Are Jedi knights and Star Wars a paragon of libertarianism? I have been wanting to write about this for a while and, since I am not a fan of Star Wars, I decided to immerse myself in the Jedi universe. So I re-watched Episodes 4 to 6 and then 1 to 3, and although I kind of enjoyed Anakin’s Sophoclean decline into darkness and the fact that, when you think about it, he had actually to become Darth Vader in order to bring balance to the Force –which he does by killing Senator Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) in the original Episode 4–, I just do not understand people who see libertarian traits in the Jedi knights.
Yes, they are supposed to be a peaceful force, and to not engage into violence unless violence is forced upon others first. This sounds quite libertarian but, as it is explained in the prequel trilogy, a Jedi cannot own any property. This is actually not true: they have clothes, lightsabers, and in Episode 1 Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn owns a starship and he claims to possess 20,000 Republic dataries (Republic credits). Since a Jedi is not supposed to own property, we are left to guess, for the sake of the plot-holed movie, that they are… public property of the Republic? And nothing more libertarian than some Jedi public property!
Also, a Jedi cannot marry. This is probably one of the reasons they are going extinct and also why it gets all too easy for the conspirators to eliminate almost all Jedi in the Galaxy. On the other hand, Siths (bad Jedis) can basically do anything they want, including marriage, using the Force to eat desserts, owning starships and building a Death Star. The only surprising thing is that it took them so long to get rid of the annoying puritan Jedi knights.
No goods, no girls, and no playing with the Force, Jedi knights are also very elitist: if you do not join their ranks you cannot use the Force –or even lightsabers. If you do not follow their puritan rules, you won´t be trained, and if you still use the Force by yourself, they will hunt you and… well, don´t worry, they are not supposed to kill you. Just cut off your arms so you cannot use the Force or hold a lightsaber. They are good guys.
But honestly, common, don´t tell me you didn´t see this: The Jedi are the police force of the Galactic Republic. They fight for the Republic, something that is explicitly stated by Obi-Wan in Episode 3. They are puritans, elitist, favor bearing arms for defensive purposes, claim to be chosen by some metaphysical force, and they are Republic enforcers. If one of them was called Ronald Reagan it wouldn’t be clearer.
Since this is a blog about All Things Chinese, I should say something about the Middle Kingdom. I think it was Murray Rothbard (I may recall it wrong) the one who started the idea that Chinese Daoism was some sort of proto-libertarian ideology. Daoist followers have many points in common with Jedi knights: they all believe in some sort of superior force, the Dao, that somehow manages to present itself in human beings through the power of Qi –the light balls you see in Dragon Ball–, giving human beings almost supernatural powers, including the ability to fly or predict future events. According to Rothbard:
To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox,” was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and “more to be feared than fierce tigers.” Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; “inaction” became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil.
This is true for the most part –the “more to be feared than fierce tigers” is actually a Confucian saying–, but Daoism, like Jediism, is not limited to these ideas. Daosim also asks its followers to be poor in possessions. Not so far inside their canonical book, the Daodejing, it is said in its Chapter 2 that “the sages develop things but do not initiate them,” a clear reference against entrepreneurship, and in Chapter 47 we are told to “venture not beyond your doors to know the world,” which can easily be understood as a policy against migration and free market –I don’t see how you can trade things with other countries without free mobility in 4th century BC China, since they didn’t have drones at the time.
Daoism also defends the State –their State, like the Jedi and any other Socialists– and condemns bearing arms (Chapter 57, for instance). And many, many other anti-libertarian policies. In fact, Daoism is, rather than a proto-libertarian philosophy, a proto-Hobbesian government theory, since the State it advocates is a world ruling empire under the control of a single, enlightened ruler who does not restrain the people –not because he is a good ruler, but because restrictions would endanger his rule. One of the most important ideas of Daoism, appearing many times in the Daodejing, is that the common people should not acquire a great deal of knowledge –otherwise, they could see the tricks of the ruler.
Daoism developed in another philosophy called Legalism (aka. Chinese Hobbesianism), and although a pure Daoist brand has survived up to this day, Legalism became the most important ideology in China. It was the Force behind the Qin Empire, which managed to eliminate all competitors and rule with blood and fire the first Chinese Empire, and it is the socio-political ideology behind today’s Communist China.
And thus it is not so surprising that Jedi knights, over time, became Sith Lords, and that the Galactic Republic ended up building a big metal ball to rule them all.