Libertarian Lessons From “Les Mis”

Dave Killion — December 29, 2012

 

“Les Miserables” is enjoying packed theatres this holiday season, and I have been to see it myself. I’ve never seen the stage version, but I have read the book and also am familiar with most of the music. I cannot say whether I recommend the film, but only that I was alternately bored to tears (figuratively) and moved to tears (literally). A couple things struck me, libertarian-wise:

First, the main character, Jean Valjean, has spent 19 years in prison; five for stealing bread, and the remainder for repeated escape attempts. As the bread is stolen in order to feed his starving sister, nieces, and nephews, it is tempting to view Valjean as having been ‘forced’ to steal the bread. Please don’t. If there is no violence (or threat of violence) there is no force. If Valjean stole the bread because he had a gun to his head, then he was forced, and it would be wrong to punish or seek restitution from him. Valjean chose to steal, and even though the circumstances argue that he should not have been imprisoned, he cannot avoid making restitution by arguing that he was forced.

Second, there is a moment in the film when Gavroche delivers a note to Valjean, but prompts Valjean to pay him before handing over the note. After the exchange, Gavroche says something to the effect of “Something for you, something for me. Who needs charity?” It was the libertarian highlight of the movie.

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