This past Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Heinlein, one of America’s most prolific science fiction authors and, as Brian Doherty writes in Reason, a very unique libertarian:
Heinlein once told a visitor, “I’m so much a libertarian that I have no use for the whole libertarian movement.” Although never in lockstep with every libertarian attitude, Heinlein’s fictions seemed derived from libertarianism before the modern movement even fully existed. Before books like Rand’s Fountainhead and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom sparked the modern libertarian movement in the mid-’40s, Heinlein had published a novelette, “Coventry,” about a world whose government was based on a freely entered covenant that said that “no possible act, nor mode of conduct, was forbidden to you, as long as your action did not damage another.”
Heinlein’s other contributions to the libertarian zeitgeist include one of the epigrams of the gun rights movement, “an armed society is a polite society”-a line first published in his 1942 serial Beyond This Horizon. He was also a direct intellectual influence on many important libertarians. David Friedman, author of the anarcho-capitalist classic The Machinery of Freedom, considered Heinlein’s 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress vital to his intellectual evolution. (One of Moon’s heroes was a professor advocating “rational anarchy,” partially based on Heinlein’s one-time neighbor, Robert LeFevre, founder of the libertarian Rampart College.) David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party, got his start in political activism in 1960 sporting a self-made “Heinlein for President” button. Another Heinlein devotee was Robert Poole, longtime editor of Reason and founder of the Reason Foundation, one of the first institutions to try to effect libertarian change in the real world in a practical manner. Poole’s efforts could be seen as a legacy of Heinlein’s interest in the nuts and bolts of how his imagined societies would actually function.
Heinlein was, then, his own kind of libertarian, one who exemplified the libertarian strains in both the Goldwater right and the bohemian left, and maintained eager fan bases in both camps. A gang of others who managed the same straddle, many of them Heinlein fans, split in 1969 from the leading conservative youth group, Young American for Freedom, in what some mark as the beginnings of a self-conscious libertarian activist movement. In a perfectly Heinleinian touch, the main sticking point between the libertarian and conservative factions was one of Heinlein’s bÃªtes noires: resistance to the draft, which he hated as much as he loved the bravery of the volunteer who would fight for his culture’s freedom or survival.
Since I was reading them at virtually the same time, my own brand of libertarian was influenced as much by Heinlein as it was by Ayn Rand, and quite frankly, I’ve always thought that a Heinleinian libertarian would have a lot more fun than a cigarette smoking Randroid.