Rulers and the Ruled in V for Vendetta

December 1, 2011

Political Theory


“Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder, treason, and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”
— Quote in V for Vendetta, refers to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to kill King James I 

First, I would like to say that this blog post contains potential spoilers from the movie. I watched the movie and thought that there are a lot of ideas from this class that could be applied to this movie. I will first examine the government and then V from the movie and their part in what we’ve discussed over the semester. 

In the movie, the government had a detention center where they experimented on the detainees to develop a virus. A specific political party (the Norsefire party) was secretly behind all of this, and they unleashed the virus on the public and used their fear to gain votes and therefore control of England. Once they had power, they turned England into a totalitarian state. They then administered a cure for the virus with the public having no idea that they had orchestrated the whole thing. 

The government’s actions can be applied to all of the social contract theorists that we’ve been over in one way or another, but has many ties to Hobbes. They gained control of England in a manner that immediately brings Hobbes to my mind. When the public was fearful of terrorist attacks, they turned to the Norsefire party and consented to be governed by them and give up many liberties for protection from further terrorist attacks. There was also fear of death by the government if the citizens didn’t comply with their laws. Hobbes says that actions done out of fear are still considered to be free choices, and therefore the people of England freely gave the Norsefire party power. Then after terrorism is no longer a threat they fall into more of a tacit consent with the government. They see on television how bad things are in other places (though the media is controlled by the government and are mostly lies) and they passively consent to be governed by not leaving England. 

Meanwhile, there is V. V is a well read and poetic protagonist who conceals his face behind a Guy Fawkes mask. He is opposed to the government who held him in the detention center to be experimented on to make the virus. He knows how they gained power and seeks to bring them down. He sets out to kill the people who had something to do with his imprisonment and experimentation. As far as social contracts go, V kind of follows Rousseau. Though he is acting in part for personal reasons, he is doing so to also make England a better place. He also addresses the public and tells them to defy their government for the good of the people. 

Also, V is a Machiavellian character, because in his actions the end justifies the means (the “means” are killing the officials of the government and those who experimented on him and the “end” is the end to a totalitarian government). He kills those who wronged him personally, but also because it will change England for the better. In his own words, “violence can be used for good.” The Machiavellian nature of his character breeds a dirty hands problem. In V’s case, he killed for the good of his country. In comparison, the Norsefire party’s history is not a dirty hands problem because they acted out of their best interest at the cost of the country. The distinction is that V’s actions are morally wrong but are for the greater good of his country, and the Norsefire party’s actions were for their own personal gain.

In wrapping up, this movie just made me think a lot about what we’ve discussed in this class. The role of V sort of calls to mind the ideas of Machiavelli. There was a blog post earlier about Dexter and how the viewer is on his side regardless of him killing people. This is along the same lines, and it’s always an interesting thing to think about. Also, the idea of a totalitarian government made me think of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau and the ways that people are governed and consent to be governed.

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