Libertarian Anarchism and Speculative Fiction

March 1st, 2014   Submitted by Alex R. Knight III

CthulhuMost of you, if you know or have heard of me at all, are aware of my nonfiction writings online and elsewhere – most notably, perhaps, at Strike the Root, Daily Anarchist, the Center for a Stateless Society, The Voluntaryist, and even – once – Lew Rockwell.com. I’ve also been known to be a poet from time to time – in fact, that was where I got my first serious start as a writer – but I’d like to set that aside for a moment and talk about my first literary love, and that’s speculative fiction. Call it genre fiction, if you want: Fantasy, science fiction, and yes, horror. The Holy Trinity…at least, as far as I’m concerned.

What does any of this have to do with libertarian anarchism, you ask? Well, the de facto godfather of high fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien – my very earliest influence – identified himself as an anarchist in a letter to his son, Christopher:

“My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy,” he wrote. “The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men.”

Science fiction has a long-standing tradition of friendly familiarity with libertarianism, from Robert Heinlein to the modern minarchist, L. Neil Smith. Much more recently, someone launched a Facebook page, Anarchists and Science Fiction. The list goes on.

And what about horror? It’s what I’m characterized as writing most often, although it’s important to realize that not all of these things have hard and fast definitions. After all, how are orcs, goblins, Shelob the spider, and the Dark Lord Sauron himself not elements of the horror genre? What about the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian? How can anyone not call the various characters and monsters of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series, Don Siegel’s and Philip Kaufman’s respective cinematic versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, Alien, denizens of the darkness? The horror tale need not be exclusively filled with vampires, ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, zombies, various crypt creatures, or lizard men from black lagoons. And in fact, many of these monsters owe their development over time, if not their very genesis, back to their blood brothers in fantasy and sci-fi. Just add a little nocturnal imagination.

But it still sounds like I’m trying to sell used cars at an arts and crafts fair, doesn’t it? And I might be trying to do exactly that. It’s been my observation and experience that horror fiction doesn’t traditionally enjoy much of an audience amongst libertarians – particularly those of the voluntaryist/market anarchist persuasion – and I’m here to try to elucidate upon why I think that is.

It is true that most libertarians are adamantine logicians when it comes to an assessment of the government concept and its predatory and parasitic influence on society. This is in sharp contrast to Statists of all tones and hues – left, right, and center — whose philosophical ideations are predominantly emotional in nature. Indeed, they would not be Statists to begin with, were this not true.

This might well imply then, that libertarians are not predisposed to an interest in speculative fiction of any kind, though my brief foray into that very question would seem to suggest otherwise. Fantasy fiction, while characterized by its very definition as that which never was and never will be, does carry with it the classicist theme of righteousness triumphing over evil. Indeed, the concept of the One Ring in Tolkien’s much-famed trilogy has been characterized over and over again by modern libertarians as directly analogous to the government concept: A force which many wish to utilize in the name of “good,” but which will only ever produce the converse. And while most fantasy fiction settings embody a quasi-medieval feudal society that is most decidedly unlibertarian in nature, seldom are these constructs ubiquitous or omnipresent. There are usually plenty of abandoned wildernesses, forgotten forests, and territories unmarred by any regent’s claim within which the characters may do as they please without impediment – whether that be unfettered geographical exploration of foreign regions, unlimited acquisition and accumulation of wealth, or settling down to farm the land as homesteaders. For that matter, look at Hobbiton in the Shire, or Bree, beyond the Old Forest. These are largely anarchic societies, confederated only in the loosest fashion by a series of unwritten common-sense agreements having mostly to do with mutual defense and basic order.

Science fiction offers an even more hospitable vista, in that – while a good portion of it is dystopian or apocalyptic, such as George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes – the genre inherently allows for a positive view of the future against the dark backdrop of Statism afforded by most of the 20th century, and now most certainly the 21st. The very notion of human beings independently leaving the cradle of Mother Earth in order to colonize other planets, explore the cosmos, and even interact with other beings who may inhabit the universe with us, begs the concept of market anarchy. In fact, Stefan Molyneux of freedomainradio.com has even remarked that if there are such beings as spacefaring aliens, then they must be anarchists. Otherwise, they’d still be planetbound, and likely busy blowing each other up in senseless government wars.

Which brings us to horror. Horror – or fear fiction – doesn’t advocate a better world, or try to tell you that the future will be a brighter place.

It simply tells you that you’re going to die. Period.

It’s maybe not so hard to see, then, why most libertarians tend to avoid it.

But I’d like to at least attempt a more comprehensive analysis. It’s my contention that horror fiction displays a number of other, perhaps more subtle characteristics that may, on some level, still be objectionable – if not quite equally so – to libertarian sensibilities.

The first, I think, is that the more secular ethical concerns traditionally inherent to high fantasy and science fiction quite often morph – within the context of the horror tale – into a more Judeo-Christian interpretation of good and bad, right and wrong, darkness and light. And libertarianism has a long history of antipathy towards religiosity, and vice-versa. Of course, I realize that it is still possible for libertarians to possess theological faith, as many do. That said, I think it’s beyond denial that libertarianism is predicated upon both empirical logic, and hence, intense anti-authoritarianism. And while it is certainly up to the libertarian of spiritual faith to interpret for his or her self the specific interplay and relationship between the two within the context of individual conscience, most traditional constructs of either would seem to be mutually exclusive philosophical concepts.

Expanding upon this theme to any large extent would seem to invite a discussion so broad as to perhaps encompass its own book. Or several of them. But my initial point, I hope, serves to perhaps illustrate why I think William Peter Blaaty’s The Exorcist, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, or Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror – while all popular in the mainstream – are not such big sellers among libertarians. In fact, I think the only thing horrifying about Amityville to most anarchists is that it’s located in the Statist hellhole of New York.

Another separating point of detraction for libertarians when it comes to the horror genre is perhaps the glamorization – or at least, reduction to entertainment value – of evil, even when displayed in fantasy guise. Statists may well trivialize such expose´s into aggressive violence, even grue, but given the fact that the foundation of all such governmental apologism is and has always been steeped in a perpetual abattoir of tacit endorsement of TAP – The Aggression Principle – this, for the libertarian anarchist, poses no great source of wonder. Adopting a moral ground of higher ideals, however, he or she perhaps views the horror tale as lackluster, if not in fact even subliminally counterproductive.

Lastly, I would also call attention to the simple literary fact that, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and perhaps H.P. Lovecraft notwithstanding, horror tales have never enjoyed a great deal of scholastic praise from the academic community. And the reading tastes of most voluntaryists I’ve known tend to gravitate towards precisely that – avant-garde non-fiction, often bordering on the esoteric, and generally concerning Austrian economics or general political philosophy. Where fiction is preferred at all, it might be Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or Anthem, J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night, or perhaps, on occasion, just some trusty Shakespeare. At the risk of repeating myself unnecessarily, libertarians tend to be empiricists, not much given to flights of fancy that end up in realms of purely abstract imagination. I’d say in that regard, at least, I’m a comparative rarity.

So then the question arises, why do I read and write the kind of fiction I do?

It’s a question with no easy answer. I’ve been intrigued by and enthralled with horror tales as far back as I can remember. As a child, I reveled in the comic books of the 1970s, and thrilled to every spooky Halloween monster I could find in those blessed pages. I still like those things, but I think that now, as an at least somewhat more mature adult and experienced writer, I also like the human beings in my stories – who they are and what they think about and how they interact with one another, and the world they find themselves in. A world which – at least, if I’m doing my job right – tends to fray around the edges to become hopelessly unpredictable, puzzling, and outright terrifying in fairly short order. I like how it feels to try to invoke some of that magic inside myself, and ultimately, upon the reader. I find an indescribable need to plumb the depths of all that unknown out there, and to try to come to some kind of terms with it as best I can. And I also need to use that exploration as a tool to find out more about me – and to try to come to terms with that, too.

I remember reading somewhere in Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson’s superb anthology compilation, Markets Not Capitalism, that one of the predominant beneficial features of freed markets are that they allow for the maximum possible degree of social experimentation. I think speculative fiction, in its own humble way, does that – and none so much for myself as the horror tale. While I feel no personal need to do so, perhaps this is one way of reconciling the two.

A final word before you may go ahead and purchase something I’ve written – and if you already have, please listen up even more closely. I hope you won’t want your money back after I say this.

Do not look for libertarian themes, plots, characters, or endings in any of these stories. I’ve done my best here to portray the general population of the world we currently live in (or even might one day still live in, if we don’t do our jobs as voluntaryists very well) as they are…not as you or I might prefer them to be. That’s not because I think the books will sell better if I go more “mainstream.” It’s a lot more prosaic than that: It’s because that’s what’s realistic for the world we currently live in. This is not to say that I may never write a libertarian-themed novel – only that I haven’t yet. Just like a truly free voluntary society is possible, but has not, to date, come into being. I would hope that all of us, regardless of our respective talents or vocations, are consistently working to change that.

In the meantime, my characters are going to continue acting like the Statist creatures that they are. To do anything else on my part, after all, would be to become a control freak.

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10 Responses to “Libertarian Anarchism and Speculative Fiction”

  1. Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

    I’m an aspiring author and I love Sci Fi.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Do you like Firefly? Do you like reading F. Paul Wilson’s works or Harry Turtledove? I found the Lord of the Rings trilogy disappointing at the end because the way it ended contradicting the message of the trilogy up to that point. It ended with someone becoming a king. I like the time travel genre. Did you see 2009 Lost Memories? I like the alt history genre also. Alt History author Turtledove wrote a story involving time travel called Guns of the South which is not part of a series. Are you working on a book?

      • Actually, I have 2 print books of short stories available, along with an e-book, TALES FROM DARK 7. I’m currently editing one novel for publication, and finishing the first draft on another. If you want more info, or to make a purchase, please see my author page at: https://facebook.com/AlexRKnightIII Thanks. 🙂

      • Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

        Have you heard of Anarcho-Monarchism?

      • Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

        I like Firefly, and I liked the LOTR my Sci-Fi reading leaves alot to be desired.

        I’ve barely touched Asimov haven’t even started The Culture so much reading to do.

  2. Footnote: This was a speech I delivered at AltExpo #15, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua, NH, on 2/22/2014. Davi Barker was nice enough to publish it. 🙂 A slightly different version appears here.

  3. Alex ZNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for sharing the internal workings of your efforts.

    I’ve been a libertarian, anarchist and heretic my whole life and love horror, sci-fi and high fantasy.

    Yet I set aside fiction for the most part many years ago. The only exception in the last decade is the Song of Ice and Fire series, I literally hit every bookstore within 20 miles in search of one of the books after finishing its predecessor. My greatest fear for the characters is that Martin will die before wrapping things up.

    I suspect that my innate heresy is what attracts me to the genres we prefer. I’ve kissed Death on the mouth during heart surgery in 1963, she wields no fear for me. This same innate heresy of mine translates well into libertarian and anarchist values.

    I look forward to reading some of your fiction and wish you all the best.

    The Boot-Strap Expat
    http://thebootstrapexpat.com/

  4. Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

    I think you may find this interesting, the author is an AnCap also (in fact the person who introduced the concept to me). You are not wrong about libertarianism and sci-fi being linked.

    http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/sf-history.html

  5. SpoonNo Gravatar says:

    As a life-long, avid lover of horror movies who also happens to be Libertarian, I believe you’re selling yourself short here. I don’t shy away from horror at all. It’s true that the best vehicle of an authoritarian state tends to be fear, but aesthetics is different. In art, fear can be useful in the same way that psychoanalysis can be useful (like mythology, dreams, etc) in easing trauma. Horror can be very useful in showing Libertarian ideas, too.

    The Thing shows what faceless beauracracy and programming looks like, as does Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Social conditioning through schooling is seen in Village of the Damned and The Faculty. Enreprenureship and self-sufficiency are common in horror comedies like Tremors and Zombieland. Creature features like Godzilla show the devastation of imperialism and nuclear war, while psychological horror stories like The Silence of the Lambs show the freeing of one’s mind from the mental enslavement of trauma. To name a few.

  6. Spoon: Good points all! And, Davi Barker has a series of young adult zombie novels going with Prepper Press that have libertarian themes.