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Burke and Mill in….Braveheart

April 4, 2011

Burke, as we have been able to glean from the readings, was an incredibly extreme conservative.  Burke believed in the importance of having order, an established structure and most importantly, the value that comes from tradition.  From these things, order and tradition, Burke believed that we would be able to come to good decisions, knowing how it was done in the past. (The famous phrase “History is made by those who know history” comes to mind.)  Going off his idea of history being the primary indicator of something, Burke believed that reason too was accumulated over time, similar to structure and order.  Being an extreme conservative, Burke was also very opposed to revolution, believing that the individual should obey to the historical precedence provided to them. 

Opposed to Burke, Mill takes a different look upon society.  Mill was much more free thinking than Burke, believing that it is through experience and living life that one can come to conclusions about life.  I feel that Mill takes an almost Charlie Sheen view on life viewing that it is only through trying different lifestyles and things in life that one can make a conclusion about life. (NOTE: I by no means am trying to say Mill and Sheen are equals, rather they both preach kind of a philosophy of living life to the fullest to finding out more about life through personal experiences)  Mill believed that reason is accumulated by the individual rather than over time and those individuals of a society have the freedom of public discourse.  Mill also dislikes the idea of the social contract, but believes in a state that society should protect its individuals and the individuals should perform or conduct in a certain way.

Taking all of this into account, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the all-time macho-man movie Braveheart, taking into account the views of Burke and Mill and seeing their views played out by characters in the movie.

First a quick overview of the movie for those having missed out on one of the greatest movies of all-time is as follows: the movie takes places in Scotland in the late 13th century.  England is currently ruling Scotland harshly, taking their crops, woman, etc.  We are introduced to the main character, William Wallace, an intelligent village.  William marries the love of his life in secret as the English will not allow a Scottish man to marry a Scottish woman without being an Englishman’s property too.  Eventually an Englishman tries to rape William’s wife, which he saves her from.  Unfortunately she does not escape when he does and is publically executed.  This causes William to attack those who killed his wife, and feeding off the hate for the English of the Scottish, leads a revolution.   For a more in-depth analysis see

Having stated what is above, it appears the Burke would have not supported William Wallace at all and almost seems to be the character of Robert the Bruce’s father (the old, wrinkly guy who is only sees in scene with the Bruce.)  The Bruce’s father is always pushing Robert towards seizing power, which sounds more Machiavellian than Burkian, but also makes numerous arguments to Robert that there is an order in place in society that he must not violate.  The Bruce’s father advises Robert against the revolution, as it goes against the order and structure of society and will only lead to loss and/or death.  The Bruce’s father even goes as far as to betray the Bruce’s wishes, as to abide with the traditional social norms, those who are treasonous should be turned into the government for punishment.   Burke’s philosophy can also be seen in the Nobles throughout the movie.  The Nobles are those who control the clans of Scotland and are always trying to instigate order and structure.  They do not support William’s defiance of the English throne as it will destroy the order and structure of society that they have grown accustom to.  The Nobles are also the one’s that speak for their clansman, sometimes going against what their people want for their own personal benefit, displaying the idea that they believed that reason accumulated over time and was in the hands of those who know what reason would be, i.e. the nobles. 

On the other hand, I can fully see Mill’s philosophy in the character of William Wallace.  Wallace is one that abides and conducts himself in the way one should, earning the protection of his society.  But when the society that he abides to goes against his personal interests and safety, but killing his wife and then trying to kill him, he has had enough and comes to the conclusion that a revolution or some sort of defiance is needed.  Wallace rallies the Scottish, making numerous arguments that they must at least try to live a life of freedom, that they must try and new lifestyle as the current one is against the interests of their people and harmful .  I think it is through analyzing Wallace’s character, one can definitely seeing Mill’s philosophy through his character.  Wallace has an urge to live, to try different lifestyles to see what freedom or liberty truly is. 

In accordance with the Millsian philosophy being seen in Wallace, comes one of the most famous quotes from movie said by Wallace, and something I believe Mill would have completely agreed with,  “All men die, but not all men truly live.”

I thought overall that it was interesting applying Mill versus Burke’s philosophy in a movie as I feel that it appears in many movies, i.e. Gladiator, the gladiator versus the norms/tradition of Roman Society, etc. 

Also i have included a few videos, one of the freedom speech which i believe shows how the Nobles are going against the will of the society and Wallace talking about living a different lifestyle, one of freedom. And is overall just a kick-ass speech

  1. jamescimina permalink
    April 6, 2011 10:38 PM

    Great post! I too am a huge Braveheart fan and really enjoyed reading your analysis of how the characters and themes of the movie relate to Mill and Burke. I completely agree that William Wallace would most closely relate to Mill’s theories in that he defied tyranny in order to live a life of freedom. Mill believed how one must live to the fullest in order to fully experience the full beauties of life. Much like Wallace who would have traded everything for freedom. He felt it was something no one could take away. He definitely would not relate to Burke considering he felt that one should obey the precedents from the past, this is obviously what Wallace in fact set out to destroy for the benefit of the Scottish people. Overall I really enjoyed your post


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