Monday, November 19, 2018

Guest Post: How Communism Almost Ruined The First Thanksgiving

The Plymouth Pilgrims progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism.

by Richard M. Ebeling

This time of the year, whether in good economic times or bad, Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together. It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving is also a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

Plymouth Colony Planned as Collectivist Utopia
thanksgiving table food turkeyIn the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked the land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

Collective Work Equaled Individual Resentment
As Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):

For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could husbands brook it.”
Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.

Private Property as Incentive to Industry
Realizing that another season like those that had just passed would mean the extinction of the entire community, the elders of the colony decided to try something radically different: the introduction of private property rights and the right of the individual families to keep the fruits of their own labor.

As Governor Bradford put it:
And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end . . . This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
The Plymouth Colony experienced a great bounty of food. Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but also they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement.

In Governor Bradford’s words:
By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

Rejecting Collectivism for Individualism
Hard experience taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. As Governor Bradford expressed it:
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; -- that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”
Was this realization that communism was incompatible with human nature and the prosperity of humanity to be despaired or be a cause for guilt? Not in Governor Bradford’s eyes. It was simply a matter of accepting that altruism and collectivism were inconsistent with the nature of man and that human institutions should reflect the reality of man’s nature if he is to prosper. Said Governor Bradford:
Let none object this is man’s corruption, and nothing to the curse itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them."
The desire to “spread the wealth” and for government to plan and regulate people’s lives is as old as the utopian fantasy in Plato’s Republic. The Pilgrim Fathers tried and soon realized its bankruptcy and failure as a way for men to live together in society.

They, instead, accepted man as he is: hardworking, productive, and innovative when allowed the liberty to follow his own interests in improving his own circumstances and that of his family. And even more, out of his industry result the quantities of useful goods that enable men to trade to their mutual benefit.

Giving Thanks for the Triumph of Freedom
Thanksgiving traditionsIn the wilderness of the New World, the Plymouth Pilgrims progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism. At a time of economic uncertainty and growing political paternalism, it is worthwhile recalling this beginning of the American experiment and experience with economic freedom.

This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. This year, when we, Americans sit around our dining table with family and friends, we should also remember that what we are really celebrating is the birth of free men and free enterprise in that New World of America.

The true meaning of Thanksgiving, in other words, is the triumph of Capitalism over the failure of Collectivism in all its forms.

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

From the Archives: Filmmaker Stanley Nelson on ‘Freedom Riders,’ the news media, and civil rights

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson on ‘Freedom Riders,’ the news media, and civil rights
November 18, 2010 1:11 PM MST

"What the civil rights movement did,” reflected documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, was to force people “to make a choice. You couldn’t ignore it anymore. It was stuff that was on the front page, it was in your face, you had to choose: which way are you going?”

Nelson, whose new film, Freedom Riders, was screened at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville on November 5, made his comments in a panel discussion following the screening.

Other participants in the discussion were civil-rights activists Dion Diamond, Reginald Green, and Joan Mulholland, who were among the original “freedom riders” of 1961. The panel was moderated by Larry Sabato of the UVA Center for Politics.

Effective engagement of the news media

In response to a question from Sabato, Nelson pointed out how the civil rights movement’s strategy of engaging the news media was slow in emerging but eventually “incredibly effective.”

American Experience Freedom Riders Stanley NelsonDuring the 1961 freedom rides, he said, “the media’s role really changed.”

When the freedom rides started in May of that year, “there was no media coverage except the black press,” such as the Washington/Baltimore Afro-American and Johnson Publications (Ebony and Jet), which each had a “representative on the ride.”

The rest of the news media, however, “totally ignored the rides and there was no media coverage at all,” Nelson said, which caused difficulty for him and his team of filmmakers, because there was a dearth of archival material from the early part of the freedom ride phenomenon.

What changed “by the end of the freedom rides,” he explained, was that there were “400 people coming in [and] that was a huge news story, so you had the nightly news and you have all the print journalists and camera people there.”

By mid-summer, the news media was reacting to the civil rights movement’s strategy “to hold the front page” for at least five days at a time, to keep people’s attention on the issue so that it became “impossible to ignore.”

Making a choice

In researching the freedom rides, Nelson explained, “one of the fascinating things that we found making the film was that” in the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi), “there was a very small percentage of people of white people who supported integration -- a tiny percentage [of] 1, 2, 3 percent.”

At the other extreme,he said, “there was another small percentage of people who were violent racists, maybe 10 [or] 15 percent.”

That meant, he explained, that “the rest of the people, 80-85 percent, just were able to kind of go on, and ignore what was going on” – hence his remark that the civil rights movement, in general, and the freedom rides, in particular, forced people to make a choice about which way to go.

How ‘Freedom Riders’ became a film

After the panel ended, Nelson told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner that the Freedom Riders project came to him while he “was working on a film for American Experience called Wounded Knee.”

Stanley Nelson Virginia Film Festival civil rights movement
The producers “called and said that they had purchased this book, Freedom Riders by Ray Arsenault, and would I take a look at it [because] they’re thinking of making it into a film.”

Nelson “said yes without even getting the book,” because he “knew a little bit about the story and realized it would be great, so that’s how that happened.”

Making the film took about 18 months from start to finish, Nelson explained. It will be broadcast on PBS as part of the American Experience series in May 2011, “which is the 50th anniversary of the freedom rides.”

Currently, Nelson is showing Freedom Riders at film festivals and also at schools, including a screening at Charlottesville High School earlier this month. In addition, some college students will be recreating the freedom rides next year as part of a fiftieth anniversary commemoration that will also promote the film.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on November 18, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

2018 Virginia Film Festival: Ben Mankiewicz Discusses Horror Classics

Ben Mankiewicz TCM Virginia Film Festival
Ben Mankiewicz at 2018 Virginia Film Festival
Ben Mankiewicz is a journalist and film historian who is best known as a host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), where he introduces movies, offering tidbits on how they were made or how they were received by critics and audiences, and what influences they may have had on producers, directors, and screenwriters.

Mankiewicz has been a frequent guest presenter at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. In 2011, for instance, he introduced the 1973 Terrence Malick film, Badlands, and moderated a discussion with actress Sissy Spacek and designer Jack Fisk. This year, he will be interviewing Peter Bogdanovich (via Skype) about the “new” Orson Welles film, The Other Side of the Wind, and he has introduced two classic horror films.

Movies are in Ben Mankiewicz's blood: He is the cousin of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (credits include Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and TV's Hart to Hart), grandson of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, The Pride of the Yankees, among many other credits), and great-nephew of screenwriter, producer, and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (inter alia, All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Julius Caesar).

I spoke with Mankiewicz on November 3 after a screening of George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead at the Violet Crown cinema on Charlottesville's downtown mall.  This transcribed interview has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.

RS: Last night you introduced Bride of Frankenstein; tonight you introduced Night of the Living Dead, separated by about 30 years. What were their impacts on film making? They obviously are iconic films.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important horror films ever made. Bride of Frankenstein, I think, is one of the best, certainly from different eras. Night of the Living Dead was made during the era, 1967 to 1976, when independent, auteur filmmaking in America was taking over -- really the ten best years of American film making. It was, and then Night of the Living Dead is a good example of that.

Bride of Frankenstein is studio film making at its finest, so they came from completely different systems. Bride of Frankenstein is not as influential as Frankenstein, because it came first, although it’s probably a better film.

It seemed to be a better film to me, watching it last night. What animated George Romero in making this film? Obviously, he had a very low budget, was working largely with what looked like amateur actors, people from community theater…

A lot of just townspeople obviously playing the zombies.

How did he put it all together? Did he know he was creating a genre?

No, no. He certainly didn’t. I mean, he had an interest, there was already zombie culture that was already a thing but he sort of figured out how they looked, how they moved, how they walked (at least on screen). [He worked] creatively with writer John Russo, who he co-wrote it with. They just set the template because there was no rule, right? You can have them do anything. And so all the things we now know, like shooting a zombie in the head, or burn them [Romero invented], because he had the news man explain it.

If I’m not mistaken, the news man [played by Charles Craig], he wrote his own stuff. That’s why it sounds so authentic. He was a real news man, if I remember correctly. But that’s certainly the way it sounds to me. Romero was like, 'Look, here’s the information I want conveyed, now you frame that and say it like it was a real news story.'

Now obviously Romero went on to make several sequels but the actors in the film, I don’t think I’ve seen any of them anywhere again.

They acted a little bit. [Leading man] Duane Jones acted a little bit. He always thought that people would identify him as Ben throughout his career. Some others worked but no, nobody went on to win an Oscar.

That’s true. Well, Ben Mankiewicz, thanks for coming to the Virginia Film Festival. I appreciate your taking time to talk to me.

Oh, I love Charlottesville, I love coming. My pleasure.

The complete audio interview with Ben Mankiewicz will be available for listening on The Score from Bearing Drift, a weekly podcast, on November 10.