Robert Heinlein: Conservative Sci-Fi Author

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As a rule, science fiction is rarely written by conservatives. From Harlan Ellison to Margaret Atwood, the genre is dominated by liberals. It is easy to see why this is so. Discouraged by the present, they cope by pining for a leftist Utopia of their own big-government design.

The exception, of course, was George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four. But Orwell, despite his fervent anti-communist position, attacked communism from the socialist as not radical enough.

A more suitable exception would be Robert Heinlein. He was one of the first sci-fi authors to bring the genre into the mainstream. (He wrote for the Saturday Evening Post).

His political positions followed the well-trod path of traveling from socialism to a conservative libertarianism. One of his first political expressions was working for the socialist author Upton Sinclair’s 1934 campaign for Governor of California. After the candidate was badly beaten, Heinlein moved toward anti-communism while retaining a vague liberalism.

He himself attempted a campaign for the California State Assembly in 1934, losing badly. Looking back to the period, Heinlein anticipated Ronald Reagan’s speeches throughout the 1950s to the 1980s:

“I was still politically naive and still had hopes that various libertarian notions could be put over by political processes…It seems to me that every time we manage to establish one freedom, they take another one away. Maybe two. And that seems to me characteristic of a society as it gets older, and more crowded, and higher taxes, and more laws.”

But the Heinlein of the 1940s still retained some big government solutions left over from earlier days. After the dawn of the nuclear age, he advocated for a world government as the only way out of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviets. As late as 1954, he still defined himself as a Democrat. Heinlein later dismissed his socialist path, arguing that he was consistent in his politics:

“As for a libertarian, I’ve been one all my life, a radical one. You might use the term “philosophical anarchist” or ‘autarchist’ about me but ”libertarian’ is easier to define and fits well enough.”

In the 1960s, the counterculture championed his novels, and it is easy to see why. The politics expressed in his novels was easily classified as radical liberalism.

Although he never supported the self-imposed alienation from society carried out by the hippie movement, he did support the Civil Rights Movement, personal liberation, free love, and the notion of questioning everything.

Ted Gioia, who writes about popular culture, has written, that politically, Heinlein has something for everybody.

“He has been accused of many things—of being a libertine or a libertarian, a fascist or a fetishist, pre-Oedipal or just plain preposterous. Heinlein’s critics cut across all ends of the political spectrum, as do his fans. His admirers have ranged from Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists, to members of the Church of All Worlds, who hail Heinlein as a prophet. Apparently, both true believers and non-believers, and perhaps some agnostics, have found sustenance in Heinlein’s prodigious output.”

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.

  • Roger Christenson

    I’ve often remarked that Heinlein’s political life followed the same arc as Ronald Reagan’s, from democrat in the 1940s to supporting Goldwater in the ’60s and on to Reagan himself in the ’80s.

  • dee

    Given the free love, civil rights and question everything stances — which Heinlein exhibited right on through the final novels of his career — labelling him a “conservative” is very simplistic. And a very conservative way of looking at things.