Alan K. Henderson has some seasonal musing to share on this day, the fifth of November. Warning… contains critique and therefore spoilers for ‘V for Vendetta’
This graphic novel V for Vendetta was first published as a comic book series which began in 1982. Many readers will laugh at author Alan Moore’s second-guessing of future history. In the story, the Thatcher government’s loss in the 1993 elections sets up a Labour government whose unilateral disarmament measures somehow keep Britain on the sidelines during a US-USSR nuclear confrontation. The war is triggered by an un-detailed situation analogous to the Cuban Missile Crisis – and there’s even a Kennedy in the White House (which Kennedy we are not told). Why a non-nuclear Africa gets wasted and a non-nuclear Britain survives is not explained.
The likelihood of the next major event – the rise of the Norsefire party into power – is debatable. Post-holocaust Britain would still have a strong domestic military presence. It would have to be weakened significantly for an insurrection to succeed. The story mentions that there were several insurgent factions; perhaps Norsefire sat back while these multiple rebellions sapped the military of its strength. It is also possible that some of these insurgents drew their membership in part from the military.
The story does accurately portray the function of a Fascist state. The church is nationalized but powerless, serving a mere ceremonial function. Surveillance cameras are everywhere (hey wait a minute, some social democracies are like that…) The government also conducts audio in addition to video espionage against its citizens. Separation of powers between executive, legislators, and judiciary is vastly diminished or non-existent. The economy is planned. Propaganda is pervasive. Citizens are forcibly resettled, and some like Evey are forcibly sent to work in certain industries. Undesirables are deported or incarcerated (and sometimes experimented upon). Policemen are granted latitude to allow certain criminals to ‘disappear’, as in Evey’s case. To formally prosecute her for prostitution makes it a matter of public record that the State is not meeting her economic needs as government propaganda promises.
Enter V… His identity unknown, he is one of the last four survivors of the Larkhill Resettlement Camp, where he was subjected to medical experiments involving hormone injections. having escaped, he now dons a Guy Fawkes costume and is orchestrating a vendetta against the Fascist government.
While Alan Moore himself allows the reader to determine whether or not V’s actions are warranted, many have described V as a morally ambiguous character. Such people are wrong; the direction of his moral compass is crystal clear. ‘Just War theory’ removes all appearance of shades of grey from V’s actions. Its components include a just cause, attacks against combatants and military targets only, damage from attacks not exceeding damage threatened by combatants, and resolution to the crisis. V is fully in compliance with the first principle, his causes being his overall campaign against the fascist state, and the immediate threat of assault and murder posed toward Evey in the opening pages.
But he steps outside of the bounds of the other constraints. Many of his bombings violate the second principle. His early attacks seem to serve as PR stunts more than anything else. (For an historic parallel, look no further than the Boston Tea Party. Mind you that an American is writing this.) Ethically, such attacks should be limited to actual seats of police and political power.
His revenge on the three surviving Larkhill officials is misguided. In different ways Lewis Prothero and Bishop Anthony Lilliman serve roles as state propagandists. The former is the man behind the Voice of Fate, the entity that communicates the will of the State to the people. Lilliman is head of the puppet church. Additionally, he regularly molests under-age girls, brought to him through semi-official channels. Both are legitimate targets, but V’s means of warfare are excessive. As horrible as molestation is, it is not a capital crime, and the intentional infliction of permanent insanity on Prothero through psychoactive drugs and psychological manipulation is hardly an ethical means of combat (one could justify kidnapping them both and keeping them from their propagandist duties).
Delia Surridge was the chief physician at Larkhill – and the last living and cognizant person who can identify V. She had no role in the government after Larkhill, having gone into hiding. She certainly deserves to stand trial for crimes against humanity, but she is no obstacle to the revolution (and strikes me as someone who might side with an insurgency, quite frankly) and thus is not a legitimate target.
The final principle points to V’s ultimate failing. He destroyed a government without ensuring the quality of its replacement. His negligence rests in a serious philosophical flaw: V is an anarchist.
As defined by Wikipedia, anarchism involves an “anti-authoritarian society that is based on voluntary association of free individuals in autonomous communities, mutual aid, and self-governance.” Chaos, by contrast, involves the pursuit of self-interest without regard to mutual agreements, having in common with anarchy only the absence of the State. V distinguishes between the two, calling for the former The Land Of Do As You Please and the latter The Land Of Take What You Want. The difference is that between trade and plunder.
V claims that anarchy will arise when chaos has run its course. But his own definition of chaos reveals the error in his logic. What happens when a government falls? In The Land Of Take What You Want, those who covet the might and privileges of government will try to take what they want. Human nature abhors a power vacuum. When authority is removed, in due time a new authority will assert itself. Anarchy cannot persist in the long term. The Land Of Do As You Please requires some level of government, to protect against domestic insurrection and foreign invasion.
The least irrational possibility is that V knows that from time to time a new State will attempt to take form, but V plans to stop this through his costumed successors and thus preserve anarchy. Could such a plan work? Could a sole vigilante consistently put down the formation of entire governments? And can V be secure that none of his successors will veer from his plan, that none could ever fall to the temptation to become an agent of The Land Of Take What You Want?