Parody the Power

Friday, Nov 27, 2009

In the ancien régime the theatres were free to produce Beaumarchais’s mocking of the aristocracy and the immortal opera composed by Mozart. Under the second French empire, Offenbach’s and Halévy’s Grandduchess of Gerolstein parodied absolutism, militarism and court life. Napoleon III himself and some of the other European monarchs enjoyed the play that made them ridiculous. In the Victorian Age, the censor of the British theatres, the Lord Chamberlain, did not hinder the performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s musical comedies which made fun of all venerable institutions of the British system of government. Noble Lords filled the boxes while on the stage the Earl of Montararat sang: “The House of Peers made no pretence to intellectual eminence.”

In our day it is out of the question to parody on the stage the powers that be. No disrespectful reflection on labor unions, cooperatives, government operated enterprises, budget deficits and other features of the welfare state is tolerated. The union bosses and the bureaucrats are sacrosanct. What is left to comedy are those topics that have made the operetta and the Hollywood farce abominable.

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As all nations are moving toward socialism, the freedom of authors is vanishing step by step. From day to day it becomes more difficult for a man to publish a book or an article, the content of which displeases the government or powerful pressure groups. The heretics are not yet “liquidated” as in Russia nor are their books burned by order of the Inquisition. Neither is there a return to the old system of censorship. The self-styled progressives have more efficient weapons at their disposal. Their foremost tool of oppression is boycotting authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, printers, advertisers and readers.

Everybody is free to abstain from reading books, magazines, and newspapers he dislikes and to recommend to other people to shun these books, magazines, and newspapers. But it is quite another thing when some people threaten other people with serious reprisals in case they should not stop patronizing certain publications and their publishers. In many countries publishers of newspapers and magazines are frightened by the prospect of a boycott on the part of labor unions. They avoid open discussion of the issue and tacitly yield to the dictates of the union bosses. These “labor” leaders are much touchier than were the imperial and royal majesties of bygone ages. They cannot take a joke. Their touchiness has degraded the satire, the comedy and the musical comedy of the legitimate theatre and has condemned the moving pictures to sterility.

The Anticapitalistic Mentality, Ludwig von Mises, Pages 45-46, 1956, http://mises.org/etexts/anticap.pdf.