In honor of the upcoming August 17 release of the first volume of the much-anticipated authorized biography of Robert A. Heinlein, publisher Tor Books is asking various science fiction writers to name their favorite work by the author of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and other influential works.
The first installment is up this week. In it, Postman author David Brin makes the case for Beyond this Horizon, Heinlein's treatment of the notion that "an armed society is a polite society," and offers this sure-to-be-controversial take on Heinlein's libertarianism:
Here we see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither "fascist" nor anywhere near as conservative as some simpleminded critics might have us think. Indeed, his famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill….
When it comes to politics, his future society is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated. But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic. One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: "Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?"
None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate…and more interesting
I wrote about the deep and abiding love affair (sometimes a love/hate affair) between science fiction writers, libertarians, and Heinlein here. Brian Doherty celebrated Heinlein's 100th birthday in Reason's pages here.