The Pro-Liberty Message in Man of Steel

I have pretty low expectations for Superman movies, so I was both impressed and pleasantly surprised to find myself entertained as well as see an important pro-liberty theme embedded in the movie Man of Steel. Leaving aside problems of excessively long special effects and a few plot holes, the 2013 version of the Superman franchise casts Kal-El, aka Superman, as the last hope for individualism on Krypton and his alter ego Clark Kent the embodiment of individualism’s future on Earth.

This was an unexpected benefit because the reviews have focused mainly on the action sequences and special effects. But the liberty theme is critical to the movie and the character, at least as it is conceived in Man of Steel. The essential plot is that the infant Kal-El is sent to Earth on his own by his father (Jor-El) and mother (Lara) as the last hope for Kryptonians after over mining of an essential mineral de-stabilizes their planet. Two essential elements necessitate this drastic decision, both of which elevate individualism and free will to a core value in the film.

First, Kryptonians have adopted population control (for unknown reasons), using genetic engineering to sculpt their society with scientific precision. Free will and individual diversity have been purged from Krypton society through Eugenics and scientific population control. The result became the seeds of Krypton’s own destruction. The master race was unable to avoid short-sighted decisions over energy and their environment that leads to the destruction of their planet. Jor-El and Lara see Krypton’s future as fundamentally tied to re-introducing organic genetic diversity through natural conception and, by implication, embracing free choice, tolerating diversity, and the absolute protection of individual human life.

In direct violation of Krypton’s rules and laws, Kal-El  is the first natural birth in hundreds of years. Moreover, Kal-El’s father (Jor-El) is the lead scientist for Krypton, and the decision (with his wife Lara) is a direct statement about the importance of the intellectual diversity implicit in natural birth as an essential component of a successful and robust social system. The decision to use natural conception and childbirth thus elevates free will and the protection of individual life to a defining value worth protecting to ensure the future of the Krypton race. Indeed, this is so important that Jor-El and Lara are willing to sacrifice their own lives to preserve it (or give it a new start on Earth).

The second element is the fight against tyranny, manifested in the persona of General Zod. Zod has been eugenically bred to defend Krypton society by whatever means necessary. Defending Krypton means embracing eugenics and scientific population control and embracing repression of individual choice. (The intellectual link won’t be hard to understand for those who have studied American Progressivism, European fascism, or read Jonah Goldberg’s important book Liberal Fascism.) Thus, inevitably, Zod tracks down Kal-El to recapture the remaining DNA of the Kryptonian race and continue a society founded on rigid adherence to eugenics.

These elements lead to another value fundamental to this version of the movie (and in keeping with the original conception of Superman’s creators), that men are born free and should be treated as equals. The alien Kal-El sides with humans on Earth because they are united in the belief that all beings (or at least humanoids) should as a matter of principle have fundamental rights to life and free will, regardless of their race, background, or immigrant status. Moreover, in yet another twist in the screenplay and plot, Kal-El makes his decision to side with the human race based on faith, not science, reason, or, for that matter, trust.

All-in-all, not a bad showing for liberty and the objective value of human life in what may be one of the biggest block busters of the 2013 film season.

Samuel R. Staley is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Managing Director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center in the College of Social Sciences at Florida State University. He is a contributing author to the Independent books, Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined and Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis.
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