MANN: America’s Great, Green Libertarian Protaganist

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Still inspiring watchers both young and old are America’s iconic movie hero traits: Superman’s justice, Atticus Finch’s determination, and John McClane’s American-ness. As movies and television introduce ever more protagonists, more political connections will be made to each new champion. With the current climate of Hollywood, many of these heroes espouse a progressive worldview but conservatism isn’t without its champions. Modern examples like Ron Swanson exemplify libertarianism, but the single greatest libertarian hero is much bigger and much greener: DreamWorks’ Shrek

Libertarian Foundations: Property Rights, Free Markets, and Individual Liberty

While modern libertarians suffer stereotypes of looniness, the ideology itself traces a robust history. Beginning in ancient China, Laozi argued that “a leader is best when people barely know he exists.” Generations passed through eras of monarchies, dictatorships, and later democracy before libertarianism revived in the 19th century in opposition to African and Carribean enslavement. Brilliant men like Henry David Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, and Fredrick Douglass critiqued the government’s enslavement of God-created men and women. Central to each of these thinkers’ philosophies is the idea that property rights, free markets, and individual liberty are paramount to any society’s well-being. Shrek continues the tradition.

The main conflict in the movie begins with the government displacing people onto Shrek’s property. “What are you doing in my swamp,” Shrek yells with a simple desire for undisturbed peace from the outside world. Through government action, hundreds of fairy tale creatures find themselves displaced from their homes, seeking refuge in Shrek’s swamp. It is tempting to place Shrek into the place of a greedy capitalist here, guarding his excess, unwilling to aid his fellow man, but it is the fault of the crown that these creatures are displaced, hindering both the creatures and Shrek from living as they see fit. 

The central tenet to libertarian thought, individual liberty, places an inverse relationship between the size of government and individual flourishing. This dichotomy presents itself in Shrek’s conflict. Shrek was surely recalling the old John Adams claim, “property is surely a right of mankind as real as liberty.” Just like his liberty, Shrek’s entire arc revolves around the defense of his property. When the government imposed its will, the characters couldn’t seek theirs.

Shrek’s grand adventure begins with governmental oppression and then continues through government ineptitude. The king understandably wants to marry a princess but the princess he desires must be rescued by a suicide mission. Instead of attempting it himself, the monarch turns to the free market of mercenaries. In a fight wherein the strongest competitor got the job, Shrek wins. Lord Farquaad could have chosen through committee some champion but even he knew that competition would bring forth the best product.

Upon reaching the castle in which the princess resides, Shrek’s path becomes clear. He has to neutralize a dragon to save someone else’s future spouse. Does he do this for the good of society or out of the kindness of his own heart? No. Shrek completes the mission to serve his ulterior motives, showing that oftentimes what is good for the individual is also good for the collective. 

J.S. Mill says in On Liberty that “the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” In this case, Shrek pursuing the privacy of his swamp frees a princess from imprisonment, returns the land to fairy tale creatures, and secures his desire.

Similarly, Shrek’s newfound best friend, Donkey, enters into an interesting relationship at the end of the movie, marrying and reproducing with the dragon that had been guarding the princess’ tower. Does Shrek cannibalize Donkey’s newfound fulfillment? No, he even invited the family to his wedding. Shrek doggedly pursued his self-interest and, as Mill would advise, left Donkey to pursue his without regard to any personal biases.

The Value of Local Communities

The movie ends with Shrek’s wedding with the princess he saved. The guest list to said wedding includes all of the creatures Shrek wanted to kick out at the beginning of the film. He realizes that local community is valuable, more so than any uninvolved government. As libertarian abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison notes, “the success of any great moral enterprise does not depend upon numbers.” Shrek can live amiably amongst his localized unit of outcasts while simultaneously being isolated from everyone else. 

Shrek is the perfect libertarian hero. He judges no creature by appearance, but only by their actions. He doesn’t put his faith in any uninvolved government. He relegates himself to his property and fervently wishes everyone else would do the same. Even when he does grow to enjoy the presence of other beings towards the end of the film, Shrek still prefers to live in isolation with his remote family unit. The culmination of these themes throughout the film should inspire any would-be libertarian.

Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Tanner Mann

West Virginia University

Tanner is a born-and-raised West Virginian. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University and currently works as an Actuary. His interests include politics, physical fitness, professional soccer, and corgis.

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