Captain America and Progressive Infantilization

Captain America speaks

Captain America speaks

Amanda Marcotte is generating clicks with her complaint about the new Captain America: Civil War movie. Complaining being the primary mode of progressives, because everything is “problematic” unless one of their fellow travelers made it.

In her piece, “Captain America’s a douchey libertarian now: Why did Marvel have to ruin Steve Rogers?”, Marcotte is upset because the Cap didn’t knuckle under to “reasonable, common-sense” restrictions on his freedom to act for good. It’s not worth a detailed fisking — generating clickbait articles for a living doesn’t allow much time for careful writing — but she does reveal the mindset of those who believe every decision should be made by a committee of the select. The “unregulated” and “uncontrolled” are too dangerous to tolerate. Some key bits:

Steve Rogers is an icon of liberal patriotism, and his newest movie turns him into an Ayn Rand acolyte…

Most corporate blockbuster movies would cave into the temptation to make the character some kind of generic, apolitical “patriot,” abandoning the comic tradition that has painted him as a New Deal Democrat standing up consistently for liberal values. Instead, in both the first movie and in “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” we get Steve the liberal: Anti-racist, anti-sexist, valuing transparency in government and his belief that we the people should hold power instead of some unaccountable tyrants who believe might makes right.

Steve is All-American, so he is classically liberal: believing in the rule of law, equality of opportunity, and freedom to do anything that doesn’t step on someone else’s rights and freedoms. Amanda does not believe in individual freedom — she believes in “freedom,” approved by committee, with individual achievement subordinated to identity politics aiming at equality of outcome. No one should be free to judge the morality of a situation and act without lobbying others to achieve a majority and gaining approval of people like her.

Which is why I was sorely disappointed that the latest installment of the Marvel cinematic universe, “Captain America: Civil War,” decided that, for no reason whatsoever, Steve is now a guy who believe it’s cool to belong to a secretive paramilitary that rejects oversight and accountability to the public. Because while we all know and love them as the Avengers, hero squad, the brutal truth, which the movie does admit, is that is exactly what they are: A mercenary group who has resisted even the most basic oversight from democratic governments, oversight that would allow the people that the Avengers are supposed to be protecting some say in what this militaristic police force is allowed to do.

So she thinks the Avengers’ business model is to take the side of the highest bidder in any conflict (the meaning of “mercenary.”) Marcotte is already pretending that not voluntarily agreeing to bind yourself to be commanded by a murkily-governed international group that has demonstrated an inability to act to deter the worst human rights-abusing states is just like going to war for money.

Quick recap: In “Civil War,” the Avengers are facing growing international criticism for the way they handled the events in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Many people are arguing that they are operating without government oversight and innocent civilians are getting killed in the process. While it’s true that those civilian casualties are not the fault of the Avengers — they were fighting off serious threats and unfortunately, in war, civilians get killed — there are nonetheless growing demands for some kind of accountability and oversight.

These issues aren’t just about a silly comic book movie, which is why this is all so irritating. In the real world, right now, we are awash in arguments over accountability and oversight when it comes to both the police and the military. From the Black Lives Matter movement to questions over the military’s drone program, our country is embroiled in debates over just these issues.

The liberal position, the one that the Steve Rogers of the past two movies would hold, is extremely clear: The police and the military are accountable to the public. If people die on your watch, there needs to be a hearing. The military’s powers should be held in check. We sure as hell don’t want a mercenary organization that answers to no one crossing international borders and fighting wars without any input from democratic systems of government.

I think Steve would agree that the police and the military are accountable to a properly constituted government which operates in accordance with constitutional principles. Once one has taken the oath of public service, one has agreed to serve under those terms. Steve stops short of taking that oath and signing on the dotted line precisely because he realizes the government he would be agreeing to serve is not a proper one, and that he would be kept from doing the right thing in the future by so binding himself.

Marcotte’s analogy to current issues of police misbehavior and drone warfare is just wrong. To adequately capture an analogy would require that she acknowledge that the UN is corrupt like Chicago is corrupt, and that, like US police, the new Avengers would be protected by a union which would prevent punishment of any of its members for all but the most egregious offenses. After, say, destroying a small city to pursue a personal vendetta, the Avenger responsible would be suspended and then put back to work a few months later in another district despite a record of misuse of authority.

The demands being made by various governments and the United Nations in “Civil War” are more than reasonable. They want the Avengers to stop being a privately run paramilitary organization that answers to no one. They want them to sign a treaty agreeing to transparency and some government oversight. This is common sense and what we would expect the standard liberal position to be in a world where superheroes exist.

Like the President, Marcotte thinks her view is always “common sense,” and dissenting views are simply nonsense, illogical error. Why would any right-thinking person disagree with common sense?

More importantly, for consistency’s sake, this exactly the position that Steve Rogers has expressed before. In “Winter Soldier,” the entire debate between Steve and Nick Fury, which is resolved firmly on Steve’s side, is over how much power military forces should have without democratic oversight. Nick argues that SHIELD, a fictional international organization that is basically the world’s police, should have broad powers to spy on citizens and take unilateral military action in secret. Steve disagrees, pointing out that he fought in WWII specifically because he opposes strong-handed, dictatorial powers of that nature. In the end, Steve wins, dumping all of SHIELD’s secrets onto the internet and turning the power over to the people.

But now, in this movie, Steve is singing a different tune. He seems to believe that because he knows the Avengers mean well, that’s good enough. He doesn’t want to have justify his behavior or include democratic governments in the decision-making process.

How many of those governments are truly democratic? Marcotte makes the classic error of the illiberal thinkers: democracy is good, even when it’s 51% agreeing to violate the human rights of individuals. She can’t imagine actually turning power over to the people as individuals, to direct their lives as they see fit; no, every decision must be made by a government or it’s illegitimate.

Connecting the dots, this is the same tendency seen in the Special Snowflakes on campus: find everything problematic, and look to a nanny state or school administrators to take your side and punish those that offend you. In this child’s view of the universe, any disagreement with the perfect utopia of equality is not to be tolerated or compromised with — open debate is too stressful, so exaggerated grievances and calls for authorities to suppress the disagreeable are the new campus sport. Jonathan Haidt has written on this effectively.

Given the alternatives, Captain America acting in a wider world realizes his only moral alternative is to go without the safety net of government oversight, until such point as there is a legitimate world government. Having seen what unquestioning obedience to the wrong hierarchical organization can lead to, he chooses to remain independent.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. — Luke 12:48

Agreeing to be bound by an authority already demonstrated to be corrupt is lazy and immoral. Working without a net is harder. But Marcotte’s view of responsible adulthood is to always give up your own moral agency to some group.

We are all to be slaves to each other.

PS — Vanity Fair thinks Cap and Bucky exude too much “heterosexual virility.” Where’s my eyeroll emoticon?

Twitchy coverage here.

Lots of useful discussion on the Salon piece here (Reddit.) Someone needs to point out how douchey Amanda Marcotte is for implying that a) all liberatrians are douchebags, and b) somehow Cap is acting like Ayn Rand.

PPS on the publication that employs Marcotte to attract clicks: “Salon has been unprofitable through its entire history. Since 2007, the company has been dependent on ongoing cash injections from board Chairman John Warnock and William Hambrecht, father of former Salon CEO Elizabeth Hambrecht. During the nine months ended December 31, 2012, these cash contributions amounted to $3.4 million, compared to revenue in the same period of $2.7 million.” I’m surprised they don’t get government grants! I used to do some business with Hambrecht and Quist. John Warnock ran Adobe, which employed many of my friends…[edited after I realized I was confusing Gordon Eubanks with Warnock!]

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegregation Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy


  1. I won’t pretend to be all knowledgeable on these things but aren’t the Avengers more of a response team for situations were the danger to humanity could lead to possible extinction. Does she also forget that in age of Ultron they were already treading the fine line. Especially after the Hulk nearly levelled a city.

    1. Marcotte is first and foremost a partisan, so her piece is all about scoring points against libertarian types, including the ridiculous invocation of Ayn Rand, a demonized dog whistle for Progressives. The Avengers are a comic book superhero force — Each plot they have been written into was designed to involve readers, not make sense in a political sense. That said, the movie did very well in giving each character a motivation for their position and having them work it out realistically (aside from the superpowers!) Her position doesn’t make a lot of sense given that the plot showed UN authority was more than compromised in the past and in the present. At some point the superheroes would have to answer for their actions, but a courtroom drama is not in the Marvel cards. Yet!

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