So I saw Man of Steel again and here are some thoughts,

1. Peter Lawler’s subversive interpretation of the Republic-in-speech is also the film’s subversive interpretation of the Republic-in-speech.

2. Zod’s tragedy is that he has completely collapsed the categories of good man and good citizen. Zod simply can’t accept any moral claims that conflict with what he conceives of as good for his polity.  In American parlance, Zod believes that morality stops at the water’s edge. Zod isn’t a self-seeking Prince. Zod is, by his own lights, a faithful servant of the community. He is public spirited to a fault. Nolan could have gotten here on his own, but Zod’s moral tragedy strongly reminds me of the introduction to Thoughts on Machiavelli.

3. Both Zod and Jor-El see that Kryptonian society has hit a dead-end. They differ in their diagnoses of the problem. Jor-El sees that Krypton has been poisoned by the overweening claims of citizenship (not exactly the same thing as the state.) Kryptonian society has undermined the individual personality and the family. Jor-El wants to detonate the bases of Kryptonian (and Republic-in-speech) society. He wants children to know and be raised by their own parents and thereby reestablish the claims of the family. He wants Kryptonians to be able to choose their own work rather than do the work chosen for them by the polity through genetic engineering.

Zod can’t imagine that Krypton’s problem is too much civic virtue - that Krypton’s conception of civic virtue has become dangerously unbalanced.  Zod’s answer is to redouble Krypton’s commitment to civic virtue - to exterminate those individuals and bloodlines he believes to be corrupting Kryptonian society. That is crazy of course, but only a more obviously crazy version of the crazy that Krypton had already embraced.

4. Christopher Nolan continues his run of producing thoughtful anti-totalitarian films. The Dark Knight Rises was partly a critique of revolutionary egalitarianism. Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel also give a sense of Nolan’s approach to moderation. The Batman cycle were about the importance and fragility of the rule of law. They were about the hard-won creation of a decent polity. Man of Steel is about the limits of the just claims of civic life.

More on: Etcetera, Film

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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