In his excellent review of the new film Away We Go, critic R. J. MacReady extensively outlines the ideas and attitudes conveyed by the film, which seems on the surface to be quite light and appealingly "quirky," as the modern critical praiseword has it.
MacReady is spot-on in intuiting that there is something going on in Away We Go that’s more than just a fond, heartwarming look at two people trying to find their way in a cold and indifferent world. There is. Throughout his critique, MacReady captures the little secret behind some of these seemingly raffish, charming, shaggy-dog tales. They have a message, and it is a toxic one.
To wit, they express the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which, with Marxism, is the foundation for the modern, statist perversion of liberalism.
Rousseau’s fundamental idea is that humans are born good and are subsequently corrupted by society. (A common expression of an aspect of this philosophy is the idea of the "noble savage," as is the contemporary illusion that primitive tribes are actually better than corrupt modern societies.)
Here’s a quote from his 1754 Discourse on Philosophy that summarizes Rousseau’s primary notion:
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
This notion, which contradicts both Christianity and scientific observation, was the foundation for Romanticism in the 19th century and of the twentieth century modern-liberal notion of universal self-fulfillment, an obvious impossibility.
(As it happens, Rousseauism, like Marxism, is a perversion of statements made by Christ and the Apostles in the Bible. In their materialistic perversion of Scripture, we are to impose on all of the world what Christ and his disciples said we would all voluntarily do if we truly loved God and our neighbors more than ourselves.)
Several observations in MacReady’s review indicate this philosophy as a foundation of Away We Go:
We’re lead to believe they will be good and rational because they’re the goodest and rationalest of the bunch, not because their actions give us any reassurances.
That’s the modern elite notion that real self-fulfillment can only be manifested in, selfish, antisocial behavior bexause society is corrupt and corrupting. Thus the couple’s "wisdom" is made evident by the intensity of their selfish and eccentric pursuit of self-fulfillment.
it was also our last chance for these characters to learn that parenting is not all about them.
They make the choices they do because in fact everything is all about them, and we are supposed to see that as good.
The fact that the writers answer his fears (and the audience’s) with the couple essentially saying to each other ‘we can do this on our own’ instead of acknowledging that some things may be harder than they realize seems like anti-development to me.
This is obvious Rousseauian thinking. Throughout the film the couple at the center have been trying to have things both ways: to get the benefits of modern society while living as Noble Savages who are not corrupted by society. This is the great quest of what in the past century was called liberalism and is now called progressivism.
And this ideal of having the benefits of civilzation without being corrupted by it–to be in civilization but ot of it, in another perversion of Christian thinking–is of course impossible. For someone must make the personal sacrifices to produce the quirky things these quirky people quirkily consume, to keep them alive and healthy to quirkily pursue their quirky whims, and to keep them safe from other quirky people whose quirky desires happen to involve inflicting suffering and even death on others.
Finally, McReady notes that the film’s use of marriage as a theme "makes it seem like [the filmmakers] are trying to tell us something."
He’s right. They are.
—S. T. Karnick
Thanks for your comment, Peter. I clearly stated that the noble savage is not an image taken directly from Rousseau: “A common expression of an aspect of this philosophy is the idea of the ‘noble savage’.”
Your defense of Rousseau’s philosophy as Christian is equally inaccurate. Christian doctrine holds that we inherently know what is good but we freely choose evil. That does not accord at all with Rousseau’s philosophy, which posits people as being moral by nature but corrupted by others. Hobbes’ philosophy, by contrast, does accord with the concept of original sin.
You don’t really ‘get’ philosophy, do you? The idea of the noble savage is a corruption of Rousseau’s philosophy by the uninformed. In fact, Rousseau is perhaps the most Christian of the early modern philosophical big three, as he posited a natural morality inherent within man – in opposition to Hobbes and in accordance with Christian thinking. Not that what we do is inherently good, but we inherently know what is good and what is bad. It is not society that corrupts in Rousseau’s thinking; rather, it is civil society which can encourage and develop natural morality into a modern conception of ‘good’. Perhaps you should read his work before bastardizing it.
Good question, Patrick. Rousseau’s thinking, like Marxism, is a perversion of Christian notions about what would constitute a perfect world, which Christian doctrine says will be created by God at some future time, not by men. The attempt to create such a place in this decidedly imperfect world has resulted in untold misery and the murders of millions of people. Obviously that is a toxic philosophy, unless you are for mass murder, endemic starvation, etc.
So whats christianity have to do with it? Christianity is much more often a cover for toxic philosophy than ‘quirky films’.
Great point about Mendes, Fred. He’s awful, in my view. I absolutely hated American Beauty, specifically because of its Rousseauian character.
I think that Lord of the Flies was written precisely as a rebuke of Rousseau, as you suggest. Great book. South Park is good, too, in showing the corruptness of humans right from birth.
The fact that it was directed by Sam “American Beauty” Mendes should be an immediate red flag that the film will have an (objectionable) agenda. I think Lord Of The Flies is a perfect rebuke to the whole nonsense of Rousseauism. Or. even better, South Park.
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