The Lesson for the Left in Star Wars

There is much to be said for the political allusions and messages of the Star Wars epic now that we are able to see it completely. In both very broad and very particular ways, there are stunning and prescient allegories to our own time. With episodes I and II, we learned that the Empire was not a foreign conquering force but an organic transfiguration that took down the Republic. In the current episode, the full extent of the degradation of the Republic (and its vaunted Jedi Knights) becomes clear.

Curiously, one of the best articulations of the stunning prescience of the present crisis in Revenge of the Sith is a vivid illustration of just how evident said degradation is among our own ostensible opposition. Ami Eden in the Forward has written a column entitled “Darth Vader: The Original Neocon,” saying of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, “We see a once liberal warrior seduced by the promise of power and order, and fed up with the bumbling bureaucrats in the Galactic Senate – to paraphrase Irving Kristol, a Sith lord is a Jedi mugged by reality.” Eden goes on to point out that this image of a neocon is entirely consistent with their initial emergence as hardheaded Cold Warriors combating liberal idealism, but that this has of late totally reversed for the neocons with their newfound democracy evangelism. All true enough. But Eden actually goes on to celebrate this, even comparing it to Darth Vader’s ultimate turn against the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi upon Luke’s insistence that there was still some good in the hardened Lord of the Sith.

Watching Revenge of the Sith should demonstrate just how dangerous this notion is. What makes Darth Vader the original neocon is that he took the Jedi hubris in the Force to its brutal and logical conclusion, just as the neocons took Cold War liberalism to its brutal and logical conclusion. The lamentations of Obi-Wan and the other Jedi that there was a right way to prosecute the Clone Wars are eerily similar to John Kerry’s line last fall that there was a right way to prosecute the Iraq War, and more generally that there is a right way to govern a sclerotic half-Republic/half-Empire.

We see this most of all, however, as Anakin has his own Jedi hubris exploited by Palpatine, like Richard Perle luring George W. Bush into his scheme. When Padmé confronts Anakin about the turn he has taken, the latter exults in his power and glory in terms utterly Caligula-esque. There are other profound allusions to the classics in Anakin’s odyssey as well – he dreams about Padmé choking to death, which leads him to seek the life-giving power of the dark side, only to use that power to actually choke Padmé to death: an absolutely vintage staple of the classics, that all prophecies are self-fulfilling, and are made so precisely by the means with which one seeks to prevent the occurrence of the prophecy. This brilliant allusion is meant to illustrate the plague of hubris. By definition, of course, the liberals are quite averse to such virtues as the proscription of hubris.

But in fairness to the Jedi and the liberals, we must not forget that the advent of the Empire came about through the long, methodical infiltration of the Sith, just as in our case with regard to the neocons. Indeed, there are many parallels in this respect between the Sith and the cult of neoconservatism, who rose to power from Trotskyite origins to Social Democrats USA to the Republican party. If past has been prologue in viewing Star Wars as a prophetic guide to the neocon advent, we can see frightening premonitions of what lies ahead. At the very beginning of Revenge of the Sith, we see the unrestrained ideological ruthlessness with which the Sith turn against the Trade Federation that was so crucial to their advancement in the previous Attack of the Clones. This could turn out to be a perfect allegory for the old ideologues crushing their “free-market conservative” allies when advancing the revolution calls for it. We can perfectly see Anakin’s slaughter by light saber of the Trade Federation transmuting into an old Trotskyite standard-bearer like Josh Muravchik going at his corporate paymasters at AEI with a machete.

The more solid analogy, however, lies in the parallel between Palpatine’s purge of the Jedi and the Bush/neocon purge of the CIA and career military. Like the CIA, the Jedi were an institution that perfectly illustrated what was deeply flawed about the system they represented, but in the end were an independent source of power that had to be eliminated. Anakin is implored to turn against the Jedi and destroy them with transparently cynical denunciations of their undemocratic nature, which had to be crushed by the perversely mass-democratic executive, and the embrace of this view was a hallmark of the infamous essay by Weekly Standard online editor Jonathan Last, “The Case for the Empire,” at the time of the release of episode II.

Which brings us back to the alleged (or at least allegedly recent) conversion of the neocons to democratic utopianism. Ever since the election, the trend in all quarters has been toward a steady uptick in the democratist madness, and with the recent events in Uzbekistan, the relatively stolid editors of the Weekly Standard have decided that the time has come to shed any pretension about American interests or security. Now all that matters is the ideological agenda, which they call the global democratic revolution. This appears to be the culmination of the turn that began with Richard Perle taking the democratist line in extricating himself from the Iraq quagmire and defending Ahmed Chalabi, just as Darth Vader throughout the original trilogy fancied himself the true and loyal servant of the dark side of the Force against the hard-headed Imperial officers who mocked his “sad devotion to that ancient religion.”

For such is the attitude of our rulers to those of its court intellectuals who continue to profess their fealty to democracy or socialism or liberalism or whatever. Alas, as liberty died to thunderous applause when Bush declared his global democratic revolution, it was, and remains, the Left which applauds most thunderously of all.