Final Frontier of Freedom


I'm guessing this will be the first time you've gotten a recommendation for a story from Asimov's Science Fiction in at least 15 years: The July cover story, "The Empress of Mars," deals with eminent domain, prohibition, entrepreneurship, religious freedom, political correctness and assorted other issues of (presumable) interest to Reason readers. The villain is a behemoth British public corporation with the full powers of the state at its disposal, so that at times the story reads almost like one of those Institute for Justice sagas where a small business owner is fighting The Man. Readers are split on the story's merits as both science and fiction, but if you're looking for a libertarian angle, you could do a lot worse. And if you don't feel like reading it, maybe you'd be interested in pondering why science fiction seems to be among the more fertile genres for libertarian ideas.


NEXT: Six Flags Over Beirut

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You ask why science fiction seems to be among the more fertile genres for libertarian ideas?

    Well, the answer is old hat: Whenever humans don?t have the reality they desire, they seek refuge in the realms of fantasy and fiction.

    But let?s hope that when libertarians finally have their President and Congress, that the genre won?t then wither away. It?s still about the best road map to lead us into the future.

  2. Jesse – No argument here. I know that there are many roads to libertarianism and that there’s more than one tent. Still, I tend to think the (heh) Rando-Vulcan stream of things is what tends to inform libertarian-leaning science fiction–even when we’re talking about that dirty old man Heinlein.

  3. Libertarians tend to like speculating on possibilities and are very optimistic about the future (at least they used to until the war seemed to suck out all optimism — and common sense). That could be a reason.

    I tend to like science fiction such as “Fire Upon the Deep” and “Cryptonomican” that have libertarian themes — but are not 100% pure certified libertarian (e.g. L Neil Smith garbage).

  4. Eric S. Raymond has a good piece on libertarianism in sci-fi [and reactions against it] here. I don’t entirely agree with him, but he does bring up some good points . . .

  5. It’s just another of the defining characteristics of geekdom

    Science fiction (esp. Star Trek) / Fantasy (esp. D&D)
    Monty Python
    Mathematics based education

  6. hey man most of the geeks I know are trots

  7. Is there any other genre of fiction that is fertile ground for libertarian ideas ? I cant think of any. The reason may simply be that the SF author, unlike mainstream writers, can mould the future into anything he wants.
    By the way, Eric Raymond’s essay leaves out a libertarian classic – “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, which given his views on the 2nd Amendment is surprising. For those few SFFans who have not read it – the weapon shops sell super-guns to everyone except the government & eventually come into conflict with the regime of the empress imelda. Check it out.

  8. We tend to see others the way we see ourselves. We often tend to mirror or project our sense of self onto others.

    “the substantial groups that make up the libertarian populace is that of people driven by dry logic.” — Koppelman July 7, 09:06 AM.

    So, please speak for yourself, Koppy.

    There are many, many sensitive libertarians among us who use both the left brain of logic as well as the creative, emotive right brain.

  9. Well stated, Janette! Thank you.

    And speaking of creativity, Now that Hollywod has lots of CGG tricks in it’s toolbox, it’s high time for Heinlein’s “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” to be emblazoned on the silver screen. Very doable, methinks.

    Any takers out there, hmm? Producers? Mayhaps the very company that will soon be converting “Atlas Shrugged” to celluloid?

  10. “the worst science fiction novel ever written.” Wow, that’s quite a statement. Sort of like “the dumbest oi music ever recorded.” (American Oi by Stars and Stripes).

  11. “it’s high time for Heinlein’s “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” to be emblazoned on the silver screen”

    would you like to know more?

  12. Happy Birthday, RAH

  13. Tim,

    Good point on your interpretation of the ‘prime directive’. In some senses that can be seen as an isolationist diplomatic policy of the type many libertarians favor. On the other, it can be seen as a moral relativist, preservationist mindset. For example, when encountering a more ‘primative’ race, the Federation’s prime directive compells them to do nothing but observe. A more libertarian, capitalist based explorer might want to, you know, trade with them or something. I’m sure a less technologically advanced alien race would like the benefits of starship transport, holodecks and replicator technology, not to mention the medical tech they have. They (the Federation) wish to isolate these folks on the (probably reasonable) suspicion that such technology might be misused, but it strikes me as similar to the green mentality that we must keep the world poor in order to ‘save’ it.

    Of course, there is the possiblity that an alien race may actually have different moral systems that make sense for them, but not for us. As such this policy may make more sense. Maybe I’m just thinking too much about this stuff.

  14. Stop pulling my chain, anonymous! OF COURSE I’d like “to know more” . . . (about the filming of Heinlein’s “Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”)

    So why run and hide?

    If you’re gonna tease us on-the-fly like that, at least leave a link of some sort in your wake, won’t you?

    You can’t do this to die-hard fans like us. Be fair.

  15. Jim, regarding Star Trek’s non-interventionist stance, as stipulated in the Prime Directive — I’m not sure how 16th century Captain James Cooke behaved, but didn’t he simply toss anchor off an island in the Pacific and wait for the natives themselves to come along to satisfy their curiosity about things European?

  16. karl: that was from “starship trooopers” the movie. i am horrified how they will fuck up Moon.

  17. Y’all might want to check out the sci-fi writing of Maurice Dantec, an ex-pat Frenchman living in Canada. (his books are available on Amazon)

  18. I don’t know about Heinlein’s “Moon” but I saw “Moonraker” on cable this weekend. What an unbelievable piece of crap.

    I read a Heinlein book about a year ago and I would say it started out good but he had a lot of trouble keeping my interest the last half of the book. Does anyone else find that typical of his work?

  19. In “Star Trek: First Contact”, Riker tells a 21st-centurian that they do not have money in the 24th. People do things for self-fulfullment. They never describe the society, sensibly enough, so we do not know if it is collectivist or not.

  20. My personal opinion on sci-fi as libertarian, is that both are generally rational, or at least good sci-fi is. In that respect I think they attract the same type of person. That may simply be the perpsective of someone who realized he was a libertarian after doing some research on Heinlein. As a side note, it will be a shame if “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” gets messed up, it’s one RAH’s best, I even use it to introduce people to libertarian (i.e. so what did you think of Prof. de la Paz?)

  21. Since Star Trek has matter replicators, it would seem that scarcity is a thing of the past, making money obsolete. Then again, gold-pressed latnum in Deep Space Nine is clearly a form money, which doesn’t make much sense in a world where you can duplicate anything. I doubt the writers have put as much thought into Star Trek as the fans have, which is why there are all sorts of inconsistencies in the show.

    Douglas: which Heinlein book did you read? Everything post-Moon is a Harsh Mistress is pretty hit or miss. Number of the Beast and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls are especially bad. I would suggest a collection of Heinlein’s short stories, such as The Past Through Tomorrow, as a good way to sample his work. Or, try reading something like The Puppet Masters, Starship Troopers, or Double Star. Those are all pretty good books.

  22. If I owned the matter replicator though, I’d make you all pay through the nose. Good capitalist libertarian Ferengi/Jew that I am, hehe. Stereotype’s a bitch, ain’t it?

  23. There is only Atlas Shrugged. BOW DOWN AND PH33R THE RANDY ONE’S MIGHT^H^H^H^H^HPOWER AND GLORY1.

  24. I tend to think there are a lot of libertarian sci-fi writers because one of the substantial groups that make up the libertarian populace is that of people driven by dry logic.

    Among other things, libertarianism is a reductive philosophy–a set of principles that can be summed up in one short sentence or less (see Reason’s own tagline), and this subset of libertarians consists of people drawn to it because they want to remake the world using strict logic springing from the reductive tagline. It turns policymaking and all of the world’s problems into a set of mathematical proofs: solve the proofs, and the problems are thus gone. The world and all of its messy complications (like sickness, famine, blizzards, conflicts of interest, etc.) are replaced with the philosophical equivalent of a computer program or a set of blueprints. For this reason, as with those other reductive poilitical creeds of the mechanized era, Marxism-Leninism and Fascism, it resonates with engineers, computer programmers and the sci-fi writers that come from their ranks.

  25. All Vulcans are liars.

  26. In your dreams ?

    Someone like you couldn?t own a matter duplicator in a million years! That thing cost several trillion dollars to manufacture. (The research alone took 7 years and cost over $37 billion.)

    So good luck owning one.

    And even if you did, someone like you would probably just be replicating PC equipment, like mice, DVD?s, and sundry peripherals.

    Besides, you?d probably be wasting so much time with holodeck whores, you wouldn?t have any time left practicing Ferengi/Jew libertarian capitalism. You’d be broke long before Picard woke up from his doomed planet dream.

  27. Steve: That may be a fair description of Rando-Vulcan rationalist libertarianism, but there are other kinds, including the varieties you usually see in Reason. There’s also much more to science fiction than engineering fiction; and it’s the other stuff that libertarians often recommend to each other.

  28. >>The world and all of its messy complications (like sickness, famine, blizzards, conflicts of interest, etc.) are replaced with the philosophical equivalent of a computer program or a set of blueprints.

    This is just a total through-the-looking-glass inversion of the libertarian approach. Libertarians are not really in the business of peddling one-size-fits-all blueprints for getting through life; that’s the statist approach, not the approach of the anti-statists. Rather, libertarians reject one-size-fits-all blueprints in favor of an environment where everyone can draw their own.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.