Ken Masugi- Columnist
Ken Masugi is the Director of the Claremont Institute's Center
for Local Government.
Its purpose is to apply the principles of the American Founding
to the theory and practice of local government, the cradle
of American self-government. Dr. Masugi has extensive experience
in government and academia. Following his initial appointment
at the Claremont Institute (1982-86), he was a special assistant
to then-Chairman Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission. After his years in Washington, he
held visiting university appointments including Olin Distinguished
Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Masugi
is co-author with Brian Janiskee of both The
California Republic: Institutions, Statesmanship, and Policies (Rowman & Littlefield,
2004) and Democracy
in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (Rowman & Littlefield,
2002). He is co-editor of six books on political thought,
Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism with
Branford P. Wilson, (Ashbrook Series, 1997); The
Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment with William Rusher,
(University Press, 1995); The
American Founding with J. Jackson Barlow
and Leonard W. Levy, (Greenwood Press, 1988). He is the editor
Tocqueville's Democracy in America, (Rowman & Littlefield,
to Masugi index]
Review - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the
[Ken Masugi] 12/12/03
and Commander: The Far Side of the World
(20th Century Fox/Miramax/Universal), 139 minutes, PG-13
Directed by Peter Weir.
Written by Peter Weir and John Collee, based on the novels of
Russell Crowe: Captain Jack Aubrey
Paul Bettany: Dr. Stephen Maturin
Max Pirkis: Lord Blakeney
Billy Boyd: Barrett Bonden
Peter Weir's Master and Commander, based on the Patrick
O'Brian novels, is a wonderful return to the world of 18th-century
naval warfare, especially the tactics. Single-shot cannon, muskets,
cutlasses, and considerable ingenuity guide Captain Jack Aubrey
(Russell Crow) to victory. His ship is the HMS Surprise ("28
guns, 197 souls"). His men trust him like a god—he
can preach, exhort, condemn to death. The ship is his kingdom.
And he drives his men to superhuman achievements, against their
own doubts. He has mastery of all science, religion, and politics.
But is the captain driven more by pride than duty? Is this the
ship on which Jonah attempted to escape God? Is he an Ahab? After
all, when we see the captain in his cups, we are not impressed.
Surprise is engaged in Britain's war against Napoleon,
who threatens the entire civilized world. "Do you want your
children to sing the Marseillaise!?" Captain Jack roars
to his men. They pursue their French prey in the southern Atlantic
and then the Pacific, far away from the main front.
Aubrey's kingdom requires mastery of nature. Raging storms,
treacherous currents, dead calm all threaten his suzerainty.
His specific opponent is a seemingly mysterious French warship,
a technological marvel that twice gets advantage of his Surprise. Captain Jack does get knowledge of the American-made vessel's
vulnerabilities. But this chance knowledge is not what will
lead him to triumph.
The key lies rather
in his friend Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. They play
Mozart and Bach on violin and cello
(Crowe has a face that can play a gladiator or a nerdish professor.)
The captain can speak with this naturalist as a friend—something
impossible with any other member of the crew. He will put his
friend in his place when the ship's fate is at stake.
will guide the way to victory. Some 40 years before Darwin, the
Surprise makes port in the Galapagos, but it must
depart before valuable animal specimens can be put aboard. Seizing
on a chance remark about a specimen insect the doctor recovers,
the captain devises a victorious strategy. Locke's student will
outwit Rousseau's. But each captain has learned his nation's
philosopher's lessons well.
We are looking upon a dead era and
the emerging knowledge that will favor technological wizardry.
Those old virtues will remain
essential of course, but today a one-armed man (or woman) can
be the master. The naturalist will evolve into the true commander
of nature. Technological advance will determine who survives.
Yet we still need prudent commanders who know how to use that
knowledge. After all, knowledge crosses borders and can be
applied by clever imitators. Moreover, the ideology of Darwinism
guide the rise of the worst tyrannies of the history of the
world. It remains alive in myriad forms today.
Master and Commander comes
across as an enjoyable movie about courage and above all the
classical virtue of prudence.
That it is. Beyond that, we see how those virtues enable us
to rediscover the meaning of nature and the unending need to
her. We are led to rediscover ancient virtue's way into philosophy.
[This article orginally appeared at Claremont