Movies for Conservatives: Les Miserables

Les Miserables Posters

“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men.  It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”

Les Mis a movie for conservatives?

Yeah.

But let’s first talk about the qualities of the movie apart from political or philosophical points.

The High Points

This is the play in all its glory.  And the play is a truncated version of one of the most moving books ever written.  All the passion, all the empathy there.  You will cry for Fantine.  For Eponine.  For Gavrouche.  For the revolutionary Friends of the ABC.  For Javert. And of course for Valjean.  Bring tissues this is movie that you will cry at, a lot.

And this movie has a few truly wonderful scenes that supply motivation that was missing in the play.  For instance it has Javert arrive on the same day that Fantine is dismissed from her job, which gives a reason for Valjean not taking a more serious interest in her case.

The movie also supplies little moments from the book that were never in the play, like Grantaire standing by Enjolras at the moment of execution.

I think director Tom Hooper created something truly genius with the live singing way this movie was made…however it appears in the early scenes that there was certainly a learning curve involved in using this technique (I wish this wasn’t the first movie to do it so Hooper could have had something to reference).  But for any inconsistency it brings up at some moments, it adds deeply to the rest of the film and emotional impact of the songs.

Les Mis HathawayAnne Hathaway deserves an Oscar.

And Russell Crowe’s singing was a pleasant surprise.  He added more humanity to Javert than any actor I have previously seen.

The Low Points.

I feel there was a lot that got left on the editing room floor. At 2 hours and 37 minutes this was pushing it for most movies nowadays and I’m pretty sure if all the little things that were taken out were put back in it would be well over 3 hours.  And since Hollywood has no intention of returning to the idea of an intermission (to me this makes no sense as most of the money comes from concessions and if there is a break at an hour and a half we would be more willing to buy soda since we wouldn’t have to worry about running out to the rest room and we would buy food at the halfway mark as we would be hungrier by that point…but at least it seems that way, real data I’m not privy to might show otherwise) they were probably forced to make some heavy cuts to the movie.  This creates some odd pacing issues, where certain parts feel a little rushed.

Also, and it may be a personal issue that others may not have a problem with, I was not overly impressed by Jackman’s singing. It wasn’t bad, but I’m used to a deeper more sonorous voice for Valjean.

On the technical points, the movie is one of the best of the year, the acting and visual work was spectacular. The editing needs work (or at least a director’s cut DVD…please.) and the directing while exceptional still could have been just a little better (I think the high cost of production may have prevented doing reshoots that other films might have done)…Hooper gets an A not A+.

The Political/Philosophical Points

Did you know this was Ayn Rand’s favorite book?  It was.  Kind of puts any thoughts that Les Mis is liberal out of the “obviously” category doesn’t it.

Okay let’s look at some of the points. On their own merits.

“I am the master of hundreds of workers, they all look to me.  Can I abandon them, how will they live if I am not free. I speak I am condemned, if I stay silent, I am damned.”

Jean Valjean is a convict, yes. But while that’s all that Javert sees, we’re supposed to see more.  We’re supposed to see the successful businessman who not only created a whole industry in a town, bringing it out of poverty and into an economic renaissance, but who also out of Christian charity (not guilt, it should be noted that if you read the book Valjean is motivated by a desire to be a better person, not by guilt about his prior actions) creates hospitals and schools for the poor.  In a day and age when lesser writers like Dickens would just recycle the terrible image of the robber baron, Hugo gave us a noble businessman as an example of what others should be. It should also be noted that in a very Atlas Shrugged kind of way, Hugo has no illusions that once Valjean is forced to run the industry and the town is not able to survive in its thriving state without Valjean’s leadership. The book to a great degree, with touches still in the movie, shows that prosperity is driven by captains of industry.

“Take my hand I’ll lead you to salvation.  Take my love, for love is everlasting.  And remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Further it should be noted what a deeply religious story this story is.  It is God and the Bishop of Digne, not government that redeems Valjean.  God and faith permeate all levels of this story.  Faith ironically is what drives both Valjean and Javert.  And it never condemns any form of faith, showing that all those fallen (except sadly Javert, whom I’m sure Hugo would have placed there) together in heaven.

The novel, the play, and now the movie praise faith.  It’s a rarity these days in serious well produced films.  And given the desperate need for spirituality in our modern world, something like this must be embraced.

“Let us die facing our foe […] Let others rise to take our place until the Earth is FREE!”

And dare we forget that much of the second half of the story is taken up by an uprising by Republican revolutionaries, seeking a return to law and not the capricious whims of a king.

“But, but, but” some liberals will complain.  The book is about helping the poor, and how unjust the criminal justice system is.  Those are liberal issues. And what they fail to realize is that these are different times and different issues.  The poor in 19th century France were starving (a problem with accuracy is that even the slums of France look too pretty in this movie…honestly we wouldn’t have felt comfortable actually watching what the “The Miserable” of 19th century France looked like…it wasn’t quite Nazi Concentration Camp, but certainly not as pretty as this film depicts it), the poor in 21st century America are suffering an obesity epidemic.  Hugo critiqued those who were lazy and those who felt entitled.  Poverty of the kind Hugo witnessed in France was what he wanted us to feel empathy for, modern poverty would not likely bring as much empathy from Victor.  And he would be horrified by the lack of the churches and religion in the government welfare that modern liberals champion.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that you can’t compare the legal system that punished Valjean for 20 years and hounded him for life for stealing a loaf of bread to our modern system…yes we have problems, but we have the kind of problems Hugo would have only dreamed of.

“Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free.”

Of course for me one of the most revealing passages in Les Miserable is when Hugo takes a moment to critique communism.

(It should be noted the terms Socialism and Communism at the time do not have the same meaning now…what he calls Communism would be more in line with modern European Socialism…the term Capitalism was first used in 1854, 8 years before Hugo published Les Miserables—it took him nearly 20 years to write—and its usage as a economic system did not begin until Marx used it in 1867, 5 years after Les Miserables was published.  So he could never expect to hear him use the term capitalism even thought that seems to be what he’s calling for.   He certainly did not have the term cronyism which describes the economics of 19th century France better than anything.  So pay attention to the systems and practices he is referring to, not the titles, as he had no access to the title we currently use.)

“The reader will not be surprised if, for various reasons, we do not here treat in a thorough manner, from the theoretical point of view, the questions raised by socialism. We confine ourselves to indicating them.

All the problems that the socialists proposed to themselves, cosmogonic visions, reverie and mysticism being cast aside, can be reduced to two principal problems.

First problem: To produce wealth.

Second problem: To share it.

The first problem contains the question of work.

The second contains the question of salary.

In the first problem the employment of forces is in question.

In the second, the distribution of enjoyment.

From the proper employment of forces results public power.

From a good distribution of enjoyments results individual happiness.

By a good distribution, not an equal but an equitable distribution must be understood.  The highest equality is equity.

From these two things combined, the public power without, individual happiness within, results social prosperity.

Social prosperity means the manhappy, the citizen free, the nation great.

England solves the first of these two problems. She creates wealth admirably, she divides it badly. This solution which is complete on one side only leads her fatally to two extremes: monstrous opulence, monstrous wretchedness. All enjoyments for some, all privations for the rest, that is to say, for the people; privilege, exception, monopoly, feudalism, born from toil itself. A false and dangerous situation, which sates public power or private misery, which sets the roots of the State in the sufferings of the individual. A badly constituted grandeur in which are combined all the material elements and into which no moral element enters.

Communism and agrarian law think that they solve the second problem. They are mistaken. Their division kills production. Equal partition abolishes emulation; and consequently labor.

It is a partition made by the butcher, which kills that which it divides.

It is therefore impossible to pause over these pretended solutions. Slaying wealth is not the same thing as dividing it.

The two problems require to be solved together, to be well solved. The two problems must be combined and made but one.

[…]

Solve the two problems, encourage the wealthy, and protect the poor, suppress misery, put an end to the unjust farming out of the feeble by the strong, put a bridle on the iniquitous jealousy of the man who is making his way against the man who has reached the goal, adjust, mathematically and fraternally, salary to labor, mingle gratuitous and compulsory education with the growth of childhood, and make of science the base of manliness, develop minds while keeping arms busy, be at one and the same time a powerful people and a family of happy men, render property democratic, not by abolishing it, but by making it universal, so that every citizen, without exception, may be a proprietor, an easier matter than is generally supposed; in two words, learn how to produce wealth and how to distribute it, and you will have at once moral and material greatness; and you will be worthy to call yourself France.”

[Emphasis added]

You will notice he is proposing such things as universal education, due process of law, and property rights.  He condemns any attempt for everyone to have their fair and equal share and envying the wealthy.  He proposes that people be paid just wages for their work (which was an issue then, not so much now). He proposes to make every man his own master, that everyone may earn wealth.  I can’t speak with certainty what political path Hugo would take in the modern world, but I can be fairly certain that if a modern day liberal went back to see him, Hugo would try to slap the stupid out of the Occupy trash.  I can also be mildly sure that Hugo might encourage the building of a few barricades against some of the government overreaches of the modern world.

All in all, the story is one of the value of liberty, of the individual, of redemption through works and of God.  Those are conservative themes if I ever heard them.

“Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night

It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the Earth there is a flame that never dies,

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

We will live again in Freedom in the garden of the Lord.

We will walk behind the plowshares.  We will put away the sword.

The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?  Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?

Do you hear the people sing, say do you hear the distant drums?

It is the future that we bring when tomorrow comes!”

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Movies for Conservatives: Les Miserables

  1. snrubgorp

    “Faith ironically is what drives both Valjean and Javert. And it never condemns any form of faith, showing that all those fallen (except sadly Javert, whom I’m sure Hugo would have placed there) together in heaven.”

    In other words, this movie offers no challenges to faith, therefore rendering faith worthless.

    You’ve sussed out all the points that a stereotypical liberal would enjoy about the movie (Everyone wins in the end; Revolutions are fought in the barroom, not in the streets; Everyone is basically good at heart except for The Man) and declared them conservative principles. Do you want to be taken seriously or not?

    P.S. The June Revolutionaries were socialists. Your childish “But ‘socialism and capitalism weren’t coined yet!’ is another mark against your lack of pattern recognition.

    • Wow…are you on something?

      “In other words, this movie offers no challenges to faith, therefore rendering faith worthless.” Why does faith require a challenge? I believe, as Hugo believed, as many believe that God does not punish, God does not hate, God loves and forgives. Yes there are certain sets of dogma that believes that only their vision of God is correct…they’re wrong, they won’t be punished for it (although it will likely take them longer to reach enlightenment through karma and reincarnation, and Hugo may have agreed with me…it’s difficult to nail down Hugo’s spiritual opinions as it was constantly evolving, but I can say that any study of his beliefs show he was open to what would have in his time been called the Occult and in our time New Age beliefs, and that just because he was a Catholic he did not subscribe to the strictest dogma of the church). To believe that faith must dictate an opposition to other beliefs, only shows how little you understand faith.

      So you’re saying that the following are liberal beliefs: “Everyone wins in the end,” actually that’s kind of the promise of capitalism, only we say “everyone can win in the end” we do not promise results only opportunity, that everyone has the opportunity to pursue happiness and their dreams. Liberal beliefs are about punishing others for their wealth and hard work. Yes you can point to some liberal ideal of the communist utopia, but just because you promise the fairyland the fact is that liberal policies only ever deliver misery and suffering.

      “Revolutions are fought in the barroom, not in the streets” I honestly have no idea what you’re saying here.

      “Everyone is basically good at heart except for The Man,” no, everyone has good in them, one of the points of the book, one of the points of the play, and one of the points of the movie, and one of the points of conservatism is that we should do everything we can to encourage those aspects of ourselves. The character of the Thenardier (more in the book than the movie) show that there is also an evil side to humanity which left to run amok can cause great harm. Conservatism also believes in this dual sided nature of humanity, which why we need both laws to protect against the dark, and liberty to allow the good to flourish. Conservatism distrusts government because we know that the power that comes with that government attracts the corrupted (see Javert’s letter to his superiors right before his suicide in the book, he takes several lines to protest graft and corruption within the legal system). Further the liberal model in practice is to always implement more laws, more regulation, more control while at the same time preaching hatred of “The Man” as you so put it. (And yes there are those who claim to hate government and claim to be on the right, but there are governments that actually encourage liberty the US in most of its history and Hong Kong for example, no one has ever claimed they were leftists).

      The June Revolutionaries may have been very liberal for their time (and even liberal by our standards)…but I don’t remember Hugo anywhere in the book praising their economic beliefs (which is why I quoted Hugo from the book, not anything from the real revolutionaries). In that passage Hugo rips apart what would be considered modern liberal economic beliefs. Now like any good conservative he believed there should be a safety net, just as Hayek and Friedman believed (or are you going to claim they’re liberal), but nowhere in the book do I remember him encouraging stealing from the rich through heavy taxes (but he does praise charity by the individual, but that’s a very conservative outlook), in several places he condemns government inefficiency and waste (again that’s fairly conservative in most circles) and I seem to recall that the main problem he points to for the causes of the revolution are more based in its undemocratic and unrepublican principles not primarily its economic ones…and I could swear that modern conservatives have a real problem with the undemocratic and unrepublican nature of numerous extra governmental Czars, and regulations that have no oversight or checks and balances.

      As to my dealing with the issues of the words socialist and capitalist, thank you for not actually reading what I was saying. I was pointing out that words change their meaning or are not even in use at times. Hence what he calls communism we would call socialism. A conservative politician today, even the most psychotic example from the religious right, would be considered not just a liberal but a revolutionary in 1982 France. If I called for the right for anyone to join or leave a union of their own free will in 1832 I would be socialist; when I call for the same thing now, as the current Right to Work law battles are fought, I am not only a conservative, but quite frankly evil in the eyes of liberals. The reason for that light tangent on words was to point out that while the word capitalist might not be there, and even while what he was suggesting would be called socialist in 1832, the points he was making: encouraging free markets, industry, personal growth, liberty, and personal charity are the economics of modern conservatism, even though they were very liberal for their time.

      Also your point about the June Revolutionaries economics are also a little bizarre as, while I reference historical issues, I don’t think I ever mistook the line between fiction and reality. One can use a historical event for a purpose not in the minds of the those actually involved in the event. For instance in the movie 300 (not a particularly good movie, but it makes my point) the characters of the Spartans were fighting for liberty against the oppressive Persian…the reality was that the Spartan enslaved all those around them and had no value for real liberty while the Persians were far more open and liberal in their internal politics in terms of freedom, but it’s a movie and we understand the characters for what they are supposed to represent–in the case of Les Mis they’re fighting against tyranny, who cares what the original politics involved were, and the fight against tyranny if a very conservative (neoconservative in fact) idea.

  2. snrubgorp

    Not sorry to say, but I had a more thoughtful reply set for you. Then I read this:

    “If I called for the right for anyone to join or leave a union of their own free will in 1832 I would be socialist; when I call for the same thing now, as the current Right to Work law battles are fought, I am not only a conservative, but quite frankly evil in the eyes of liberals.”

    Previously you said that the meaning of words change over time. Then you ascribe the phrase “Right to work” to the June Revolutionaries using THE EXACT SAME MEANING as today’s definition. You’re not only wrong, you’re stupidly wrong and you horrifically tipped your hand about doing absolutely no research.

    There is no point in engaging with you. You still think as a child does, simply dividing things into things that make you feel good and things that make you feel bad. So anything that makes you feel good is “conservative,” even pretty revolutionaries who agitate for the equivalent of union-owned shops and the expulsion of the moneyed class. But things that make you feel bad are “liberal,” even when they are discharging their duties in upholding the law. You have no insight beyond that. And I suspect your spirtualism is a reflection of that: You don’t like Christianity because it very explicitly says that people will be judged according to their actions, and that there are plenty of people who do not possess that modicum of goodness and therefore will be dealt with accordingly. Christianity is not Buddhism. None of those characters will be reincarnated. You cannot fill Victor Hugo’s dead head with ideas that conveniently make you feel warm and fuzzy. And you cannot turn around and praise Christianity as a wonderful religion while spitting all over one of its central dogmas.

    If you don’t want to grow up, do your faithful readers a favor and simply write “Conservatives good. Liberals bad” over and over again for all your posts from now on. There’s nothing more that need be said from you after that.

    • You really have issues with grammar and ideas don’t you? The concept of “the right for anyone to join or leave a union of their own free will” today is called right to work, which is why I only referred to it in the part of the sentence revolving around the modern era, the part dealing with 1832 (the part before the semi colon) I only refer to the concept, I don’t know what they called it in 1832. The terms change, the concept does not.

      Revolution is an idea used by liberals and conservatives alike throughout history, yes more often liberal use revolution as an option of first resort whereas conservatives use it as an option of last resort, but the concept of overthrowing a government that is totally at odds with your beliefs has a history in what would be called conservative or liberal for any time period. The June Rebels probably were “pretty revolutionaries who agitate for the equivalent of union-owned shops and the expulsion of the moneyed class” but do you see any of that in Hugo’s writing (I don’t recall those passages) or the play (which keep the politics fairly ambiguous, at most playing on the modern, and overly simplified, image of all 18th/19th century French politics as a titled nobility against EVERYONE else) or the movie that at least time focused the hatred on “the king” not on any economic system (again playing on that overly simplified image of French politics). Whatever the historical realities, they aren’t important to Les Miserables in any form of the story.

      Now I point to three main beliefs in the article, which you don’t seem to want to deal with:
      That faith is a necessary part of an individual’s life to lead a complete life.
      That economic freedom is necessary for prosperity.
      That tyranny must be resisted and liberty fought for.
      I present examples in the book and the movie.
      Which of these is not conservative?

      And I find it very revealing that not once have you addressed the text of the long quote from Hugo, which in its statements is more in line with modern conservative beliefs than modern liberal beliefs.

      “But things that make you feel bad are “liberal,” even when they are discharging their duties in upholding the law.” I’m not sure what you’re referring to here–I reread the blog and the comments twice, and still not sure. Are you referring to the idea of embracing revolution and/or disobedience to unjust laws?–again an idea that has been embraced by conservatives and liberals at different times in history. Just because I advocate that it is a conservative idea, and that conservatives have and should embrace that idea, does not mean liberals have also not embraced it. Republican government is an ideal embraced by modern conservatives, its also an ideal embraced by modern liberals–my point in these blogs is to show the conservative nature of certain works of art, just because I find conservative themes doesn’t mean you can’t find liberal themes as well, they aren’t my concern.
      Or with the duties comment are you referring to Javert who I do think should see more than just his duty, but I feel it’s safe to say that Hugo also felt that Javert should see more. We are not meant to condemn Javert, only meant to not fall into the same myopic trap he did.

      First you have a very myopic view of Christianity. While reincarnation traditionally is more common in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and most Pagan beliefs, various sects and of Christianity and Judaism have and do still believe in reincarnation (for instance Pew found that 22% of modern Christians in America believe in reincarnation http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf see page 53). Also Victor Hugo studies into Spiritualism (which did believe in reincarnation) during his exile in Jersey (which is where the bulk of Les Miserables was written) is well documented. It’s amazing you chide someone over not doing any research when you haven’t done any–you simply to think that there is one Christianity and that every Christian believes the same thing, I find this an odd belief.

      “And you cannot turn around and praise Christianity as a wonderful religion while spitting all over one of its central dogmas.” I praise faith as a wonderful thing. I find that in different lives different people need different sets of belief systems to help them learn the lessons they need to learn and as long as they are not harming others or trying to force their beliefs on others I try not to criticize other people for having different religious beliefs (I’ll critique individual ideas, but if you hold an idea I don’t agree with and aren’t trying to force it on me or harm me because of it, I try not to critique you)…now there are many Christian who try to force their beliefs, but I find it is not the majority of Christians. And it is a wonderful religion because it helped billions over the last 2,000 years find meaning in their lives and better themselves (has everyone used it for that, no, but that does not mean it has not helped lots of people). Does most of Christianity work for me? Not really for many reasons, but it works for other people and that is why I consider it worthy of praise,not because I agree with it but because it has it’s place in a greater karmic journey. I find the belief in a single life silly and illogical if you hold that God is just, good, and intelligent. But that is what I believe I’m supposed to use reason and self-reflection to sift through the world religions to find the truth. Also I might say that “central dogmas” is a bit much, I would say the CENTRAL dogma of Christianity is the Nicene Creed…and last time I read it I didn’t see it take any side on the afterlife issue. Yes most Christians believe in only one life, but a study of Christian history will show that there have always been pockets of belief in reincarnation and not all of them have been destroyed by the church.

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  4. Richard

    Well, I love this play for its emotional impact and the characters. However, I don’t think the author of this article has any appreciation for history at all, and much less for European history. Victor Hugo’s Les Mis. is set in the 1832 Rebellion, but this rebellion is only nominally ‘republican’ in as much as it was anti-monarchist. Before accepting this article as a Conservative, you must first understand that the book was written in 1862, fully 14 years _after_ the Marxist, Friedrich Engels, co-authored the Communist Party Manifesto and wrote his Marxist interpretation of the 1832 rebellion’s reasons for failing. To the reader versed in European history who possesses even a cursory knowledge of Engels and Marx, the play’s anti-monarchist tones merely act as a mask for rising notions of Marxism, and it is not at all quintessential American Republicanism in nature. Read the material itself and it is very apparent that Hugo wove threads of a bourgeois-hating proletariat into the story to the extent that even the imagery he wove was of red-banner wielding peasants against establishment troops, imagery that would become inextricably intertwined in Communist propaganda for a century. Marius is the quintessential modern liberal-son, playing at being pauper and being in-love with a lifestyle he doesn’t in fact have to live. Like liberals today who pant about the ‘poor’ and ‘champion’ the cause of extreme taxation and ‘wealth redistribution’ – as long as it isn’t their wealth being re-distributed, Marius is living in an adolescent dream world; a dream world from which you note he wakes-up, marrying Cossette and going back to his wealthy family when it suits his purpose. But the Republican predilections of Americans are woven by individualistic, liberty-minded, and robust self-reliance – a people not overthrowing those who are successful or robust in their drive to excel in whatever they do, but seeking to join them and fighting to stop those who would deny them this basic right of self-determination. In point of fact, American Republicanism is entirely the antithesis of the Marxist undercurrents in Hugo’s 1862 book, and the play’s unashamed pumping of those theme’s into the public subconscious is not a thing to laud, it is a thing to guarded against if we are to avoid the next generation confusing Marxism for what the Founding Fathers vision, and our birthright, truly is.

    • “I don’t think the author of this article has any appreciation for history at all, and much less for European history.” And I find your knowledge of this book quite pathetic. I also get the sincere feeling that you just saw the title, felt the need to write a knee jerk response without even bothering to read it, and came up with that overly pretensions comment I see above.

      So let’s see your argument is that clearly this was influenced by communism because the Communist Manifest was published 14 years before Les Miserables was published. So we’re going to ignore that Hugo started writing the book 20 years before it was published (that would be six year before Marx in case you have difficulties with math) so the broad strokes of the novel were likely conceived of well before Marx ever published?

      “To the reader versed in European history who possesses even a cursory knowledge of Engels and Marx, the play’s anti-monarchist tones merely act as a mask for rising notions of Marxism,” Actually to anyone who knows anything about Hugo and his life, the anti-monarchist tones are directed at Napoleon III, the reason Hugo had to write most of Les Miserables in exile–the anti-monarchist tones are because Hugo opposed the tyranny that was going on in France at the time. I know Marxists like to think everything should be interpreted through the eyes of Marxism, but reality has little to do with Marxism.

      “Read the material itself and it is very apparent that Hugo wove threads of a bourgeois-hating proletariat ” Again let’s just ignore that the hero of the story is Jean Valjean a self-made, filthy rich capitalist. That’s about as bourgeois as you get.

      Also I like how you ignored that passage in the article itself where he rips socialism and communism.

      ” Marius is the quintessential modern liberal-son, playing at being pauper and being in-love with a lifestyle he doesn’t in fact have to live.” Actually again you don’t know much about the Hugo or the history of the book, Marius is semi-autobiographical and lot of his own life is shoehorned into the book for the character of Marius, including the rebellion against a parent’s political ideals.

      “Like liberals today who pant about the ‘poor’ and ‘champion’ the cause of extreme taxation and ‘wealth redistribution’ ” First you act like caring about the poor is something only liberals do. Conservatives donate more time and money to charity and are very concerned about the poor which is why they want to put into place the only system known to lift the poor out of poverty: capitalism (which you’ll note Hugo shows capitalism bringing the living standards up in the town Valjean is mayor of). Second where are you getting wealth redistribution? In his speech at the barricade Enjolras talks about “equality” where everyone contributes an equal share of government. Now likely he means an equal percentage (we call it a flat tax) but that’s certainly a conservative view point (also since that is in a later scene from the book and was likely written after Marx published his manifesto, it comes in very clear opposition to Marx’s call for a progressive income tax). Now it’s true Marius does seem to abandon his ideology for Cosette and the good life, but keep in mind more than half of this is more his grandfather relenting and giving Marius a home and income, which Marius would have taken if offered even in his most revolutionary moments which seems odd to modern sensibilities, but was more just the norm of the time. As I don’t seem to remember Marius ever recanting his beliefs. Yes it is a bit much how good Marius’s life turns out, but I think Hugo realized he had to give someone a happy ending after all of that tragedy.

      “But the Republican predilections of Americans are woven by individualistic, liberty-minded, and robust self-reliance” traits I could apply in one degree or another to the Bishop, Valjean, and Enjolras. All the heroes of our story. Javert who we are supposed to see as an embodiment of the wrong outlook is not individualistic, the real villain of the story Thenardier is not self-reliant, and the monarchy as a whole is not liberty minded. Now it would be foolish to say that Les Mis is pro American, but certain ideals such as personal responsibility, religious faith, charity, and capitalism. themes of the story, are shown in a positive light. Don’t believe me on the capitalism one, go read Valjean’s last letter to Cosette there is a large portion that is about industry and good factory policy helping to improve people’s lot in life (it reads like J.D. Rockefeller talking about saving on costs).

      “American Republicanism is entirely the antithesis of the Marxist undercurrents in Hugo’s 1862 book,” I’ve read the unabridged book in three translations and over a dozen times in total. There are no Marxist undercurrents. There are valid critiques of the flaws of the system at the time, but none of them are specifically Marxist. But I would love to see you actually quote me a passage that is on it’s face Marxist. Or perhaps you can find some bills or votes by Hugo during his time in the assembly of the Third Republic (which he championed). Yes there is a call for more justice in the book, hardly Marxist, and while there are undercurrents of need for better government policy in helping the poor, nothing that I can recall that Hugo suggest is more left than anything proposed by Hayek and Friedman in their economic works. But please let me know if there is passage where Hugo calls for progressive income tax and full welfare entitlements?

      Hugo paints a story of the value of religion in a person’s life, of personal responsibility, of industry and anti-tyrannical beliefs. Nowadays that would be a conservative platform.
      Now to be fair, I have no idea where Hugo would be in the modern day. It is hard to determine if ideals (which as I just pointed out are very conservative by modern standards) or if he were alive today he would see himself still by his leftist sentiments (he was very leftist by the standards of his time). But he was not a communist nor is the book communistic in it’s tone or stances.

      But please show me the passages in the novel where I am wrong.

      As to the issues of the play and the movie, as I pointed out above, they both do their best to remove any specifics of the political situation. This is done so that people of both sides can read their own beliefs into the work. As such the play or movie in a vacuum don’t necessarily advocate for any political stance in general other than anti-tyranny. It is only in the light of the book that modern liberal tendencies become antithetical to the story.

      • Anon

        “Now it’s true Marius does seem to abandon his ideology for Cosette and the good life, but keep in mind more than half of this is more his grandfather relenting and giving Marius a home and income, which Marius would have taken if offered even in his most revolutionary moments which seems odd to modern sensibilities, but was more just the norm of the time.”

        It is about half and half. The Grandfather sent money to Marius by way of the aunt even after he left for his ideology, but Marius rejected it. A minor quibble. Otherwise you are right on.

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