The great works of classical conservatism: Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Joseph de Maîstre’s Lettres d'un Royaliste Savoisien, and Disney’s The Lion King. Disney’s lovable, P-G bildungsroman of love, loss, and life on the African Savannah is a prime modern example of a philosophy seemingly left behind at the turn of the 20th century. For better or for worse, modern society sees the core components of classical conservatism—tradition, religion, hierarchy, community—as regressive and reactionary. As a result, it is rare to see these values advertised in mass media. The Lion King, however, is a stark exception to this rule with the emphasis it places on hierarchy and spirituality.
At the head of the classical conservative state stands an absolute monarch. Mufasa is quite literally the epitome of a conservative ruler: he upholds the social hierarchy, preserves the sanctity of religious tradition, and rules with justice and wisdom. A classical conservative values patria and pater. While The Lion King lacks modern nation states, it certainly does not lack the role of a guiding father figure. From the beginning, Mufasa reinforces societal divisions when he teaches young Simba about the role each species has in the circle of life: when each group fulfills its societal expectations, civilization flourishes. Feudalism, anyone? Simba also learns about the power of past great kings, as Mufasa utilizes “great man history” to show Simba his spiritual connection with the traditions and successes of ancient rulers. And later on, it is Mufasa’s spirit in the stars that inspires Simba to embrace his societal duties and return to save his pride.
Scar, however, represents everything that Mufasa and Simba do not: his ambition, disrespect for tradition, and attempts for equality between the hyenas and the lions make him the perfect caricature of a conservative’s enemy. Scar cannot accept his God-given role in life and instead abandons his place in society in an attempt to seize personal glory and upset the social order. Even before he begins plotting his coup d’état, his refusal to attend baby Simba’s celebration displays his contempt for tradition and time-honored social etiquette. And in killing Mufasa, Scar not only kills a king (a god among men to classical conservatives) but his own brother, dismembering the familial ties traditionalist conservatives hold so dear. Scar, of course, uses the aid of the hyenas in his nefarious plots, upsetting the social hierarchy among animal species. Instead of trying to understand the hyenas’ culture, the lions simply banish them to a barren wasteland. The “mangy, stupid, slobbering” hyenas lack beauty, dignity, or purpose in the eyes of the prideful and established lions. To classical conservatives, Scar lives up to his name: he is truly a blemish on the savannah’s royal family and traditionalist values.
Despite the potential biases of The Lion King, it is thankfully a movie that everyone loves regardless of his or her political leanings. In a world with more Scars than Simbas, let’s not just say “hakuna matata” and instead question our leaders and political structures, learn about different societal organizations, and get hyped for the 2019 Lion King remake!