Unlike Rand, most of Heinlein’s work is actually readable…


Starship Troopers, TriStar Pictures, 1997 

From The Smart Set:

If the zeitgeist has a face, it supposedly belongs to Ayn Rand and her capitalist philosophy of Objectivism. Talk radio hosts adore the author’s demands for limited government; Congressman Paul Ryan insists that his staffers read her overstuffed opus Atlas Shrugged; picket signs at Tea Party rallies suggest that we all “READ AYN RAND.” And yet, some pieces are missing. Ayn Rand was anti-war, but spending for hundreds of military bases and two-and-a-half wars remains sacrosanct even as Congress made the debt ceiling a major issue. She found homosexuality “immoral” and “disgusting,” and yet gay marriage has regained the initiative in the public square. And Randian heroes are explicitly — nay, objectively — elitist. They are genius millionaire square-jawed heroes who walked right off the screen at the movie matinee. The average Tea Party rallier, not so much.

There is another writer whose political and philosophical influence is finally being felt in the public sphere. You may have read one of his books as a child. His name is Robert A. Heinlein, and he wrote science fiction. He was a libertarian enamored of military might, a conservative who championed free love. His heroes are certainly competent. They’re also folks who hack the systems in which they live, not elitists who abandon a corrupt world full of moochers and looters to worship the dollar as an end unto itself.  And unlike Rand, most of Heinlein’s work is actually readable.

In Troopers, the only way to gain citizenship is to work for the Federal Service. For many, that means the military or other hazardous duty. Heinlein fans cling to the equality of opportunity embedded in this disclaimer from a minor character: “if you came in here in a wheelchair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find you something silly to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe.” But when the titular troopers, in awesome battle armor, face off against the enemy Arachnids, there’s very little fuzz-counting going on.

Starship Troopers also includes a jeremiad against child psychologists, who are blamed for encouraging parents to abandon corporal punishment in an our era, thus contributing to utter social collapse. Even “liberty,” we’re told “is never unalienable, it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes.” Non-citizen “civilians” actually look down on the suckers who fight for the rare privilege of voting, but otherwise live perfectly comfortable lives. Rand would have rendered them as chinless criminals and whiners doomed to starve in the ruins. But there’s nothing to whine about in Starship Troopers — after all, thanks to the Federal Service (and spankings), crime is a rarity, taxes are low, and everything’s great until those awful aliens show up to spill the blood of patriots.

Denise Richards as Lt./Capt. Carmen Ibanez, Starship Troopers, Tristar Pictures, 1997 

“Paperback Politics”, Nick Mamatas, The Smart Set