Austrian School Film Theory


I think that it’s quite obvious that libertarianism is much more of a worldview now than anything else. Long gone are the days when libertarianism and its good friend the Austrian School were known as simple and respective political and economic philosophies. As of today, Austro-libertarianism digs so incredibly deep in various matters of sociology and the everyday life of its proponents that early thinkers like Menger and Bohm-Bawerk would be astounded if exposed to the product of its evolution.

Not too many people however hold something like the Austrian School, an economic social science, to be related to a prominent branch of human art such as film. Indeed, the Austrian School may actually represent the driving force behind movies. I am under the impression that both praxeology and Austrian spontaneous order theory are what can be used to pull a viewer into the picture, not through the economic actions of the characters of course, but by applying these theories to the characteristics of the characters themselves.

In every non-avant garde picture that has ever been made, the characters of the film have always shaped the storyline with praxeological action. Absolutely everything that the character does must always be done with meaning, meaning that will make the viewer learn about the nature of the character, meaning that will shape the character’s own experiences throughout the film. Marxist theory states that instead of focusing on the individual and this individual’s actions, that the focus should instead align with the group, the masses, and their actions.

In the way of telling an actual story, the Marxist view does indeed drive the story through. However, in the end, it is impossible for an audience to truly connect to the masses. Feeling can indeed come from them, but only as one ginormous “sound,” with bland overtones censoring any deepness that an individual member of the group may have. This is why the filmmaker is not capable of giving a “connecting soul” to the masses, the connecting soul being a personality entirely unique which drives each unique action. Therefore, Marxist theory plays out as much more of a melodramatic picture slide-show, something that attempts to apply feeling and soul to a group of marching ants, who’s basic common action is something that is only able to represent an event, rather than an event with true depth. This completely disregards the fact that the unique actions of a unique personality is what creates the platform for the spontaneous order of the picture, the story. Spontaneous order is what attracts a viewer, chaos and seemingly meaningless action yet underlying purposeful action which drags the viewer in and latches them on when the purposeful meaning behind the actions of the characters reveals itself.

Hopefully now I have documented how the principles of the free-market that the Austrian School teaches can apply to film, and have been applying to film for the period of it’s entire history. Without these principles, the characters found in movies would be there to serve only one purpose – to display an event with absolutely no depth. I think it’s important to recognize this and perhaps appreciate the Austrian principles for a little more than just “economic interactions.” (As if we weren’t already appreciating it for more than that.)

Written by John Houston (skepticalmetal)


4 thoughts on “Austrian School Film Theory

  1. Marko 11/29/2012 at 22:59 Reply

    OK, so there is such a thing as Marxist Film Theory and it does prescribe focusing on the masses. I didn’t know that, but I checked and it is true.

    I don’t see, however, that it follows from there that any movie that eschews doing that therefore, knowingly or unknowingly, has the Austrian School behind it as its driving force.

    The Socialist Realism movement in literature also puts an individual into the foreground, albeit one descendent from, representative of, and fighting for, the masses. So would we then have to conclude Socrealism too has the Austrian School of Economics behind it as its driving force? I don’t think so.

  2. skepticalmetal 11/30/2012 at 00:06 Reply

    I see your point, however what you are describing is simply the backstory of the film. In this article, I was attempting to say that regardless of whatever the film is promoting, whether it be Marxism, humanism, or whatever, that it has to have what I believe to be the film equivalent to praxeology and spontaneous order. Why? Because I believe that in order for a film to truly have a connecting value to it and not play out like a melodramatic documentation of an event, the film must display individuals acting with purposeful action throughout it’s content, and the film must begin in a way that it seemingly disoriented but soon develops an order to it that appears natural to the audience. Just as Marxism attempted to connect the Marxist worldview to “how a film works,” I attempted to connect the Austro-libertarian worldview to the way I believe a film works. For example, I believe that Marxist filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard are wonderful filmmakers, but as SoNowThen pointed out, they themselves had to get past their silly biases and follow the way they knew films worked (the way I pointed out) because they are, indeed, good filmmakers. That’s the theory.

  3. Neodoxy 12/01/2012 at 02:09 Reply

    I think that there’s a lot which can be said on this topic and a lot of work that can be done in order to begin to create a real theory of Praxeological/Austrian film. With this said I think that what you have presented here, while being interesting, does not develop such a theory very thoroughly, nor does it succeed in providing what is (in my view) a suitably harsh critique of Marxist film theory. All forms of Marxist work ultimately fail in achieving their goals since they can only work through acting individuals.
    However, it is important to note that something which Marxists can do through film and other forms of “fictional” work is to attempt to depict a conflict of forces. You can depict (and the audience can envision) the conflict between two forces opposing forces; in this case the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. You are right to criticize attempts at trying to depict action through masses, but an individual, or many individuals, can represent a force and therefore a class.
    An Austrian theory of film, which I hope that you work more on, would be excessively individualistic. It would contrast itself with traditional forms of film by expressing the multitude of desires, worldviews, and circumstances which people have. It would represent an individualistic, dynamic, and complex world. The methods through which this would be done are not entirely straightforward. What you have done here is to point out the basics of an Austrian take, and provide a basic critique of the Marxist take. I think it would be interesting and valuable if you took a deeper look into both of these things.

  4. skepticalmetal 12/01/2012 at 02:16 Reply

    Thank you for the honest criticism, Neodoxy. My attempt here wasn’t really to blow Marxist film theory out of the water by attacking everything, but give my general theory on how films work through a display of praxeological action from individuals, not groups, contrary to the Marxist theory. As I said to Marko, there have been some brilliant filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard who have identified as Marxist, but have disregarded that specific film theory which is what makes them good filmmakers (they concentrate on the individual and that individual’s action, and start the story through disorientation, the seeming chaos, and then fold it all up in order to make sense, in the same way of spontaneous order.) This is simply what I was attempting to describe. Obviously you can expand on it, as you said. Perhaps you and I should write a full-blown essay describing the theory.

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