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Class Conflict and The Last Jedi

January 5, 2018 in Economics

By Matthew McCaffrey


By: Matthew McCaffrey

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now the only topic more controversial than Trump, and certainly the only one causing a larger number of pointless debates. Given this dubious distinction, it’s fitting that The Intercept’s Kate Aronoff has brought the two issues together in a recent commentary on the film. Intercept writers tend to be strong on topics like war and government surveillance, but weak on economics, and Aronoff’s article, which combines both of these, is a predictably mixed bag. Yet she does raise an important point: in The Last Jedi, the Star Wars franchise has abandoned its abstract good-versus-evil narrative and taken a more specific political stand in an ongoing class conflict.

A lot of The Last Jedi revolves around the question of whether the Jedi order as such was really as good and as valuable as the legends about it have led people to believe. Luke Skywalker firmly denies that it was. Aronoff rightly sees this criticism, and the film in general, as a “rebuke of elite politics and the rule of experts, whether they wield spreadsheets or light sabers,” and also as an effective dismissal of “the prequels’ eugenicist argument that access to the force is genetic destiny.”

So far, so good. The trouble though is that Aronoff mainly views the class conflict in The Last Jedi in overly-simplistic terms as a struggle between the proletariat and the “one percenters,” or as she indicates, between the philosophies of the Obama and Trump administrations, respectively.

This kind of approach to class struggle is based on a somewhat vulgar interpretation of Marx that divides society into the broader groups of rich and poor. Yet this common understanding of class overlooks some vital questions about the foundations of conflict, for example, issues like how the rich got rich and exactly how the exploiters are able to take advantage of the rest of society with impunity. On these issues, the populist view has little insight to offer. Fortunately, there is another, older tradition that does provide some answers: the classical liberal view of exploitation.

This theory, which Marx and his followers later adapted to serve their own needs, originated in the works of the 19th-century French liberals. The liberals viewed political power and its privileges as the main sources of class distinctions. Society can be divided between the productive class and the political class: the former creates wealth …read more


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