Podcast of the Week: Science Fiction, Liberty, and Dystopia

“One of the great things of it, Tom, and this is where Orwell was such a genius —  in looking how language was being used as a form of manipulation. Orwell is always interested in propaganda and makes the point that propaganda is a habit.  It’s a long-run game. Propaganda isn’t a matter of convincing the current generation that the propaganda is right, but repeating things so often that you’re limiting the way they think at all.”

On Monday, Tom Woods sat down with historian Brad Birzer (American Cicero)  to talk about early science fiction and to discuss the political themes explored by Thomas More, George Orwell, and C.S. Lewis. In general,  Woods and Birzers appraise SF as anti-authoritarian and subversive.  Birzer opened by mentioning that Catholic and Jewish authors played a large part in early science fiction in part because they were discouraged or prevented from participating in ‘mainstream’ culture; publishing outside the New England/WASP stronghold also allowed them to be critical voices.    The discussion doesn’t go past Orwell,  which is too bad because Bob Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an obvious example of libertarian themes in SF.

A quote from CS Lewis’ piece, “On Science Fiction”:

That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape’. I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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8 Responses to Podcast of the Week: Science Fiction, Liberty, and Dystopia

  1. CyberKitten says:

    Politics of all flavours features quite a lot in most SF – sometimes rather blatant, often quite subtle. There's lots of Eco-SF and Feminist SF out there (for example) and, as you rightly pointed out, there's a strong tradition of both Libertarian and Anarchist/Socialist writings too.

  2. Mudpuddle says:

    and then there was Heinlein, a genuine John Bircher, just to balance the mix…

  3. Stephen says:

    Heinlein was an absolute anti-communist, but I don't know much the Birchers would have appreciated his political philosophy as expressed in books like “Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Of course, having matured amid WW2 and the Cold War, he was far more of an advocate of the military than ***any**** libertarian today..

  4. Fred says:

    Heinlein was an intriguing mix of political and social philosophies. He was also ex-Navy, having graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1929. Unfortunately, he developed TB and was discharged from the Navy in 1934.

    I never saw him as in the far right, but closer in many respects to the libertarians. I think his ideal hero was the self-reliant, independent person, scornful of government (except the military), large corporations, and religious and political groupings of all flavorings.

  5. Mudpuddle says:

    of course you are correct; i tend to exaggerate at times, i know…

  6. Fred says:


    But, don't forget that some exaggeration is good for the soul.

  7. CyberKitten says:

    I'll see if I can put a decent list together of political SF…. [muses]

  8. Pingback: Never a Dull Moment | Reading Freely

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