"Get all the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything." ~ Frank Dane
Authoritarianism Western Style
I like watching old westerns on Youtube like Have Gun Will Travel episodes, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, et al and recently I’ve been on running through Gunsmoke. I spent much of my youth with my grandfather who liked to watch them and I have fond memories of watching with him. I loved HGWT the best, because it shows people handling their differences privately without “the law” using natural law, negotiation, reason and a hired facilitator. Gunsmoke is the exact opposite, every conflict must be settled by “The Law” or, as the story goes, we’d all kill each other. This episode in Season 6 “Love Thy Neighbor” is a classic representation of the underlying propaganda that runs through most episodes with authoritarian “justice” being the precursor to civil society.
With many of the 1950s and 1960s western icons (Jack Elam, Warren Oates, Dean Stanton, et al) guest-starring in this episode, these poor, ignorant characters could have all been saved if only they had let Marshall Dillon take care of them. When the Marshall kills somebody, he “had to do it”, but when others use the same methods as he, then they are criminals because they don’t have a tin star on their chest. As a side note, it’s funny how Marshall Dillon is a stickler for the law with most people, but when he feels “The Law” needs to be ignored for his friends and those he sympathizes with, then it’s the right thing to do to “stretch the law” arbitrarily. Looking back at how I watched these shows as a kid and how easily I was brainwashed into accepting authoritarianism as the righteous alternative to liberty, I must laugh at myself while realizing how most people never even question how they became authoritarians.