So, The Sad Puppies, Then: Part Two: Libertarianism

This is going to be a contentious one, so an explanation about my explanation — in this post, I am going to talk about Libertarianism as it pertains to “geek culture”, and specifically to SF fandom. When I do so, I am going to generalise hugely. Please remember that I am talking not about Libertarianism as coherent political philosophy, nor about the policy positions of the Libertarian Party (and for the most part the Libertarians I’m talking about would not be members of that party, but Libertarian Republicans), and if something I say doesn’t apply to a specific Libertarian, it doesn’t apply to that person and I accept that unreservedly.

That said…

Libertarianism, as it manifests in SF fandom, is a curiously American belief system. While Libertarianism as a political philosophy has a long and relatively serious history, with its roots in the classical Liberalism of John Stuart Mill (roots which my own political views share, though Libertarians deviate from my understanding of Mill in a number of important ways) and classical anarchist thinkers, popular Libertarianism in the US comes largely from two science fiction writers, Ayn Rand and Robert A Heinlein.

Rand, by far the less talented of the two, is also the easiest to sum up and, unfortunately, the more influential. Quite simply, Rand was someone who saw how bad the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was first-hand, came over to America and saw that many intellectuals were going on about how wonderful Uncle Joe Stalin was, and overreacted wildly to this, not least because she spent much of the ensuing few decades off her head on speed, and so very inclined to paranoia. She developed a “philosophy”, Objectivism, which she expounded in a bunch of tediously unreadable dystopian SF novels, each longer than the last, but which simply boiled down to reversing all the logical errors of the Communists and thus coming up with a lot of logical errors all of her very own. Her main “principle”, if you can call it that, is that selfishness is the greatest good of all, and that anyone who tries to stop a man of will from doing whatever he wants is evil.

Heinlein was a more nuanced thinker, and a better writer. His political positions changed over time quite considerably, and are best represented in his major works — Menippean satires of which Stranger In A Strange Land  is probably the best known. Having read most of Heinlein’s work, the only consistent views he seems to have held throughout his life are:

  • Women, especially pregnant women, should be protected at all costs, and any man who harms a woman should die.
  • Serving in the military during time of war is the duty of every man, whatever his beliefs about the war in question
  • Homosexuals are more to be pitied than punished; every kind of sexual freedom is a good thing (especially incest — Heinlein really, really, liked writing about how there is nothing wrong with having sex with your own mum. I mean, really liked it).
  • People should be left alone to do whatever they want
  • Blood donation is a very good thing.

While he expressed his political views in his major works, they also informed a lot of his pulpy works (Heinlein, more than most SF writers, could switch between the two modes with relative ease), to the extent that there is now a major sub-genre of SF — “military SF” — that is based almost exclusively around imitations of Heinlein’s stories of how space marines should protect the womenfolk. (Yes, that is a caricature of Heinlein, no I don’t think it a totally unfair characterisation of the parts of his work that are being drawn from).

From Heinlein and Rand, then, a sort of consensus ultra-simplified Libertarianism became, if not the predominant political belief of SF fans (who, like every other sufficiently-large group, cover the whole political spectrum), the belief system of a relatively large minority of them. The beliefs of this version of Libertarianism boil down to:

  • Government is the only enemy of liberty, or the only one worth bothering with
  • “An armed society is a polite society” — guns make people behave
  • Securing the borders is one of only two legitimate functions of government
  • “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” — economics is a zero-sum game, and if you’re giving someone government welfare handouts, you must be taking them from someone else, who actually earned them.

The implications of this will be discussed tomorrow. For those who want a hint — Altermeyer.

(I was actually going to discuss the implications today, but  I’m too tired and headachey to finish it off today.)

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4 Responses to So, The Sad Puppies, Then: Part Two: Libertarianism

  1. hilker says:

    While I don’t dispute your cultural history of libertarianism in SF fandom, it’s important to also note that libertarianism as a US political movement has never strayed from its roots as a pro-business PR effort: http://www.alternet.org/visions/true-history-libertarianism-america-phony-ideology-promote-corporate-agenda?paging=off

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, absolutely. But the people I’m talking about, for the most part, aren’t reading Hayek or Friedman, though they would undoubtedly agree with them the majority of the time…

  2. Simon BJ says:

    The thesis that tisataafl (there is such a thing as a free lunch) is actually true, its just that the ‘free lunch’ isn’t the hand outs to the have nots, but the giant lunch baskets in the hands of the upper haves, massively out of proportion to their needs or efforts. [Which is not to say I think economies are zerosum games just that ‘sometimes’ they have losers.]

  3. Pingback: So, The Sad Puppies, Then: 3 of 4 — “Libertarian” Authoritarians And Pulp | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

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