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Heinlein for Right-Wingers

Robert A. Heinlein in 1929 [1]

Robert A. Heinlein in 1929

1,288 words

Does Right-wing science fiction even exist? Indeed it does. Authors like Frank Herbert (Dune), Gordon Dickson (Dorsai), Jerry Pournelle (The Mercenary), and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) have one or two things to say to a man of the Right – the real Right, the Right unaffected by political correctness. And the prime American sci-fi author in this respect is Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1987). Seen from the Right, there’s no comparable American popular author, widely read from after WWII to this day.

Heinlein was a complex writer, and you can find contradictory ideas in his books. Therefore the random Heinlein book might not be expressly Right-wing. But in his early and middle period books, we find a lot of conservative views vindicated. Novels like Starman Jones, Farmer in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Double Star are all entertaining yarns told by a man who valued responsibility, nobility of character, and self-reliance.

In some respects Heinlein became more liberal later on, but in essence he remained a Right-winger. He was, for example, a staunch anti-communist all his life when mainstream intellectuals were non-committal or even favorably disposed toward collectivism and Bolshevism. This is important to remember today, when Heinlein has become mainstream and is liked even by Left-leaning persons.

But is Heinlein relevant to ”the real right” of the 2010s? The answer is: in some respects, he is. His core values of responsibility, of service, of ”shaping up and becoming a man” have enduring relevance. In Time for the Stars (1956), we find a laconic kind of John Wayne conservatism: “A man pays his bills, keeps himself clean, respects other people, and keeps his word. He gets no credit for this; he has to do this much just to stay even with himself.” Have a shave and speak the truth. Eternal truths, traditional values. Such simple truths need to be repeated again and again, especially now when acting irresponsibly is a matter of course, when everybody blames someone else and being offended is everyone’s god-given right.

Heinlein in his later years [2]

Heinlein in his later years

Heinlein was, of course, also a “modern” man, stressing the reality of technological progress, but traditional traits are there too. For instance, he served in the Navy as an officer, and the military can be seen as a symbol of the archaic in the modern. As modern and high-tech as any service branch may be, they still regard honor as a high value, up there with duty and country.

In Space Cadet (1948) Heinlein went to some length in giving us the Traditional Creed, military version. This novel is about serving in the Space Navy of the future, upholding justice in the solar system of 2075. Space Cadet comes across as a hymn to the life of service, exemplifying the traditional values an officer has to embody: self-restraint, responsibility, nobility of character. Responsibility, for its part, is what keeps any fighting unit together.

In stressing the value of responsibility, Heinlein even hints at the dictatorial traits the commander of a vessel must have; he’s an absolute ruler, symbolizing the law to his crew, all for the common good. Further, an officer must have a modicum of ambition, but he mustn’t be a careerist. The Heinlein mouthpiece, the commander of the Space Academy, brings the argument home by saying that an officer has to be a true and noble knight. That’s tradition in our age; that’s the archaic in the modern in a nutshell.

One of Heinlein’s most outstanding works is the novel Starship Troopers (1959). Programatically and politically, this novel is about how to combine responsibility with authority. For this Heinlein advocated restricting the right to vote to people who have done public service – not merely soldiers but everyone who has served the common good in a professional function. (The emphasis is necessarily militaristic, because mankind is fighting a savage alien enemy.) Thus the sacred cow of democracy was slaughtered. Some find Space Cadet a more effective military sci-fi story; the gung-ho tone of Starship Troopers sometimes gets a bit annoying. But as a storyteller Heinlein was seldom boring, and Starship Troopers remains a classic in almost every respect.

From the 1960s on, Heinlein’s books are more problematic. They are not essential reading for the Right-winger. But one novel from the 1960s where traditional values are discussed is worth looking at briefly: Glory Road (1963). Here we meet an American on a tour of service in Southeast Asia in 1960, as a military adviser. He never advances further than corporal, but he does see some action. To the reader he says that he’s a patriot and always has been; this was no popular stance in the 1960s, and he had to tone it down in order to pass his Social Sciences class. This is a fine example of Heinlein the patriot.

The initial chapters of the novel are a superb survey of the affluent society and the post-war safe generation, seen from the Right. The story then moves on into a parallel world. In this fairy world the narrator, Oscar Gordon, gets embroiled in an adventurous quest. He becomes a hero, and in one scene he’s approached by a youngster wishing to see his sword. Gordon grants him his wish and then lectures him on how to become a hero himself. Gordon plays it down a bit. Sayings like these were indeed not in sync with the current Zeitgeist, and Heinlein is implicitly and explicitly aware of that. Still, in the scene in question, Gordon says to the lad that there’s always room at the top; study hard, work hard, and wait for the right moment; then you might make it.

And, in an echo chivalrous stories from the Middle Ages, the youngster is advised to always introduce himself to women coming in his way. Approach ladies and get to know them. This was also stressed by the Grail stories, according to Julius Evola in The Mystery of the Grail (1934). These knights were not overburdened with chastity. They merely wanted to avoid being completely ruled by carnal cravings. Otherwise . . . befriend ladies! This was the gist of the chivalric stories. Heinlein’s advice exquisitely mirrors this.

The young lad is then shown a quarter with the image of George Washington, which Gordon has in his pocket. Washington is lauded as a man who always spoke the truth, who fought against impossible odds and persevered. Now, Washington and the regime he inaugurated may not be entirely ideal for ”the real Right” of today, but what’s important here is what Washington represents. He is an ideal to show to a young man finding his way. Washington stood tall and proud; do the same! In saying this and the rest to the lad, Gordon has risen to the occasion; he himself has represented wisdom and heroism; he himself is someone to look up to. The lad expected to hear something like this, and Gordon delivered.

Heinlein’s current reputation as a liberal libertine is undeserved. He was indeed complex and held different views over time, sometimes from book to book. But the lasting impression of Heinlein is of a conservative wary of his times, a man who continued to defend traditional values even as the mainstream turned against them. For Heinlein, implicit in values like self-restraint, self-reliance, and personal responsibility is the affirmation that we are living, breathing organisms, not machines. Heinlein glorifies man the agent.

It is true that his late novels are verbose and lack the vitality of the earlier books. But most of his short stories and novels from his debut in 1939 up to around 1960 have undeniable value. Their straightforward, unadorned narratives are always entertaining and sparkle with gems of traditional wisdom.