Peter T Chattaway, on 04 September 2012 - 07:35 PM, said:
: - Another insight that is probably fundamentally determinative of how you are going to feel about this film is whether you believe it was morally wrong to engage in the liquor business during Prohibition.
That's an intriguing way of putting it. Clearly, it is never absolutely wrong to engage in liquor, per se, even if the state says it is. But to engage in the liquor *business*... well, that depends on what the business entails. And the state, by making liquor illegal, guaranteed that the only people who *would* engage in the business would be criminals. The only way to *survive* in that business was, in fact, to *become* a criminal, with all the murder and whatnot that that entailed. So, I'd be inclined to say that it *was* morally wrong to engage in that business (though it would not have been morally wrong to make liquor for your own personal consumption).
"Criminals," according to natural law political philosophy, are not defined by the government or positive law. Blackstone didn't really regard violators of malum prohibitum
to be criminals. If, in order to survive, you have to engage in self-defense (whether against gangsters or prohibition agents), that still doesn't really get you into trouble with Rutherford, Hooker, Locke, Montesquieu or Blackstone.
Interestingly enough, Lawless
touches on these distinctions. It is clear that Forrest wants nothing to do with either the gangsters or the corrupt law enforcement. Jack, on the other hand, idolizes the gangsters (particularly Gary Oldman's character) and, left to himself, would probably become one of them (if he hasn't already). Part of the story here seems to be that Forrest sees this tendency in Jack, and that is why he tries to keep him out of it. As far as the violence goes, unlike the gangsters, the Bondurants are not interested in fighting any wars over territory. There is one specific scene where Forrest and Howard do act for revenge instead of defense, but it's uncharacteristic of them, and there's nothing about what they do in that one scene that was really necessary to protect their business. The problem with prohibiting something outside of the government's natural sphere, is that it gives law enforcement an especially naturally corrupting power. If you're going to stand up to that, it doesn't necessarily make you one of the bad guys.
I'm not saying it would be easy to work in a career that was against the law. When the only way for a business to exist is in the black market, that is just the sort of business that is going to attract the more unsavory elements of society - including habitual criminals who tend to have a lifestyle of disregarding the law in the first place. But that doesn't mean that, during Prohibition, there were not a very large number of Americans who engaged in producing and selling liquor with a clear conscience. And they were regular traditional citizens who did not have a habit of flouting the law otherwise.