Victor Hugo's Les Miserables has been one of my personal favorites since I was in high school and read it in French class and translated it into English. The story is timeless and has considerable relevance for the state of affairs America finds itself in today economically, politically, morally and spiritually.
We love to pretend that America is a nation where there are no class issues. As the Horatio Alger stories and the faith based modern pretense that anyone can be what they want to be if they want it badly enough are meant to convince us. Much of our U.S. History books are the works of propagandists not historians so our national narrative is a work of fiction not truth. The main subplot which our history texts try to hide is that American history has been one long class war as was also the case in Paris in 1832.
The Rich have often sought to control wealth, political power, and labor with the express goal of attaining unimaginable riches while paying the worker whose labor created the profit in the first place a pittance, and denying working people a say in the decisions and events that affect all of their and our lives.
Jean Valjean is the product of a nation that leaves economic justice to the church and creates laws to control the lower classes not to create a nation of laws for all men to abide by, a contract between men to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. This was the founding theme of John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government (1689-90) the ideas that guided Jefferson in his creating the rough drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
One couldn't help but think of the sociopathic Paul Ryan and his selfish, greed driven budgets where we cut social spending all to give more money to those at the corrupt top of the social structure while watching the wretched and immoral poverty of the poor but do nothing. Jean Valjean recieved 20 years for stealing bread to feed a sick child when there were no jobs and no charity to help feed the millions of people starving. Fantine is the embodiment of the ideal of human beings as disposable commodities when they nolonger seem to have a purpose in the economic scheme of things. You must produce wealth to have value in a nation whose values are based on profits before people.
Jauvert is the voice of Conservatism and its emphasis on controling the lower classes with the law. He also believes that men like Jean Valjean and in fact all the poor are incapable of changing. He is unable to see himself in others eyes.
The lesson of the last thirty years is that in State Capitalism the class war leads to a revolution of the Bourgeosis against the Proletariat and although Conservatives eschew "Big Government," they must create a huge state surveillance bureaucracy to control the people because of the income inequality and injustice in the system their revolution to take over democratic rule has created. Obviously State Communism is the reverse of these events so these two ideologies have been the Yin and Yang of our politics even before our own revolution from British rule.
As we approached the June Paris Rebellion of June 5 and 6, 1832, in the film one couldn't help but think of Occupy Wall Street, when the young students assemble to drink wine and plan the rebellion. Tyrannies do not tolerate dissent well and this uprising like Occupy is violently put down with something on the order of 900 killed.
The actual climax is not the defeat of the rebellion but when Jauvert commits suicide rather than face the facts that the law and his beliefs about the inferiority and innate original sinfulness of the lower classes is proven false by Jean Valjean. Valjean extended Jauvert mercy and did not take revenge when he could and coupled with the senseless killing of young Gavrouche, a boy of about ten, shot by French troops as he was taunting them in front of one of the barricades, creates in Jauvert unbearable cognitive dissonance surrounding his perception of his ideology and the actuality of events he is confronted with.
In the end one can only know God through loving others and it is in doing so that Jean Valjean finds absolution and his sins are forgiven. What Les Miserables considers virtues, Ayn Rand, the philosophical guide for modern Conservatives, would consider weakness. In America this is the fundamental ideological battle of our politics. Class Warfare confronts each of us every day with a set of moral choices and the resolution of this conflict will determine if America finds absolution or dissolution in the coming years.
At the conclusion of this film I thought it must be appropriate to ask Conservatives, "Do you hear the people sing." Has it begun to dawn on you yet that right to work laws are the equivalent of slavery not democracy and those you have harmed economically will nolonger accept powerlessness as their lot. The colors of the world are changing just as they were in 1832 Paris. I wonder if Conservatives have begun to reach that moment of truth when for the first time they begin to doubt all that they unflinchingly thought was true that in reality never was. Every generation seems to need to construct barricades and demand their freedom for tomorrow and today is no different.