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Jack William Bell's Journal: The connection between Hard SF & Libertarianism

Journal by Jack William Bell
Eric Raymond has blogged an interesting polemic on the association between libertarianism and 'Hard' Science Fiction. He starts off well by showing how the return of Hard SF in the last decade seems to mostly revolve around libertarian-minded writers like the 'Killer Bs' (Bear, Brin and Benford). Both true, and to the point.

However I have a couple of problems with his take on the subject. For one thing he barely mentions Vernor Vinge. For another he refers to "Heinlein's evolution from Goldwater conservative to anti-statist radical . . ." I must have heard a zillion takes on Heinlein's politics over the years, but this one floored me! It certainly goes against the grain of the liberals I know that decry Heinlein's 'Fascism'. But it seems equally off base when you look at Heinlein's real political evolution...

In actual fact Heinlein was originally a Liberal Democrat! And a very active one at that, actually running for local office and taking part in several other hard-fought campaigns in various capacities. Now I don't pretend to know the whole story of why RAH left the party, but it seems clear that he never left behind his social liberal beliefs. Instead he discarded anti-capitalism and the wish for a nanny state; in this it seems more like the party left him as it changed into its current form. It is certainly true that by the 1960's Heinlein's work contained strong libertarian messages and that his stated political stance continued to modify as well to include a deep distrust of 'big government'. But my real issue with Raymond's take is that RAH had a very complicated political history, one that spanned six decades of personal change, and that he was never truly a 'Conservative' at any step of the way!

I certainly have to agree with Eric on some things about RAH though. Like Eric, I am "I'm one of Heinlein's children, one of the libertarians that science fiction made." Unlike him, and despite many blandishments from Lib-party friends, I have never joined the party and likely never will; I feel the Libertarian Party, as it exists today, manifestly cannot work in the American political environment. They are saying all the wrong things for all the right reasons. Their only value, to me, is to provide a candidate for whom I can cast a protest vote when the major party candidates both seem slimy. Like, for example, every presidential contest since Jefferson's...

Be that as it may, I certainly like Eric's main thrust that those who want to see a more 'radical' hard SF are missing the point: "By jamming SF's native libertarianism into a box labeled 'right wing' or 'conservative' they doom themselves to misunderstanding the deepest imperatives of the genre."

If you are an SF fan, hard or not, read Eric's essay. Well worth your time.

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The connection between Hard SF & Libertarianism

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