Peder D4

Discussion of politics and other odious things

Friday, March 08, 2013

Heinlein the Fascist?

Ok, I mentioned this a while ago, now I'll go into some depth.  The 'nonsense' that I mentioned is here.  Please read it in full and then come back for my commentary. 
The author, Ian Sales, was certain that Heinlein was a crypto-fascist, in part because he knew that Starship Troopers (noted as ST from here on out) was a fascist book.  He had never read it though, so he thought out of fairness that he should.  I think that's an admirable approach.  Alas, this is probably the last kind thing that I'll say about him.
He complains that ST isn't even a story, but merely a series of lectures.  I'll readily agree that there are plenty of lectures in there but that doesn't somehow disqualify it as a story.  I'm rereading Hugo's wonderful 'Les Miserable' right now, which is filled with lectures.  He sums up the story this way:
The plot, such as it is: Johnny Rico graduates from high school, and follows a friend into Federal Service. He is assigned to the Mobile Infantry. Earth goes to war against the Bugs. Rico fights a number of battles and rises up the ranks.
Heinlein wrote many books where the frame of the story is the character development of the main character.  Most of his juvenile novels fit that form.  ST fits that mold.  Juan Rico makes a rash decision and joins the military.  Over time he learns that his experience has helped him grow.  This may not be your cup of tea, but I have no problem with this kind of story arc.
Sales then gives four examples of why ST represents crypto-fascism.
1) "Only veterans of the Federal Service of the Terran Federation have the vote. Heinlein apologists claim that Federal Service is not necessarily military, but this is not true."  Actually it is true.  Heinlein very clearly states (page 27 of my paperback) that 19 out of 20 people that volunteer for service will not be in the military.  Those 19 will instead do hard or dangerous work.  Every one has the right to sign up, so I'd have to assume that a conscientious objector would easily escape actual military service.  Sales quotes from right around these pages so his misreading here is kind of strange.
2) "According to Heinlein, spanking produces well-mannered moral children. After a page or two discussion on the best way to raise puppies – when they make mistakes, scold them, rub their noses in it, and spank them – Rico’s “History & Moral Philosophy” teacher, Mr DuBois, explains that the same methodology should be applied to children. Because not doing this led to the lawlessness of the Twentieth Century:"  I'm not sure what this has to do with fascism or any other totalitarian regime.  Corporal punishment has widely been practiced in most western countries.  In fact widely practiced right up to the 50's.  This example seems like a large non-sequitur.  (Note: now that I'm a parent, I'm not sure I agree with Heinlein here.)
3) "Heinlein directly references fascism. Once again, Rico – and thus the reader – is being lectured in “History & Moral Philosophy”. During this, the instructor explains the actual meaning of the vote:
“Force, if you will! – the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Ax.” (pp 155) [page 145 of my book]
The Rods and the Axe, of course, is the fasces, the word from which Mussolini derived the term fascism." As if a reference to fascism is proof of fascist intent!  Heinlein is making an interesting point here but Sales is too caught up in his attempt to catch Nazis to actually understand it.  The point is this: every law that is passed is the governing body saying 'you will follow this rule or you will be punished'.  He is not saying that the force behind the vote should be wielded recklessly or maliciously.  In fact, he has tried to design a system that would discourage such a thing.
4) "Any society which is authoritarian, elitist, militarist and nationalist fits the characteristics of a fascist state. The Terran Federation as described in Starship Troopers certainly meets that description. As Mussolini himself said, “Anti-individualistic, the fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only insofar as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity.” True, Rico is in the military and at war, and so his interests are firmly aligned – by training and indoctrination – along the lines demanded by the Terran Federation. But that continues to hold true should he leave the Mobile Infantry, because only someone who has served is part of the political process."  There is a huge amount of question begging going on here.  We don't know that the Terran Federation is 'authoritarian, elitist, militarist and nationalist', mostly because Heinlein doesn't show much of the society outside of the military experience.   We know that every school has a teacher who teaches the approved philosophy of the state, but we also know that students aren't required to respect it.  We know that non-citizens prosper in business.  We know that police presence is very small.  We know that the Federation is not nationalist as people from different nations mix quite easily.  We know that most citizens are far removed from military news.  This is far different than the militaristic and fascist societies in history.
It is, I'll grant, an elitist society.  Elitist in the sense that full citizenship must be earned by qualities that would make someone elite.  I imagine that this is the big problem, the idea that there is more to being a citizen than just, well, being.  That there is more to the vote than just showing up on election day.  Again, there is an interesting question being raised here, but not for Sales.  (I'll try to blog on this point sometime soon.)
Sales then concludes that Heinlein must have been a crypto-fascist, since the book is simply one long argument, it must be an argument that Heinlein agrees with.  I think Heinlein did agree with it, but there is simply no way to look at Heinlein's work and conclude that there is any fascism in there.  On the basis of this one blog post, I could conclude that Ian Sales is completely unable to read, but that would be an unfair comment until I'd read more his stuff.

I think what really gets me is the idea that Heinlein was some kind of authoritarian.  When people accuse Heinlein of inserting himself into stories, there are usually three different characters that they point to.
  • Jubal Harshaw, from 'Stranger in a Strange Land'.  This is an elderly man who delights in taking on the planetary government because he likes a good fight.  He lectures one of his workers on toleration.  No one could possibly mistake him for an authoritarian.
  • Prof Bernardo de la Paz, from 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress'.  Another elderly man, this one is a political prisoner on the lunar colony.  This man rejects authority to the extent that he won't use coercion to evacuate people that are in possible danger.  He'll warn them and try to accommodate them, but they must decide to leave on their own.  By the way, the man is a libertarian hero.
  • Lazarus Long, from many, but notably 'Time Enough for Love'.  Probably the most interesting of the lot.  He's a rogue and a scoundrel and has actual rules on when a planet becomes too rigid and and hidebound to live on.

Not a one of them would have been the last bit comfortable in a fascist society.