One of the more distressing tendencies among American right-wing “libertarians” is a symptomatic willingness to identify popular authors as freedom-loving if they so much as use the term liberty in their works. The undisputed guru of this coterie is Robert A. Heinlein, writer of scores of science fiction short stories and novels; his book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress“, is often singled out as representative of “anarchist” or “libertarian” science fiction. It is an enthralling novelette describing a futuristic moon colony which rebels against planet Earth under the aegis of a small group of classical liberals who have come into power via revolution. The rhetoric of these bourgeois revolutionaries is unabashedly Randian, although a signal character is identified as a “rational anarchist”.
“Moon” is the latest production of the prolific Mr. Heinlein, noted also for “Stranger in a Strange Land“, which supposedly captivated the attention of hip people several years ago. One would expect Heinlein to be somewhat sympathetic to the Movement, having read his utopian creations which hint at the possibilities of an open society; to the contrary, a bitter awakening is in store for Heinlein fans who are more than armchair devotees of liberty.
According to a February issue of National Review magazine, Robert Heinlein is one of 270 signers of a jingoist petition circulated in the U. S. Author’s Guild by the facile William Buckley and his spiritual cohort Frank S. Meyer. The petition, a belated retort to an earlier anti-Vietnam war roster of authors (which was eminently successful), calls for “the vigorous prosecution of the Vietnam war to an honorable conclusion.” Deep contemplation is not necessary to comprehend the statist, authoritarian implications of such New Right weasel words and the concomitant beliefs of men who would endorse it.
Only one other science fiction writer joins Heinlein in the missive, Poul Anderson; the other signatories are well known in the rightist arsenal (Stefan Possony, Eugene Lyons, Brent Bozell, John Dos Passos, Francis Russell . . . ad nauseam). The case of Robert Heinlein is useful in evaluating both the politics of his followers and the commitments of entrenched and established American writers: It is clear that a writer cannot serve two masters, both justice and the mighty dollar—one must give way, if not on the written page, then in one’s personal life. While Heinlein has never been so explicitly libertarian as to be judged hypocritical, the lesson remains an open and obvious one.
An interesting footnote to this question comes from our British comrades: Several years ago, in Anarchy magazine, the monthly publication of Freedom Press in London, an article appeared on science fiction in the English language, in which Heinlein was singled out as “the only fascist science fiction writer in America.” This prophetic note comes from a libertarian community that has no need for propertied quislings.
The Libertarian Forum, August 1, 1969