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Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.

2010 Final Paper

The Watchmen and Anarchism Only as an aesthetic phenomena is the world justified-Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. No compromise. Rorschach said as he exited Veidts Antarctic citadel. Dr. Manhattan followed him asking, Where are you going to which he replied Back to owlship. Back to America. Evil must be punished. People must be told. Dr. Manhattan raised his hand as if to wave goodbye saying Rorschachyou know I cant let you do that. Rorschach turned back and uttered his final words, Of course. Must protect Veidts new utopia. One more body amongst foundations makes little difference. Well, what are you waiting for? Do it! As Rorschach ripped off his mask, tears streaming down his face, he screamed do it once more while Dr. Manhattan vaporized his body, leaving nothing but a hat and a bloody silhouette on the Antarctic snow. The Watchmen I. Introduction This scene is from one of the best known and most influential graphic novels of our time, The Watchmen. Written by self styled anarchist Alan Moore, it immerses the reader in a parallel 1980s where Nixon is still president and the cold war rages. In this world, a variety of people became costumed vigilantes as a response to what they saw as injustice. As a response to this, costumed heroes are outlawed unless specifically government sanctioned. Alan Moore shows us how each member of the watchmen subverts the government in their own way and in doing so

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

creates characters borne of anarchism, but intent on serving justice. First, I would like to start by exploring members of the watchmen and comparing their traits to the ideas of prominent anarchist philosophers to show how Alan Moore intended each character to represent some form of Anarchism or anarchist thought. Then, I would like to show how anarchism is used throughout the text in opposition against fascism. First let us start with a working definition of anarchism, which is often given a negative connotation and attached to chaos or disorder. The definition of anarchism I would like to employ here is from van der Walt and Schmidts Black Flame, where anarchism is seen as a type of socialism where individuality and individual freedom are extremely important and best developed in a context of democracy and equality. To end the current systems of landlordism and capitalism it is necessary to engage in class struggle and revolution, thus creating a society based on common ownership, self-management, democratic planning from below, and production for need not profit. 1 This definition, which is admittedly broad, enables us to look at many of the personalities and philosophers who came to exemplify this way of thinking. This definition also helps us frame many of the side-issues that came into play (such as pacifism, mysticism, etc) and to also contemplate the other characters who are not traditionally associated with anarchism (such as Tolstoy).

Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (California: AK Press, 2009), 6.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

Before really delving into the Watchmen, there is another cast of characters that must be understood. These individuals can be understood as major contributors to anarchist thought through their writings and actions. The thinkers I see as the contextual inspiration for many of the costumed vigilantes in the Watchmen begins with Emma Goldman, who wrote: Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.2 She was also an advocate of living ones ideals and violence directed towards the state (propaganda of the deed). Her friend and lover Alexander Berkman can also be seen as a contextual influence in the Watchmen as he was also big on the propaganda of the deed (serving prison time for an assassination attempt). One can also see his Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist as an influence in the Watchmen when one of the team members is imprisoned. Gustav Landauers rejection of individualism, violence, and hierarchy is also exemplified by one of the costumed vigilantes and his philosophy is explored as the vigilante in question (Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias) is a slave to his own ego. Piotr Kropotkins insistence on cooperation, and of course Friedrich Nietzsches ubermensch are also explored in the text by way of costumed vigilante. In both action and thought, the members of the

Emma Goldman, Anarchism, 62.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

Watchmen seem to be an allegory on the lives and writings of the aforementioned group of thinkers. Now, the person unfamiliar with graphic novels may ask how a seemingly science fiction story set in an alternate reality enables us to understand anarchism in our reality. The best answer to this question (and my favorite quote from this man) comes from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze when he says, as in science fiction, one has the impression of a fictive, foreign world, seen by other creatures, but also the presentiment that this world is already ours, and those creatures ourselves. A parallel conversion of science or theory follows: theory becomes an inquiry.3 Thus the Watchmen can be seen as an anarchist inquiry into the society of the time (the 1980s in this case). This inquiry entails looking at very familiar faces such as Nixon and Kissinger while also being confronted with the unfamiliar (such as masked vigilantism and Dr. Manhattan). II. Watchmen The Watchmen as I have mentioned is one of the most famous graphic novels of all time. It has truly become the gold standard in the graphic novel world and has spawned numerous commercial tie-ins, including a major film. This is in no small part due to the revolutionary way

Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 35.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

Alan Moore created his characters. In addition to making each a counterpart to a superhero from the DC universe, he also imbued each with an anarchist commentary on the 1980s. This can be seen in much of the dialogue of the text. There is also another underlying theme to the text that one can easily discern in the dichotomy of anarchism and fascism, however before discussing that I would first like to look at Rorschach. Rorschach arises as the fan favorite of the Watchmen. His biography is disturbing at times, however, it helps us to understand a man who sacrifices his own life for his ideals. Rorschach grew up the son of a single mother who was forced to turn to prostitution to feed them both. Forced to endure the worst abuses a child could in an environment of prostitution, he begins to change. He starts to interpret the world as black and white, that is there are those who are criminals and those who are actually humans. After his mother is killed by her pimp, he is made a ward of the state. He runs away from the childrens home at 16 and becomes a manual laborer at a garment factory. There he finds a futuristic fabric that changes in response to heat that a woman never picked up, which he cuts and turns into a mask, the mask looking like a Rorschach ink blot. He reads the paper and sees that the woman whom the dress was intended for was raped and murdered outside her home. His revulsion at the state for doing nothing as

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

well as the anger at her murder pushes him to put on the mask he had made, and to become Rorschach.4 Here we see Rorschach rejecting Sahlins and embracing that apparition of human nature that is so avaricious and contentious thats unless governed will lead to anarchy5. With this embrace, he sets out to deal with human nature employing violence on an array of rapists, murderers, and child molesters. He alienates himself from the other team members once the Watchmen is formed. His only ally becomes Night Owl, whom he sometimes teams up with and occasionally lives off of. His compulsion to fight mans capacity for horrors shows how he resists the state. As he says, We do not do this because it is permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled.6 When masked vigilantism is outlawed, Rorschach responds by beating a rapist to death and leaving a note that simply says never7. In effect he is rejecting an institution that is attempting to not only oppress him, but all of society. This is similar to Berkmans discussion of anarchy, where he stressed that no fundamental social change can ever take place until the working masses themselves rejected the present institutions that oppressed them-, that is until they changed their minds.8 Rorschach seems to be ahead of the game in the fact that he has rejected the institutions, however, the rest of his teammates seem to be playing catch up.

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Alan Moore, Watchmen #6, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 10-11. Marshall Sahlins, The Western Illusion of Human Nature, (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2008), 1. 6 Alan Moore, Watchmen #6, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 15. 7 Alan Moore, Watchmen #4, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 23 8 Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (California: AK Press, 2009), 113.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

An element of Rorschachs life that is similar to Berkmans is their prison experience. While Rorschach was framed and Berkman was attempting an assassination, they are both only subdued by being physically beaten, and then condemned by friend and foe alike. These building similarities in their lives are pointing to the primacy of Berkman with regard to Rorschach in the authors conceptual mind. One can easily come to the conclusion that Alan Moore is a reader of Berkman, which will probably lead one to Emma Goldman (which will be treated later). In addition to Berkman, the life of Rorschach seems to be inspired by another famous anarchist thinker, Gustav Landauer. One may be wondering how a non-violent, anti individualist thinker played into the creation of a masked vigilante who often works alone and always employs violence to meet his goals. The commonality between these two gentlemen revolves around both their deaths. They both were unrelenting, even in the face of certain death, to back down from what they believed in even sharing similar sentiments with their murderers. Landauer was beaten to death by proto-fascists in the name of German unification, unwilling to relent on his anarchist-socialist views. His last words were, Go ahead and kill me, be men!9 Similarly, Rorschach implores his fellow teammates against compromising even in the face of Armageddon which I shared at the beginning of this paper. His unwillingness to compromise

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

forces Dr. Manhattan to kill him in order to keep the secret that unifies the world against a common enemy. His last words seem to be directly inspired by Landauer as he screams to Dr. Manhattan, Well what are you waiting for, do it.10 As the author is a self proclaimed anarchist, it is reasonable to assume he has read Landauer (although few have heard of him as far as I could tell from other professors), and was captivated by his life. Thus, Landauer becomes another piece to the contextual inspiration of Rorschach. Sally Jupiter, also known as Silk Specter, is the one female member of the team that is present throughout the novel. She is forced to become a masked vigilante by her mother, who lives vicariously through her as a way of making up for her former costumed glory. She becomes involved first with Dr. Manhattan, and then Night Owl. Her character is similar to the famous feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman. She is a strong female, uses violence in self defense, and metaphorically advocates atheism. For example, her relationship with the godlike Dr. Manhattan shows how religion is not something she fears, unlike most in her reality who also see Dr. Manhattan as a god. She is shown to be a woman who is more open to new ideas, much like Goldman, whose definition of anarchism is quite telling: Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of


Alan Moore, Watchmen #12, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 24.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.11 She also echoes Goldmans ideas on free love, which she was an advocate of. For example, Emma Goldman wrote, We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women's emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction.12 It would seem Sally Jupiter is an actualization of that unhampered growth. Her success as a costumed vigilante shows one that women can also be vigilantes. Her relationships also show that marriage is not necessary for a woman to have a meaningful relationship. If there ever was an Emma Goldman-esqe heroine, Sally Jupiter would undoubtedly fit the bill. One can then come to the conclusion that Alan Moore may have read some Goldman, and thus created Silk Specter with her in mind. The relationship between her and Night Owl is also of interest here. When she leaves Dr. Manhattan, the first person she turns to is Night Owl. Night Owl is seemingly the opposite of Dr. Manhattan. He is middle aged, out of shape, and relies on technology as opposed to Dr. Manhattans godlike powers. This, in my view, is a metaphorical representation of turning away from religion. As Sally turns from the godlike figure of Dr. Manhattan she runs to his opposite, the sexually impotent Night Owl. This seems to echo Goldmans pro atheist stance with Dr. Manhattan representing religion and the control that it brings over ones life (Sally is a virtual
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Emma Goldman, Anarchism, 62. Emma Goldman, Anarchism, 224.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

prisoner on a military base, and once cut off by the military, has nothing). As she rejects this control, she seeks out a familiar opposite to Dr. Manhattan in Night Owl. The Night Owl, whose name also invokes thoughts of wisdom, is her key to emancipation. Sally also aids Night Owl in conquering his perceived impotence in life and his actual sexual impotence as she convinces him to return to crime fighting and then is able to make love to him in his owl shaped air ship.13 After this encounter they decide to help Rorschach escape prison. It all seems very symbolic. Sally rejects the representation of religion in Dr. Manhattan, turning to Night Owl. They are then able to help each other reject order and embrace anarchism in the act of breaking Rorschach (who represents freedom as he has no boundaries) out of prison. It might be useful here to attempt to explain how Dr. Manhattan relates to anarchism. His character is unique in the book as he is the only entity with any sort of special powers. He can quite literally deconstruct and reconstruct matter at the molecular level. He seems to be a representation of religion and the control it brings. For example, he has to resurrect himself in a similar fashion to Jesus after the accident that changes his molecular structure14. He also shares many traits with Hindu deities and seems to be deeply invested in temporality (he is a watchmaker in his youth and can now see the future). There is a particularly iconic scene in which he is sent to fight in Viet Nam by Nixon and has enlarged himself to 100 feet tall. The

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Alan Moore, Watchmen #7, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 21-28. Alan Moore, Watchmen #4 (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 9-10.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

Viet Cong see this and surrender, many believing he is god.15 These allusions to religion also point to Dr. Manhattan being one of the fascist elements that the characters must rebel against. His mastery and connection to time seem to be similar to the way nation states master time in Mike Shapiros chapter National time and Other Times. Here he describes how the state interacts with time: State control over temporality is based on unimodal model of temporality.16 Similarly, Dr. Manhattan has mastered temporality, and thus is a symbol of control over, for example, Sally Jupiter. His mastery of time and space is one of the reasons she leaves him (as he is able to create multiple versions of himself to work and attend to other tasks while the make love. The scene I mentioned at the beginning of this paper also shows how he is willing to sacrifice others (namely Rorschach) to achieve unity. This shows how Dr. Manhattan can be again seen as a fascist character. In reaction to the anarchist, Rorschach, and in order to create a perceived unity amongst the nations of the world he is willing to resort to violence. Fascist characters are necessary to allow the anarchist characters to challenge the state. This seems to be common in stories that feature anarchism. For example, the films Brazil and V for Vendetta both have anarchist heroes that are forced to rise up against fascist dictatorships. Fascism seems to be a useful tool to explain anarchism in literature as Dr. Manhattan is not the only fascist character in Watchmen.

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Alan Moore, Watchmen #4, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 20. Mike Shapiro, For Moral Ambiguity, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 121.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper The other fascist character is also the villain of the story. Supposedly the worlds smartest man, Adrian Veidt went by the alias Ozymandias until heroes were outlawed. His story is similar to that of Piotr Kropotkin in that they both reject their wealthy backgrounds. Kropotkin was the son of a Russian prince who dropped his title at a very young age. Similarly, Veidt donates all his money to charity at the age of 17. This also follows Kropotkins anti inheritance views. He then however, takes a different turn. Instead of rejecting states, insisting on cooperation, and decentralizing he economy Veidt does the opposite. He embraces the state by admitting he is really Ozymandias, he creates a massive global corporate empire, and starts having delusions of godhood based around a devotion to antiquity. This devotion to antiquity is important as it is often a component to fascism. As Ben Kiernan points out regarding German fascisms perpetration of the holocaust, genocide requires not just brutal force and racial hatred, but most often also a cult of antiquity glorifying a lost history, a vision of ideal land use, and its deployment as a justification for territorial aggression.17 Interestingly, Veidt embraces antiquity in, especially with regard to Egypt, as his name is the Greek form of Ramses and his base is a replica of the temple at Karnak. His obsession with antiquity culminates in a genocidal attack on New York as a way to unify the cold war world.18 This shows how Veidt begins with anarchism and ends with fascism. Originally intending to give the world free energy and advance humans, he ultimately commits a mass killing in the name of order. He is rejected by the true


Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: a World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, (Connecticut: Yale university Press, 2007), 27. 18 Alan Moore, Watchmen #12, (New York: DC Comics, 1987), 1-3.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

anarchist characters Rorschach, Night Owl, and Silk Specter while attempting to kill the godlike Dr. Manhattan. There is also a powerfully Nietzschean motif to some aspects of the characters in Watchmen. Besides being anti-Christianity like Nietzsche, a number of the characters seem to be interested in being free. Thats is they feel a need to be emancipated form some form of control whether it is religious in the form of Dr. Manhattan or it is state imposed laws like Rorschachs attitude towards the Keen Act ( the act that outlaws masked vigilantes). In addition there is an invocation of Nietzsche at the end of chapter six as Rorschachs psychoanalyst deals with a sense of loneliness brought on by his ponderings around his patient and his wifes rejection of him: Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster. And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.19 This clearly shows how the author wanted the reader to be consciously aware of Nietzsches influence. As one reads the panels that come before the Nietzsche quote, one distinctly gets the feeling that s the psychoanalyst examines Rorschach he us beginning to embrace his anarchist views (or becoming consumed by them). In addition to the aforementioned quote, there is also another very Nietzschean motif that arises throughout the text. The characters seem to be engaged in a struggle both between themselves and the state that they inhabit. This struggle seems best described by Nietzsche in his


Friedrich Nietzsche, Watchmen #6, ((New York: DC Comics, 1987), 28.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

piece, The Birth of Tragedy, as he describes the continuous development of art as being bound up in the duplexity of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.20 This duplexity is a struggle between the Dionysian primordial unity which unites people through music where the Apollonian stresses individuality in the visual arts. We can see this struggle symbolically between Rorschach who sees primordial unity in dealing out justice, while Veidt seeks to create order and stresses his individuality as he the self described smartest man in the world. The team dynamics of the Watchmen seem to also be of interest to the anarchist discussion. The team is assembled through a loose association with no centralized leader. They also are under no government authority and have no rules. The group association seems only there in order to communicate with one another and pull resources to achieve mutual goals. This is similar to syndicalism. This way of thinking stresses the view that unions-built through daily struggles, a radically democratic practice, and popular education- are crucial levers of revolution, and can even serve as the nucleus for s a free socialist order.21 The heroes are clearly crucial to revolution in Nixons vigilante free cold war America. Their association is similar to a nunion to union dialogue, where one calls the other for assistance if viable. This happens when Night Owl and the comedian team up. While the comedian is more brutal than Night owl would like,

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Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, (London: T.N. Foulis, 1910), 23. Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (California: AK Press, 2009), 7.

Gino Zarrinfar POLS 710 November 13.2010 Final Paper

he is able to work with him. The two may not see eye to eye, but they can accomplish shared goals, much like theorized syndicalist governments. III. Conclusion One can easily see the Watchmen is a collection of anarchist characters. These characters lives and actions make up the authors views on anarchism. The author, as I have attempted to show, has drawn his contextual inspiration from a number of well known anarchist thinkers and philosophers. What is interesting is that this has become one of the best known and most celebrated graphic novels. It was the only graphic novel to make Times 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. Its influence is far reaching as it has spawned a number of commercial off shoots, not the least of which is the recent film based on the text. Given this influence, it is no surprise that some of the characters have inspired real life masked vigilantes. There are a number of citizens who seem to have been inspired by Alan Moores work, and donned the mask.22 Once can only wonder what effect this vigilantism will have. We can, however, assume that it will spawn a greater interest in the generally dismissed and often misunderstood world of anarchism.