Playing With Fire

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Because Ron Paul sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, some critics have inferred (not unreasonably) that he supports bans on flag-burning. In fact he doesn’t; he was simply trying to make the point that such bans would presently be unconstitutional, and so that those who do favour making flag-burning illegal are obligated to amend the Constitution.

It was for similar reasons that Paul introduced a declaration of war against Iraq – not because he supports such a war (nobody who’s followed his campaign even slightly could suppose that), but because he wanted to make the point that a war is unconstitutional unless Congress declares it – so that if his colleagues take the Constitution seriously they should show it by, um, doing their wrong deeds the right way.

Okay, I get it; but I don’t much care for the strategy.

burning flag What’s my objection? Well, I’m not making the criticism that his introducing these proposals is risky because Congress might actually vote for them; if the mood of the Congress were such that they had a chance of passing, someone else would already have introduced them, so I don’t think it was especially risky (though it is disconcerting to see a loaded gun being tossed around to make a political point, even if the safety is on).

No, my complaint is that this strategy focuses unduly on the unconstitutionality of Congress’s misdeeds rather than their wrongness. Paul clearly doesn’t think that aggressive wars and flag-burning bans would be unobjectionable if only they were constitutional; but his strategy could encourage that belief.

Of course as an anarchist I don’t regard the Constitution as having any authority; but I don’t think my criticism depends on that point. Assume the truth of minarchism; or assume the correctness of Barnett’s case for the anarcho-compatibility of the Constitution; or even just assume (and this much is definitely true) that a federal government that kept itself within constitutional bounds would be enormously, staggeringly preferable to the one we have now – and I still think my criticism holds. However objectionable a law’s unconstitutionality is (and I do think, as things stand, that a law’s being unconstitutional is a serious ceteris paribus objection to it), such a law’s being inherently unjust is surely a more serious objection to it. As a political strategy, introducing resolutions encouraging Congress to pass unjust constitutional amendments in order to render other unjust actions constitutional (thus making the Constitution more unjust – as though whatever legitimacy the Constitution possesses could be independent of its content!) can only foster the misleading impression that unconstitutionality is a more serious problem than injustice. I’m not saying that Paul believes that; I don’t think he does. But I do think he has been trying to serve two masters – constitutionality and natural justice – and this particular strategy I fear serves the lesser master at the expense of the greater.

Incidentally, on a tangentially related subject, can anyone tell me precisely what Ron Paul’s views on abortion are? Because I know he recently supported legislation declaring human life protected from the point of conception; but I seem to remember that back in the 90s he was supporting RU 486 (the “morning-after pill”) as a desirable alternative to abortion, which would imply that he thinks protected status begins at some point later than conception. (Didn’t he have an article in Liberty in this subject? Unfortunately my back issues are packed away.) So has he changed his mind, or is there some nuance I’m missing? Does anyone out there know more?

À Bas l’État!

In 1849, Thoreau famously wrote:

I heartily accept the motto, – “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, – “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Charles DunoyerBut it turns out that the French classical liberal Charles Dunoyer essentially beat him to it, if less clearly and less eloquently, by more than three decades:

In a well-ordered state, it must be the case that the greatest possible number of individuals work, and the smallest possible number govern. The height of perfection would be for everyone to work and nobody to govern. (“Considerations on the Present State of Europe,” Censeur Européen II, 1817.)

Governments progress in proportion as they make themselves less felt, so that the best-governed country would be one in which, security no longer requiring the intervention of a special and permanent force, the government would in a sense disappear, leaving the inhabitants in the full enjoyment of their time, their income, and their liberty. (Review of Say’s Observations on Men and Society, Censeur Européen VII, 1818.)

Stop Dragon My Heart Around

What a beautiful commercial! (Be sure to click fullscreen, if you have the bandwidth.) I wish this were an entire movie. And I wish mainstream animated films would explore styles a bit further outside the conventional ones more often. This might be the right way to adapt some of the more dreamlike fantasy works.


Here’s a much sharper version.

Bow to the Idol

First there was fussing and fuming because Barack Obama didn’t want to wear a U.S. flag pin. Now there’s more fussing and fuming because Obama didn’t put his hand over his heart during the State Loyalty Oath Pledge of Allegiance.

Obama and the flag Now I’m no great fan of Obama – who’s not the peace candidate he pretends to be – but how refreshing it is to see a candidate not going along with the flag-worship that prevails so tiresomely throughout this country!

During my recent trip to Poland I was struck by the fact that I saw only two Polish flags the entire time I was in the country. What a relief. In the U.S., American flags are in your face aggressively, everywhere. And the whole thing is one big use/mention confusion, like promising people life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and then giving them a shiny sticker that says “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” instead.

Back to the Source

I’m looking forward to the imminent release of volume three of the four-volume Fourth World Omnibus, collecting Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking saga of the New Gods. (I’ve already got the first two, and the fourth volume is due out in March.) Kirby loomed large in my childhood comics reading, and his work has an insane energy and inventiveness that manages to redeem the somewhat stilted dialogue. (Despite being a writer and drawer myself, growing up I was oddly unaware of, and unconcerned with, who was writing and drawing the comics I read. But there were a handful of exceptions, folks whose style was too distinctive, too hopelessly individual, not to notice, and Kirby was at the head of that list.) So it’s great to see these works collected – most of which I’ve never read before, as the heyday of Kirby’s Fourth World work was in the early 70s, whereas I didn’t start reading comics until the mid-70s, by which time Kirby had moved on to Kamandi and OMAC.

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World What’s the story? Well, there’s a bunch of magic-wielding warriors who fight for peace and justice, and who draw their powers, and guidance, from a mystical energy field called “the Source.” Their chief opponent, Darkseid (pronounced “dark side”), is a towering, dark-clad, dome-helmeted figure who rules a planet that is one huge city; he too draws his powers from the Source, though he seeks to control a twisted “anti-life” version of it. Orion, one of the most powerful leaders of the good guys, turns out to be Darkseid’s son, leading to speculation as to whether he is destined to defeat Darkseid – or instead to succumb to his heritage and turn evil. Yes, all this was pre-Star Wars – leading to endless internet debates as to whether George Lucas was aware of Kirby’s work. (If borrowings there were, they went both ways: in the 80s Kirby returned to the series to have Darkseid use his secret weapon to blow up the good guys’ peaceful planet – and even included the fleeting image of an Imperial Star Destroyer in his depiction of the explosion.)

Anyway apropos of all this, a couple of comments:

1. The fourth volume is apparently going to end with Kirby’s 1985 Hunger Dogs – which I gather means that Kirby’s New-Gods-related work on the Super Powers series is going to be left out. If so, I can understand that decision, since Kirby’s involvement in Super Powers was complicated (see below); still, it’s unfortunate that that work isn’t going to be collected.

Visit to a future where the Justice League fails to defeat Darkseid The Super Powers comic books are largely forgotten today. (For example, Wikipedia wrongly claims – as of this writing – that the superhero “Golden Pharaoh” was “created exclusively for the Super Powers Collection line of action figures” and “never appeared in any comic books.”) Super Powers consists in three identically titled limited series: a five-issue series in 1984, a six-issue series in 1985, and a four-issue series in 1986. The stories, which pit Darkseid and his minions against the Justice League, lie outside mainline DC continuity. For one thing, they accept the events of Hunger Dogs, including the destruction of New Genesis and the overthrow of Darkseid’s rule on Apokolips – events that in current DC continuity never happened. (These event seem to take place between the first and second series.) For another, the Justice League is referred to as the “Super Powers Team” (remember that toy tie-in) and its headquarters looks like the one in the tv series Super Friends (also part of the tie-in).

I suspect Kirby was unhappy about having to conform to a product tie-in. In any case, Darkseid’s ranting, in the contemporaneous (but far superior) Hunger Dogs, against the ignoble nature of the “Micro-Mark” device, the “fearsome pygmy” on which he is forced to rely, sounds a lot like an artist complaining about a line of action figures based on his work. When the device’s makers describe it as “light, compact, and inexpensive to assemble,“ and assure Darkseid: “We’re turning them out by the thousands! Cheap, sire! … A new age is dawning, sire! … Have I not turned his awesome talent to child’s play!? I’ve conquered the impossible, sire! – for the price of a small coin!” Darkseid replies: “You blind ‘tinkertoy’ promoters of mediocrity! … Don’t say anything more! If you make any reference to packaging …. You expect me to sanction this … this filth? … You’ve ‘ripped-off’ the anti-life equation!” But the makers of the Micro-Mark continue to insist that the “unchanged wizardry” on which a “poor, shabby old relic” might rely has been “made obsolete by simple toys! … This is Micro-Mark’s hour! There’s no need for intrigue or great strivings – the cosmos lies open to button-pushing babes! … For what is power now but cheap techno-plumbing[?]” Sounds like Kirby’s got an issue about something ….

But what’s Super Powers about? Well, both Darkseid (whose planet has rebelled and exiled him) and the New Gods crowd (whose planet has exploded) are looking for a home base; the New Gods are trying to remake the newly liberated Apokolips in the image of New Genesis (the new homeworld introduced at the end of Hunger Dogs has evidently been forgotten), while Darkseid’s aim is either to conquer Earth and make it into a new Apokolips, or else to reconquer the original Apokolips (or both). He tries again and again, but the Justice League keeps stopping him, usually with the help of Orion or Metron or Mister Miracle. The third series ends on a semi-cliffhanger (Darkseid has disguised himself as a superhero and has insinuated himself into the Apokolips reconstruction project, while at the same time attracting Wonder Woman’s romantic interest); as far as I know this dangling plot thread was never resolved.

Darkseid defeated What’s Kirby’s involvement? With the third series (which incidentally features inter alia the aforementioned totally lame Golden Pharaoh character, who draws his powers from anything pyramid-shaped, and talks the way British people were once imagined to talk), none at all – it’s written and drawn entirely by other people. (So you can’t blame the Golden Pharaoh on Kirby.) But Kirby did the art (though not the writing) for the second series (see the accompanying pic, portraying a defeated Darkseid escaping through the sewers of Armagetto). For the first four issues of the first series, he did plotting but not writing, and cover artwork but not interior artwork. For issue #5 of the first series, however, Kirby wrote and drew the whole thing.

I can see how all this poses a problem for the compilers of the Omnibus. If they included the first two series, they’d be including a lot of material written and/or drawn by people other than Kirby, which would arguably defeat the point of the collection. If instead they included only issue #5 of the first series – the one issue written and drawn entirely by Kirby – readers would be presented with a conclusion without seeing what it was a conclusion to. And in any case the Super Powers material just isn’t as good as most of the Fourth World stuff. So I can see why they threw up their hands and left it all out entirely. Still, the regrettable result is that there’s a substantial amount of New-Gods-related material written and/or drawn and/or plotted by Kirby that won’t be making it into the omnibus. Come on, guys; give us a separate Super Powers collection.

Incidentally, one advantage of the second Super Powers series is that we finally get an unfiltered look at Kirby’s vision of Superman – by contrast with the original Fourth World comics, where Kirby’s pencils of Superman were always redrawn in “DC house style”:

Superman, Kirby style - Superman, redrawn - Conformity must prevail!

2. In what seems like an odd way of marking the release of the Kirby Omnibus, DC Comics is currently killing all the Fourth World characters off, in a series called Death of the New Gods (though a number of them were already killed off in other series shortly before). I’m not sure why they want to get rid of these characters and anyway the “someone is systematically bumping off superheroes” plot has been done better before, in comics like Watchmen and Rising Stars. The deaths thus far seem pretty pointless; it’s like watching Tasha Yar get killed the same way over and over again.

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