Orson Welles the accidental radical?

In this video Orson Welles makes a proposal for an organisation. The video is worth watching from about 1.30. The description of the organisation starts at 4.28 if you are particularly time-poor today.

While hedging about his proposal with all kinds of caveats to show that what he is suggesting is not based on radical ideas (including stating he is not an anarchist – remember kids, Orson Welles, not an anarchist so safe to watch), I think he hit on a more radical organisational form than he understood: a transnational membership organisation for the protection of its own members against the state.

I think there have been very few organisations that function anything like this (unions are the closest but are rarely genuinely transnational, more’s the pity) and none that I know of directly against state actions. Perhaps people didn’t care enough about the idea to implement it, but I also think it would have been technically difficult back then. Unlike in Welles’ day we now have a cheap technology that would allow us to publicise and democratically organise such an organisation.


  1. I think you’ll find Orson Welles was more ‘radical’ than you think, or perhaps you are yourself. The hedging was probably a factor of a) the time and b) the fact most people don’t want to be seen as radical so if you want them to take up yur idea don’t say it is.

    But the main problem with opposing the ‘bureaucracy’ is most people are libertarian or ‘anarchist’ until someone enters ‘their’ country ‘uninvited’ or their child is abused, at which point they ask why more checks weren’t done, in the same way most people are socialists until they earn some money.

    1. reorg

      Hmmm, it wasn’t really a post about bureaucracy – the particular campaign isn’t the point to me.

      I don’t think that most people are either for or against ‘bureaucracy’, that most poeople are libertarian/anarchists, before or after invasions, or that most people are ‘socialists’, before or after they earn money.

    2. A

      I don’t know what data you have to make those assertion Dan. They sound like baseless generalisations. It is problematic to ask “Is someone or something radical/ anarchist/ libertarian?” when sociological/ political terms lack the rigourous definition of scientific terminology. So first you must decide what you mean by radical and then you are setting up a question based on you’re own preconceived bias of what is or isn’t radical (i.e. relative to your own position). I’m not sure that that is useful particularly when talking about organisms that are only weakly cohesive entities at best and certainly inconconsistent in their actions and motivations over a range of subjects and within the same subject over time.

      I think (based on knowing the person who set up this site) that it was intended (as is this website) to be a more open-ended question to stimulate an open discussion of the sort we have previously engaged in in email networks. Less dense that a blog as it were.

      As to the video, I think OW’s point that striving to maintain the burden of proof on the lawmaker/ enforcer to demonstrate guilt over the individual to demonstrate innocence is an important one and a balance that has been significantly eroded in the time since this film was made. As is the concept of data protection, not only from individuals who wish to act fraudulently outside of the law but also from those who determine what law is.


  2. The post has to be about bureaucracy as that’s his motivation. And the thing about bureaucracy is people don’t want it for themselves, but they do for others.

    The data I have on which I base such an assertion is my own experience and what I know of people, which includes reading books by people who have done science on it, and many books and films written by people who know people. Of course I may be wrong!

    But that doesn’t mean I think we couldn’t have a radically different society, because individually and collectively we do change and adapt. What it does mean is that we have to think carefully about what we need to do to bring about a ‘better’ one.

    So it is useful – in the absence of a method of collecting perfect data, which would be infinite – to make suppositions, not assumptions, about people in the collective sense, using the data you do have at your disposal. The problems begin when you give up the scientific method, ie refuse to change your beliefs in the face of compelling evidence, when they become tenets of a faith.

    I’ll give you that radical is a relative term, and in more than one way. My comments there were motivated by my interpretation of the poster as implying that Welles believed being radical was undesirable, and that he wasn’t intelligent enough to recognise the import of his words. I believe he was a very smart man who effected radical change in the way we see the world by using mass media because he recognised its – yes, I am going to use that word – revolutionary potential.

    Anarchist and libertarian, however, whilst somewhat wooly in the way you say, are quite well received terms which even include subsects, so I think you can make a judgement as to whether or not someone meets the definition, whilst remembering that all definitions are only of something at that particular moment in time, ie changeable.

    1. reorg

      I agree Orson Welles thought about things a fair bit. For those who haven’t seen them some of the other episodes in this series are quite interesting. Still, his distancing himself from known radical ideas is a bit distasteful to me. It’s true he may have chosen to be radical in other ways but that’s no reason to take sideswipes at the methods others choose. Only I’m allowed to do that…

  3. Tim

    @Dan I think that the post is about the nature of the organisation that Welles’ proposes and not about bureaucracy.

    In particular the key concepts of his organisation appear to be:
    1) mass international membership
    2) recognisable card identifying ones’ membership
    3) pooled resources made available in the defence of the members

    I think it is quite possible to think of an organisation that functioned this way that was not targeted at avoiding bureaucracy. For example, perhaps the organisation could be targeted at resisting bank charges for going overdrawn, or at resisting rent increases and evictions… or many other things I could list if necessary.


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