Bulworth and the Socialist Critique of Capitalism
a review by Ari Armstrong
I thoroughly enjoyed Bulworth. Warren Beatty portrays a California Senator who breaks down and becomes honest again. Beatty's Bulworth is a refreshing alternative to our real politicians who talk to and from nothing but big money. (One woman asks Bulworth, paraphrased, "Why haven't we received the Federal Aid you promised us four years ago to rebuild our neighborhoods after the LA riots?" He responds, "Well, you haven't really contributed to my campaign, have you?") Bulworth realizes he's been a sell-out, and then he fights to make a change.
Beatty is on the rampage here. He is subverting the entire Democrat-Republican cooperative, and challenging us to stop prostituting principles. This, I love. (Oh, and the plot and characters are developed fully and interestingly.)
What I love rather less are the particular principles for which Beatty fights. He explicitly calls for "socialized medicine" (at least he has the balls "to call a spade a spade"), private subsidization of insurance for the poor, and a myriad of other socialist programs. What I don't get is that, while Beatty recognizes that "politicians have f**ked up public education," he expects them to expand public education, government medicine, and government on all levels.
As Murray Rothbard and others have long-recognized, the radical left and radical right share a number of similarities. Both call for radical cultural changes, both believe that the current system is corrupt in its power, both denounce Democrats and Republicans. Where they differ is in their interpretation of corruption. Libertarians think that the government is responsible for the current problems in medicine, education, and so forth. Socialists such as Beatty think that big business is the source of corrupt power. Hence, the two political agendas are the precise opposite. Libertarians call for the radical cutback of government so that the private sector can fulfill human needs; socialists call for the radical increase of government so that the government can fulfill human needs. They agree only that the current nexus of government and big business is evil; libertarians think that government is the fundamental corruptive force while socialists think that big business is. Perhaps this is the root of Mises' theory that one system will ultimately drive out the other.
Largely the disagreements are an empirical matter which can be resolved by open-minded discussion and research. (CAN be, not WILL be.) I think that Beatty errs on two counts - first, that big business is inherently corruptive and that the free sector is incapable of providing just, honest business, and second, that the private sector is incapable of providing charity, quality health care, and so forth.
An editorialist from the Washington Post chided Beatty for perpetuating black stereotypes. While I think that to a certain extent he did this, I would add that Beatty is addressing the worst problems in the inner-cities, rather than the average, middle-class African American community. The film doesn't suggest that African Americans generally or even frequently resemble the characters in Bulworth.
See Bulworth for two reasons. In the abstract, Bulworth represents a dedication to Principle. We can be inspired by Beatty's devotion even if we are repelled by the particular content of his principles. The second reason to see Bulworth is to get a better idea of where the socialists in America are coming from - what they believe and what they advocate. I actually agree with a lot of what Bulworth says. Bulworth and Pat Buchanan share some notable beliefs that I dismiss. If the libertarian movement is supposed to contain "the party of principle," I'd say that Beatty and others are trying to restore that title to the Democratic Party. The Republicans obviously are ideologically bankrupt; if the Democrats find their moral voice, then we are in for some major shifts in favor of government power. That is unless, of course, we libertarians are able to manifest a fervor and eloquence in support of OUR principles to match that of Beatty and the other Democrats-of-Spine.