Review, kinda
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Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

I'm familiar with the Asimov comment. It's not clear whether he is making a statement from first-hand knowledge and experience or repeating a trope he no doubt heard throughout fandom. The canned nature of the comment makes me think it's the latter. It may even be a retcon - late 1980s thinking assigned to an earlier recollection.

Asimov was also only slightly less politically naive than Einstein. I can't see him being able to construct a political assessment that specific without outside input. That comment also became, when published in 1994, fuel for yet another round of ignorant yammering on the forums etc. (At least there was some justification for the ignorance, since the only references at the time were Stover and Franklin. I can't say I knew much better until a few years after that; I think I accepted the liberal-into-conservative model then. Honestly can't recall.)

But in 2011, after having supposedly read an exhaustive biography, it's sheer laziness and calcification of the frontal lobes.

Author:  RobertPearson [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

I am happy to jump in with both feet on this one.

Since I work in politics I feel somehwat qualified to comment on this topic. Having absolutely no qualifications hasn't stopped me from commenting on other threads, of course. :shock:

I have no doubt that this argument has echoed across may years of Heinlein BBS and forums, and that the others who have commented have pretty much heard it all, but perhaps I have some small, original contribution to make.

First, in the actual Wooster NRO piece under discussion, as opposed to anything else out there that aroused James's scorn, there are three main points that are worth arguing:

But Heinlein’s patriotism and strong support of the military ensure that he must be thought of as a conservative

One of the things V. 1 of the bio makes clear is just how much RAH loved the United States and its people. He was a real "liberal" when it came to things like Prohibition and sex, but like many other Americans he just went ahead and did what he wanted without being some kind of "activist" in these areas. Patriotism and strong support of the military were not divided along conservative/liberal lines in the period before 1948. So in context, this statement is not really correct. Patriotism and support for the military only became "conservative" after the Frankfurt School marched through the institutions, a project that only began to come to fruition on the 1960s or perhaps the late 50s.

Heinlein, in his juvenile novels, taught conservative virtues. “I have been writing the Horatio Alger books of my generation,” he wrote to his editor, Alice Dalgliesh, in 1959, “always with the same strongly moral purpose that runs through the Horatio Alger books (which strongly influenced me; I read them all).

I would make the same argument here; those were "liberal" values when liberalism represented both individual liberty and self-responsibility. When Marx and Freud came to dominate the American academy and eventually became two of the bedrocks of "liberal" thought, and Horatio Alger was derided as a fairy tale to keep the masses compliant, they explicitly lost Heinlein. RAH, in my view, was no believer that historical forces and the "unconscious" were excuses for bad behavior or for sitting on your ass waiting to be taken care of.

Patterson’s concluding volume, due in 2012, should show how Heinlein became the most important conservative voice in the genre.

Maybe. It does seem a bit strange for a "review" to make such a statement. More like wishful thinking? I now know a whole lot more about the first 41 years of Heinlein's life than about the last 39. I really look forward to learning in detail the genesis and development of ST and how that book alienated RAH from the left/liberal wing of the SF community. That seems to be the big "break" that got RAH branded "conservative" (or most ridiculously, "fascist").

Is "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?" a right-wing document? A bit of searching turned up James saying it's "Polemic written to rouse a particular rabble at a particular time. I don't know that there's much trustworthy content about Heinlein himself other than a portrayal of how he reacted to that perceived level of threat."

In conclusion, I partially agree with James that this piece is
JamesGifford wrote:
fumbling for a convenient metaphor to bolster their limited concepts keep reaching for that old, dull "RAH was liberal until he growed up and/or his second wife warped/shamed him into being a reactionary" saw. Even when the big, fat book they supposedly just read makes the real case clear.

I think V. 1 makes clear that RAH was a liberal, self-defined, right up until 1948. When "liberal" got hijacked by collectivism and anti-Americanism he was still not "conservative" except in wanting his country to do well and win its wars.

One of the things I really look forward to finding out in V. 2 is just how much Ginny may have changed his outlook on the world. It's mentioned passim at the end of V. 1 that they had political differences; without the detailed knowledge that James and some others have, I will wait and see, but he sounds very skeptical.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 2:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

Robert, forgive me if I'm too harsh here, but I don't see that you've done more than restate what I said, at much greater length, and then worked to justify the NR author's claims, which I think are simplistic and ignorant of the facts no matter how much "...he really meant..." you add in. In the end, you're making just as much thin stew from just as few scrawny oysters as he is. I don't think his "review" is defensible on any level, due to his insistence on sheer bullheaded willful ignorance. There's no real point in trying to ferret out nuances.

Terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are, and should be, minor political descriptives, not one-word definitions of an individual's entire political orientation and mindset. Saying "Heinlein was a liberal/conservative" is vague hand-waving, no matter how many qualifiers you throw in or how long and hard you labor to assign derived meaning to those terms. Any person who is politically aware and active is much more complex than any combination of one-word labels can represent, even among knowledgeable peers. Heinlein was an extremely complex individual in this regard and simple terms, and simple statements of his position over time, are even less adequate than they are for vaguely political Joe T. Voter. Especially when considering the shifts in political terminology and alignment over the span of his life; we are talking about several bygone sociopolitical eras, each of which would baffle most present-day observers.

Much of the problem is that we have "shifted" into an era where no political discussion gets past a very limited number of one-word descriptives. I can't think of a politically active figure who is judged for his or her ideas, ideology, stance on a spectrum of issues or integrity. We've reduced the game to a simplistic rubber-stamp assessment of the scent of their political buttcrack, and no two groups share any sense of "Hey, that smells pretty good!"

Too many commentors are eager, if not frantic, to ensure that Heinlein's attar-of-roses buttcrack emanation is understood to be Liberal or Conservative or Libertarian [bang hole in paper with the period key here]

What nonsense. I keep hoping for better, overall. I really expect better in discussing Heinlein, and while I don't agree with much on the NR end of the spectrum, it saddens me to see therein such a naive, ignorant piece so evidently twisted to suit the author's preconceived ends... especially as it's nominally a review of the book that should have larn't him better.

Author:  RobertPearson [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

There is no such thing as "too harsh." ;)

I was attempting some "nuance" regrading this specific piece. The writer seems to be saying that RAH was a "conservative" as defined by the National Review circa 2010. He just didn't state it that clearly, which would have made his "review" more cogent.

I think the whole political dimension of RAH and his work is fascinating, since he was a real politician rather than just an armchair theorist like most writers. That is why I did go on at length--I may inflict a longer essay on the forum about it some day.

From the day I read my first page of Heinlein I sensed a kindred spirit, like many here. An individualist, a pragmatist and, in the end, an optimist about where humanity is going. These things are obviously more important than superficial "liberal/conservative" labels.

Author:  holmesiv [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 5:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

JJGarsch wrote:
This National Review piece says more about NR's own decline than about anything else. I'm a liberal myself but still recognize that when Wm. F. Buckley was around, the magazine was primarily about ideas and justified its own existence. But something like this - "Hm, let's see whether we can tag a well-known writer as a conservative, so that he can be made a Member of the Tribe, at least in retrospect" - is spurious on its face.

I would also note here that Isaac Asimov, not easily characterizable as a "lazy ideologue," said the same thing about the influence of Virginia: "Robert Heinlein, however, who was a burning liberal during the war, became a burning conservative afterward, the change coming at about the time he swapped wives from the liberal Leslyn to the conservative Virginia." (I. Asimov, p. 311 of the paperback; the next sentence is "I doubt that Heinlein would call himself a conservative, of course.")

That was my impression as well; I do believe his third wife greatly influenced him, and although I have read some things about her I don't like, I have to admit that had she not influenced him, the greatest science fiction novel of all time (in my opinion) would not have been written: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Author:  PeterScott [ Mon Nov 21, 2011 7:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

JamesGifford wrote:
The very short answer is that Heinlein's political philosophy appears to have remained remarkably consistent throughout his adult life. His compass was steady; it was the winds that changed around him.

Definitely labels change; I can't imagine today's party of Lincoln finding Lincoln compatible with its ideals, nor he wanting to be a member; frankly, I think the same likely true of Reagan.

However, leaving labels out of it, surely the Heinlein of 1980 would not support EPIC, or write in favor of an economic model where work was optional because the Dividend would suffice.

Author:  sakeneko [ Thu Nov 24, 2011 9:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

I think the Heinlein of 1980 might have *wished* for an economic model where work could be optional because a dividend would suffice. But, unlike too many people, Heinlein didn't quit learning after he left school. I think he came to believe that the social credit system that he favored in the 1930s would not work. That doesn't mean that he quit thinking of chronic long-term widespread poverty as a problem in need of a solution, or that he quit wanting to fix repairable injustices in distribution of wealth.

However, he was too much a believer in human free will to see human beings as passive responders to external stimuli. Add a good dose of pragmatism and a desire to see any theory demonstrated to work in the real world, and he simply wasn't a good candidate for ideologue no matter what ideology. Freud, Jung, and modern psychology? He'd be leery. IMHO he was an even worse candidate for belief in a strong central government, and not just the types of strong central government that are obviously tyrannical (Marxism-Leninism, Fascism, Naziism, etc.) Personally, if he were alive today, I think he'd be horrified by the trend of the U.S. government towards ever-stronger, more monolithic power -- and would see that trend accelerating both through the previous Bush administration ("Patriot" act, etc.) and the current Obama administration (continued growth in security apparatus, huge new healthcare programs, etc.)

A person with clear eyes and a clear mind can see a coherent, thinking approach to politics and life in this. But I defy anybody to make a good case for matching this with either "conservative" or "liberal" as those terms are used in common discussion today.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Thu Nov 24, 2011 12:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review, kinda

sakeneko wrote:
I think he'd be horrified by [...] huge new healthcare programs, etc.

On the one hand, a person who is chronically ill most of his life is going to have a lot of respect for a healthcare structure that keeps him alive and functional, which the system of his lifetime did - and did without impoverishing him and his family. He had both veteran's care and Medicare and undoubtedly had very good individual insurance as well.

So what might he think of this era, in which medical costs have soared stratospherically and healthcare insurance has broken down to the point where it's completely unaffordable for a large percentage of US citizens, and even those of us who have insurance have greatly reduced and limited coverage at dozens of times the once-was cost?

I'd like to think that the Heinlein raised with a deep sense of social welfare and responsibility would support whatever it took to bring the peace and security of basic healthcare to all of us. That's the Heinlein I seem to know and can respect.

On the other hand, the late-stage Heinlein philosophy has been characterized, cruelly but not inaccurately, as "I want the freedom to grow rich and you can have the freedom to starve." So he may have just been a forerunner of today's all-too-common type who got theirs from the system of their young and middle adulthood, and now, in their dotage, viciously oppose anyone after or "beneath" them getting the equivalent.

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