Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Libertarian Novels

For some reason which I don't understand, the worst writers, like Karl Marx, are leftist, the best, such as Conrad and Dostoevsky, are conservatives, and the anarchist/libertarian ones write science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Even Tolkien, who wrote of a Stateless Shire in his first novel, The Hobbit, described himself as an "anarchist."

As an example, nearly every libertarian I know has been profoundly affected by the writings of the late Robert Heinlein. It wasn't just the libertarian world he portrayed in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, but also the fact he portrayed the characters in nearly all of his stories as competent, can-do people. It's obvious that Tom Clancy was greatly influenced by him, too.

Myself, I found A.E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher an eye-opener. It portrayed the importance of an armed citizenry against the eternal depredations of the State. How many other novels written in the '50's were so sympathetic to the importance of the Second Amendment? I can't think of any.

Others were influenced by Eric Frank Russell's story, ". . . And Then There Were None" (part of his book, The Great Explosion), about a society which had discovered a foolproof way to remain completely free and at the same time make itself unconquerable.

Today, there are three well-known libertarian science-fiction writers -- L. Neil Smith, James P. Hogan, and F. Paul Wilson. All have huge followings.

Probably Smith's most famous novel is his first one, The Probability Broach, written in the late '70's but just recently reissued as a superb graphic novel. It's the story of one Win Bear, a detective who ends up in an alternate libertarian universe in which monkeys and dolphins talk, and Ayn Rand was President. And everyone is armed. (Obviously, there's not much crime. As Heinlein pointed out, "An armed society is a polite society.")

James Hogan is not so explicitly libertarian as Smith, but he, too uses the convention of alternate universes to fashion freer worlds than our own. I am especially fond of Bug Park, a "hard science" novel about a young boy and his adventures with tiny, remote-controlled robots. This one, even though for adults, has Heinlein "juvenile" written all over it, and would make a wonderful movie.

Then we have F. Paul Wilson and his "Repairman Jack" novels (The Tomb, Conspiracies). Jack, who is a combination of the Equalizer and Fox Mulder, has decided he wants to live off of the grid, completely away from the prying eyes of the State. He deals only in gold and cash, has no Social Security number, no ID. He also has a flame-thrower, bought from a weapons shop which has the same motto as the one in The Weapon Shops of Isher: "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free." The name of the shop is, of course, Isher.

Jack "fixes" people's problems when they have no one else to turn to. He is equal parts Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel. His adventures run from dealing with rakoski -- walking, talking Great Whites who just happen to be human -- to the Men in Black (who really aren't from here).

All of these writers are great fun, and all are illustrations of Tolkien's comment that we have the Primary World (the one in which we live), and then we have Secondary Worlds -- the ones writers create. There are an infinite amount of them.

If a writer has enough skill to create a fully-realized Secondary World, and readers enough imaginative muscle to suspend their disbelief, they can actually "live" for a while in that Secondary World.

What an awful world it would be if there were no Secondary Worlds. It would be the world of 1984, of Brave New World, of Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind.

Certainly, Secondary Worlds are an escape. But they are more than that. As Richard Feynman so perceptively noted, ". . . there are new generations born every day . . . there are great ideas developed in the history of man, and these ideas do not last unless they are passed purposely and clearly from generation to generation."

It is through stories -- through those Secondary Worlds --that those ideas are passed from generation to generation. Without those Secondary, imaginative worlds, you can start saying goodbye to the collected wisdom of humanity, passed from old to young. As Richard Weaver wrote in his book of the same title, Ideas Have Consequences.

One of the curious differences between the Primary World and Secondary Worlds is that the first is inherently imperfect (in religious terms, "fallen"), while Secondary Worlds are not necessarily. What this does is give the readers an idea of what better worlds might be like, in the safety of their imaginations.

Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, for two examples, spent their lives imagining fully-realized libertarian worlds, and wrote about them in the hope others would read of them and be convinced of the truth of their positions. Both were showing people better worlds.

A libertarian world, for example, is as close to an ideal world as there can be. However, being an ideal world, it doesn't (as of yet) exist totally in the real world. It does exist in bits and pieces in reality. It is a Secondary World that someday might be completely implemented in the Primary World.

All of the aforementioned writers, and their books, are about what America could have been, and what it should be. What the world should be. The books are about the writers and readers using their imaginations to see what the world would be like if the switches were set right, ones set wrong a long time ago.

Such things would be all for the good, for everyone.

1 comment:

CS McClellan/Catana said...

Bookmarking this post. Haven't read most of the books you mention, so it looks like a feast coming up. Thanks.