A Virginia farmer defies both the Confederate and Union armies to steer a neutral course for his family through the American Civil War. [ Shenandoah credits: Dir: Andrew V. McLaglen/ James Stewart, Doug McClure, Glenn Corbett/ 106 min/ Western, Family/ Anti-War, Eminent Domain, Anti-Draft]
Lieutenant Johnson: “[To fight this war, the State of] Virginia needs all of her sons.” Mr. Anderson: “That might be so, Johnson, but these are my sons. They don’t belong to the State.” That kind of defiant language occurs throughout this film as the independent Mr. Anderson resists all government encroachments. And he isn’t just defiant in word but also in deed. At another point in the film, army purchasing agents come to requisition Mr. Anderson’s horses at a government-mandated price. The entire family takes on the agents in a fistfight, ultimately driving them off empty-handed. This is indeed a film for libertarians!
Despite the family’s heroic independence, however, war inevitably comes to their farm in the form of skirmishes between Confederate and Union armies. The youngest son is mistaken for a Confederate soldier and is taken prisoner. The family tries to find him and bring him back, but it’s hopeless, and several family members die in the attempt. It’s a sad turn in the story but a necessarily realistic one. War is a senseless carnage, the tragic effects of which no one in its vicinity can entirely escape.
The anti-draft and antiwar elements are prominent, very satisfying, and must have struck a chord with many when the film was released in Vietnam-era 1965. An additional virtue is the film’s characterization of the family’s moral disposition, which motivates its resistance to being involved in the war. In particular, the Andersons believe that people should do their own work, and hence they have no slaves despite being Virginians (Virginia was a Confederate, slave-owning state). Likewise, they have a healthy mind-your-own-business attitude that prevents them from following the herd and getting involved in the war.
Yes, there is much in Shenandoah for libertarians to appreciate, and it’s all woven into an entertaining family-style drama. The story is alternately humorous and moving, with a first-rate performance by James Stewart, who steals the show as the cantankerous but caring father, a tough man with a deep love for his wife and children. The theme music is also superior. Although it takes place in the South, the film has the feel of a western and is generally classified as such. It was the runner up for “Best Libertarian Picture” at the 1994 First International Libertarian Film Festival.
“Shenandoah, a 1965 film starring Jimmy Stewart, is often regarded as the best libertarian film Hollywood ever made…This is a powerful movie about independence, self-reliance, individualism, and the horrors of war.”
–David Boaz, Cato Institute