Robert Heinlein's Vision Of America

robert heinlein

Robert Heinlein was a libertarian who believed in a military democracy. That is to say, a wholehearted, 1950’s style, gun-ho military that played a wholesome role in society, protecting it against unforeseen dangers.

He was from a poor, mid-western family that served as a compass throughout his life and career. He was, in the beginning, an army guy with a self-reliance and a total opposition to communism.

Like many of the Robert Heinlein generation, Heinlein held a belief in the sacredness of core American values. For Heinlein the essential value of democracy, of business freedom and human liberty, was unquestioned, as understood in that era. His writing reflects such values in a way that makes them appear alluring, exciting, and natural. In his own way, Robert Heinlein was defending the American constitution and providing a political backdrop to the novel genre he mastered so beautifully, that of science fiction. Private and political freedom (of the dominant white American) drove his politics, and his writing reflected his national politics.

In 1952 American politics was awash with complaints of communist penetration. This fear of communism comes alive in Heinlein’s work, stories of twenty-first century alien slug invaders who dictate human activities by acquiring their spinal cords. To self conscious individualists, the notion of betrayal is the betrayal of self rule, albeit wrapped within communal ideals, ‘agreed rules’ of country, and heartland, all that Americans hold dear. The concept of convergence with the alien, voluntarily or involuntarily was horrifying to the average patriotic American back then. Betray your country, betray your own specific beliefs, subsume your dominant paradigms behind alien concepts means the death of individual liberty, notwithstanding the brainwashing that you have experienced to achieve your individual paradigm. Robert Heinlein probed deeper, moving with the times and challenging these core concepts of freedom.

Stranger in a strange land was the counter cultural novel of the sixties, written within the era of hipster fertility and deep imagination. It is a poem of American freedom, of modernist ideals, and the libertarian view of the future obtained within the present. The man from Mars is gentle, weak, charming, childlike, yet holds the godlike power of vaporisation, as the children of the flower era held the weapons of Vietnamese destruction. Heinlein’s criticism was contained within his celebration of America, the narrative hero, and the anti-hero distinction no longer obtains. In a way, also, the giant slugs of The Puppet Masters, riding innocent citizens, could be interpreted as the dark side of global American politics, in a ‘future history’ that is now.  

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