In analyzing documentary films, there is an certain upper tier of filmmakers who consistently produce great films with spectacular themes. Politically, that representative is most likely John Pilger, director of The War You Don’t See, The War on Democracy, and Vietnam: The Lost Battle. He concentrates on the consistent externalities of American foreign and corporate policy, always informing his work with history and principled edge.
In terms of cultural documentaries, the intellectual heavyweight is British filmmaker Adam Curtis. He has made his career at the BBC, putting together films with beautiful sequences, rational deconstructions of political doctrines, and nostalgic imagery. He takes seemingly unrelated events and individuals and can masterfully weave a condensed, calibrated documentary with all parts smoothly integrated. I have previously mentioned such documentaries as All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, The Power of Nightmares, and The Century of the Self, which I would recommend to anyone interested in higher learning.
Curtis’ style of explaining and analyzing topics and subjects is not only unique but I believe that one day it shall be considered iconic. In my personal journey of knowledge and introduction to world ideas, it is Curtis’ work which has shaped the backward funnel from which I view reality.
In that same spirit, I became very interested when Curtis explored a topic that is a theme of my own pursuits, that being the capacity of the political system to control and direct individuals. He focused on the original contributions of F.A. Hayek, a personal hero of mine, and how his writings and ideas were absorbed into the ruling structure. While I do not agree with much of his conclusion, especially regarding political order and economics, I believe quite strongly in the method of delivering the information which Curtis seemed relevant. The Medium is the Message, media critic Marshall McLuhan would offer. I admire Curtis’ style because he does not assume any trinket of knowledge, however simple or complicated it may be. Every assertion or branding is coupled with a detailed explanation or referral to other sources. When relevant, he rattles out names of other documentaries or studies which have explored the subjects he covers in the past.
That being said, Curtis and I begin our confrontation as soon as he begins to systemically criticize the contributions and influence of F.A. Hayek in the article previously mentioned. As his focus and passion often reveal the theme of the irrationality of compassionate technocracy, it seems quite odd that he singles out F.A. Hayek’s ideas are ones which have made a lasting impact on society and culture. Indeed, Hayek’s explanations about the use of knowledge in society, how it is distributed spontaneously in order to influence price signals and more, would seem to coincide directly with Curtis’ consistent focus on the visionary men and women of politics and industry who have conceived a master plan but have constantly failed in implementing it. He claims that Hayek’s ideas became the very backbone of those in power and society, which seems a dubious claim considering the organization of the educational system in the United States, Britain, and Canada. Hayek’s ideas are not only ignored, but they are frequently only despised and antagonized. This is seen rather frequently in the constant criticism of the libertarianism of Republican Congressman and Presidential Candidate Ron Paul, who was greatly influenced by Hayek’s ideas. While populist movements do begin to inform their activism with the early contributions of Hayek, its acceptance into the mainstream, especially the upper echelons of power, is a fantasy to anyone who can rationally examine the situation.
Rather than having a full-fledged free-enterprise system with individuals acting as pulleys for good and bad ideas, the last 40 years has yielded a time of timeless “plans of action” and “programs to revitalize”. These experiments, ranging from military adventurism to government-induced stimulus, prove that technocracy, antithetical to Hayek’s, is the ruling mantra of the day. Elections and campaigns are won and lost based on the leaders who promise the elite knowledge and vision to foresee, predict, and adequately anticipate, not the guardians of a peaceful and autonomous order. The era of the individual may be embraced and pursued in the commercial space, but the consistent adherence to groups and organized demographics in the political sphere has allowed vast usurpation of power and influence for the well-connected at the very top, leaving all remnants of political individualism as a relic for a future age. While most of Curtis’ examination of the power structure is correct, his belief in the wide-acceptance of Hayek’s proclamations is merely untrue, proven easily by the nature of the rhetoric used in public discourse. The focus on how this or that political leader has created jobs or has directly contributed to economic recovery is a regurgitated falsehood which underlies basic political assumptions in the American tradition.
To summarize, the examination of F.A. Hayek’s ideas of a spontaneous order as something resembling a “managed free-market system” is one that completely construes the contributions and fundamental ideals of the great economist and thinker. While Adam Curtis’ attention to the historical mapping of the ideology and its teachings is fairly accurate, its simplification is none the like. To claim that society has long functioned with Friedrich Hayek’s philosophies fails to truly grasp the core of Hayek’s contribution to science, which is not too far from that of Curtis himself. That core is that the ruling structure of today’s world is built upon a fatal conceit, one which assumes human beings in a technocratic world can possess the objective knowledge which will most justly and accurately order a society for the benefit of all individuals. This is the promise delivered to citizens with each election, campaign, and advertisement, and it is the driving force for the skewered nature of our current political, economic, and social establishment.