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les miserables

…How Les Miserables is the celebration of conservative principles

As expected, the epic screen adaptation of Les Miserables has taken the world by storm and is worthy of all Oscar accolades.

Unlike the stage production – as good as it is – this film soars to new levels matched only by the grandeur of the musical score. But despite the genius casting, the masterpiece music, and the brilliant cinematography, at the heart of the film is a testament to the human spirit and its ability, under the right conditions, to overcome adversity and rise to new heights.

For over 150 years philosophers and literary experts have attempted to decode the meaning behind Victor Hugo’s narrative of Jean Valjean. Was the 1862 original classic a condemnation of the social injustices of the industrial revolution? Was it a scathing rebuke of idealistic revolutionaries? While this debate still lingers, there is little ambiguity regarding the character of Jean Valjean – the tale’s protagonist.

Valjean is the embodiment of individual responsibility and personal freedom–which carries him from defeatism to victory. For this reason, Jean Valjean is the anecdotal rebuttal to every liberal argument made for big government.

Right from the onset, Jean Valjean, recently released from prison, scours the countryside for a job, a piece of bread, someone to take compassion on him. While the 21st century Valjean most likely would have made a beeline straight for his local welfare office for government assistance, the 19th century Valjean seeks refuge in a church parish. Even in the days before the cable news outlets made a sport of mocking and marginalizing the Christian faith, it was the church that extended charity to societal castoffs.

Up until the mid-1960’s, when the government inserted itself into the remaking of the “Great Society,” charity typically came from individuals, churches, and private non-profits, not through coerced government-funded programs which laid the foundation for a welfare state.

Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the film is when the bishop offers forgiveness to the wayward Valjean, hands him the silver candlesticks and challenges him to “become an honest man.” Here we see into Hugo’s enlightenment roots as he elevates the power of the individual above his lowly stature. The bishop, requiring nothing in return – no servitude, no payback, not even a thank you – demonstrates a rare confidence in Valjean’s ability to change his station in life and lift himself out of poverty.

The bishop offers Valjean a hand-up but, unlike today’s entitlement programs, Valjean is expected to do his part in restoring his own dignity. What a lesson to the leaders of our day! When is the last time our president looked at American citizens and encouraged honesty, integrity, hard work, and a promise of upward mobility?

Instead we hear excuses, class warfare, victimization, put-downs and chastisement of the corporate heavy hitters. POTUS could have channeled a bit of the bishop during his recent State of the Union speech, but instead he leaned on the tired class warfare storyline that’s become his meme.

Through the bishops charity, Valjean becomes a self-made capitalist whose fair business practices initiated a renaissance in the small coastal town of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Hugo’s classic tale details the impact that Valjean’s success has on this small town, transforming it from an impoverished coastal village to a thriving mini-metropolis. Valjean becomes the paragon of unforced charity, building schools and hospitals for the working class and using his power and money for good. He is the quintessential capitalist turned philanthropist.

Sadly, were Jean Valjean alive today, he would be attacked by our President and the Occupy Wall Street crowd as the evil one percent. They would rally against him accusing Valjean of building his business on the backs of his laborers and earning more than his fair share. The government would disregard his charitable giving and instead decry him as selfish and unjustifiably rich. The president would deny that Valjean built his factory and instead credit someone else for building it.

Then the president would rally his union cohorts to protest outside Valjean’s house harassing him until he agrees to unionize his workforce. And if that didn’t work, the government would tax and regulate Valjean’s factory out of business. Fortunately for Valjean, he lived during the era of the July Monarchy, and not under the tyranny of the Obama administration.

The beauty of Les Miserables is its interweaving of personal struggles and triumphs undergirded by both faith in the mercy of God and in the charity of mankind.

The leaders of our day would do well to look toward Jean Valjean as a citizen who, though born into hardship, managed through the charitable acts of his fellow man as well as personal fortitude, to pull himself out of his circumstances and raise his station in life. Valjean then goes on to thrive as a small business owner, providing goods and services, running a reputable business and giving back to the community as a responsible citizen.

How tragic that in today’s 21st century America, we must look back to the oppressive French monarchy for a glimpse of the power of personal responsibility and individual liberty.

 

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  • bub23

    The lesson in Genesis of Cain and Able is that God did not judge them on the value of the sacrifice offered but what was in their hearts when they offered the sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, Able’s was accepted. Forced charity (government welfare) is NOT the same as charity offered by the heart of someone who does not judge or expect anything in return. Grover Cleveland vetoed $10,000 government charity to the drought devastated farmers in Texas saying that it was not in the Constitution for the government to take from the taxpayers to give to certain taxpayers having a hard time. He also pointed out that if the government steps in, then it takes away the opportunity for fellow citizens to offer their charity freely. It turned out that the freely given charity ballooned to $100,000. Jean Valjean was the recipient of mercy and grace and he reciprocated. He died in peace.

  • ChillaKilla

    You forgot the one essential word in the title of the artlicle: The movie is above all a celebration of true CATHOLIC conservative values!!

    After his release from unjust captivity by a man obsessed with conforming with “the letter of the law” [clearly mirroring the legalistic 'if it's not in the bible... it's not acceptable' tradition followed by protestants], Valjean is given shelter by a kindly priest who LIVES the words of the Gospel. Still Valjean having suffered ignominious injustice and deprivation is intent on getting even with the world. He is not convinced goodness exists even though he has witnessed it on the humble bishop, and to that effect he decides to steal some of the treasures he finds inside the church.
    When Valjean is found by the soldiers with the silver candlesticks in his possession, he is taken to the parish to have the priest accuse him of robbery and thereby be sent back to captivity once he is condemned. The priest, however, rather than condemn him, ABSOLVES Valjean’s theft/sin by telling the guards he gifted the treasure to Valjean, and later advising the thief to use the wealth he might get from them to become a decent man. This he indeed does by transforming a small decaying town into a productive place.
    Many other details in the movie also witness to Christian/Catholic theology in action, pointing to the fact that even during the time of the ‘ rationalist enlightment’
    Catholic conservative principles inspired French writers, like Victor Hugo, to produce a clearly religiously didactic masterpiece that has transcended time.

  • Susan

    Welfare Systems destroy the concept of “charity” in people. That “charity” can never exist by the force of government (government is ALWAYS force)—is a concept lost on Marxists/Atheists, etc. You need personal freedom and choice for “charity” to exist and flourish like was illustrated in early America with the universities and hospitals and charities always built by congregations of Christians and never by “governments’. When government gets in bed with “charity” the Leviathan becomes a monster and totalitarian system of force will lead to no freedoms. (…as all history proves).

    Charity is a Theological Virtue. Justice is a Virtue. Without Virtue, civilizations will collapse, which was known since Socrates.

  • shoemama

    Oh no, we don’t have to go back to that French monarchy to find individuals like Jean Valjean. There are many men and women who TODAY are building businesses, creating jobs, giving to the poor, and contributing to their communities. George Romney comes to mind….and his son Mitt (although Mitt didn’t grow up poor)
    We have several families here in West Michigan that have done so much for our community. We have Symphony Halls, Arenas, Hospitals with state of the art innovations. We have ball parks, world class Gardens, and Art Prize which draws artists from around the world to vie for the $250,000 first prize. They give to soup kitchens, and to people with ideas; who just need some money to get started. The list goes on and on. This is only one community in one state. It is repeated all over this land. This is OUR America.
    These people live the American Dream. It wasn’t given to them. It took hard work and it paid off! Now they turn to the community and give back over and over again. These are decent people; not perfect, but willing to share their good fortune. They share with ALL of us: rich, middle class, and poor.
    Why don’t we have a national discourse about people like this??? Because it doesn’t fit the dialogue of the “politically correct”: the main media and those who control them. ALL Rich people are “supposed” to be bad and selfish and have no moral code. THEY ARE WRONG!!!!!
    We don’t want to have that money filtered through the Federal Government. It would be wasted, much of it stolen through fraud, and way too much dedicated to bloated bureaucracy. We don’t need or want a nanny state!

  • P-Nut

    There is no meaning to decode. Les Miserables is a parable of Legalism vs. Grace. Our hero — the repentant, poor miserable sinner Valjean accepts God’s Grace, becomes a good man, and extends Christ-like Grace to others; while his nemesis, the self-righteous Javert who lives by the Law (there is only crime and punishment — no mercy) rejects God’s Grace and suffers the temporal and eternal consequences.

  • NM Leon

    I saw the show first on Broadway with the original cast, as well as in London and Dallas, and I would highly recommend the movie. Russel Crowe was miscast as Javier (he doesn’t have nearly as powerful a voice as was needed for the part), but that’s my only knock. Anne Hathaway (Fantine) in particular is absolutely superb, and the others are good to great.

    I would respectfully disagree with the author’s premise that the story is a celebration of modern conservative values though. The story is an examination of the differences (in 19th century France) between devout Protestantism and devout Catholicism. Both were conservative, but Hugo considered (19th century French) Protestantism to be rigid, dogmatic, and absolute (Javert), and Catholicism to be a religion of forgiveness, absolution, and understanding (Valjean).

  • Sarudle

    This is my favorite musical of all time, and I would agree, Valjean is a moral, upstanding and all around good guy. Unfortunately, he’s not the only character in the story. Also unfortunately for the author of this article, almost every other character in the story serves to display the exploitation that results from capitalism.

    Let’s start with Fantine. Fantine is a single mother, who is trying the honest “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” capitalist way of making a living, but ends up being totally exploited by the system. She is sexually harassed within Valjean’s very own “fair business practices” factory, and eventually thrown out on unfair grounds. The only way she can sustain her child, under a government with no social safety net, is to resort to selling her hair and teeth, and eventually her body. Additionally, in the novel, Fantine falls in love with a wealthy student who impregnates her, only to leave her, symbolically displaying the rich’s exploitation of the poor.

    Furthermore, the movie takes great pains to display the conditions of the poor classes in France, particularly during the song “At the End of the Day,” a song about how the poor are trapped in their circumstances and cannot get out.

    It’s also striking how little this author must know about our country’s recent economic policy if she really believes Obama has pursued an anti-business platform. America has seen more gifting of taxpayer dollars to corporations via bailouts and tax breaks under Obama than under any other president in HISTORY, including George W. Bush.

    But the most startlingly idiotic piece of this article is the way the author characterizes Valjean’s rise to wealth as this “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” narrative that leads to him being some sort of fair and gentle corporation owner. Again, I’d like to say that Valjean is clearly a good guy in this narrative and I like him. Consequently, the fact that a good guy could unknowingly be the owner of a factory fraught with sexual harassment and worker exploitation to me demonstrates the separation of the corporate owners from their lower level employees.

    But to me, the largest point that this article misses is that Valjean is ONLY able to survive and rise through the ranks through the gifting of the silver from the bishop, not simply because of his own work ethic. This essentially means that for people to economically prosper, they must be given a starting point, some means of reaching prosperity. That is precisely what people on the left seek to do: ensure that everyone in society receives that bit of silver so they may become “honest people.” The problem with our current system is it favors those who are born into privilege, and does not provide everyone with that bit of silver.