Democracy and Totalitarianism: Mr Smith Goes to Washington

  • Richard Rushton


Two readings of Mr Smith Goes to Washington (we shall eventually encounter a third) open up some of the ways that this film might be counted as political. The first is Jeffrey Richards’s general survey of Capra’s films from within the context of American ‘populism’ (Richards 1976; cf Richards 1973: 222–85). Perhaps Richards’s verdict will initially come as no surprise: that Capra’s cinema is a cinema of ‘populism’, a defence of the little man of country virtues in opposition to big business, big government and overly-sophisticated intellectual elites. From the perspective of 1970, when Richards’s piece was first published, what is ultimately at stake in such a philosophy of populism is that it favours individualism over and above all forms of organization. If we consider that Richards is writing from a left-leaning perspective, then, from such a perspective, the only genuine forms of political action are those which acknowledge group dynamics and social comradeship. The key to the left’s victory—for socialism or a victory of the proletariat—is that it will mobilize collectivities against all individualism. We will remember from the preceding chapter that this was the gist of Lindsay Anderson’s complaints against On the Waterfront. The victory of the left will thus be one of organization.


External Object State Governor American Democracy Totalitarian Regime Modern Democracy 
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Copyright information

© Richard Rushton 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Rushton
    • 1
  1. 1.Lancaster UniversityUK

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