Note: this essay primarily deals with the story of Les Miserables as portrayed in the musical (and consequently film) version, but draws from the book to fill in the gaps in the story. If you have not seen the film or read the book, you should wait to read this essay until you have done so as it explains the entire plot and some of the subtler points.
Les Miserables is the story of the downtrodden of France in the days before the French Revolution. It is the story of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Marius, Enjolras, and the rest of the students. It is a story of a people being ground to dust by a repressive and exploitative government who grants no rights to the people. It is a story of a people who might dare to fight for the chance to be free.
The story opens to Jean Valjean who has been in prison 19 years, originally for 5 years for stealing a loaf of bread, the rest for trying to escape his unjust imprisonment (and to maintain their free labor). Valjean had stolen the loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children, who were starving. The people in that time were being taxed to death (literally) by a government run amuck and knowing no limits on its power.
The story of Les Mis cannot be understood without this backdrop: it is the story of a people being oppressed by their government. It is the story of people trying to live under a government that treats them as property and not free men. Secondarily, although Hugo definitely did not intend this, it is a story about how bad sexual ethics destroys lives. Primarily, however, it is a story about government gone wrong.
After being freed, Valjean is given his prison papers that brand him a dangerous criminal and discharged. He goes from town to town, but no one wants to help a dangerous criminal (recall, he only stole some bread to feed starving children). He ends up sleeping near a church and is brought in by a kindly bishop who is the first person to treat him with kindness and humanity in nearly two decades. Valjean decides to take advantage of this and steals the bishop’s silver in the night. He escapes, but is caught and brought back by the gendarmes to stand before the bishop. The bishop could have Valjean executed for crimes against the Church or at least minimally thrown back into prison until he dies. The bishop, however, takes mercy on Valjean and corroborates his story, setting him free and even giving him two additional pieces of silver, his candlesticks. The bishop encourages him to think about his life and the kind of man he wants to be. Valjean has an inner crisis about what kind of man he has become and chooses to be a man and leave behind his hate-filled and misanthropic past.
Valjean tears up with prison papers and leaves into the night. His story jumps several years and Valjean has become the mayor of a small town. He is widely known for being a caring and just mayor who has brought order and prosperity to the town. How did he become mayor of a small town? He became a capitalist. He developed a new locking mechanism for bracelets and opens a factory to produce it. He ends up being very successful and his business rejuvenates the town. Overjoyed at having jobs, money, and food, the people make him mayor. Valjean, the capitalist, creates the prosperity that the government had destroyed. The businessman brings food and jobs to a region where the heavy governmental taxation had decimated the people and people were starving in the streets.
Entre Fantine. Fantine is a young woman who fell in love with a man. After having a romantic summer full of sex, the young man deserts her. She gets pregnant and has to flee the town to have the child (think The Scarlet Letter). After having the child, she sees a sweet child swinging in front of an inn being doted on by another young mother: Mme. Thenardier. She makes a bargain with the Thenardiers to care for her daughter, Cosette, and to raise her. In return, Fantine would travel to the town with the prosperous factory and work there, sending money back to the Thenardiers for raising Cosette. This goes well enough at first, but the Thenardiers are actually criminals and do not care about the value of human life. They start fabricating stories that Cosette is sick and that they need more money. Fantine, the diligent mother, works as hard as she can to raise the money to save her daughter. Unfortunately, the other women who work in the factory find out that Fantine has a child out of wedlock and, being the good christians that they are, attack Fantine for not living according to their rules and get her fired from the factory.
Fantine tries to find other work, but cannot. Fantine would do anything to save her daughter and sells all of her possessions, including her furniture and heirlooms, then must turn to less savory means including selling her hair, her teeth, and even turning to prostitution. She is assaulted by a noble (a person granted special authority by the government to own certain parts of the country and the people who live there) and is blamed for the assault: since, of course, sex workers aren’t real people. She would have been thrown in prison by Police Inspector Javert, if not for the intervention of Valjean (recall he is the Mayor) ordering Javert not to do so, when he realizes that she is not a villain and that she is working to save her child. Realizing that she is also very sick, he takes her to be treated for her illness. She at first resists, blaming him for being kicked out and forced to turn to prostitution, but when she realizes that he did not know and genuinely wants to help, she implores him to save her child. He vows to do so.
In the meantime, Javert, the police inspector who used to work at the prison at which Valjean was housed thinks that he recognizes Valjean and writes to the authorities in Paris. They say that it cannot be him, since they have that person in custody in a nearby town awaiting trial. Javert goes to Valjean and tells him of his breach of duty and asks to be punished for violating his duty (as Mayor, he would report to Valjean). Valjean tells him that he has done no wrong and dismisses him. Unfortunately, he now must choose between letting an innocent man return to life in prison for breaking parole or let his city fall back to ruin. He chooses to free the man and travels to the town, clearing him of guilt. Stunned that the well-known Mayor could actually be a criminal, no one in the court moves to stop him and he returns to his town to check on Fantine and to seek out her daughter as he has vowed. Javert discovers that he was right and moves quickly to arrest Valjean. He goes to where Fantine is being treated and bursts in to make his arrest. Fantine thinks he has come back for her and she dies of fright (she is already deathly ill and close to death). Valjean overpowers him and escapes to find Cosette.
(As an interesting aside, in this time period in France, the Mayor would have worn ornate chains of office and these are the chains that Javert refers to in his song when he says “M. le Mayor you’ll wear a different chain.” Since he would soon lose his office and be returned to shackles.)
Valjean takes the profits that he has earned as a businessman and savior of the people and takes Cosette from the Thenardiers, who have abused and neglected her. They then head together to Paris and ends up at a convent, where he enrolls Cosette and takes up a position as a gardener in order to remain out of the eyes of the law. Recall that the Church and State have long been enemies in their desire to control the people and so they were in this time period too: the police could not enter sacred ground without cause lest they cause civil war between the church and state. Many years pass (Cosette is around 8 when she is taken from the Thenardiers and around 16 when she meets Marius) and things are going well until she meets Marius.
Marius is a young aristocrat who is studying law. He is one of the leaders of the student rebellion, being disaffected with the aristocracy and walking out on his uncle who spurns him for not taking his place of duty. He moves to a boarding house, where he meets Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, and befriends her. She falls in love with him, but he is indifferent to him (this plays out very differently in the book and play). Marius does his part to help lead the underground student rebellion against their oppressive government, until he sees Cosette and falls in love with her “at first sight.” He has Eponine find out where she lives and goes to see her. Unfortunately, Thenardier has recognized Valjean and later that night goes to get his “rightful” share of his money (rob him), but he finds Eponine still outside his gate. She saves him by calling out, even though she risks herself to do so.
Valjean thinks that Javert has finally found him and takes flight. Cosette barely has time to send a note to Marius, who despairs that he has lost her. Unfortunately General Lamarque, who is the only advocate for the people in the government, dies and the students decide to use his death as the rallying point for their cause. They take over his funeral procession and erect barricades to fight the government, who is sent in to kill them all, to maintain “order.” Marius sends a note to Cosette via the young Gavroche. Valjean intercepts the letter and is moved to protect Cosette once again by going to the barricade to protect Marius.
Javert also goes to the barricade as a spy, but is recognized by Gavroche, who is the urchin son of Thenardier. Valjean, having shown himself to be true to the cause by helping repel a wave of the army, volunteers to take care of the spy. Javert, believing that Valjean is evil and that people can never change, thinks that he will be killed, but Valjean frees him and sends him away. He returns to the barricade, which is soon beset by the army. They are overwhelmed and underarmed. They start to run out of powder and Gavroche sneaks out past the barricade to get the powder from the fallen soldiers (this is before bullets, in the days of powder and balls). He is killed, but dies fighting for his freedoms against the oppressive government. In the next wave Marius is wounded and Valjean escapes with him into the sewer as the barricade is overrun and the students, including their leader Enjorlas, are cornered in the bar and killed.
Valjean manages to escape with Marius through the sewers. In the process, Javert sees them and is forced to make a choice: to violate his duty and let Valjean go or to uphold his duty and send a man he now knows to be a good man to rot in prison for the rest of his life. Javert is thrown into crisis, never before had he considered that to do his duty may not be morally right and discovering that morality is something apart from duty is too much for Javert. He lets Valjean go, but confronted by the doubts he has now about his duty and the way he has lived his life, he commits suicide.
Valjean successfully saves Marius, but uses up his strength in the process. He doesn’t tell anyone who saved Marius, leaving him at his uncle’s to be found and treated. Marius and Cosette are reunited and their relationship blossoms.
Valjean now is greatly weakened and he knows that his time is running out. He confides his past to Marius and leaves, so as not to taint Cosette’s future with Marius. He secretly goes back to the convent where he has spent so many years, knowing his death is imminent.
At their wedding, the Thenardiers crash and attempt to extort money from Marius, who has reconciled with his uncle and resumed his place in the aristocracy. Marius finds his ring with his family crest on Thenardier and finds out that it was Valjean who has saved his life. He forces Thenardier to tell him where he has gone, then kicks him out, before he and Cosette rush to find Valjean.
Unfortunately, Valjean is dying. He has, however, written Cosette a letter explaining her past. They thank him for all that he has done and attempt to comfort him. His final visions are of Fantine and the Bishop as he dies.
Les Miserables is one of my favorite stories, whether the book, the play, or the movie. It is the story of a heroic man who acts as well as he can under an oppressive government. It is the story of a kind man who takes it upon himself to raise a young child as a kindness to a dying woman. It is the story of young love. It is the story of a downtrodden people who are suffering at the hands of their government and church.
It is, above all, a story of a people who long for freedom and the tragedy of life in an oppressive government.
Looked at this way, Les Miserables is a testament to the importance of philosophy, to the importance of having a rational philosophy such as Objectivism. Ideas move the world. Good ideas lead to freedom and prosperity. Bad ideas lead to oppression and death. Although I’ve already spelled this out somewhat in the laying out of the story itself, let us look closely at several aspects.
Jean Valjean is a capitalist hero. Through his ingenuity he creates an invention that improves people’s lives and that they want. They voluntarily buy his goods and he creates a factory that employs people and brings wealth to the area. People get jobs and money, they are able to buy the things they need and are saved from their destitution. He becomes known far and wide for saving the town.
Throughout Les Miserables, the enemy at every turn is the government. It is an unjust government that taxes its people to death and creates an environment where human life is not possible. Javert, as a representative of the government, is the perfect exemplar of duty. He will do his duty without a thought to right or wrong. Morality can’t coexist with duty: an unchosen obligation (duty) is the opposite of free choice taken for one’s own ends (morality).
A second-level enemy of human life in the story is the church and christian morality, which has permeated the culture. Recall that the reason that Fantine must flee her hometown is so as not to be ostracized or attacked for having sex outside of a marriage sanctioned by the christian god. Christianity is evil. All religion is evil to the extent to which is encourages irrational thought and divorces one’s mind from reality (which is the essence of religion). This is not to say that there is no value to religion, but such value as it has is incidental to its real nature, which is irrationality and control.
I find the fact that in the musical and movie that the Thenardiers are comical to be offensive. They are thieves and murders. They are directly responsible for Fantine’s death. They are evil and to laugh at evil as comedy is immoral. To deride evil and cut it down with laughter is an entirely different matter and is perfectly moral. But, to look at pure evil and find it comical is offensive to all people of reason.
Lastly, throughout Les Miserables, I kept thinking: Freedom, how easily people give it up and take it for granted. What our ancestors gave their lives for, we take for granted. We take this great gift that was given to us through the blood of good and noble men and we take it for granted. We can have freedom or free things; we cannot have both. Of course, there will be problems in freedom since there are evil people, but how much better to have a chance at life than none at all. It struck me that Les Mis was beyond relevant to our current firearms debate. Especially in the scenes of the student rebellion, I can’t help but to think of the rifle as the symbol of a free country. The rifle to these students was a way to fight back against the power of the government, it was their chance at life, it was their one shot. The firearm was, and is, a symbol that a man’s life is his by right and that good men will fight to the death to protect their lives and the lives of those they love. Our firearms, our rifles, are our freedom. If we give up one, we give up the other. Moral men, good men, must always maintain the ability and will to fight to the death to preserve their rights and freedoms and if the day should ever get so dark that human life becomes impossible, good men must be willing and able to strike back and fight to restore the necessary conditions of human life.
One of the things that I think people often fail to understand about markets is that literally every good is affected by every other. A change in the price of oil will change the price of wool. A regulation about coffee in Brazil will change the price of cars in America. Everything that affects a market at all will be felt in the price of every good or service in the market. Perhaps the effect will be larger or smaller, but if you do anything in a market, rest assured you are having an impact. I think this short movie does a good job of illustrating this fact in a very benevolent way and I encourage everyone to take a look at it.
Capitalism is the only system of individual rights ever conceived; it is the only moral system of human interaction.
This short video does a very good job of explaining the problem of minimum wage laws.
One problem that it does not address is this: let’s say under market conditions you employ 100 low-level workers each for $1 per day. In order to rectify this “social injustice” a minimum wage law is passed such that th enew minimum wage is $2. Ceteris paribus, you can now only employ 50 workers, since the total expenditure on this amount of labor cannot exceed $100. Thus, the effect minimum wage law was to give 50 workers extra income and to deprive 50 workers of all of their income. This is hardly better for the 50 workers who now have zero income instead of their $1 per day wage. In fact, in Economics it is considered an obvious truth that minimum wage laws create a minimum level of unemployment and all of it at the lowest income levels, harming only the poorest workers.
This example, among countless others, should give people pause when the gesticulate for their to be a law for something that they feel is wrong, even though they don’t understand it. When the government tries to manipulate the market, instead of doing it’s proper function which is to protect the rights of individuals, then there are always negative repercussions: like poor Simon.
I detest the politics is done in America today. It is nothing but the pandering of vacuous politicians to pressure groups who can see no farther than their own desires and who are willing to enslave others to meet their myopic ends. It is a race between a party who wants to control our lives via our wallets and a party that wants to control our lives via our bedrooms. I can’t imagine myself voting for either of those parties. In fact, I usually say that elections are a decision between the evil of two lessers. Both parties sicken me for different reasons, but they have the same core: that the role of the government is to control the lives of its citizens as though it were a large nanny or a big brother.
So, imagine my surprise when I read this statement from a Republican presidential candidate:
Will the Republican Party be able to capture the White House in 2012? I believe the answer to that question will be found in how we as a party present solutions to revitalizing this current sluggish U.S. economy. The country’s economic situation is just not good. The growth that we were hoping to see has not occurred. Fresh ideas are demanded if we are to have a business climate that creates an atmosphere for fostering growth and job creation.
I have always viewed the Republican Party as the party of efficient management of the government’s pocketbook. We are the dollars and cents team. We are the ones who make decisions based on costs and benefits. When I was Governor of New Mexico I took the role of steward of taxpayer funds very seriously. I cut waste and eliminated unnecessary jobs and programs. It was not easy, but we made New Mexico more efficient, and we created private sector jobs and growth. (National Review states that I had the best job creation record of all the GOP candidates running for president, June 20, 2011) This is the same kind of management style that we need in the White House today and I believe this is the type of leadership America wants and needs now.
The Republican Party should be leading the economic discussion with the presentation of new ideas and solutions for recovery. This country is looking for a new kind of leader, someone to provide new ideas and real solutions, someone who is willing to balance the budget immediately and is not afraid to make tough decisions. Over the next few weeks and months I will be presenting real solutions and ideas that we can implement to turn this country around and create jobs and build growth in America.
While some of us talk of solving economic problems, unfortunately, there exists a part of the Republican Party that wishes to sidestep this important discussion and instead turn the attention toward social issues and morality. By making such a choice, we are missing a golden opportunity to provide leadership for America. Social issues are not going to win the White House in 2012 for the Republican Party. When I see Republican presidential candidates discussing morality as if the government were some type of watchdog and moral compass for America — then I see the American electorate being turned away from the Republican Party. America does not want government dictating actions in the bedroom, and they do not want government invading personal lives. We want a government that allows freedom and personal liberty for responsible adults. As long as we do not do harm to others, we should be allowed to live our lives in peace and free from government intervention.
I truly believe that the Republican Party is about efficient management of the government pocket-book, and that we are the party that can restore economic prosperity. However, if we continue to get sidetracked by the social conservative fringe of the party — we will never get that chance. (Link)
This is the kind of person I could vote for. This is the kind of person I would actually try to help win an election. Gary Johnson, I don’t know all your views (yet), but you had me at “America does not want government dictating actions in the bedroom, and they do not want government invading personal lives. We want a government that allows freedom and personal liberty for responsible adults.”
Maybe there will finally be a good candidate to come out of the Republican party, someone who is actually worth voting for. I encourage all of my readers to go and check him out and make your own decisions about him. I think Gary Johnson is the kind of candidate that is going to be able to get very broad support from all across the board.
Someone on Facebook posted a link to this video on Hulu that shows Gary Johnson on John Stossel’s show being asked about his positions on a large number of issues:
While I don’t think Gary Johnson is ideal, he does support governmental healthcare, I think he is by far the best candidate that we’ll see in this election and the best candidate that has a real shot at being elected.
There is nothing more dangerous to a citizenry than its government. Whether with “good intentions” or simply a lust for power, governments, particularly communist and socialist governments, kill their own citizens at an astounding rate. R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus at the Univerisity of Hawaii, says that:
The bubonic plague that in 1347-1353 depopulated Europe has horrified historians and surely all those who have read about it. Death. Death everywhere. Cities and towns devastated. Whole families of several generations gone. About 25,000,000 people perished.
Yet, we have had a different kind of plague in the last century, one over four times more deadly, and historians shy away from writing about it. Indeed, most contemporaries did not even know it was occurring, for the media and politicians that were not affected by it, tended to ignore it. It was a Red Plague [socialism]. A plague of democide. [Link]
As one example of this, Rummel points to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and notes that:
The Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all time, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these (I know you’ve read the toll as 20,000,000, but it was only for the 1930s and has been mistaken applied to Stalin’s full and bloody reign 1928-1953). Most of the Soviet deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto.
Compare the moderate estimate of 61,000,000 deaths in the USSR (there is evidence it may be as high as 126,891,000) to the “Black Death” that wiped out Europe, at only 25,000,000 deaths. Really, the “Red Death,” and here I mean socialism and not tuberculosis, is much more deadly than the black one.
As we usher in socialism in the United States, I think we should consider what happens when the government has unlimited control over our lives and becomes, not our servant, but our master.
To see whether estrus was really “lost” during human evolution (as researchers often claim), we examined ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by professional lap dancers working in gentlemen’s clubs. Eighteen dancers recorded their menstrual periods, work shifts, and tip earnings for 60 days on a study web site. A mixed-model analysis of 296 work shifts (representing about 5300 lap dances) showed an interaction between cycle phase and hormonal contraception use. Normally cycling participants earned about US$335 per 5-h shift during estrus, US$260 per shift during the luteal phase, and US$185 per shift during menstruation. By contrast, participants using contraceptive pills showed no estrous earnings peak. These results constitute the first direct economic evidence for the existence and importance of estrus in contemporary human females, in a real-world work setting. These results have clear implications for human evolution, sexuality, and economics.
While the study is interesting because it does (tentatively, n=18) establish a link between the amount of money men tip the strippers and where they are on their cycle, it’s not clear that it is evidence of estrus.
Estrus is like being in “heat” for mammals, it’s the period of time during which the female is receptive, and capable of receiving, sexual advances from the male. For example, in dogs, the bitch will not stand for a male dog (allow him to mount her) unless she is in heat. Moreover, neither dog will have any interest in sex unless the bitch is in heat. Now, if you compare that to humans, you might see the problem.
Humans do not have heats. Human males can always become sexually aroused (even in the absence of females) and human females are always capable of being sexually receptive (and even receptive of non-penises). So, there is no way for someone to “find” estrus in humans, since we clearly don’t have one. Now, what the article does show is that there appears to be a pheromonic response by men to women at certain times in their cycle. There is no other way to account for the difference in the difference in tips based on their cycles, since we can presume that the strippers will always be acting in ways that they think will net them the greatest economic reward. I’d like to see more studies about pheromones in humans, as the studies are at best conflicting right now and there is no clear evidence either way.
Regardless, the study is worth taking a look at and the implications of it are interesting.
In yet another heavy blow to the AGW camp, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) has announced that it is closing it’s doors. According to the National Review Online:
Global warming-inspired cap and trade has been one of the most stridently debated public policy controversies of the past 15 years. But it is dying a quiet death. In a little reported move, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) announced on Oct. 21 that it will be ending carbon trading – the only purpose for which it was founded – this year.
That’s a heavy blow to the AGW camp, since the CCX was to be the clearinghouse for the extorted money from people and business who had to buy “carbon credits” in order to offset their “pollution” from existing, err, I mean emitting CO2.
The Telegraph also has a very interesting write-up “What the Green Movement Got Wrong: Greens come to see the error of their ways” where they point out three major errors of the green movement:
Misanthropy. According to a veteran American Green, Stewart Brand, too many Greens believe “Nature good – humans not so good”. This approach is ultimately unpersuasive, since it is human beings you are trying to persuade. A policy focused on preventing human activity is one which defies human nature. Mark Lynas, one of the repenters, was shown in his younger days stuffing a custard pie into the face of the environmental sceptic Bjorn Lomborg. Now, he admits with shame, he was ”motivated by a sense of righteousness” which was self-regarding.
Exaggeration. If you say that the end of the world is nigh all the time, people start to disbelieve you. Paul Ehrlich talked utter rubbish about how the world would starve in the 1970s. A glorious clip showed a young but authoritative Magnus Magnusson explaining against a backdrop of artificial snow that “the new Ice Age” was upon us. Green activists give out the figure of 93,000 for deaths attributable to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. The figure favoured by the recent UN investigation is 65. The idea that there are only a few months or years left to save the planet is both so discouraging and so untrue that it disables the cause it is supposed to galvanise. “We have got some time,” said Tim Flannery of the Copenhagen Climate Council, with heretical courage.
Damage. The most powerful part of the programme was that arguing that the Green obsession with banning and preventing things has done actual harm. The refusal to contemplate nuclear power has encouraged more use of fossil fuels and therefore – if you believe the warmist theories – more adverse climate change. The banning of pesticides has led to the deaths of millions of Africans from malaria. The obsessive hatred of GM crops led, in 2002, to the Zambian government refusing US supplies of GM food sent to relieve its people’s starvation.
This may be the other ClimateGate shoe dropping on the fanatical green movement and hopefully it will spell the end of the religion of environmentalism.
Look, I’m for having a nice world, but we need to understand the the world/climate/nature is not intrinsically valuable and if environmentalists want to have a greater buy-in, they need to take the approach “let’s make the world nice because we live here and we’d like a nice place to live.” That’s the kind of thing that even I might buy into.
The Guardian is reporting that Cuba is set to cut 1,000,000 government jobs in the coming year, with 500,000 government jobs eliminated by March.
Cuba has announced it will lay off more than a million state employees in a sweeping privatisation drive that will transform the island’s socialist economy.
Authorities said layoffs would begin immediately amid loosened controls on private enterprise which, it is hoped, will kickstart the private sector and create new jobs for former public workers.
So, while the US descends into the irrationality of socialism, traditionally socialist countries like the UK and Cuba are both moving away from socialism towards freedom and respect for individual rights. This goes to show that in the end reality cannot be circumvented by wishing that things could be otherwise: there are economic facts that are immutable and no matter how “compassionate” one wants to be, only capitalism and a complete respect for individual rights can ever be viable as a socioeconomic model.
I want to point out that this means that we are winning. Slowly, but surely, we are turning the tide against irrationality and the world is moving towards capitalism and freedom. This is why we must continue to fight here in the US: in the end, good ideas will overcome the bad. Ideas move the world and if we can continue to influence the intellectual zeitgeist, we can move the world. So, let’s enjoy this small victory and head back into the fray energized that the world is changing and we are leaders in that change.