Robert Heinlein is the greatest thinker in the libertarian thought tradition that is never talked about. I’ve only come to him in the past few years but his works have been essential to me crystallizing and formalizing some of the key points in my personal philosophies. So just who was this man? And what can be taken away from his work? Buckle up and find out.
Robert Heinlein lived from 1907 to 1988, spanning most of the twentieth century. In his early period he was a naval officer, before becoming world famous in his middle and old age as an author. Interestingly enough he was also a socialist early in life before having a political awakening of his own, more on that later. Through out his career he would win four Hugo Awards a record that still hasn’t been matched.
His works have been so famous that they even for a time seeped in to main stream pop culture. His work would spawn music albums with shared titles, references from Billy Joel, and even cult classic movies. At the height of his career he even got to help narrate and do “color commentary” on the moon landing in the sixties.
My first introduction to his work came before I even knew who he was. I saw a late night showing of the Starship Troopers film adaptation. The next day I went to a library and found a copy of the book. It was riveting. Themes of honor, civic duty, the responsibility of citizens, perseverance, masculinity and more all wrapped up in a compelling military adventure. This book showed me many things, most pivotally the importance of over coming. Johnny Rico surviving boot camp and then the bug war shows just how much we are capable of when we devote our time and energy. The commentary about national service in exchange for a voting franchise was also a compelling argument. I ultimately came to disagree with it in my own mind but it had many merits and shouldn’t be easily dismissed, especially when all the other citizens in the settings maintained all other legal rights.
His most famous book and the one I have most recently read is undoubtedly Stranger in a Strange Land. It is the story of a human raised by martians, infused with their culture, and even oddly enough some of their foreign physiological traits. I really struggled with this one personally as it is clearly his most socially left wing work and is loaded with themes like polyamory, condemnation of organized religion, and the sort of God within us humanism that I do not take well to. It was still a well written story and very entertaining. I furthermore appreciate that it forced me to confront the logic and arguments in favor if these things. It’s critiques of international law and overarching bureaucracies also spoke deeply to me.
My favorite work however is easily The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. There is much to love about this book. He lays out a fascinating story of how to organize, how important markets are, the value of being well read, the importance of planning ahead, the power of computing and so much more I could talk about. My favorite part and what influenced me the most was the late sections of monologue dealing with the political organization of the new society. It impressed on me the sheer variance of how we can mold and shape our civil societies.
I could go on and in much longer about all of these works and more of them. I wanted to keep it fairly brief however. Heinlein was a wonderful writer and a powerful intellect. I could not possibly recommend his books enough. Even if you don’t agree with his themes, they will force you to think deeply about issues. All the while telling you wonderful science fiction stories as well.