Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Superheroes of Liberty

While waiting at the airport last week for the flight home, I got into a discussion with some IHSers about super heroes. It made me think of The Dark Knight Returns, a comic a friend of mine once told me about. In this grimy future, Superman is the lackey of a US President and Batman is retired, though he returns to his crime fighting ways in part one.

By the fourth part, Superman is deployed to Latin America to put down a military force on a small island. This leads to the USSR launching a nuclear warhead which will unleash an EM pulse and shut down electricity to North America. Chaos reigns in the streets and Batman leads an army of followers to restore order in Gotham City. The government sees Batman as an embarrassment and a threat and sends Superman to put him down.

Batman vs. Superman captures eternal struggle between liberty and force. Batman is businessman. As a loner, he’s not a big fan of authority. He donates to private charities. He’s a vigilante. He even saved the notes that would become Human Action from the Nazis. Batman is a libertarian.

Superman is a little trickier at first. In the first Superman movie, his dad tells him that if he helps people all the time they won’t know how to help themselves. A very libertarian theme. But if you look deeper, that’s about all Superman has in common with classical liberals. Superman thinks of people as weak; Clark Kent personifies his view of humanity. He enforces whatever the law says. In a recent Justice League Unlimited episode, Superman sternly says he’d “never fight the government,” not even if Lex Luther was elected president. Speaking of Luther, Superman’s main villain is a businessman. And like many people’s view of government, Superman can do almost anything masterfully. Superman is a statist.

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman dons a super-suit powered by kryptonite to fight Superman. Does kryptonite resemble reason as the only force that can smash statism? I doubt it was intended in such a way but it certainly works. Something to ponder.

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