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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12872/was-robert-a-heinlein-a-libertarian-2/

Was Robert A. Heinlein a Libertarian?

June 2, 2010 by

According to one survey, in the early 1970s one libertarian activist in six had been led to libertarianism by reading the novels and short stories of Robert A. Heinlein. Whether he was personally a libertarian or not, we owe Heinlein a profound debt. FULL ARTICLE by Jeff Riggenbach


Aubrey Herbert June 2, 2010 at 8:51 am

Rothbard: “While the bow and arrow and even the rifle can be pinpointed, if the will be there, against actual criminals, modern nuclear weapons cannot.… These weapons are ipso facto engines of indiscriminate mass destruction. (The only exception would be the extremely rare case where a mass of people who were all criminals inhabited a vast geographical area.) We must, therefore, conclude that the use of nuclear or similar weapons, or the threat thereof , is a sin and a crime against humanity for which there can be no justification.”

Not merely ownership as many seem to contend (after reading this passage).

Goddard Lewko June 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Oh look, it’s this argument again…

As passionate and poetic as people have expressed their dislike of such things, this entire rational argument for singling out a given device as a sin and crime against humanity falls apart upon the realization that it presupposes only one possible form of nuke (namely the metropolitan area ending variety) and only one possible application (that of killing innocent people en masse). There’s nothing inherent to the technology involved that makes nuclear weapons less controllable in their destruction than other, less negatively thought of explosives. What forms to create this view is a combination of indecisive but emotionally gripping sources.

For one, we might consider that the development of such weapons is held in a death grip by the institutionalized aggression of governments. As the state has no incentive to reduce their collateral damage it should hardly come at any surprise that mass murder becomes the name of the game in their development. Taken into accountable hands, I’m sure the nature of nuclear developments would change course in ways that past generations wouldn’t have imagined.

Then we might consider the horrorshow of aftereffects that were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such images are surely burned into the minds of many when they contemplate the subject of nukes as a whole. Using them as an example of the contemporary weapon’s evil is folly however, when one realizes just how inefficient these primitive, early attempts were. Only about a third of the fissile material in these bombs actually created an explosion; the rest was thrown about as fallout. Fast forwarding one’s perception of nukes by a mere 10 years would create a much cleaner picture with the advent of the more efficient thermonuclear designs, and the later neutron bomb produces no fallout at all.

And then of course we must thank the imagination-killing rhetoric of authoritative nuclear experts, Murray Rothbard included. Surely these people can never be wrong about such a fringe and rarely researched topic as a specific type of explosive device. Why, to even suggest that it would be more complicated than presented is tantamount to genocide of one’s fellow man! And surely such hatred and bile has no place amongst civilized, reasonable discourse and debate.

Christoph Kohring June 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

RKBN: Freedom Through Superior Firepower!

Christoph, freedom nut at the foot of the Mont-Pèlerin

Tristan June 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm

“I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” – Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I’ve often take this quote as the embodiment of Heinlein’s political and moral views – though I fully admit I’ve little backing to state why. If this is simply hero worship, I do not consider this fault, for the ideas are worth every bit of admiration that can be mustered. Thank you Heinlein.

J. Murray June 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I agree that it’s hard to tie his beliefs down. Another book that has a strong libertarian bent is Time Enough for Love. Then again, Starship Troopers has that immensely strong Cold Warrior theme going on in it. What I do know is that Heinlein was a talented and skilled author, which is why no one can ever truly figure out what he was all about.

C Keith June 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I was a complete Heinlein nut during my middle and high school years. The Moon in a Harsh Mistress was his first book that I read, and still my favorite. I first encountered the word “libertarian” in connection with Heinlein (a website discussing whether he was one, incidentally) and fell in love with those ideas, too. All in all, I must say that the Heinlein’s writings had a great impact on my own development and eventual turn to libertarianism, Austrian economics, anarcho-capitalism, etc. Thanks Jeff for this nice article, and a great thank you to Heinlein himself!

Mikko Sandt June 2, 2010 at 3:49 pm

J. Murray:
“Then again, Starship Troopers has that immensely strong Cold Warrior theme going on in it.”

Nothing in the book goes against libertarianism though. Some critics have been quick to brand it as advocating fascism. Especially if democracy is merely a means to redistribute private property, then taking away the right to vote certainly does not violate libertarian principles. It’s made pretty clear in the book that not having the right to vote (which anyone can obtain anyway) does not restrict property rights; for example, the protagonist’s parents are wealthy despite them not being “citizens”.

Earl Wells June 2, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Actually, Asimov was NOT “convinced that [Heinlein's] personal political views were largely a function of the woman he was married to at the time.” I thiink this misunderstanding arose by virtue of an incomplete version of a quote from Asimov’s memoirs that has been drifting around the net for years.

Here’s the full quote, from chapter 24 of I. ASIMOV, p. 77 of the mass-market paperback:

“Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein
became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward.
This happened at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman,
Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far right conservative woman, Virginia.

Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he switched wives from the
liberal Jane Wyman to the ultraconservative Nancy, but Ronald Reagan I
have always viewed as a brainless fellow who echoes the opinions of
anyone who gets close to him.

I can’t explain Heinlein that way at all, for I cannot believe he
would follow his wives’ opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in
puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein –
I’m sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with
the utmost hostility), and I did come to one conclusion. I would never
marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social,
and philosophical view of life.”

Guard June 2, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Besides, there is very little worth in someone’s opinion about how someone else came to an opinion, unless they were explicitly told.

Alpheus July 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I think it’s funny that Asimov thought Reagan to be “a brainless fellow who echoes the opinions of anyone who gets close to him.” Having read a biography or two no Reagan (I can’t remember the names of the books), I learned that he lost his first marriage to his fight against Communism in Hollywood; his first wife didn’t like Reagan having to stay up at night with a rifle in his lap.

I don’t know about Heinlein, but Reagan’s transitions in wives went hand-in-hand with his transition from liberalism to conservatism.

William Carr October 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

” I learned that he lost his first marriage to his fight against Communism in Hollywood; his first wife didn’t like Reagan having to stay up at night with a rifle in his lap.”

Uhm, what ?

Artisan June 3, 2010 at 2:31 am

Good article!

One remarkable quote I remember reading goes approximately like:
-”The McCarthy prosecution of communists is depicted as being terror. I was a communist at that time and I never had any problem”

James Guy Roberts June 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I attended a Rampart College summer course at Carmel Valley, CA, in 1971. Bob LeFevre at one point left us for the day to visit Heinlein, who was living out there by then. It was clear they were quite good friends. I remember the occasion very clearly because Heinlein was such a hero of mine and I wanted more than anything to go along with Bob to visit him. No such luck. They were both great men.

Writer June 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm

As a long-time Heinlein fan I don’t really think his writing reflected his own real world political beliefs. I think he included ideas in his stories that would work in an idealized or fictional world. I don’t think that he really thought that his philosophies would work in our world. Just interesting ideas to mull over.

If you read Tramp Royale his book about his trip around the world in the 50′s you see that he is nothing like any of his characters in his novels.
I think he wrote about idealized characters in idealized worlds like E.R. Burroughs because he wanted to be entertaining. He was.
I don’t think he meant his characters or worlds to be any more realistic than Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

Jeremiah June 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

Great article, Mr. Riggenbach! What about turning your considerable talents to an analysis of libertarian ideas in the SF of A. E. van Vogt? That’d make a fascinating article, too.

Mike July 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I’ve been re-reading a lot of Heinlein in the last few weeks. Just started “Beyond This Horizon,” which is supposed to be from his early socialistic tradition, but the beginning is a wonderful picture of questioning an engineered economy.

Interesting tidbit: in that book and a few others, he described the waterbed before it had been formally “invented”. He never went about producing and marketing them, but it was his books that prevented a patent being taken out later on. So if you have a waterbed, you can probably thank him for saving you hundreds of dollars on it.

CtLovesNathanHale January 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I’ve been wondering about this myself for some time, and just found this excellent article. Heinlein was also a fan of amphetamines (read his short stories from the 40′s) and incest, so his ideas need to be taken with a grain of salt (or the whole shaker!)

I used to be a big fan of his stories, some of which have been proven to be incredibly prophetic, but now he seems more like a cranky (literally ON crank) perv to me after coming across his incest-themed stories…

Plus the contradictions between being both for and against collectivist ideas are dizzying when you actually break down his different ideas presented in various novels, novellas, and short stories…

I still respect his story telling talent, and his stories make you think. Plus his characters have the old fashioned American traits of NEVER GIVING UP, something we should all take to heart!

Elliot Temple March 2, 2011 at 3:34 am

Read _For Us, The Living_. Heinlein’s economic ideas when he wrote it (1938-1939) are bizarre and definitely not libertarian or Austrian. It was published in 2004. I like the story overall, but the novel contains some lengthy economics lectures within the story which basically say the US could be a lot better off if only the Government would print more money and give it away!

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