According to Thomas Hobbes, in a state of nature, each man was a sovereign individual who could do as he pleased. The price of complete liberty, however, was the war of every man against every other man, making life nasty, brutish, and short. For that reason, men agreed to give up some of their freedom in exchange for the security that would come with a state ruled by a sovereign. Though we do not believe this fanciful theory of the origin of society and government, yet we all agree that we are better off with a social contract in which we submit to the laws of a government in exchange for the benefits that government can provide.
Just as there can be such a thing as too much liberty, so too can there be such a thing as too much government. Conservatives especially feel this way. They are more comfortable with power belonging to the states than the federal government, and they are very suspicious of the United Nations as a world government that threatens American sovereignty. Liberals are more comfortable with federal power, but they also find themselves apprehensive about global agreements they fear will put profits ahead of workers, such as those concerning free trade.
These apprehensions are especially aggravated by such things as the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bohemian Grove. It is feared that within these groups, powerful people get together in secret and conspire to rule the world. Defenders of these groups argue that they just want to get people together to help smooth things out, to promote better relations among nations, improving economies and reducing the chances for war.
What most everyone agrees on is that a one-world government would be a bad idea (except when George H. W. Bush slipped up and referred to the “new world order”). Hardly anyone forthrightly declares that countries should give up their arms, with only the United Nations having weapons that will enable it to impose its transnational laws and regulations on nations no longer sovereign. The difference is between those who fear such a new world order, and those who say such fears are unfounded.
There are two good things about fear: first, it motivates us to avoid danger, and second, it is often the basis of a good movie. As for the latter, there are, of course, numerous dystopian movies about totalitarian world governments. In Rollerball (1975), corporations have replaced governments, so this is a left-wing nightmare movie in which individualism is suppressed for the sake of corporate power and profits. In Hunger Games (2012), Panem might not be a world government, but it is a totalitarian federal government run by a bunch of decadent elites, which makes it a right-wing nightmare movie.
There are a few movies, however, that actually promote the idea of loss of sovereignty as a good thing, that portray totalitarian power in the hands of a few as desirable, as conducive to peace and prosperity. In Gabriel Over the White House (1933), President Judd Hammond (Walter Huston) is a small-government conservative who thinks crime and unemployment are local problems, best left to the states. Then God intervenes and turns him into a fascist dictator who disbands Congress under threat of martial law. He presides over a command economy that puts everyone to work, and establishes a police state along with military tribunals that allow for the immediate execution of criminals. Discovering that other nations have not paid back their war debts, he tells them they will have the money to pay off those debts right after they get rid of their armies and navies, allowing America to rule the world. When they balk, he puts on a display of America’s “air navy,” in which he threatens to annihilate them all if they don’t do what he says. They capitulate. Having eliminated unemployment, crime, and war, God calls him home, as his job is done. Because America does not have to give up her sovereignty, a lot of neo-cons might like this movie about an imperial presidency ruling over an American empire.
On the other hand, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) takes loss of sovereignty to the next level. In this movie, a flying saucer lands bearing an alien named Klaatu and his robot bodyguard named Gort. Klaatu says this is a goodwill mission. He refuses to talk to the president of the United States by himself, insisting on the need to talk to all the world leaders at the same time. As it turns out, however, he ends up addressing a body of scientists, because in a left-wing film, scientists are better than politicians. He tells them that he represents an interplanetary government of the universe, and that earthlings must give up their violent ways, or robots like Gort will destroy the entire planet. This is like the conservatives’ worst fears about the United Nations stripping the United States of its sovereignty raised to the next power, with the entire Earth losing its sovereignty to a federation of aliens. The attitude of the movie is that this is a good thing.
I have always fantasized about a sequel, in which Americans capture the flying saucer and subdue Gort. Then they reverse engineer them until we have an army of robots and a fleet of flying saucers of our own, which we then use to destroy all those arrogant aliens who presumed upon us. At the end of the movie, with America triumphant, the president gives a victory speech, saying that our new manifest destiny of the universe has been accomplished, because we are a God-fearing people.
But Things to Come (1936) is the ultimate new-world-order movie. Made before World War II, it envisions the coming war, which wipes out much of mankind, followed by a plague. It spreads throughout the land, and there is nothing doctors can do, because there is no medicine left. A man takes charge, ruthlessly killing those infected and staggering around, until the plague is finally wiped out in 1970. He becomes the leader of Everytown, and is called “Chief” or “Boss.” He wears a coat made of furs, looking like a barbarian warlord, and he is intent on waging war against the “hill people,” just like a typical conservative.
Suddenly, John Cabal (Raymond Massey) lands in a futuristic airplane in a futuristic flying outfit. He tells Dr. Harding, whom he knew before the war, that a bunch of engineers and mechanics have banded together to form the “brotherhood of efficiency, the freemasonry of science.” Once again, we have the left-wing prejudice in favor of scientists over politicians. When Dr. Harding enthusiastically embraces the idea, saying, “I’m yours to command,” Cabal replies that neither he nor anyone else is in command, that there will be no more bosses. Rather, “Civilization is to command.” Saying that this world government has no leaders makes us suspicious, reminding us of Marx’s communist ideal in which the state withers away. Denying that anyone has power, asserting that one is merely executing the impersonal will of the organization for the good of mankind, sounds like a way of disguising its totalitarian nature.
The Boss is portrayed as a brutish anti-intellectual, who thinks it is just as well they don’t print books anymore, because they muddle thoughts and ideas. He doesn’t trust scientists, but he needs them for his war effort, to make fuel and poison gas. When Cabal goes to talk to the Boss, Cabal tells him the war will have to stop. In the course of their discussion, Cabal says, “our new order has an objection to private aeroplanes” (because airplanes represent power, this is the equivalent of denying individuals the right to bear arms). And when the Boss says that his territory is an “independent sovereign state,” Cabal says, “We don’t approve of independent sovereign states.”
Eventually, the air force of Wings over the World drops the gas of peace on Everytown, which merely puts everyone to sleep, except the Boss, who conveniently dies. Then what follows is a montage of futuristic industry, in which everyone is hard at work. In fact, everyone seems to do nothing but work. We don’t see people playing games, singing and dancing, or going to the movies. We begin to wonder, What is it all for, if all everyone is going to do is work? In fact, my chief objection to a command economy is that it might command me to work a lot harder than my natural preference, which is as little as possible. One thing about free enterprise, a lazy man like me has the option of working less in exchange for lower wages.
In the year 2036, someone called Theotocopulos begins to protest this way of life, arguing that life was more merry and vigorous in the old days. Now, if he just wanted people to be able to have more fun and not work so hard, that would have seemed reasonable. But this movie naturally has to make him into a Luddite who opposes all progress. He addresses the people, who seem to agree with him, but since this futuristic civilization does not appear to be a democracy, what the people want is irrelevant, and they are thwarted.
Oswald Cabal is the great-grandson of John Cabal. Even though supposedly there are no bosses in this new civilization, Oswald Cabal seems to have a lot of hereditary power as president of the council. When an acquaintance says, “Oh God! Is there never to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?” Cabal dismisses this concern for happiness, and says rest comes soon enough with death. “It’s the all the universe or nothingness,” he declares. Looks like they’ll be putting in some overtime on that one.
Though all three of these unusual movies try to put the idea of a new world order in the best possible light, yet they still come across as creepy. They don’t make movies like this anymore (in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), we only lose our technology, not our sovereignty). I don’t think this is because the country has shifted to the right in this regard so much as, left or right, people are more suspicious of power than they used to be.
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