Ray Bradbury: Enemy of the State

Remembering the late science fiction writer

Ray Bradbury won’t “live forever,” as he wished, but he may well live on as the most-read critic of the state in America’s public schools. It was in public school that I first encountered Bradbury’s magnum opus, Fahrenheit 451, which is required reading in the government schools he would have shuttered.

Bradbury, who died this week at the age of 91, was a man of the right, a detail sadly airbrushed out of most obituaries this week. Like the best science fiction writers, he imagined worlds and realms outside the grasp of government, where the focus was always on the people that populated them, not on the gizmos in their pockets.

Libertarians can easily see one of their own in the non-comformist nonagenarian, who, despite moving to Los Angeles in the 1930s, never bothered to learn how to drive. A consummate autodidact, he also never went to college. And good thing too! He hated affirmative action, condemned “all this political correctness that’s rampant on campuses,” and called for an immediate ban of quotas in higher education. “The whole concept of higher education is negated,” he told Playboy in 1996, “unless the sole criterion used to determine if students qualify is the grades they score on standardized tests.”

But Bradbury’s antipathy to formal education went deeper than passing controversies. He knew that educators, like politicians, are the natural enemies of dreamers. “Science fiction acknowledges that we don’t want to be lectured at, just shown enough so we can look it up ourselves,” he continued in that Playboy interview. His can-do optimism recalled the small Illinois town his family left, ultimately finding its place in his fiction even if it was set on distant worlds, which he longed to explore and colonize. For Bradbury, it was the politicians who “have no romance in their hearts or dreams in their heads” that ultimately kept America earthbound. And Bradbury, who grew up on the romantic fiction of Hugo, had romance and love to share, penning some 27 novels and 600 short stories.

He didn’t hate all politicians, though. He called Ronald Reagan “the greatest president” and received the National Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. He reserved his greatest criticisms for Bill Clinton, whom he dismissed as a “shithead,” and for Barack Obama, who ended NASA’s manned space flight program. That was one government program Bradbury did like. He believed it was the key to humanity become a multi-planetary species.

“We should go to the moon and prepare a base to fire off to Mars and then go to Mars and colonize Mars. Then when we do that, we will live forever,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. Bradbury at least lived to see the successful mission of SpaceX, a private company headed by Elon Musk, a sci-fi fan who shares Bradbury’s dream of interplanetary colonization.

“I think our country is in need of a revolution,” Bradbury told the L.A. Times. “There is too much government today. We’ve got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people, and for the people.” He told Time a week later, “I don’t believe in government. I hate politics. I’m against it. And I hope that sometimes this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it. The less government, the happier I will be.”

Government’s existence notwithstanding, Bradbury still found contentment. He was happiest over a typewriter, dreaming and writing his customary 1,000 words a day. There, living the joy of meaningful work, as he told Playboy, he “made the major discovery of my life.” Namely, “I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don’t listen to anyone else, and always go your own way.”

Not everybody saw it that way, of course, and Bradbury devoted much time to warning about the tyranny of both the majority and the minority, which “both want to control you.” His response to those attempts at control was simple:

Whether you're a majority or minority, bug off! To hell with anybody who wants to tell me what to write. Their society breaks down into subsections of minorities who then, in effect, burn books by banning them.

Fortunately for the world, Ray Bradbury escaped the censors and insured that his work will live forever.

Charles C. Johnson is a writer in Los Angeles and author of a forthcoming biography of Calvin Coolidge.

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  • ||

    It's really fucking irritating the way people have to claim a newly dead person for their "side".

    Bradbury was a great author. I don't really give a shit about his political views. Caring about that stuff is a sure way to ruin your enjoyment of your entertainment.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I usually ignore the political views of most writers (Asimov was a statist in many ways, but I still love his work). But my ears will perk up if they say political things I like:

    “I think our country is in need of a revolution,” Bradbury told the L.A. Times. “There is too much government today. We’ve got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people, and for the people.” He told Time a week later, “I don’t believe in government. I hate politics. I’m against it. And I hope that sometime this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it. The less government, the happier I will be.”

    Pure, cleansing flame.

  • ||

    It's something he said, while being pretty damn old, in a Playboy interview. I like the sound of it, but...I'm not going to place too much stock in it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    He's no more, so he can't contradict it. Therefore, he's a libertarian god!

    Still annoyed that he's not going to make it to an extended lifespan.

  • JSebastian||

    You saw the date on that quote, right? It was 16 years ago.

    Ahead of his time: pissed off before the rest of us, you included.

    See the old people can teach us something. But you've got to pay attention.

  • WWNGD?||

    I took the Libertarian quiz, I a pretty sure everyone is a Libertarian.

  • XM||

    Why is it irritating for an obituary to shed light on the author's political views, which wasn't necessarily common knowledge? He did belong to one side, and he was apparently outspoken about it. I certainly didn't know he was "Right" until this week.

    In my English class "Fahrenheit 451" was taught as a straightforward social commentary on "government censorship", consumerism, and social misfits. But clearly the author's philosophy was rooted in something deeper than some shallow "let's fight the establishment" sentiments. I can appreciate some of his works in whole new ways.

  • robc||

    In my English class "Fahrenheit 451" was taught as a straightforward social commentary on "government censorship", consumerism, and social misfits.

    It was also anti-war and anti-abortion.

  • Proprietist||

    That's great, other than the fact that libertarianism isn't a right-wing philosophy. Nothing about libertarianism is contradictory to people organizing themselves into voluntary Marxist worker communes, dividing up their property equally amongst themselves, forming a union and shunning people unwilling to follow the internal contractual structure. As long as they aren't asking a state to force people into their structures and they expect autonomy for everyone from the political and economic system, they are libertarians, technically.

    Guess I'm tired of the idea that libertarians are supposed to fall on one side of the spectrum. In a voluntary system, some will organize themselves into collectives, others will avoid any collectivization.

    Anyone arguing that those opposing government are fundamentally right wing are failing to acknowledge anarchosyndicalists like Bakunin.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We're up. Not left or right. Up.

  • db||

    The enemy's gate is down.

  • ||

    I'm actually pretty excited about the Ender's Game movie. The problem with kid actors is whether they can carry a movie. The Last Airbender was a good, complex show but that may have been fucked up by the director. Can't think of any decent "kid" movies right now. Maybe Newsies or Goonies?

  • MisterDamage||

    Bugsy Malone

  • JSebastian||

    ET, The Extra-Terrestrial.
    Stand By Me.
    The Sandlot.
    And don't forget Dazed and Confused.
    Or any of the plethora of John Hughes films.

  • ||

    We're up. Not left or right. Up.

    This is the linchpin to explaining libertarian philosophy. We do not fit into the one-dimensional model which is "left or right". The only way to differentiate between libertarianism and Team Red/Blue is with a two-dimensional model like the Nolan Chart.

    The unindoctrinated will NEVER understand us until we can explain this concept.

  • JohnMoser||

    "Left" and "right" describe the socialist continuum. Totalitarian vs. authoritarian. These have become rather meaningless terms as people frequently describe themselves as "right-wing" when, in fact, they are harshly anti-socialist. Left wingers may be perfectly happy advocating for authoritarian government if only as means to an end. The systems are so devoid of real difference, this terminology is nothing more than a refinement. The distinction that deserves to be made is statist vs libertarian.

  • Bob Straub||

    Exactly. Perpendicular to the usual left-right characterization of the political spectrum.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I like the cut of your jib! We lift people UP. Statists want to keep then DOWN! The ones in-between just want to rearrange the deck chairs to LEFT and RIGHT!

    Works for me!

  • hk||

    Well said. Libertarianism is very fair to unpopular groups, as long as they follow the non-aggression principle. And respect other people's property.

  • Virginian||

    As much as I enjoy reading your comments Prop, I think you sometimes tend to assume a little too much. Your basic assumption, I think, is that the hard left is interested in this. They aren't. They've had ample opportunity to organize into unions, syndicates, communes, and all other manner of non state, non market organizations. They have, at least the overwhelming majority of them, chosen not to do so. Yes I know there are communes sprinkled around, and various anarchist collectives. I wish them well. But the majority of the Left is not dedicated to nonstate leftism. They are dedicated a leftwing statism that I find repugnant on many levels. Even where I agree with their goals, their means are against every principle I hold dear.

    The reason that most libertarians come from the right is that the driving force of the left is the State. That is their ideological lodestar, their guiding light: the government is good and it can do more good if we give it more power and money. Sorry, but it's damn hard to square that with libertarianism.

  • Proprietist||

    I think it's a chicken-and-egg situation. For instance, it shouldn't be very hard to convince Leftists that devaluing the currency to pay for government spending disproportionately harms the poor, whose wages can't keep up with the resultant inflation. If their solution is to keep raising minimum wages forever, it's not difficult to point out that this stopgap merely limits the job market for low-skilled workers and forces those with jobs to work harder to make up for the limited amount of hiring. But if we are attacking Leftists with ad hominems and assumptions about how fundamentally statist they are instead of reaching out to them with facts, why would they listen to us?

    Just about every program by government has unintended consequences that disproportionately harm the poor and benefit the wealthy, no matter how progressive they try to make it look.

  • Proprietist||

    Also, the primary drive on the Left for regulatory statism is because the corporatist market creates moral hazards that do actually result in fraud, environmental destruction and violation of individual rights. State-limited liability is integral to right wing economics yet is a complete bastardization of a free market. The problem is that the Left are treating the effects with regulation but worsening the causes by creating even more moral hazards. Convince them that a true free market wouldn't have a corporate entity and would punish the owners of businesses that violate rights and commit fraud, and maybe they'd be more open to libertarian economic ideas. By taking sides with the equally misguided right, we cut off all potential for economic dialogue.

  • Virginian||

    Except they just tell you that the wrong people were in charge or that it was implemented incorrectly. Next time will be different. They promise.

    I just don't see it, sorry. They really do believe in the State, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I mean look at the last four years. They had the most progressive President and the most progressive Congress ever at the same time. They're not going to pick up agorism anytime soon, much as I wish they would.

    Seriously, I've engaged leftwing friends on this stuff. Talking about how the Drug War hurts minorities disproportionately, how inflation destroys the savings of the middle and lower middle classes, how the endless war is only possible with a centralized state. The rebuttal is always the same: the wrong people were in charge. They believe in the centralized state's power to achieve their ends.

    I mean honestly, leftists believe in the State the way the religious believe in God. When you criticize the State, they react with indignation and venom because you are a blasphemer in their eyes.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I have had similar experiences. I am reminded of the logic and motivations of a child. Children have sharp senses of consistency and inconsistency, justice and injustice; unless their spirits are broken, they also do not hesitate to express themselves on such topics. When they see what they view as inconsistency or injustice, they almost invariably fantasize about what they would do with the power to fix the problem -- hence, I believe, the natural appeal of superhero characters to children and those who think similarly. (I don't judge: I SUBSCRIBED to comics into my 30s, until I found that demands of job and family just didn't leave me time to keep up with the massively cross-serialized stories of the many titles I followed.) In the real-world, the power of government is seen by grown-up kids as surrogate for the super-power they once desired: the power to right wrongs, or at least to get what they want. Kids learn that the difference between doing good and evil with a super-power usually comes down to the person wielding it. So it makes sense that they would think something similar about government: If we can only put the "right guy" in office, we can clean up everything. I believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger took full advantage of this in his successful run for California Governor, for example. So it's not just the lefties who are susceptible (though I must admit that Republicans in California are some of the most left-leaning Republicans around).

  • ||

    Even anarcho capitalist economic theorists (Rothbard, in particular) have stated that limited liability entities would arise in a free market by private contract.

    Also, limited liability does not shield business owners or executives from full personal liability when rights have been violated or fraud has been committed. It seems we have another fellow traveler in the JoshSN school of limited liability here, where the actual legal definition of the term is substituted for a blanket amnesty from prosecution or liability for any criminal wrong that might potentially be engaged in by an owner or executive of a business operating as a limited liability entity. It doesn't work that way. The corporate veil can be, and is routinely, pierced in cases of fraud and abuse, and both criminal and tort law exist to hold individuals fully liable for their actions.

    That's all really moot though. The reason libertarians appear to "take sides with the right" is because of a basic agreement with righties that there's any place for a more or less free market. Lefties do not believe such a market should exist. Your logic is wasted trying to convince them otherwise.

  • Proprietist||

    The problem with this argument is that victims of corporate malfeasance are often third parties not bound by contract, nor bound to recognize internally contracted limited liability clauses within the company. These third parties' claims should not be limited simply because the corporate kitty is empty - the owners should always pay before the victim does. This would require major tort reform, obviously, to remove frivolous lawsuits and massive payouts well beyond the cost of damages.

    I agree that the corporate veil is sometimes pierced - for active owners who committed malfeasance. But the corporate liability should be completely internalized or contracted via insurance, meaning all owners' personal properties are at risk without insurance regardless of their active status. However the internal stockholders wish to divide the liability is up to them, but ideally the business will buy insurance to protect its investors' assets. Then responsibility and risk-aversion transforms from a cost that hurts profits to a fundamental means to attract investment.

  • ||

    Propietist, write a book.

  • Keith3D||

    Corporations are not so integral to anything, that's silly. They are just a particular mechanism that has evolved in society. That should be made blatantly obvious by all the companies that are doing just fine without incorporating.

    The key component of a free market is competition. Practically every argument against capitalism ignores its effect, and every argument about the benefits of free markets is based on its effect.

    At least the right understands how the world works in this regard. The left seems to think managers and business owners are born into those roles and will remain safely there forever, as part of a static social class.

  • ||

    Just about every program by government has unintended consequences that disproportionately harm the poor and benefit the wealthy, no matter how progressive they try to make it look.

    Foreseeable consequences cannot be unintended... isn't that an Iron Law or something? As the PM Links article about House Democrats trying to raise the minimum wage to $10/hr points out, they do not see the long-term (or even short-term) logic of their actions, other than that it will get them votes in the short-term and they can promise the same thing in the future to get more votes. I try to limit the ad hominem attacks when I am arguing or debating with someone, but they really do not use logic themselves so it is hard to convince them of anything.

  • Sevo||

    "If their solution is to keep raising minimum wages forever, it's not difficult to point out that this stopgap merely limits the job market for low-skilled workers and forces those with jobs to work harder to make up for the limited amount of hiring.

    It may be easy to point out the facts of the issue, but it's damn hard to get a lefty to agree to those facts.

  • JSebastian||

    It would be far more effective to set a MAXIMUM wage than a minimum one, particularly useful in helping combat inflation (although not nearly as useful as not using fake money)

  • ||

    That wouldn't actually be Marxism. You could sort of call it communism, but Marxian communism demands structural change of an entire society - not voluntary cooperation among a small group while leaving the rest of society free to continue the exploitation of the worker and unequal distribution of property. The bourgeoisie will never voluntarily give up their control - that's what the revolution is all about. In order to have any meaning from a Marxist perspective the change has to be all encompassing. Marxist libertarianism is a contradiction in terms, as is marrying the term "libertarian" with any other political philosophy that requires action by the state that is inconsistent with libertarian principles. In the modern sense of the terms, that leaves out the entirety of "left wing" political philosophy and a majority of "right wing" political philosophy as well. It's just easier to confuse libertarianism with right wing ideology since they actually share some concepts and terms.

  • ||

    WI, not very profound, its been said before.
    Write a book.

  • ||

    And thank you for that enlightening contribution.

  • XM||

    It's really not that hard.

    Bradbury was a right leaning author who had some strong opinions on government's role. He wasn't a raw libertarian, since he apparently liked NASA, and praised George Bush. Libertarians can still appreciate that a celebrated author of his stature was sympathetic to their core agenda. An honest teacher can use his text to introduce young minds to the notion of limited government. Bradbury isn't like Ayn Rand - kids actually have to read his works in school.

    Libertarianism "isn't" a lot of different things. You just have to live with the fact that Fox News, Breitbart operated media, Ray Bradbury, and other right wingers really like libertarian thoughts, even though they're not puritanically libertarian.

  • db||

    The only Bradbury I've ever read is the beginning of The Martian Chronicles, many years ago. For some reason I got pissed and didn't want to read more. I vaguely remember thinking Bradbury was some sort of statist apologist. Maybe I should give him another chance.

  • Finchster||

    Nothing about libertarianism is contradictory to people organizing themselves into voluntary Marxist worker communes, dividing up their property equally amongst themselves, forming a union and shunning people unwilling to follow the internal contractual structure.
    Sounds like a convent or monastery. Every Republican I know would be fine with it.

  • Keith3D||

    Why would you think it needs to be cast as a monastery to be palatable to republicans. On the contrary I would expect them to be perfectly happy to coexist with "voluntary communism", while being against anything that looks like a religious cult. The left meanwhile would be sending in the SWAT teams to drag the children off to public school..

  • ||

    “We should go to the moon and prepare a base to fire off to Mars and then go to Mars and colonize Mars. Then when we do that, we will live forever,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. Bradbury at least lived to see the successful mission of SpaceX, a private company headed by Elon Musk, a sci-fi fan who shares Bradbury’s dream of interplanetary colonization.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Does anyone know if Bradbury was quoted on the topic of SpaceX in the recent past, ideally on the topic of the successful Dragon/Falcon mission? I haven't seen any thing like that so far, but I would be fascinated to read his thoughts on the matter.

  • JSebastian||

    That's one area where he was definitely in dreamer mode, because its a pipe dream. Not gonna happen. Mars is lame. Its got no atmosphere and what little is DOES have is 95% CO2. We get all freaked out over 320 ppm, wtf we gonna do with 950,000 ppm?

    See thats why all this "terra-forming" stuff is a bunch of BS, its not feasible.

    And its bombarded by constant ionizing radiation making the surface uninhabitable. (which would also wreak havoc on any transparent material that we could construct for a dome). Thus, human habitation of Mars would consist of small numbers of people (since more couldn't be sustained even with constant re-supply from Earth), living in underground bunkers.

    What in the hell would the point be of that? We can do that here.

  • joy||

    For Bradbury, it was the politicians who “have no romance in their hearts or dreams in their heads” that ultimately kept America earthbound. And Bradbury, who grew up on the romantic fiction of Hugo, had romance and love to share, http://www.riemeninnl.com/riem-prada-c-25.html penning some 27 novels and 600 short stories.

  • SadButMadLad||

    Ray did not escape the censors. His books were "edited" for various reasons. He railed against this in his coda.

    Here's a snipper from it, the whole thing is on my website.

    ------------
    Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.

    In my story, I had described a lighthouse as hav­ing, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”

    The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence.”
    ------------

  • fdgbs||

    is good of you Beats by Dre

  • Dan Clore||

  • ||

    Despite being an avid sci-fi fan for decades, I never much cared for Bradbury's work--too dystopian and/or too weird. But, reading this article, I regret I never gave him more of a chance--the world badly needs more of those who defend independence of spirit and who eagerly tell those who would crush it to go to hell.

  • JSebastian||

    You just gotta read more of it. Ignore the unfeasible (like Mars) settings of the colonization novels and you have an interesting perspective of exactly the kind of fascinating dytopias you claim not to like? What is wrong with dystopia? Too realistic for you?

    We live in one, you know.

  • jason||

    Its hard to say that who is the real enemy of the state, if some one come across the government policies then peoples call them enemy of the state.

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  • Jack Jones||

    Great book and a obviously a great writer. A memory of childhood having to read that book.

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    I have read all of his books, a geant !

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