Science Fiction

When Liberty Comes to SF


An Enemy of the State, by F. Paul Wilson, New York: Doubleday, 1980, 269 pp., $10.95.

There are legions of science fiction writers, many of them pretty handy with paper and a live typewriter. But too many of them won't consider how future (or past) societies should be set up. More often than not they don't know much about economics either, which can be fatal when talking about utopian visions. All of which makes the precious few writers who do know what a just society should look like (no, I'm not talking about the bleeding hearts, babbling on about their cheap collectivist visions) all the more valuable.

Well, lemme tell ya people. That group has just been increased by a very important one. I should have known it, when his two previous books came out, bursting with rhetoric that guaranteed he knew the difference between a free society and an anthill. Even with his frequent references to the real-world connection between civil and economic freedom, I thought maybe it was just a fluke. It wasn't. Now that his third book has arrived, I've got just one, big question: Why hasn't someone told me about this guy before now?

Who knows? Maybe it takes any young writer time to make a name. Well, with the publication of his third science fiction blockbuster, F. Paul Wilson has definitely made such a name for himself. His first two, Healer and Wheels within Wheels, gave him away: frequent references to the basis of individual freedom in economic freedom; clear expositions on why the state is the enemy of any clear-thinking human being; even some name-dropping, for those just being instructed and who might want to learn more—Ludwig von Mises, for instance, or Milton Friedman; even Lysander Spooner! Wonderful stuff.

Still, nice sensibilities about individual liberties won't get you far if you can't spin a good tale. Wilson can, and his best yet is his third piece—with a title guaranteed to hook instantly any rational, liberty-loving individual—An Enemy of the State. And the story is just about that: the hows, the whys, the wheres. Why is one an enemy of the state? Because, as Wilson so aptly quotes Lysander Spooner in the book, "no government, so called, can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly on voluntary support." How is one an enemy of the state? "Keep the government poor and you'll keep it off your back," as the book's protagonist, Peter LaNague, explains at one point. "Without the necessary funds, it can't afford to harass you. Give it lots of money and it will find ways to spend it, invariably to your eventual detriment." Where does An Enemy of the State take place? In a future divided between two statist societies: the Outworld Imperium, consisting of myriad worlds colonized by humans, and the totalitarian, overpopulated Earth, dominated by a one-world government that would like to overthrow and regain the Imperium worlds that broke away centuries before.

Wilson has even come up with a religion that any and every advocate of individual rights could be comfortable and satisfied with, the principles of Kyfho. As Adrynna, Peter LaNague's old Kyfho teacher, says, speaking of the impending revolution masterminded by LaNague, "The revolution must be conducted in accordance with the principles of Kyfho if it is to have any real meaning. There must be no bloodshed, no violence unless it is defensive, no coercion! To do otherwise is to betray centuries of hardship and struggle."

Indeed, the Kyfhons hold peaceful communities on a violence-wracked Earth, as well as two planets of their own, neither of which deigns to play a part in the schemes of either the Imperium or Earth. How have they managed this in the face of rampant statism? By being entirely ready to initiate massive retaliatory force, especially by the warrior-like Eastern Sect Kyfhons. "The motto of Eastern Sect Kyfhons is 'A weapon in every hand, freedom on every side,'" as Peter LaNague explains at one point. "They police their own streets, and have let it be known for centuries that they protect their own. Public temper tantrums…are not tolerated on their streets. The word has long been out: Do what you will to your own community, but risk death if you harm ours."

And what does "Kyfho" itself stand for? The meaning of the ancient words are lost to most of those who practice the religion/philosophy, even as they practice the essence of Kyfho: "Keep Your —-ing Hands Off."

F. Paul Wilson has created a framework for a series of books exploring the very meaning of individual freedom in a societal context. All he has to do is write them. And, if his first three are any example, he's got the ability and the drive. Go get 'em, Paul! Your stuff is terrific!

Timothy Condon is REASON's tax columnist.