has been to the classical liberal doctrine of peace and prosperity, the two inseparable. The progress of civilization has taken place despite the history of struggle, not because of it. Cooperation and the division of labor have advanced us; war and conflict have dragged us down.
This was not the lesson of my schooling, not even at the hands of Quaker pacifists. Their love of peace was principled, spiritual, aesthetic, but not practical. Pragmatically, they were all FDR-brand New Deal so-called liberals: those who thought that the burning of crops and the mass slaughter of livestock saved us from the Great Depression, at least until World War II saved us from the Great Depression. These people believe that it was the Marshall Plan that brought Europe back after the war, not the resumption of trade after fascism had been defeated.
Boring old peace is the path to prosperity. That may not make for good science fiction, but it’s the reason we can afford the leisure to read and write science fiction in the first place. For the creators of these fictional worlds to pretend that struggle and destruction are necessary to our overall well-being is as painful and ironic as the children of the productive bourgoisie decrying capitalism as the source of poverty and suffering.
There are high-minded men who detest war because it brings death and suffering. However much one may admire their humanitarianism, their argument against war, in being based on philanthropic grounds, seems to lose much or all of its force when we consider the statements of the supporters and proponents of war. The latter by no means deny that war brings with it pain and sorrow. Nevertheless, they believe it is through war and war alone that mankind is able to make progress. War is the father of all things, said a Greek philosopher, and thousands have repeated it after him. Man degenerates in time of peace. Only war awakens in him slumbering talents and powers and imbues him with sublime ideals. If war were to be abolished, mankind would decay into indolence and stagnation.
It is difficult or even impossible to refute this line of reasoning on the part of the advocates of war if the only objection to war that one can think of is that it demands sacrifices. For the proponents of war are of the opinion that these sacrifices are not made in vain and that they are well worth making. If it were really true that war is the father of all things, then the human sacrifices it requires would be necessary to further the general welfare and the progress of humanity. One might lament the sacrifices, one might even strive to reduce their number, but one would not be warranted in wanting to abolish war and to bring about eternal peace.
The liberal critique of the argument in favor of war is fundamentally different from that of the humanitarians. It starts from the premise that not war, but peace, is the father of all things. What alone enables mankind to advance and distinguishes man from the animals is social cooperation. It is labor alone that is productive: it creates wealth and therewith lays the outward foundations for the inward flowering of man. War only destroys; it cannot create. War, carnage, destruction, and devastation we have in common with the predatory beasts of the jungle; constructive labor is our distinctively human characteristic. The liberal abhors war, not, like the humanitarian, in spite of the fact that it has beneficial consequences, but because it has only harmful ones.
Ludwig von Mises, “The Foundations of Liberal Policy”