The Wisdom of Fateless
Tibor R. Machan
My plans for a visit to the East Coast were set?I was to give a paper at
a college in Massachusetts and then return home but not before paying a
short visit to my daughter who is now clerking for a federal judge in
A bit before leaving I read a review of the new Hungarian movie,
Fateless, in The New Republic. Stanley Kauffmann has been mostly very
reliable as a guide to good movie fare and he gave this one an
exceptionally positive send up. So we decided to go see this movie,
realizing from the outset that it will not be a cheery event?it chronicles
a young boy?s experiences in various Nazi labor camps.
What a harrowing but moving movie it turned out to be! Based on the
Hungarian Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz?s novel, directed by Lajos Koltai,
the film is riveting in how powerfully it depicts the incredibly torturous
history of just one boy?s life in the camps, showing through it a
miserable portion of the lives?and in many cases the deaths?of millions of
others. Except?well, I will not tell the story because the movie will be
released for wide distribution on May 9th.
I do not usually go to movies or read books about the most vile side of
humanity. Having had a brush with that in my own early life, via the
several years I lived under communism and then another few with a virulent
anti-Semitic, Nazi-supporting father, I had my dose of this sort of thing
to last me a lifetime. But now and then it is worthwhile to be reminded
what one is ultimately fighting against, what one hopes will never be
repeated, although one knows it is impossible to make sure.
This movie, somewhat akin to Downfall?about the last days of Hitler?s
life in the bunker?is probably as good as it gets when it comes to
dramatic, fictional lessons to be learned about where political
authoritarianism, statism, can get us. As I say, not that I need to be
reminded often. Perhaps others would get more benefit from such reminders,
given how few people even in America take it seriously that the growth of
government is the main evil that surrounds us.
Fateless ends with a very poignant scene in which an American sergeant
makes one statement that one wishes the whole world would realize is
indeed true beyond any reasonable doubt, a statement that has served as
the foundation of my own political philosophy. He says, ?It is your life?
(or words to that effect). This is indeed the idea that has taken
thousands of years to reach some measure of prominence in our political
Even today, there are very prominent thinkers, professors at the most
prestigious of universities in North America and Europe, who deny it and
assert the gross falsehood that you and I and everyone else belongs to his
or her community, ethnic group, nation, race or some other supposedly
higher and mightier group. The notion laid out so clearly in the American
Declaration of Independence that everyone has an unalienable right to his
or her life?that ?It is your life??just hasn?t quite sunk in enough so
that regimes around the globe would abandon the sick notion that the
people are for them to use as they see fit, to order about, to regiment,
It used to be monarchs?tsars, pharaohs, Caesars, et al.?who tossed around
the idea that they owned the people in the realms they happened to rule.
Their story, that they got this authority from God, was a filthy lie but
they got away with it for centuries. Now it is a different lie that?s
being told, namely, that we belong to some group the majority of which (of
those involved in politics) own us, who assign to us our ?rights? and say
what we may and may not do, what duties we have and to whom.
Well, it is your life. And you need to figure out what duties you have
and not be dictated to about this or anything else by some self-appointed
guardians, nannies, who will not acknowledge your humanity and the rights
that go with it.
Fateless is a great reminder of what can happen when it?s forgotten or
obscured that it is indeed your life, no one else?s.