Beauty and the Beast: When Government Magically Stops

The Beauty and the Beast remake has hidden themes that pertain to human liberty.

The plot of Beauty and the Beast centers around a young prince who is transformed into a hideous monster for failing to be generous to an old hag who came knocking at his door one stormy night. All of his servants are transformed into pieces of furniture, and time effectively stands still for the castle’s inhabitants for a decade before the main events of the movie take place.

This tale is apparently about a sort of love story with a moral about being nice to people, but far more interesting than all of that are the implications for government and political theory.

Monarchal Rule

Who’s going to take orders from a candlestick or a talking clock?

Remember that the beast was a prince, with no parents anywhere to be seen. That means that he was the ruler of whatever French province this story happens to take place in. In what we can only assume is a monarchy, the prince would have been the government personified, and all the essential functions of government would have been his responsibility.

At the beginning of the film, these responsibilities fall on the shoulders of a ten-year-old-boy, which seems a bit odd, but we can assume that he has the help of his servants, older and wiser staff who know how government works and can advise the young monarch on what to do.

But then comes the prince’s unfortunate transformation, along with that of everyone who might have known the first thing about ruling a kingdom (or principality as the case may be.) In his shadowy, remote castle, isolated from civilization, the beast withdraws from society, broods, and jealously guards his roses with what can only be described as disproportionate zealousness.

We don’t know for sure what the beast does on a day to day basis during the ten years before Belle arrives, but it is hard to believe that he spends much time on the administrative business of effective governance. And even if his servants were to take an interest in what was going on outside the castle walls, who’s going to take orders from a candlestick or a talking clock?

Anarchy in the Village

All the evidence we are given in the film indicates that when the prince is cursed, government simply stops. This particular slice of France is plunged suddenly into a state of anarchy. If popular imagination is any guide, we should expect to see a town immediately overwhelmed with crime and chaos. To hear most students of government tell it, the citizens would be lucky not to be constantly on fire.

Rather than finding herself besieged by criminals or conquered by foreign invaders, Belle has no problems more serious than being a bit bored.

Yet, this is not at all what we see. Ten years after the sudden and unexplained disappearance by the monarchy, the nearby town is humming along quite peacefully. Commerce is thriving, bakers are baking, taverns are full every night, and a bookshop is able to remain in business due solely to the patronage of one slightly brighter-than-average girl.

There’s no government, and yet everyone is well fed, happy, and prosperous. The streets are clean, and even the eccentric, the foolish, and the apparently useless are able to find ways to support themselves in a voluntary market economy.

Of course, it’s not a Utopia; no society is. Mob justice occasionally gets out of hand, and the rules governing involuntary commitment are badly in need of revision. Nevertheless, society functions, and Belle, rather than finding herself besieged by criminals or conquered by foreign invaders, has no problems more serious than being a bit bored.

Like all good children’s stories, Beauty and the Beast has hidden depths beneath the surface, making it richly enjoyable for adults as well. In this case, the film is an unwitting argument for spontaneous order.

While most parents would likely hope that the story will teach their children about love, friendship, kindness, and redemption, I would prefer that a few viewers absorb the message that society can get along just fine without rulers.