Heinlein and the flexibility of government

I covered some takes on the United States Constitution earlier this week and had some follow up thoughts that I would like to share with you. I was once a very mainstream conservative. In those days I shared the common feeling that the Constitution was some sort of nearly holy document. I’ve since come to realize the truth of it. The truth of it is the constitution is a fantastic theoretical document and I think a seminal work in political philosophy. It is nothing more and very probably can not be anything more. This will depress conservatives, but the good news is that this frees us to consider even better options.

In this spirit I would like to bring up one of my heroes, Robert Heinlein, once again. I spend quite a bit of time talking about him, and for good reason. He opened my eyes in quite a few ways. The greatest way however is just how many ways that we can order a civilized society. In almost all of his novels, and explicitly in his Hugo winners he explored extraordinarily governments that functioned by different rules and standards while still all promoting more freedom than we currently enjoy now. I would like to take a little bit of your time now and cover just a couple of these to illustrate the point that I’m making here.

First of all let’s start with what might be the most commonly misunderstood one. This is the government as portrayed in Starship Troopers. Due to the the movie it is commonly thought to be some sort of fascist military state. This is emphatically not the case for anyone who has read the book. In fact this book might be the ultimate triumph of philosophical voluntaryism. As this government is portrayed there is perfect legal protection for non citizens. They have what we understand to be property rights, there is no reference to them being mistreated or being “second class.” But until you have put skin in the game, E.G. serving in the Mobile Infantry, or serving in a labor brigade, or working for their peace corp equivalent, you do not get to vote. If you have not actively contributed to the polity, you do not get a say in how it is managed. This is brilliant and worthy of contemplating if you have the time to sit down and think. What is your franchise worth? What would you be willing to give up in exchange for your right to keep voting?

Secondly, I’d like to mention one of his slightly lesser known works. In “the cat who walks through walls” we are introduced to natural law at its peak. This settlement is an Anachro-Capitalist wet dream. There is no formal legal system outside of the Golden Rule for which the settlement takes its name. You are expected to treat others as you wish to be treated. If you violate someone’s rights you are taken before the landlords/management of the settlement and you are forced to make right with them. While in the story we see them subjected to some unreasonable tyranny from this landlord, we don’t see any out of line interaction from citizen to citizen. As long as you act decently it turns out there is no need absurdly long legal codes. This served us well enough through human history, and probably again if we ever thought to give it a try.

Finally I would like to mention my favorite work of Heinlein is his seminal philosophical work “the moon is a harsh mistress.” In this we see many different governments proposed as the citizens of the moon attempt to write their own constitution. We see many things proposed. What if anybody could be in the legislature if they passed a minimum threshold of votes? What if in order to fund anything it is the legislature that must provide the funds privately for their legislation? What if there is no executive role? This leads to so many additional thought provoking questions that we are forced to confront our own assumptions about how our government should be organized and function.

This is what brings back around to our beginning. What is our constitution worth? It is a summation of several generations of political thought. It was possibly the greatest ever physical attempt at securing freedom for us in a governmental charter. We would be fools of the highest order to ever assume however that it is the best possible state. We would be fools to think that we can’t do better. We need to at all times keep our minds open to the possibility that we can achieve greater freedom and we should always continue to strive for exactly this outcome. Never take for granted what we have in the United States, but never ever stop working for more, Heinlein already showed us where else we can go.


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