Created: 1 April, 2017
Revised: 15 April 2017
APEE Annual Conference, April 2017
Sheraton Maui Hotel. Maui, Hawaii
An online version of this paper is available here <email@example.com/liberty/papers/Bastiat/FilmingFreddie/index.html>.
Author: Dr. David M. Hart.
David Hart was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. He did his undergraduate work in modern European history and wrote an honours thesis on the radical Belgian/French free market economist Gustave de Molinari, whose book Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street (1849) he is currently editing for Liberty Fund. This was followed by a year studying at the University of Mainz studying German Imperialism, the origins of the First World War, and German classical liberal thought. Postgraduate degrees were completed in Modern European history at Stanford University (M.A.) where he also worked for the Institute for Humane Studies (when it was located at Menlo Park, California) and was founding editor of the Humane Studies Review: A Research and Study Guide; and a Ph.D. in history from King’s College, Cambridge on the work of two early 19th century French classical liberals, Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer. He then taught for 15 years in the Department of History at the University of Adelaide in South Australia where he was awarded the University teaching prize.
Since 2001 he has been the Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at Liberty Fund in Indianapolis. The OLL has won several awards including a “Best of the Humanities on the Web” Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was chosen by the Library of Congress for its Minerva website archival project. He is currently the Academic Editor of Liberty Fund’s translation project of the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (in 6 vols.) and is also editing a translation of Molinari’s Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property (1849).
David is also the co-editor of two collections of 19th century French classical liberal thought (with Robert Leroux of the University of Ottawa), one in English published by Routledge: French Liberalism in the 19th Century: An Anthology (Routledge studies in the history of economics, May 2012), and another in French called L’âge d’or du libéralisme français. Anthologie XIXe siècle (The Golden Age of French Liberalism: A 19th Century Anthology) (Paris: Editions Ellipses, 2014). He is currently a co-editor of a collection of texts on The Classical Liberal Theory of Class Analysis (Palgrave, forthcoming).
My screenplay of the life and thought of FB, naturally entitled “Broken Windows”, is the product of 30 years of thinking about films historically, politically, and economically - in other words ideologically. From the time I saw Lewis Milestone’s great anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) on late night TV in Australia in the 1970s, to seeing Andrzej Wajda’s powerful film about the Terror during the French Revolution, Danton (1983), at the Cambridge Film Festival, to working with Marty Zupan of the IHS to develop the “Liberty in Film and Fiction Summer Seminars” throughout the 1990s (the highlight I think of that period was showing Claude Berri’s marvelous films about property rights, Jean de Florette (1986) and its sequel Manon des Sources (1986)), to teaching several courses on war films and history at the University of Adelaide, I have been drawn to the power of cinema to depict political and economic ideas.
I have also been dismayed at how few of those great films were made by people who understood or believed in the free market and individual liberty. Part of Marty’s and my hopes back in the 1990s was to find future filmmakers and fiction writers who were sympathetic to free market ideas, to deepen their understanding of the political and economy theory of liberty, and thus make them better advocates for liberty in their creative work, in whatever media they might have chosen. I think we largely failed in that endeavour and the program was eventually cancelled and we both went on with our lives.
That is, until I was approached out of the blue in September 2014 by a film producer based in Florida to write a screenplay on Bastiat. I thought to myself that here was an opportunity to put into practice something I had been talking about and telling others to do for decades. The producer said he had come across the first volumes of LF’s edition of the Collected Works of Bastiat of which I was co-editor and translator. I intended the screenplay to be the classical liberal or libertarian equivalent of Warren Beatty’s brilliant but very leftwing movie Reds (1981) about the life of the American communist journalist John Reed (1887–1920) before and during the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is an outstanding movie on many levels and justly won 3 Oscars at the Academy Awards ceremony. It combined interesting people, radical ideas, large crowd scenes, cities in revolution, and a sense of history. If my Broken Windows could achieve a fraction of this I would be a very happy man.
Side bar: After seeing Reds I confess to having had a crush on Maureen Stapleton who played the anarchist Emma Goldman on whom I had written an undergraduate history essay. She won one of Reds’ Oscars for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
But to cut a long story short, this “producer from Florida” motivated me to write a long screenplay on Bastiat’s life which took two years of my life. I submitted it, along with a detailed “illustrated history” of Bastiat’s life and times, in August 2016, both of which are available online. To cut an even longer story shorter, it turned out to be a scam (I think) as he wanted me to fund the project with what he called “seed money,” which is how I think he made a living, flattering the people he approached, filling their heads with dreams of making a movie on their pet project, and then putting the hit on them financially. So be it.
I have no movie about FB (yet) but I learnt a great deal in working on the project, looking at history from a completely different perspective from what I had done previously. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you today, in particular the long and hard thinking I did on how to transfer ideas about economic and political liberty onto the screen.
One place to start is to look at some older good (and often great) films and TV shows which deal with important ideas and try to figure out how they combined telling good stories and sending a strong political message. Below are some of my personal favourites (in chronological order of creation not merit). In quite a few instances I intensely dislike the political message they were sending but I do recognise the skill with which they were made.
My paper on “From Say to Jasay via Bastiat”
In the modern period:
D. McCloskey’s idea of the “rhetoric of economics” (in words and equations)
There needs to be an “aesthetic of economics and liberty” which includes images like art, video, statues, symbols.
There is a Long History of the Iconography of Liberty
My collection of “Images of Liberty and Power”
Maybe it is too hard and/or boring to make a film about “a positive”, i.e. free markets are good. Perhaps we should stick to making films about a “negative”, i.e. what happens in the absence of peace and freedom:
Depictions of dystopias are usually more interesting and moving than depictions of utopias (1984, The Prisoner).
Important role played by black humour, satire; mocking power, corruption, hypocrisy, stupidity (Catch–22, Yes, Minister, MASH, Dr. Strangelove)
I think there are four challenges to consider:
Why are there so few movies about Revolution, especially the 1848 Revs?
The problem of sets and costumes in historical dramas:
How much background knowledge do viewers need in order to make sense of the chaos and complexity of revolution?
How much background knowledge do viewers need in order to make sense of the ideological conflict going on before them?
The problem of “speechifying” and boring the viewer.
The need to make ideological conflict personal not abstract and theoretical.
Do good movies have to have violence and sex? What if FB had no love life? Do we invent one for him?
Do good movies have to have a likable/attractive (either good or bad) main character?
What is his “save the cat” moment (an even in the first 5–10 minutes of the film which makes the viewer want to see more of him)?
Can economic ideas be depicted in a visual medium like film? or is economics a “verbal” discipline (even if it does have a “rhetoric” and not an “aesthetic” yet?
Two early attempts to create an illustrated version of two important CL books:
A more recent attempt:
Is buying and selling stuff peacefully in markets essentially boring (to watch)? Only interesting when they don’t work or are prevented from working (by the state)
Show onscreen how FB went about popularising economic ideas
Do good movies have to have violence and sex? Maybe.
Do good movies have to be beautiful to look at? I would say definitely yes.
Great images to use in a film of his life in Paris 1845–50. See my “Illustrated History of the Life and Times of FB”.
There are whole books devoted to the history and cultural of building and manning the barricades in Paris which can be used to make these scenes historically accurate. For example, Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade (2010).
We are “lucky” in this respect since FB lived through a bloody and violent revolution and saw things at first hand.
Opportunities to show the “everyday violence” of state control and repression
The temptation is to have too much talking as the way to transmit ideas. (And I am so easily tempted!) The problem is to show conflict either arising out of the conflict between people with opposing ideas, or to show the ideas as a backdrop to the action
FB attended two salons run by wealthy CL supporters (Cheuvreux, Say); good opportunity to show off his wit and musical skill with repartee; flirting with the ladies; offending the conservatives and the pompous with his bawdy songs; attended third salon run by radical republicans and socialist - chance to show the “other world” of Paris (the “upstairs, downstairs” of French politics and how FB and GdM straddled that)
There was no sex we know of, but some flirtation with a wealthy woman who ran a Paris salon (Hortense Cheuvreux); unrequited love is hinted at.
(See above on the salons he attended.)
Do good movies have to have a likable/attractive (either good or bad) main character? I would say yes.
FB has considerable drama and conflict in his personal life, as well as a personal “dramatic” and radical style:
His personal idiosyncrasies and radicalism make him interesting as a person (his “dramatic style”)
Named after, of course, the first chapter of Bastiat’s last work WSWNS (July 1850) “The Broken Window”. It is also a reference to the shattered windows caused by French troops called in to quell the uprising in February and June 1848 when they fired artillery down the streets of Paris to clear away the hastily built barricades of the revolutionaries. See Mark Traugott’s book about barricades. ↩
One course I taught for 10 years was called “Responses to War: An Intellectual and Cultural History” (1989–1999) in the course of which I showed nearly 100 war films to my students. See the course guides for the films here http://davidmhart.com/liberty/WarPeace/WarFilms/FilmGuides.html and some video clips from some of the films http://davidmhart.com/liberty/VideoClips/index.html. ↩
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. In Six Volumes (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011-), General Editor Jacques de Guenin. Academic Editor Dr. David M. Hart. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman. The Correspondence and Articles on Politics (2011); Vol. 2: “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850 (2012); Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” (2017). ↩
See his famous account Ten Days That Shook the World (1919) which many classes on the Russian Revolution still teach today. ↩
See at my personal website “’Broken Windows’. A Screenplay about the Life and Work of Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850)” <davidmhart.com/liberty/FrenchClassicalLiberals/Bastiat/Screenplay/BrokenWindows2.html> with an accompanying “Illustrated History of the Life and Work Frédéric Bastiat” <davidmhart.com/liberty/FrenchClassicalLiberals/Bastiat/Screenplay/BrokenWindows.html>. ↩
David M. Hart, “Negative Railways, Turtle Soup, talking Pencils, and House owning Dogs: “The French Connection” and the Popularization of Economics from Say to Jasay,” (Sept. 2014) <davidmhart.com/liberty/Papers/Bastiat/BastiatAndJasay.html>. A shortened version of this paper was published in the “Symposium on Anthony de Jasay” in The Independent Review, vol. 20, no. 1, Summer 2015, “Broken Windows and House-Owning Dogs: The French Connection and the Popularization of Economics from Bastiat to Jasay,” pp. 61–84. ↩
Donald N. McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985). ↩
Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789–1880, translated by Janet Lloyd. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). ↩
Marvin Trachtenberg, The Statue of Liberty (New York, Viking Press, 1976). ↩
Blake Snyder, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (2005) and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies (2007). ↩
The illustrated Bastiat’s The Law (FEE, late 1940s). Online http://davidmhart.com/liberty/FrenchClassicalLiberals/Bastiat/Books/Sampling_TheLaw/Bastiat_IllustratedTheLaw.html. ↩
The illustrated Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in Cartoons (Readers; Digest, 1945). Online http://davidmhart.com/liberty/GermanClassicalLiberals/Books/Hayek/IllustratedRoadSerfdom/index.html. ↩
David M. Hart, “Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty: Satire and the Sting of Ridicule”,” in Editor’s Introduction to The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” (Liberty Fund, 2017), pp. lviii-lxiv, and my paper "Opposing Economic Fallacies, Legal Plunder, and the State: Frédéric Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty in the Economic Sophisms (1846–1850)”, Paper given at the History of Economic Thought Society of Australia (HETSA) annual meeting, RMIT Melbourne, Victoria, July 5–8, 2011 <davidmhart.com/liberty/Papers/Bastiat/Hart_BastiatsSophismsAug2011.html>. ↩
Mark Traugott, The Insurgent Barricade (University of California Press, 2010). ↩