Heroes according to Bruce Willis

-by Brandon Tomlinson

This dialogue is from the movie, “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007). In it, John McClane (Willis), the actioner’s big savior, says this about being a hero:

John McClane: You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin’. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can’t remember your last name. Your kids don’t want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy.
Matt Farrell: Then why you doing this?
John McClane: Because there’s no body else to do it right now, that’s why. Believe me, if there were somebody else to do it, I’d let them do it, but there’s not. So we’re doing it.
Matt Farrell: Ah. That’s what makes you that guy.

It’s pretty epic. You can watch it here: http://movieclips.com/zKbR5-live-free-or-die-hard-movie-nobodys-hero/

So, I suppose my question is simply this: Classical Liberal or Civic Republican (naturally, the question that arises while watching a Bruce Willis flick)?

Looking at it from one perspective, one could see that McClane is a civic republican. He is one who takes on the responsibilities of the common good. He is determined to save the United States from domestic hacker terrorist Thomas Gabriel. McClane is the one detective with the action-movie skills, guts, and grit to take on this enemy of all that is is good in America, like Social Security and Applebee’s. He is acting for the common good. The Anti-federalists would approve; they were concerned with the “liberty, happiness, interests, and great concerns of the United States as a whole,” (p. 17, ‘The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers’). Looking back to Kemmis, we see such a nature of self-sacrifice for the common good as well. McClane’s bullet-dodging is akin to Albert Volbrecht’s toleration for Lilly’s dismay at his general behavior, and vice versa (p.121, Kemmis). They are both a toleration of things that are less than pleasant (i.e. Albert’s crass jokes, or the hot lead poured out at McClane every time he emerges from cover). It is an acceptance in order to move toward what must be done to serve the community best.

However, there is the lingering possibility that McClane is a classic liberal. Think about the possibility that he is participating in this action not as the highest form of service, but as the man fulfilling the role of the one who does the necessary evil. Is McClane the one who serves because he must, acting as the force that keeps the statement “The only good which a man can do to one another and the only statement of their proper relationship is – Hands off!” true (Rand, p.410)? He is doing it because he must, sacrificing by becoming the one who cannot pursue his desires. McClane is protecting the rights of a man like Roark, the private rights that the Federalist feels “alarm” for the safety of (p.168, ‘The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers’)?

I suppose my thoughts boils down to simply this: Detective John McClane is a civic republican. He does what he has to. While the possibility of the classic liberal perspective is possible, I see Detective McClane as one who believes in sacrificing for Paine’s “People.” He doesn’t want to be a hero, but he is because he must. What do you think?

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7 Responses to Heroes according to Bruce Willis

  1. eakunne5 says:

    Well to be the devil’s advocate i will say that he is being a liberal. He is fighting for the common good when he trys to stop Thomas Gabriel. However his reason and his results from fighting tom arent so clear cut civic republican. One of the main points in Rand argument for liberalism is how one can be villified for their beliefs or actions. If Bruce confirmed to what his family and his daughter wanted, then he wouldnt always try to the play the hero role. Even among police officers, he was looked at as a loose cannon. But he always continued to aact in that way because he was following his own path, knowing that no matter what the consequences are, that he must go out of his way to solve any problem presented with him. Rand said that the creator or innovators of ideas were always looked at as foolish at first and then as brilliant. Well, in the mobie, Bruce eventually got in the good graces of everyone because of his herioc actions. He individually felt a higher calling to justice and in by taking it into his own hands, he should liberalism.

  2. Robert Tepper says:

    I definitely agree that in some ways, McClane is a civic republican. The main argument in support of this, which you highlighted in the post, is that he is fighting for the common good of the people. Whereas defeating a domestic terrorist obviously benefits himself, it also benefits every single American. More important than this, McClane said that “someone has to do it,” which shows his selflessness and desire to help others. However, one must consider McClane’s motives for his actions beyond what he explicitly states. Sure he says that someone needs to do it, but why does that someone need to be him? He could have just as easily deferred the responsibility and allowed someone else to take the opportunity and step up. Clearly though, he takes it upon himself to save the day, and will do whatever it takes. It is a likely possibility that McClane thinks he is the only person that can do the job, which would mean that he is a classic liberal.

  3. Courtney says:

    I like this post because I think it says something about “heroes” in any movie. Although I haven’t seen this film, I have seen almost all of Bruce Willis’ movies and I must say, I’m a huge fan! He is the typical protagonist hero who usually sacrifices his own personal values for the good of others. I think this is very typical of any “hero” character in a movie. Yes on one side you could argue that there is some individualism that may flirt with the thought of classic liberalism, but overall, I think what Hollywood (and for that matter myself, being a Bruce Willis fan) would like to think is that these heroes are civic republicans who believe in the community over the individual and always fight for the common good.

  4. Kirsten Meeder says:

    I think that you brought up a really good point about Bruce Willis’ movies in general. In most of his movies, of which I have unfortunately seen too many, he plays an uber masculine take-no-prisoners character who deals with problems is a way that supposedly others cannot. Since he always has a “higher calling” to common good and other people, I think he is mostly a civic republican, but not perfectly so. To me he is a flawed civic republican since his heroism often promotes his own self-importance instead of his ability to save the world by working in a team or relying in part on others. Many of his movies stress that he happens to be the only one who can save the hostages or planet (in the case of Armageddon) and I don’t think this is always true. While Bruce Willis’ characters always put themselves in danger at great personal risk, there is also something extravagantly self-indulgent about the way they do it which makes the characters flawed humanitarians in my view.

  5. brbarlog says:

    I think this post is very intriguing and does a nice job relating a contemporary film to the civic republican and classic liberalism ideas in this course. I must say, I have seen this film and it is fantastic! It is filled with heavy action scenes and offers and eerie picture into a world of technological terrorism.
    I tend to agree with the above post in that Willis is a classic liberal. Yes, one can argue that he is ultimately acting for the greater good of the country. However, given the context of Willis as a cop (he was indeed a loose cannon), I think in order to definitely prove civic republicanism, the motives behind his actions must be clearly established. In the movie, some of his motivation resided in his attempt to save his daughter, who was kidnapped. Surely, one is not thinking of the greater good when thinking about one’s own individual family.
    I think the devil’s advocate could also claim that Willis’s vision of the greater good is, in itself, the downfall of the civic republican argument: it’s a vision. Surely, had Willis been thinking about the greater good, he would have at least tried to get his other officers to help him out or to attempt to get people to defend the country in some way, shape or form. I definitely agree with the above post: He individually felt a higher calling to justice and in by taking it into his own hands.

  6. jtgilb says:

    Initially when I read this I immediately thought this dialogue pointed to the fact that Willis (or his character) was a civic republican as well. He is out rightly looking out for the good of the people, insinuating that he would sacrifice himself for the common good. This is the main quality of a true civic republican. However, as I look further into the movie quote, I have to disagree with your assessment of Willis. I think that he is more of a classic liberal. Although Willis is attempting to work towards the common good, he is also one single person. He admits that he is a loner, that no one will help him in his venture to be a “hero.” It is somewhat reminiscent of Rand’s characters references of historic leaders in “The Fountainhead.” When I think classic liberal, I think of the characters reference to Prometheus and how his own fire probably burned him because people are so naturally resistant to change. He noted that no one will change unless one individual steps up to do the job, and that he should not be persecuted for being that man. If there is anything we take from Rand’s reading it is that there HAS to be that man in order for society to survive, to progress. It is clear after evaluating Willis’ statement that he is THAT man. He is individualistic and an innovator in his own right. Instead of acting as a part of a whole as the civic republicans would prefer, Willis goes out on his own and tries to rectify the issue in this movie. So while initially, the text would lead me to believe that he is a collective thinker because he is set out to help everyone, he is acting as an individual and an innovator in some sense, which definitely points him towards a classic liberal.

  7. aazilli7 says:

    I think your first impression, that John McClane is more of a civic republican, is spot on. The ideal of sacrifice is pretty obvious from his speech, and that is in part why I think that Rand would reject the consideration that he is a classic liberal. I’m willing to bet that Rand would want no “heroes” in her text. A hero has traditionally be known to be one who does great deeds for another, i.e. a hero who saves a car crash victim or a superhero eradicating crime in a city. Rand would honor the great deeds, but not the fact that they were done for another. As you point out in your quote, Rand says that the only decent relationship between people is “hands off!” Being a “hero” is about as hands on as it gets. The necessary sacrifice for others that comes with being a hero would probably not fly with Rand. The greatness of achievement and creation by one’s own self, for one’s own self is what she would really respect. So she would likely tell McClane that he doesn’t have to be “that guy that nobody wants to be.” She would tell him only to be the guy he wants to be, even if everybody else in the world wanted him to be someone else.

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