Minority Report

A Note on Faith

One of the themes of Minority Report, as Lester D. Friedman points out, is faith.

Often, when we think of faith, we think of religion.  And within religion, there are two approaches an individual can take.  The first is called fideism, which is the belief that logic and reason will not yield fundamental truths and therefore should be ignored (at least when theological matters are concerned); instead, one should seek out divine revelation as one’s only pathway to theological truth.  The other is called deism, and it takes the opposite stand: all theological (and non-theological) truth that happens to be attainable, is only attainable through reason and through observations of the natural world; so-called divine revelation holds no weight amongst deists.

So what role does faith play in Minority Report?  As Professor Friedman writes,

The Pre-Cogs inhabit a room called the “temple,” and Agent [Danny] Witwer (Colin Farrell) compares their work to that of priests rather than law-enforcement personnel, but [John] Anderton forcefully rejects this notion as an inappropriate description of their responsibilities.  Ironically, he fails to recognize that his absolute faith in the Pre-Cogs’ visions of the future amounts to a zealous defense of a particular belief system.  As will be demonstrated repeatedly throughout the movie, Anderton must go blind before he can see; he must lose his way in darkness before he can find a light that will lead him to personal redemption and political reality.  The film posits that uncritically trusting in any system inevitably leads to disastrous consequences.1

Anderton initially places his total faith in the Precrime system just as many blindly place their faith in big government; it is only after Anderton becomes a victim of the selfsame system that he begins to question the justness thereof.

Reason, not faith, is our only valid tool in the pursuit of truth.  When Cicero wrote about the need to respect natural law above civil law, he did not defend this objective on the grounds that we should simply have faith in natural rights and not ask questions; instead, he made it clear that nothing can be known about the nature of justice without use of “right reason.”  When the individualist anarchist and deist Lysander Spooner argued in favour of justice in 1882 in his essay Natural Law, it was his capacity to reason that he employed in defence of his position.  Likewise a hundred years later when the individualist anarchist and agnostic Murray N. Rothbard defended natural law in his book The Ethics of Liberty, it was his goal to ground all ethical considerations in the same fundamental truths that can only be attained through reason and through observations of the natural world.

Libertarians disagree amongst themselves whether a state system is necessary—and this is okay.  We have minarchists like Dr. Tibor Machan who defend a minimal state, while we have anarchists like Dr. Murray Rothbard who defend a stateless society.  Fortunately, however, both camps completely reject the notion that a sound political philosophy can be founded on divine revelation, faith, or blind hope; they find no useful function in the utopian approach to political philosophy embodied by such statists as Mussolini, Machiavelli, or Mao.

A functioning anarchy would not be able to prevail on blind hope alone.  Rather, the preservation of anarchy requires what the classical liberal and deist Thomas Jefferson called eternal vigilance, and what the liberal Lord Acton (who was a Roman Catholic whose views brought him into conflict with the church hierarchy) called a revolution in permanence.  Moreover, alternative, voluntary institutions would have to arise to replace the inherently aggressive institutions of the state, as the Tannehills, Rothbard, and others have surmised.

But we’ll never get to a libertarian society if we do not first demolish the blind faith people place in politicians, bureaucrats, judges, cops, teachers, and the state itself.  There is a utopian notion quite popular, which holds that if we just elect the “right” set of people, and enact the “right” set of regulations, suddenly everything will snap into place and we’ll have a utopian world.  But this approach ignores one fundamental problem: the system is run by humans, and humans are flawed.  And this is precisely what Witwer explains to Anderton:  “But there’s a flaw: it’s human.  It always is.”  Or, as Rev. Robert Barnes writes,Riley

In this new world order, cops are still necessary, but they are as much priests as policemen.  They receive oracles from the Precogs, interpret the oracles and determine how society ought to respond.  In other words, just like priests they hold the real power.  They are the interpreters of the prophetic word. They are judge, jury, and executioner.  The future is unalterable and the Precogs are never wrong, which gives Precrime all the justification it needs to enforce its benevolent will.  But there is a weakness: Precrime cops are still human, and humans are flawed.2

Another topic important to religion or faith upon which this film focused was the philosophical debate over free will.  I have treated this subject separately.


1 Lester D. Friedman, Citizen Spielberg (University of Illinois Press, 2006), p. 46.

2 Robert Barnes, “Minority Report: A Review.”