But before establishing support for this answer, we must ask why this is an important question for libertarians. Campbell's scholarship, as exemplified in perhaps his most famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, proposed that the human psyche is the same everywhere in the world and for every time period because the myths of all cultures, as stories of heroes, have similar patterns (here he follows Jung-more about this later). According to Archer Taylor (1964), his scholarship on the hero's journey is very similar, yet more detailed, than others working on the same problem (p. 128). He even saw the entrepreneur as "the real hero" in capitalist society (see excerpt of interview at the end of the article). If Campbell's thinking, which is a result of studying many cultures, can be shown to support libertarian philosophy, it would greatly add to the cause of freedom and limited government around the world.
Before examining his views in relation to libertarian philosophy, a few comments on the nature of myths and mythology are necessary.
Campbell was not alone in his view that myths are reflections of the psyche. It is a standard belief that not only are myths symbolic representations of our psyches, but that the role of the hero in myth is universal and that myths help to instruct individuals in charting a course for their own lives. This assertion is based on the work of psychoanalysis. This is because in myths, according to Campbell (1968) "symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior" and that understanding the myth puts us in touch with "the deep forces that have shaped man's destiny and must continue to determine both our private and our public lives" (p. 255-6). Leeming (1973) shares this view (p. 9) along with, according to Barnaby and D'Acierno (1990), a large number of Jungian interpreters (p. 3). Jung (1951) himself said "Myths are original revelations of the pre-conscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious happenings..." (p. 101).
In addition to influencing film makers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Campbell was well respected. The psychologist James Hillman said "No one in our century, not Freud, not Thomas Mann, or Lévi-Strauss, has so brought the mythical sense of the world back into our everyday consciousness" (Cousineau, 1990, p. 178). Campbell's model of the hero's adventure is also quite similar to Leeming's (1973) and Mircea Eliade's (1990, p. 39). Segal (1990) shows that Campbell's hero is Jungian (p. 42) and similar to Erik Erickson's in that the hero's journey is a quest for personal identity (p. 34). Jung (1956) himself said that the hero archetype represents this need of the human psyche (p. 178). Eliot (1990) reports that, in fact, Jungian therapists use Campbell's work in guiding their patients' journey (p. 232). Even modern Freudians see myths as a useful tool (Segal, 1990, p. 44).
This is also an era in which mythology is being used to understand economics. Silver (1991) analyzes the ancient economy through mythology while Putka (1993) reports that business case studies are now being written which compare literary figures, including heroes, to business managers (p. A1). Even two business professors at Stanford University, Catford and Ray (1991), have written a popular book on mythology partly inspired by Campbell. So it is not surprising that Eliade (1990) wrote "The mythic imagination can hardly be said to have disappeared; it is still very much with us, having only adapted its workings to the material now at hand" (p. 42).
One question that arises in trying to promote heroism is the question of is the hero trying to do good work or trying to rise above and gain control over the rest of society. Our society has a tendency to think the latter. This may be due in part to the decline in reading mythological texts and other stories about cultural heroes in our educational system. If we could reverse this trend, we would no longer have to fear the hero (Silber, 1989, ch. 3, "Of Mermaids and Magnificence"). If heroes represent the elite, I think Campbell would have agreed with Silber. He said:
"Sport is really an elite experience. You can't have a game where everybody wins. But there's an awful lot of that kind of thinking in our sociological thinking now where nobody should be beating anybody else and let's fix it so he can't. Then you spend the rest of your life looking at a movie to see whether you can see a real elite performance. That's where life really is-in the upper brackets, not the lower ones" (Cousineau, 1991, p. 220).
David Justin Ross made a similar argument on the need for heroes in literature and how they teach values in his article "Boy's Fiction and the Dumbing of America" from the April 1993 issue of Liberty.
Given the importance of mythology and Campbell's contributions to the study of it, how do they relate to libertarianism? It may surprise many to learn that Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers "The state is a machine" in "The Message of the Myth," the second televised segment of the popular PBS series The Power of Myth. This condemns the state in Campbell's view because the machine can crush our humanity, a serious problem the entire world, including the United States, faces today. But this rejection of mechanized government is just one of several ways in which his ideas can be seen as supporting libertarian philosophy. The first is his support of individualism. The second is his support of the ideas of the founding fathers and limited government. The third is Campbell's surprisingly similarity to some ideas of the economist Milton Friedman, a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism. The fourth is an anti-Marxist sentiment. The fifth is the above mentioned view of the state as a machine. Each of these will be discussed in more detail below. Campbell's view of the mechanized state is discussed last.
To begin with the first category, individualism, Campbell (1988) said, while discussing the story of the Holy Grail, that "[E]ach of us is a completely unique creature and that if, we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience, not someone else's." That is, not the experience of some government bureaucrat that is imposed on us. It is hard to have your own experience if you are controlled by the state (p. 151). This great Western Truth (p. 151) is opposed to the Orient where "the individual is cookie-molded" (p. 151). He underscored this with:
"The best part (emphasis added) of the western tradition has included a recognition of and respect for the individual as a living entity. The function of the society is to cultivate the individual. It is not the function of the individual to support society" (p. 192)"
Furthermore, the troubadour courage to love that grew in the middle ages against the opposition to the church became the basis of individualism and validated individual experience as opposed to tradition (p. 187)
The second category is Campbell's support and approval of the Founding Fathers and their belief in limited government and individual reason. This is indicated in a number of ways. The first is that Campbell (1988) agrees that all men are capable of reason, thus knowing God:
"That is the fundamental principle of democracy. Because everybody's mind is capable of true knowledge, you don't have to have a special authority, or a special revelation telling you that this is the way things should be" (p. 25)
Although democracy is not necessarily synonymous with libertarianism, to Campbell, it meant the rejection of anyone being granted "special authority." This is certainly an ideal of libertarians, that no one has a monopoly on truth. The second is that Campbell felt we moved away from reason and the ideals of limited government found in the Declaration of Independence when we "rejoined the British conquest of the planet" (p. 28) in World War I. According to him America fell from the ideal, moral high ground of the pyramid (symbolized by the eye at the top of one on the back of the dollar bill) by breaking Washington's pledge in his farewell address to stay out of European affairs. The third is that in general, Campbell was very taken by the symbolism of the Founding Fathers. He felt that they had a great understanding of mythology, using this knowledge to create a new nation based on individual liberty and limited government (p. 25).
In the third category of his support for libertarian thinking, some of Campbell's views (or at least instincts) are similar to three ideas of Milton Friedman's. The first is that they both condemn "the man of system." Campbell states this clearly while speaking of the character Darth Vader from the Star Wars movie trilogy. He is critical of him being an "executive of a system" who has no humanity (see p. 10 for more details). Friedman (1978) writes about this. The man of system is a government planner, a bureaucrat who wishes to impose his own ideals on society (p. 18). In what way is Campbell similar? Although earlier it was noted that Campbell (1988) contrasted the West's individualism with the conformity of the East, he does mention what he thinks is a good Oriental idea: "You don't force your mission down people's throats" (p. 63). Also, "Instead of clearing his own heart, the zealot tries to clear the world" (Campbell, 1968, p. 16) Both Campbell and Friedman fear the planner who will force his system on the rest of us. Campbell's (1988) views on this are best expressed in his comments on Darth Vader, the evil dark lord of the Star Wars movie trilogy.
"Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He's a robot. He's a bureaucrat living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system so that you are not compulsively serving it? It doesn't help to try to change it to accord with your system of thought. The momentum of history behind it is too great for anything really significant to evolve from that kind of action" (p. 144)
This point will be addressed again in the section on the state as a machine. The second way in which Campbell and Friedman are similar is their view on the ultimate end or goal of life. Friedman (1962) objected to the old adage that "the end justifies the means." He felt it was better to state that "the ultimate end is the use of proper means" (p. 22). The appropriate means are "free discussion and voluntary co-operation" (p. 22). This is similar to not only Campbell's (1988) emphasis on democracy and individualism but also to one of his favorite quotes from Karlfried Graf Dürckheim: "The real end is the journey" (p. 230). That is, it is being able to go on your own journey that counts, not the destination. For both of them, life is living by the right process. For Campbell this is taking your own individual journey. This is not in conflict, and probably consistent with, Friedman's ideal of free discussion and voluntary cooperation.
The third way in which Friedman and Campbell are similar may be more instinctual, not always expressed-that is, a shared sense of ultimate reality. One of Friedman's (1984) books is called The Tyranny of the Status Quo. The title gives us an idea of his sensitivity to an issue deeper than just the left-right debate. Of the bureaucratic establishment's reaction to the Reagan administration's attempt to reduce taxes and regulations in its first few months in office Friedman says "The tyranny of the status quo asserted itself. Every special interest group that was threatened proceeded to mount a campaign to prevent its particular governmental sinecure from being eliminated" (p. 2). These feelings and actions show up in the following passage of Campbell (1968):
"... the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps" (p. 337).
Both Friedman and Campbell see the status quo as a monster that acts a tyrant over creative people.
The fourth category of Campbell's support for libertarianism, his anti-Marxist sentiment, is seen where he discusses Don Quixote. In Campbell (1988) Quixote had "saved the adventure for himself by inventing a magician who had just transformed the giants he had gone forth to encounter into windmills" (p. 130). Heroes used to live in a more spiritually alive world. Quixote used his imagination to make it more alive. Why is our world today not spiritually alive? Because the world
"... has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic (emphasis added) world, as interpreted through our physical sciences, Marxist sociology, and behavioristic psychology, that we're nothing but a predictable pattern of wires responding to stimuli. This nineteenth century interpretation has squeezed the freedom of the human will out of life" (p. 130-1).
Although not a new critique, it is a devastating condemnation of Marxist thinking from an individualistic perspective. When the state is a machine, the world is mechanistic, people are predictable, and central planning of economies is justified. Campbell opposes this, exalting the freedom of the human will over these machine views of man.
Campbell (1988) prefers, as in the Hindu idea of karma, that "you have no one to blame but yourself" (p. 161) for your problems. He also implies that Marx was wrong when he "tells us to blame the upper class of our society" (p. 161). Again, Campbell rejects Marxism and favors individualism.
The fifth category involves Campbell's view of the state as a machine. To him, this makes the state a monster, an instrument that imposes its will or system on individuals, crushing our humanity and creative spirit. Since the state is a machine, it is a kind of technology. The message Campbell (1988) saw from the movie Star Wars is an old but powerful one: "technology is not going to save us" (p. xiv). Luke Skywalker uses the Force (which, according to Campbell, symbolizes the human heart and intuition) instead of a computer to destroy the empire's dreaded death star, a machine that can itself destroy entire planets.
Earlier it was seen how Campbell viewed Darth Vader. He was an undeveloped human individual, a bureaucrat living in terms of an imposed system. Campbell further explains how this is significant with:
"The fact that the evil power is not identified with any specific nation on this earth means you've got an abstract power which represents a principle, not a specific historic nation. The story has to do with an operation of principles, not this nation against that. The monster masks that are put on people in Star Wars represent the real monster force in the modern world" (p. 144).
The significance of this passage is clear when linked with an earlier passage:
"Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that's what is threatening the world today" (p. 8).
So Campbell was concerned about the "monster state" in our modern world. Darth Vader served the monster state as a bureaucrat and as a result hid his human face behind a monster mask. This implies that a state that demands service from individuals not only turns them into monsters but is monstrous itself, although it is not clear how far Campbell would have gone in making this claim. This is why libertarians, as did Campbell, think that the state should do whatever it can to promote individuality and individual rights. The mechanistic, Marxist view Campbell spoke of in relation to Don Quixote is perhaps what has brought on this monster state. If human beings were "nothing but a predictable pattern of wires" then socialism and economic planning might make sense. But obviously it does not since socialism has failed. But here too, Campbell (1988) provides a useful interpretation. It is in relation to the Holy Grail:
"The theme of the Grail romance is that the land, the country, the whole territory of concern has been laid to waste. It is called a waste land. And what is the nature of the wasteland? It is a land where everyone is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing as you're told, with no courage for you own life. That is the wasteland. And that is what T. S. Eliot meant in his poem The Waste Land.
"In a wasteland the surface does not represent the actuality of what it is supposed to be representing, and people are living inauthentic lives. 'I've never done a thing I wanted to in all my life. I've done as I was told.' You know" (p. 196).
Bill Moyers then asked the question "And the Grail becomes?" Campbell answered with "The Grail becomes the-what can we call it-that which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. The Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness" (p 196-7). Unless you have a minimal state, individuals are not really living their own lives. Furthermore, Campbell says that "there are some societies that shouldn't exist" (p. 198). The societies that try to crush the individual spirit eventually "crack up" (p. 198). This explains the conditions in Eastern Europe today. The socialist systems blocked a re-circulation of spiritual energy by preventing people from walking their own paths. Any system that prevents energy flow from outside the status quo will collapse due to entropy. This is explained in what Campbell (1968) called the monomyth in (following James Joyce):
"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man"(p. 30).
Too much government control will create a wasteland.
This is all seen much more clearly in an exchange between Campbell and Moyers from the second televised segment of The Power of Myth called "The Message of the Myth."
Moyers: Do you see some of the new metaphors emerging in the modern medium for the old universal truths that you've talked about, the old story?
Campbell: Well, I think that the Star Wars is a valid mythological perspective for the problem of is the machine-and the state is a machine (emphasis added)-is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity? And humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart.
[As the unmasking of Darth Vader scene from the movie The Return of the Jedi is shown, Campbell continues:]
Campbell: The father (Darth Vader) had been playing one of these machine roles, a state role; he was the uniform, you know? And the removal of that mask-there was an undeveloped man there. He was kind of a worm by being the executive of a system. One is not developing one's humanity. I think George Lucas did a beautiful thing there.
Moyers: The idea of machine is the idea that we want the world to be made in our image and what we think the world ought to be.
[Campbell seemed to agree or at least offered no dissent to this statement of Moyers.]
Campbell put this in a slightly different way when he also discussed the movie Star Wars:
"Here the man (George Lucas) understands metaphor. What I saw was things that had been in my books but rendered in terms of the modern problem, which is man and machine. Is the machine going to be the servant of human life? Or is it going to be master and dictate? And the machine includes the totalitarian state, whether it is Fascist or Communist it's still the same state. And it includes things happening in this country too (emphasis added); the bureaucrat, the machine-man."
What a wonderful power the machine gives you-but is it going to dominate you? That's the problem of Goethe's Faust. It's in the last two acts of Faust, Part Two. His pact is with Mephistopheles, the man who can furnish you the means to do anything you want. He's the machine manufacturer. He can manufacture the bombs, but can he give you what the human spirit wants and needs? He can't.
This statement of what the need and want is must come from you, not from the machine, and not from the government that is teaching you (emphasis added) or not even from the clergy. It has to come from one's own inside, and the minute you let that drop and take what the dictation of the time is instead of your own eternity, you have capitulated to the devil. And you're in hell.
That's what I think George Lucas brought forward. I admire what he's done immensely, immensely. That young man opened a vista and knew how to follow it and it was totally fresh. It seems to me that he carried that thing through very, very well (Cousineau, 1990, p. 181-2).
Later, when asked if the state should redistribute income for a more equal distribution, Campbell further criticizes an excessive role for the state with:
"In an equitable distribution system you never level people up, you always level down. And civilization comes from what's on top. And it's one thing to be equitable and give everything away; it's another thing to be equitable and give away yourself. Then you really can't help anybody, can you? That's a little bit like the ego-self problem. In actual economic situations this is complicated by the specifics of the situation, and I can't talk about that" (Cousineau, 1990, p. 225).
Although he wisely avoids claiming any expertise in economics, his views support the notion that too much taking from the rich and giving to the poor by the government hurts incentives, which in the long run hurts everyone since total output falls. The poor do not become richer; the rich become poorer. But the idea of giving away yourself is consistent with what Campbell (1988) said:
"The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who's on top and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid one if it's alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself" (p. 149).
On often hears libertarians say "Utopia is not an alternative." I think that is what Campbell is saying here. The idea that an individual can revitalize society is found in the economic historian John Hughes's book The Vital Few: The Entrepreneur and American Economic Progress. He argued that individual entrepreneurs played a vital role in the development of the American Economy.
Finally, my own research, in a paper titled "The Creative-Destroyers: Are Entrepreneurs Mythological Heroes?" I find that the entrepreneur is a hero, verifying Campbell's assertion mentioned at the beginning of the paper (which he never tried to verify). I used Campbell (1968) for the comparison. The more entrepreneurship that is allowed, the more creativity and authentic lives there will be. Laissez-faire capitalism (i.e., a minimal role for the state) seems to allow for the greatest degree of entrepreneurship. In Briggs and Maher (1989), Campbell says:
"There's a kind of regular morphology and inevitable sequence of experiences if you start out to follow your adventure. I don't care whether it's in economics, in art, or just in play. There's the sense of the potential that opens out before you." (p. 25).
In Cousineau (1990), Campbell describes the profit in following your own adventure: "If you follow your bliss, doors will open up for you where they would not have opened up before. They will also open up for you where they would not have opened up for anyone else" (p. 214). This is ultimately the best life for an individual, no matter what the career path or time period.
Before closing, religion, a topic closely related to mythology, and an important one for libertarians, must be discussed. Campbell saw the two as closely related. This need not cause problems for libertarians, who, according to the 1988 poll conducted by Liberty, tend to be less religious than the rest of society. It was mentioned at the beginning of the paper that Campbell was a follower of Jung, who gave him (Campbell) "the best clues he's got" (Briggs and Maher, 1989, p. 123). Campbell (1986) agreed with Jung's view of religion, that its purpose was to keep you from God or a real spiritual experience (p. 121). If libertarians are less religious than others, perhaps this allows them a better chance for a real spiritual experience because they follow their own individual paths. In fact, as stated earlier, Jung said that the hero archetype represented this need of the psyche (which he called individuation). That is, you discover yourself by going on your own adventure. Jung (1964) too, was critical of the state. He saw our belief in the welfare state as childish (p. 85). According to Fordham (1964) he even thought that Western man's penchant for objective reality tended to rob the psyche of its value which leads to "the deification of such abstractions like the State" (p. 74). Szasz (1988), who gives Jung a mixed but generally favorable review, saw him (Jung), as being less authoritarian than others in his profession and a proponent of individualism who tried to help others "find their own faiths as befits intelligent adults in the twentieth century" (p. 163).
Campbell wrote very little on his preferences for the role of government outside what has been interpreted here. Segal (1990) says that he was politically conservative (p. 21). Perhaps this was true for the role of government in the economy. But given his strong support for individualism, his views would be the essence of libertarianism. He would not likely have approved much regulation of personal behavior. Of course, he seems to have never come out and said that he himself was a libertarian. It would be foolish to make him into something after his death. His views on the machine-like state and individualism could be interpreted as supporting the need for a welfare state that helps individuals against monopolistic capitalists. He was occasionally critical of business and money making. But he never said or wrote anything that indicated he supported socialism or the welfare state. His work and ideas do seem to support the values of individualism and limited government (see excerpt of interview at the end of the article). These, along with his antipathy for imposed systems, tyrannical status quos and Marxist thinking seem to accord with libertarian thinking.
Tape #1901: "Call of the Hero" with Joseph Campbell interviewed by Michael Toms
New Dimensions Foundation audio tape from a live interview on San Francisco's radio station KQED
The following exchange was part of a discussion the question of: What is creativity?
Toms: In a sense it's the going for, the jumping over the edge and moving into the adventure that really catalyzes the creativity, isn't it?
Campbell: I would say so, you don't have creativity otherwise.
Toms: Otherwise there's no fire, you're just following somebody else's rules.
Campbell: Well, my wife is a dancer. She has had dance companies for many, many years. I don't know whether I should talk about this. But when the young people are really adventuring, it's amazing what guts they have and what meager lives they can be living, and yet the richness of the action in the studio. Then, you are going to have a concert season. They all have to join a union. And as soon as they join a union, there character changes. (emphasis added, but Campbell changed the tone of his voice) There are rules of how many hours a day you can rehearse. There are certain rules of how many weeks of rehearsal you can have. They bring this down like a sledge hammer on the whole thing. There are two mentalities. There's the mentality of security, of money. And there's the mentality of open risk.
Toms: In other societies we can look and see that there are those that honor elders. In our society it seems much like the elders are part of the main stream and there is a continual kind of wanting to turn away from what the elders have to say, the way it is, the way to do it. The union example is a typical one, where the authority, institution, namely the union comes in and says this is the way it's done. And then one has to fall into line or one has to find something else to do.
Campbell: That's right.
Toms: And it's like treating this dichotomy between elders and the sons and daughters of the elders. How do you see that in relationship to other cultures?
Campbell: This comes to the conflict of the art, the creative art and economic security. I don't think I have seen it in other cultures. The artist doesn't have to buck against quite the odds that he has to buck against today.
Toms: The artist is honored in other cultures.
Campbell: He is honored and quickly honored. But you might hit it off, something that really strikes the need and requirements of the day. Then you've given your gift early. But basically it is a real risk. I think that is so in any adventure, even in business, the man who has the idea of a new kind of gift (this is exactly what George Gilder says in chapter three, "The Returns of Giving" in his book Wealth and Poverty) to society and he is willing to risk it. Then the workers come in and claim they are the ones that did it. Then he (the entrepreneur) can't afford to perform his performance. It's a grotesque conflict, I think between the security and the creativity ideas. The entrepreneur is a creator, he's running a risk.
Toms: Maybe in American capitalistic society the entrepreneur is the creative hero in some sense.
Campbell: Oh, I think he is, I mean the real one. Most people go into economic activities not for risk but for security. You see what I mean. And the elder psychology tends to take over.
This discussion ended and after a short break a new topic was discussed.
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