I must strongly disagree with the use of the word "fascist" with respect to the society portrayed in the novel Starship Troopers.
Let's look at how Wikipedia defines fascism:
One common definition of fascism focuses on three groups of ideas:
- The Fascist Negations of anti-liberalism, anti-communism and anti-conservatism.
- Nationalist, authoritarian goals for the creation of a regulated economic structure to transform social relations within a modern, self-determined culture.
- A political aesthetic using romantic symbolism, mass mobilisation, a positive view of violence, promotion of masculinity and youth and charismatic leadership.
None of these apply to the society portrayed in the book.
The first item: the sole means by which the government attempted to impart any point of view on the citizens was a high-school class called "History and Moral Philosophy" that was always taught by a full citizen, but which the student was not required to pass. The examples from when the protagonist took the class did debunk some of the tenets of communism, though. (Labor does not always add value. An unskilled cook can take pie dough and apples and produce a burned mess, where a skilled cook can produce a delicious dessert, so the "labor theory of value" in its simplest form is disproven by example.)
The second item: the government did not run businesses. The society operated in a free market. The amount of regulations imposed by the government was never explicitly spelled out, but my impression is that the amount of regulation was low, as discussions of business did not tend to rants about permits or bureaucratic interference.
The third one at first seems plausible, as the book is (in Heinlein's own words) intended to present lowly soldiers in a good light (as opposed to senior generals, Presidents, etc.). However, the government in the book did not promote such ideas. Instead, the government took steps to scare people off from becoming soldiers. For example, having a maimed military veteran sit outside the recruiting station and warn young people that they could get maimed like he had been. (Later, the protagonist meets this veteran again, and he is off-duty and wearing artificial limbs that look real and work about like the real thing, and the veteran's manner is completely changed; he congratulates the protagonist for choosing to serve in the infantry.)
My opinion could be slanted, as I am politically a minarchist libertarian, but the society in Starship Troopers appears to be a minarchist libertarian government. The government is relatively small and does relatively little, and what it does do seems to be mostly confined to defense and police. The common attitude among most of the population is that they want nothing to do with government, which seems unlikely if government was a major force in peoples' lives. (The protagonist's father has not earned the right to vote, and proudly tells the protagonist at one point that he is a third generation non-voter; why would he want to earn a vote? No profit in that, the time is better spent building the business.)
The described history in Starship Troopers went like this: During a time of wide-spread social upheaval, the old governments disintegrated and new ones formed. One of the new governments, mentioned as an example, used "scientific" techniques to pick who would be in charge; it failed. Eventually a bunch of military veterans banded together and began keeping some sort of peace within the area they were able to patrol, and this expanded to become a new system of government. Voting was limited to people who had served at least one term of service in the government. Service could be military but could also be anything else the government needed to have done, such as scientific research. Also, according to their laws, the government had to accept any volunteer and find some work for them to do. (Someone asked what would happen if a blind and deaf person applied for service; the answer was that even if the job was something silly like counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, some work would be found.) The protagonist only wanted military service and did not apply for non-military service, but the option for non-military service was open to him. Finally, the vote was limited to people who had completed their government service but were no longer employed by the government; this wasn't discussed much, but the brief discussion was approximately that the society wanted to avoid the moral hazard of people using the political process to increase their own salary and/or benefits.
I'm afraid I must disagree with you that Heinlein always pursued the ideas of where a society breaks down. Starship Troopers shows a society not breaking down, but gearing up to fight against the threat of "the Bugs". In real life Heinlein was pro-freedom and anti-communist, and some people opine that the Bugs were intended as an allegory for communists. That's plausible. On the other hand, the book is not an exploration of the morality of war; the Bug War was presented as a simple moral situation, that the Bugs started attacking human colonies because Bugs like the same sort of planets humans like. Heinlein had no doubts as to whether World War II was a "just war" and his fictional Bug War was clearly described as a "just war". Humanity needed to defend itself, and was doing so. Anyway, the Bugs were an implacable enemy who started the war and couldn't be bargained with or reasoned with, making a very simple moral situation.
For a better example of showing the bad points of a society, read Starman Jones. In that novel, a system of guilds divides up the available jobs and jealously guards their own part of the job market; you cannot get a job as an astrogator without joining the Astrogator's Guild, and that guild was unlikely to let you join. (You needed to be invited in by a relative or close friend.) Or, for an even more nuanced look at a society, read Citizen of the Galaxy and see how the Free Traders are simultaneously the most free people in the galaxy, and yet their society chains them into rigid social structures.
In both books our heroes defeat the major dramatic conflict, but also find that society did not become utopia as a result.
On this point I agree with you completely. Heinlein wasn't too much for utopias. At the end of his career he wrote some weaker novels where the main characters lived in a highly advanced society of abundance, with disease and aging pretty much solved problems, but even those characters wound up having problems they needed to solve.
The movie was a shallow satire. The book was a thoughtful morality play.
I agree with these points. The satire in Robocop went over well, and I felt that the satire in the Starship Troopers movie was an attempt to go back to that same well; it fell flat for me. The book had a simple moral: the height of morality is to put yourself at risk to defend others from harm.
I still like the movie though, as was far more annoyed by the lack of jumpsuits than the political fun.
The lack of powered armor really bothered me. In the movie they used something very like an M-16 despite the fact that they were fighting giant bugs with nontrivial amounts of armor; they had hopelessly inadequate equipment and got slaughtered a lot. In the book the soldiers were highly mobile, heavily armed, and well-trained in the use of their weapons, and led by well-trained officers who used effective tactics. (The leaders were not portrayed as flawless, though; the first attack on the Bugs' homeworld, Operation Bughouse, was a horrible bloody disaster that devastated the military forces.)