Does ACO speak the voice of fascism?

["Yes," according to Fred Hechinger. This is from THE NEW YORK TIMES, 
Sunday, February 13, 1972.]

          *          *          *          *          * 

by Fred M. Hechinger

Liberals, said Malcolm McDowell, star of "A Clockwork Orange," hate that 
film. The implication is that there is something shameful in the 
liberals' reaction -- that at the very least they don't know the 
score. Quite the opposite is true. Any liberal with brains *should* hate 
"Clockwork," not as a matter of artistic criticism but for the trend 
this film represents. An alert liberal should recognize the voice of 

"Movies don't alter the world, they pose questions and warnings," said 
Mr. McDowell. This is close to the truth. Movies reflect the mood of the 
world because they pander to the frame of mind of their potential 

During the Depression years, Hollywood offered those eye-filling and 
mind-soothing productions that took a despondent public's thoughts off 
the grim realities. Occasionally, the diverting tinsel was laced with 
some "Grapes of Wrath" realism.

During and after World War II, Hollywood reflected the American mind 
with an outpouring of syrupy patriotism and comic-strip anti-Nazism. 
Minor modifications allowed the technique to be adapted, as in "The 
Manchurian Candidate," to the subsequent spirit of the Cold War.

More recently, the movies, chasing the youth buck, have wallowed in 
campus revolution, alienation, radical relevance and counter-culture. 
The plastic greening of Hollywood did little, one must agree with Mr. 
McDowell's thesis, to alter the world: it was merely the industry's 
frantic attempt to keep abreast of society's changing script.

It is precisely because Hollywood's antennae have in the past been so 
sensitive in picking up the national mood that the anti-liberal trend 
should indeed "pose questions and warnings," though not in the manner 
intended either by Mr. McDowell or by Stanley Kubrick, "Clockwork's" 

          *          *          *          *          * 

The bad seeds had been sown during the period of mindless youth-culture 
exploitation. Anthony Quinn, who played Zorba the Prof in "R.P.M.," that 
ersatz ideological movie about the campus revolt, was the anti-liberals' 
perfect prototype of the superannuated, well-intentioned but ultimately 
ineffectual, obsolescent, self-destructive liberal. "Getting Straight" 
delivered the same cumulative message. The liberal in "Easy Rider," a 
pathetic, confused drunk, was intended to show the fate that ultimately 
awaits the bleeding hearts. Even his death, at the hands of fascist 
bullies, carefully avoided being either heroic or central to the 
picture's mood. Too bad about the fuzzyminded fellow, but what can you 
expect. . .

The script writers were accurately picking up the vibrations of a deeply 
anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism emanating from beneath the surface of 
the counter-culture. They were pandering as skillfully to the new mood 
as they had earlier to the Stars and Stripes Forever.

Now the virus is no longer latent. The message is stridently anti- 
liberal, with unmistakably fascist overtones.

Listen to Mr. McDowell: "People are basically bad, corrupt. I always 
sensed that. Man has not progressed one inch, morally, since the Greeks. 
Liberals, they hate 'Clockwork' because they're dreamers and it shows 
them the realities, shows 'em not tomorrow, but *now*. Cringe, don't 
they, when faced with the bloody truth?"

This is more than a statement of what Mr. McDowell considers to be a 
political fact. There is a note of glee in making the liberals cringe by 
showing them what heads-in-the-clouds fools they are. If they were 
smarter, would they not know "the bloody truth" and, one must conclude, 
adjust to it with a pinch of Skinnerian conditioning?

Is this an uncharitable reading of Mr. McDowell's -- and the film's -- 
thesis? The thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the 
essence of fascism. It underlies every demand for the kind of social 
"reform," that keeps man down, makes the world safe for anti-democracy 
through the "law and order" ministrations of the police state.

It might be possible to dismiss the McDowell weltanschauung as the 
aberration of an actor dazzled by critical acclaim and dabbling in 
political ideology. But he, in fact, accurately echoes his master's 
voice. "Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage," says Stanley 
Kubrick. "He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective 
about anything where his own interests are involved . . . . And any 
attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of 
man is probably doomed to failure."

If this is the motion picture industry's emerging view -- as it seems to 
be, not only in "Clockwork" but in a growing number of films such as 
"Straw Dogs" and even, on the precinct rather than the global level, 
"The French Connection" -- then what sort of social institutions are to 
be built on that pessimistic, antiliberal view of man's nature? They 
will -- they must, if logic prevails -- be the repressive, illiberal, 
distrustful, violent institutions of fascism. "We hold these truths to 
be self-evident . . . " Ridiculous! "Government by the people . . . " 
Absurd! Jefferson, not to mention Christ, were clearly liberals who 
could not face "the bloody truth." It takes the likes of Hitler or 
Stalin, and the violence of inquisitions, pogroms and purges, to manage 
a world of ignoble savages.

          *          *          *          *          * 

That is the message lately flashed from the screen. The inherently 
antiliberal nihilism of Hollywood's counterculture phase was the 
subliminal preparation -- filmland's Weimar Republic -- for the ugly 
"truth" to come. Mr. McDowell, in trying to find some socially redeeming 
value (as the courts put it when describing "good" pornography) in 
"Clockwork's" violence, muses that "*maybe* that will lead to something 
actually being done about street crime." What might that "something" be? 
Surely not anything cooked up by those liberal "dreamers" who cringe 
when faced with "the bloody truth." More likely a dragnet arrest of all 
those people who look like trouble. How else would one sensibly deal 
with ignoble savages?

"Straw Dogs" may have been even more perceptive in picking up the neo-
fascist message. Its symbolic man is the confused, nonviolent, cringing, 
idiotic, nonvirile liberal who in the end is redeemed -- by what? By 
proving his manhood through savagery among the savages. Liberals, Awake! 
Be as lip-smacking bloody as anybody. That will take care of the street 
crime problem, too. And perhaps make the trains run on time.

Some of us unreconstructed liberals will, of course, continue to hope 
that the industry has for once picked up the wrong vibrations, that it 
is for the first time misreading the nation's mood; that the majority of 
Americans do not believe, as those who unleashed the stormtroopers and 
the M.K.V.D. and the RedGuard said *they* believed, that Man the Beast 
will be conquered and domesticated only through the purifying powers of 

Optimism is the incurably silly liberal quality which the new celluloid 
realism considers ludicrous. One prays that American moviemakers may 
identify in the popular mood some of those vibrations that led to the 
creation of "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis." Europeans who knew 
fascism apparently still believe that the evil and the violence, rather 
than being inherent in man and thus inevitable, became dominant only 
because the few succeeded in ruthlessly turning violence into political 
power over the many. The liberals were not without blame, but they were 
not the villains. In the end, their faults seemed excusable when 
measured against the monstrosity of those who regarded men as ignoble 
savages. The liberal makers of "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" do not 
seem to have cringed at the bloody memory of those black days in Europe 
when, antiliberalism having triumphed, the human vermin crawled out of 
the clockwork.

If there is anything to make American liberals cringe here and now, it 
is the possibility that, in a reversal of history, Europe may this time 
be more sophisticated than America about the nature of the fascist 
threat. This is why American liberals have every right to hate the 
ideology behind "A Clockwork Orange" and the trend it symbolizes.

                                                    (submitted by J.M.)

          *          *          *          *          * 

[Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell didn't agree with Hechinger's view. This 
is Kubrick's letter to THE NEW YORK TIMES, in reply to Hechinger's 
charge. It was printed on February 27, 1972, section 2, pp. 1 & 11. 
McDowell's reply in the same issue follows.]

          *          *          *          *          * 

By Stanley Kubrick

"An alert liberal," says Fred M. Hechinger, writing about my film "A
Clockwork Orange," "should recognize the voice of fascism." They don't
come any more alert than Fred M. Hechinger. A movie critic, whose job
is to analyze the actual content of a film, rather than second-hand
interviews, might have fallen down badly on sounding the "Liberal
Alert" which an educationist like Mr. Hechinger confidently set 
jangling in so many resonant lines of alarmed prose.

As I read them, the image that kept coming to mind was of Mr.
Hechinger, cast as the embattled liberal, grim-visaged the way Gary
Cooper used to be, doing the long walk down main street to face the
high noon of American democracy, while out of the Last Chance saloon
drifts the theme song, "See what the boys in the backlash will have
and tell them I'm having the same," though sung in a voice less like
Miss Dietrich's than Miss Kael's. Alert filmgoers will recognize that
I am mixing my movies. But then alert educationists like Mr. Hechinger
seemingly don't mind mixing their metaphors: "Occasionally, the
diverting tinsel was laced with some 'Grapes of Wrath' realism," no

It is baffling that in the course of his lengthy piece encouraging
American liberals to cherish their "right" to hate the ideology behind
"A Clockwork Orange," Mr. Hechinger quotes not one line, refers to not
one scene, analyzes not one theme from the film - but simply lumps it
indiscriminately in with a "trend" which he pretends to distinguish
("a deeply anti-liberal totalitarian nihilism") in several current
films. Is this, I wonder, because he couldn't actually find any
internal evidence to support his trend-spotting? If not, then it is
extraordinary that so serious a charge should be made against it (and
myself) inside so fuzzy and unfocused a piece of alarmist journalism.

                         *     *     *

Hechinger is probably quite sincere in what he feels. But what
the witness feels, as the judge said, is not evidence - the more so
when the charge is one of purveying "the essence of fascism."

"Is this an uncharitable reading of . . . the film's thesis?" Mr.
Hechinger asks himself with unwonted, if momentary doubt. I would
reply that it is an *irrelevant* reading of the thesis, in fact an
insensitive and inverted reading of the thesis, which, so far from
advocating that fascism be given a second chance, warns against the
new psychedelic fascism --  the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic,
drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings -- which
many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and 
the beginning of zombiedom.

                         *     *     *

It is quite true that my film's view of man is less flattering
than the one Rousseau entertained in a similarly allegorical narrative
- but, in order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a
*noble* savage, rather than an ignoble one? Being a pessimist is not
yet enough to qualify one to be regarded as a tyrant (I hope). At
least the film critic of The New York Times, Vincent Canby, did not
believe so. Though modestly disclaiming any theories of initial causes
and long range effects of films - a professional humility that contrasts
very markedly with Mr. Hechinger's lack of the same - Mr. Canby
nevertheless classified "A Clockwork Orange" as "a superlative 
example" of the kind of movies that "seriously attempt to analyze the
meaning of violence and the social climate that tolerates it." He
certainly did not denounce me as a fascist, no more than any well-
balanced commentator who read "A Modest Proposal" would have accused
Dean Swift of being a cannibal.

Anthony Burgess is on record as seeing the film as "a Christian
Sermon" - and lest this be regarded as a piece of special pleading by
the original begetter of "A Clockwork Orange," I will quote the opinion
of John E. Fitzgerald, the film critic of The Catholic News, who, far
from believing the film to show man, in Mr. Hechinger's "uncharitable"
reading, as "irretrievably bad and corrupt," went straight to the heart
of the matter in a way that shames the fumbling innuendos of Mr.

"In one year," Mr. Fitzgerald wrote, "we have been given two
contradictory messages in two mediums. In print, we've been told (in
B.F. Skinner's 'Beyond Freedom and Dignity') that man is but a grab-bag
of conditioned reflexes. On screen, with images rather than words,
Stanley Kubrick shows that man is more than a mere product of heredity
and-or environment. For as Alex's clergyman friend (a character who
starts out as a fire-and-brimstone spouting buffon, but ends up as the
spokesman for the film's thesis) says: 'When a man cannot choose, he
ceases to be a man.'

"The film seems to say that to take away man's choice is not to
redeem but merely to restrain him; otherwise we have a society of
oranges, organic but operating like clockwork. Such brainwashing,
organic and psychological, is a weapon that totalitarians in state,
church or society might wish for an easier good, even at the cost of
individual rights and dignity. Redemption is a complicated thing and
change must be motivated from within rather than imposed from without
if moral values are to be upheld."

"It takes the likes of Hitler or Stalin, and the violence of
inquisitions, pogroms and purges to manage a world of ignoble savages,"
declares Mr. Hechinger in a manner both savage and ignoble. Thus,
without citing anything from the film itself, Mr. Hechinger seems to
rest his entire case against me on a quote appearing in The New York
Times of January 30, in which I said: "Man isn't a noble savage, he's
an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be
objective about anything where his own interests are involved . . . and 
any attempt to create social institutions based on a false view of the 
nature of man is probably doomed to failure." From this, apparently, Mr.
Hechinger concluded, "the thesis that man is irretrievably bad and
corrupt is the essence of fascism," and summarily condemned the film.

Mr. Hechinger is entitled to hold an optimistic view of the nature
of man; but this does not give him the right to make ugly assertions of
fascism against those who do not share his opinion.

I wonder how he would reconcile his simplistic notions with the
views of such an acknowledged anti-fascist as Arthur Koestler, who
wrote in his book "The Ghost in the Machine," "The Promethean myth has
acquired an ugly twist: the giant reaching out to steal the lightning
from the Gods is insane . . . When you mention, however tentatively, the
hypothesis that a paranoid streak is inherent in the human condition,
you will promptly be accused of taking a one-sided, morbid view of
history; of being hypnotized by its negative aspects; of picking out
the black stones in the mosaic and neglecting the triumphant achieve-
ments of human progress . . . To dwell on the glories of man and ignore 
the symptoms of his possible insanity is not a sign of optimism but of
ostrichism. It could only be compared to the attitude of that jolly
physician who, a short time before Van Gogh committed suicide, declared
that he could not be insane because he painted such beautiful pictures."
Does this, I wonder, place Mr. Koestler on Mr. Hechinger's newly
started blacklist?

It is because of the hysterical denunciations of self-proclaimed
"alert liberals" like Mr. Hechinger that the cause of liberalism is
weakened, and it is for the same reason that so few liberal-minded
politicians risk making realistic statements about contemporary social

The age of the alibi, in which we find ourselves, began with the
opening sentence of Rousseau's "Emile": "Nature made me happy and good,
and if I am otherwise, it is society's fault." It is based on two
misconceptions: that man in his natural state was happy and good, and
that primal man had no society.

Robert Ardrey has written in "The Social Contract," "The organizing
principle of Rousseau's life was his unshakable belief in the original
goodness of man, including his own. That it led him into most towering
hypocrises must follow from such an assumption. More significant are
the disillusionments, the pessimism, and the paranoia that such a belief
in human nature must induce."

                         *     *     *

Ardrey elaborates in "African Genesis": "The idealistic American
is an environmentalist who accepts the doctrine of man's innate nobility
and looks chiefly to economic causes for the source of human woe. And
so now, at the peak of the American triumph over that ancient enemy,
want, he finds himself harassed by racial conflict of increasing
bitterness, harrowed by juvenile delinquency probing championship

Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man,
not man who corrupts society, places a flattering gauze between 
ourselves and reality. This view, to use Mr. Hechinger's frame of 
reference, is solid box office but, in the end, such a self-inflating 
illusion leads to despair.

The Enlightenment declared man's rational independence from the
tyranny of the Supernatural. It opened up dizzying and frightening
vistas of the intellectual and political future. But before this 
became too alarming, Rousseau replaced a religion of the Supernatural
Being with a religion of natural man. God might be dead. "Long live

"How else," writes Ardrey, "can one explain - except as a 
substitute for old religious cravings - the immoderate influence of
the rational mind of the doctrine of innate goodness?"

Finally, the question must be considered whether Rousseau's view
of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hope-
less of philosophies. It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily
away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to
accept Ardrey's view that, ". . . we were born of risen apes, not fallen 
angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we 
wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and our irreconcilable 
regiments? For our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, 
however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however 
frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams,
however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how
far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among
the stars by our poems, not our corpses."

Mr. Hechinger is no doubt a well-educated man but the tone of his
piece strikes me as also that of a well-conditioned man who responds to
what he expects to find, or has been told, or has read about, rather
than to what he actually perceives "A Clockwork Orange" to be. Maybe
he should deposit his grab-bag of conditioned reflexes outside and go
in to see it again. This time, exercising a little choice.


                     MALCOLM McDOWELL OBJECTS, TOO


This letter is in reply to Fred M. Hechinger's article, which was
prompted in part by an interview that I gave to Tom Burke. I am an
actor, not a philosopher - nor, thank God, a journalist. If a New 
York Times interviewer questions me on philosophical, social or
political issues, he must expect to get answers that are inspired by
feeling and intuition, rather than by the steely logic of a Fred M.
Hechinger. But my comment on the sentimentalism of the "liberals" was
not gleeful - it was *despondent*. (If I had been writing an article
instead of replying to questions, I would have put the word "liberal"
in quotes.)

As an actor, of course, I spoke emotionally - from a violent
emotional reaction to the violence and hysteria with which New York
assails any visitor, and a violent and emotional reaction against the
complacency or cowardice of "intellectuals" too scared to face or to
interpret the harsh allegory which I believe Mr. Kubrick's picture to

To call "A Clockwork Orange" fascist is as silly as to say that
"if . . . " preached violence. But some people will never read the
writing on the wall.

Your humble narrator and friend,


                                                  (submitted by J.M.)

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