“Doctor Who” is a Libertarian Superhero

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Thu, Nov 12 - 3:00 am EDT | 2 years ago by
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I’ve often held up Han Solo as the quintessential pop culture Individualist hero: he’s a known scoundrel, he’s anti-State and no one tells him what to do. But as another Star Wars character once said: “There is another.”

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who
Photo by Matthew Horwood/GC Images

Doctor Who, the longest-running sci-fi show in history, has a main character that has really always been just as much of a libertarian. He hated the stifling bureaucracy of his own people that he ran away in a broken time machine just to be his own person. He has a complete distaste for authority, particularly corrupt government and warmongering military. He’s always ready to fight anyone who wants to force their will on anyone else.

And he’s pretty much always been that way.

Most importantly, he’s always been about the power of the Individual – not the ideals of some Federation, or even specifically about things like justice, fairness or even good. But more than anything, about the power that any one person has, as themselves, to change the world. So many of his stories over the more than 50 years since the show began can be described as: “the Doctor shows up somewhere, there are people in terrible trouble or suffering under monsters, and he helps them to liberate/save themselves.”

But in the episode that aired this past weekend, he just pushed it up a notch. It was the second part of a two-part episode (in a season that has thus far been astounding for not having a single bad episode) that had already drawn attention for having more overt political allegories than we’d seen from Doctor Who in several decades at least. The two-parter had used the story of there suddenly being 20 million shape-changing alien refugees on Earth and how their inability to adapt to their new surroundings had led some of them into violent alien-supremacist fanaticism, which in turn led the human authorities to become aggressive and paranoid of all the aliens – a most thinly veiled parallel to the European immigration crisis imaginable.

Had it been more poorly written, it would have been incredibly easy to turn the Doctor into the ham-fisted mouthpiece of the politically-correct narrative du jour, painting the intolerant humans as the bad guys and making it all their fault that the poor aliens had become fanatical killers and ending with the Doctor giving them all a good talking to about their privilege. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, we got what was may be the most impressive second-half of any Doctor Who story ever, and what was probably the best scripted dialogue of the entire half-century of the show’s history. And in it, the Doctor ends up confronting (in his own special, hope-filled way) the leader of the fanatics with a speech that was a testament to Individualism and libertarian thinking (delivered perfectly by Peter Capaldi, one of the best actors ever to play the role of the Doctor). His speech is not just a response to Islamist fanaticism, but serves as a basic rebuttal of all Collectivist fanaticism ever, be it the religious/cultural Collectivism of the Islamic State or the totalitarian ideological Collectivism of the modern left’s censorious “Pseudo-Activism” movement.

He starts out by responding to the alien leader’s standard justification of every totalitarian movement ever, when she complains that she was forced to act because the situation of her people is “not fair.”

His answer? “Oh, it’s not fair! I didn’t realize that it’s not fair! Well, you know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor!

She responds, “Those things don’t equate!”

These things have happened…” he said, “they are FACTS. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty! You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who’ll end up being cruel to you.

When the alien leader insists that (because of their grievances) they want “War,” the Doctor goes on with this: “And when this war is over, when you have the homeland free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture! Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music?! Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who will make the violins? Well? Oh… you don’t actually know, do you? Because, just like every other tantruming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want! So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours: when you’ve killed all the ‘bad guys’, and it’s all ‘perfect’ and ‘just’ and ‘fair’, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Now, imagine that speech (sans sci-fi elements) being given not to an alien warlord, but to the typical pseudo-activist censorship-happy head-up-their-ass college leftist of today. It is a direct rebuttal of them, of the Marxists, of the religious fanatics, of anyone who believes that their cause is so justice-filled that it allows them the right to take away the freedoms of others for it.

That’s really what the Doctor has always been about fighting. Now he just came out and said it – and took a side in a very direct way against the mob. Given that the current showrunner Steven Moffat has had his share of run-ins with the “social justice warrior” crowd, I don’t think it’s really a coincidence that this kind of declaration came out now, but it really is in no way uncharacteristic for the Doctor’s persona.

Maybe in some ways, Doctor Who is a better model than Han Solo for libertarians to idolize. Not to diss Solo, but he makes it a bit too easy to fit the stereotype that people use to discredit libertarian ideals. Some people might take umbrage at the very notion that the Doctor is a Libertarian Superhero, because he clearly cares about others, helps others even at risk to himself, has no interest in monetary wealth (though I guess that’s easy if you’re a Time Lord, even an exiled one!) and even solves his problems by thinking and/or talking his way out of them instead of by shooting first.

But the core of Libertarianism isn’t Fanatical Selfishness (that would be Objectivism), it has nothing to do with being uncaring, it doesn’t even have anything to do with amassing personal wealth and it certainly has nothing to do with violence toward others. The core of Libertarianism is the idea that EVERYONE has an absolute right to be their own person, to fulfill their own will and to the individual freedom necessary to pursue that. And an opposition to anyone or (more often) any group that would try to take away that right from others.

A lot of Libertarians, and some of the fictional characters meant to represent them, tend to do poorly at expressing that in an optimistic kind of way. The Doctor is an exception, and so he’s an ideal example. He may be just the kind of hero Libertarianism needs, and he’s been under our noses all along.

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Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com.

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  • Montanaboyssareeasy

    This is really more about the nature of revolutions, and a defense of incremental change (and by proxy much of the status quo). If you want to read libertarianism into it, you’re certainly free to do so, and of course to color it with whatever social conflict you choose as well. The person watching is nearly always going to identify with the Doctor and what he says and use him as a vessel to fill with their own personal stuff.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      The “its not fair” and “I demand justice” arguments are the classic tools of the Collectivist forces, be it the SJWs currently crying on college campuses, or the IS-sympathizers who explain why we should let radicals murder people.

      I’m sure there’s a bit of cypher to the Doctor, but it would be much harder for a Statist Collectivist to claim the Doctor is one of theirs. He has consistently opposed anyone ever trying to force someone else to do what they wanted.

      Don’t believe me? Take the word of the show itself: “The data that was drained from the girl shows the Doctor’s long association with libertarian causes. His entire history is one of opposition to conquest.” -Doctor Who, the Android Invasion

    • Montanaboyssareeasy

      Does the Doctor oppose collectivism? Clearly.

      His Libertarian bent is most likely informed by leftist libertarianism as it is known in Europe, and not so much by that North American strain. After all, the Doctor’s a Brit.

      Now, the speech itself is clearly discussing the nature of revolutions and responsibility. It assumes a status quo of relative liberty and then sets about the task of preserving it.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      What makes you think his Libertarianism is Left-Libertarianism? Has he ever suggested that there should be a centrally planned economy? Now who’s reading into the character?

      We know he opposes tyrants in all forms, dislikes religious fanatics, regimes, the military, corporate corruption, all the things pretty much any Libertarian (left or right) is against. He’s also in favor of the basic freedoms that libertarians are all in favor of.
      What values has the doctor stood for that would not be compatible with North American Libertarianism?

      Funnily enough we’ve never had the doctor go into great detail as to his preferred economic model.

      And the speech addresses a central Libertarian critique of Colllectivism: that anyone who thinks they are so right as to get to tell others what to do by force have no basis for objection when others start to use force to tell them what to do. That’s the key justification to the non-aggression principle which is the CENTRAL TENET of all libertarian thought.

    • Montanaboyssareeasy

      Where did I say that he wasn’t libertarian? In fact, association with libertarian causes doesn’t mean one is actually libertarian. After all, anarchists (and plenty of others) stand all the time for causes considered libertarian.

      Do I think the political line of libertarianism is truly central to the speech? After all, libertarians don’t claim sole propriety over opposition to oppression. Now, speaking to the nature , of revolution and responsibility, he’s right, as have been many statists and non-libertarians when making that same classic argument.

      As opposed to shoehorning this specifically into a libertarian boot, you could have had an amazing rant about the nature of revolution and really had some profound discussion about that. As to the non-aggression principle, I thought we all knew by now that it was self-nullifying? Maybe this isn’t the best forum for that debate.

      Regardless, I’m here – reading and engaging discussion. So thanks for the article and entertainment!

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Let me put it this way: there is no other typical North American or European political affiliation today that I think would be more ideologically in tune with the position evinced by both the Doctor’s speech this time and his known actions overall than Libertarianism.
      He’s not a Theo-con, Neo-con, paleo-con, social democrat, christian democrat, labour-left, democratic socialist, gramscian socialist, Maoist, Tupac-amaru communist, Chavista, Trotskyite, Leninist, Stalinist, fascist or other brand of authoritarian.

    • Montanaboyssareeasy

      There are plenty of political ideologies under which the Doctor could labor, and claiming that all of the forms of government you listed above (several of them are) to be authoritarian is ludicrous on its face. Either you don’t understand what authoritarianism actually IS, or you choose to use that term so loosely as to paint nearly anything that’s NOT libertarianism with that same ugly word – which is its own issue.

      Again, the truth is you don’t know what the political persuasion of the Doctor is, and you’re not supposed to. He made a great speech about revolution – focus on THAT, and make some sort of bridge to your preferred ideology if you want, but claiming that you know what the Doctor’s persuasion would be, across dozens of writers no less, is silliness.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      I actually meant “other brand of authoritarian” after ‘fascist’. But now that you mention it, any ideology that doesn’t believe the use of government force isn’t a necessary evil which should be avoided and limited as much as possible would by definition be authoritarian to a degree.

      He made a great speech about non-aggression, a core Libertarian value.

    • Montanaboyssareeasy

      Either words have meaning or they don’t; and authoritarianism has a very specific meaning, which does NOT apply to everything you listed above, and does NOT apply to your notions of government force, however much you want it to.

      His speech wasn’t about non-aggression, you chose to twist it around to be about that. As I said before, non-aggression is a self-destroying principle, and is thus really no principle at all and tells us nothing.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      You are basing your idea on the utterly flawed post-modernist claptrap Foucalt was spewing out. Power isn’t an abstract thing, it is something that is exercised by individuals or by Collectives against individuals. Commerce, free speech, etc. are not abuses of power. The definition of the difference is force is being applied without free choice.

    • Montanaboyssareeasy

      I’m not arguing power is abstract, I’m arguing that it is evidently manifest through a variety of means, and you can’t even begin to tackle political theory if you don’t understand soft and hard power. Maybe you really don’t, in which case you’re out of your depth. If you do, then you are disingenuously ignoring the unerring fact that power manifests physically AND socially. Resources ARE power, period. A country without resources is a fundamentally powerless country, so goes the individual. Both individual and collective choices have a myriad of conscious and inadvertent power forcings, whether you choose to recognize that or not. It’s just fact, observable everywhere.

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  • Elfa

    The Doctor, through his 2000 years of living understood first hand that some of the most horrendous thing imaginable happened under the guise of Justice, fairness and good.

    For some things, there can never be justice, fairness is a concept unreachable in real life and good, well good is a viewpoint, not an absolute.

    Just look at our modern struggles for equality. They leave out the fact that nobody wants equality. Every group wants to be in charge and on top, hoping that from a position of power they can dictate terms and help make things fair for everyone. What they miss is that being on top is an absolute corrupting force.

    The doctor isn’t a libertarian, he’s a realist and one that’s been around long enough to understand what’s real and whats the imaginary ramblings of hopeful naïveté.


    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Every “group”. Exactly. Whereas individuals are a different story.

    • Elfa

      Sure, but every individual; is part of some group consciously or not.

  • Jake Kale

    “A season that has thus far been astounding for not having a single bad episode.” The same day, Sleep No More airs.

    You had to jinx it, didn’t you?

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