Heinlein The Liberal

Ever since that terrible movie came out in 1997, people who’ve never read Heinlein found it fashionable to talk about what a fascist he was. This came from the misinterpretation of a single concept in the book Starship Troopers, namely that “service guarantees citizenship.”

This grumbling about RAH’s fascist leanings began in the 1960s when the idea of military service became anathema to people protesting a bad war.  Far from a fascist, Heinlein was a level headed liberal who started out as a Democrat and migrated to the Republican party during the sixties when he felt the Dems had gotten crazy liberal.

But many, many, many men from Heinlein’s generation felt that a stint in the military served to sharpen their minds, toughen their hides and start their careers. It also provided a place for them to blow off some of that nervous boy energy that tends to get us in trouble. He also happened to be a military man when the whole world went to war so logic along the lines of “If you love your country so much, you should be willing to defend it” and “if you don’t have the responsibility to serve your nation you don’t deserve to vote in its elections” might have sat quite well at the time he wrote it.

There’s a lot of dithering about whether he intended civil service to count as “service” and public corporal punishment and so on but to me that’s just cherry picking details in search of outrage. This book, like Starman Jones and Tunnel in the Sky, is just a story of a young person finding their way to adulthood told against a fantastic background in which the author indulges in a few thought experiments.

The point of the book that’s often missing from today’s coming of age stories, is that it’s a good thing to grow up well, that as a young person you shouldn’t be seeking to delay the onset of adulthood but rather trying to discover the way to achieve a type of adulthood that adds some value to the world.


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