Saturday, June 25, 2005

Science Fiction Fascism

What is the connection between fascism and Science Fiction? I was wondering, in response to this post on the James Wolcott site. Right-wing blogger instapundit quotes Robert Heinlein, "An armed society is a polite society."

50's sci-fi is an idealistic sort of view of the universe--one that accords with the Herman Kahn worldview (the man who was the inspiration for the character of Dr. Strangelove, see this week's New Yorker.) In other words, space is the place. We might fuck up the earth--we and the Russians may blow each other up, but that doesn't matter because we have rocketships and we have the whole of the universe to pursue our happiness within. Now, I love Heinlein. But mainly early Heinlein. The stuff he wrote for kids. It's great fun (Hole in the Sky, Double Star). Starship Troopers is pretty fascist, I have to admit. Supposedly, the 60's changed that. (Read Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero as an anecdote to Starship Troopers.) Though, truth be told, I don't think 60's Sci-fi is as great as 50's because the form didn't match the content as well--the emerging criticisms coming out of the 60's were too (subtle? intricate?) for space-adventures to articulate. The great science-fiction is escapist, told in primary colors. There are exceptions--but in my mind those exceptions are not very readable and one's time is better spent reading other types of fiction. But maybe we must separate our judgements into aesthetic and political. Fascism makes for the best Sci-Fi reading. One of the best SciFi books I've read, The Stars My Destination by Bester I think is pretty fascist. Maybe that's why Philip K Dick went crazy. He made SciFi work, but only a couple times out of a hundred. Despite his brilliance, Delaney never really wrote anything great; Zelazny never did...the only great post 50's sci-fi writer was probably Stanislaw Lem. And I don't know why. The greatest was Welles, and he was majorly fascist. If it was so terrible, why did I read so much of it? And why do I find it ALL unreadable now? I guess we go through phases.

One thing I don't want to ponder at the moment is whether or not Herzog is a fascist. I'm afraid to ponder it. (BTW, what is Fascism?) As he said in Werner Herzog eats his Shoe..."WHO is society?"


Lynn S said...

I've never read the books you mentioned but most sci-fi that I have read is either socialist or libertarian. Fascist science fiction.... hmmmm... I'm trying to wrap my brain around that one. I suppose I'll have to read some of those books.

sarcasmus said...

socialist or libertarian?
Well, you have to understand that even though a writer may be writing in a socialist or libertarian mode, what they actually end up with is something that can not escape the idealism of a "perfect" state. There's that quote from Hobbes: "During the time when men live without a common power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition which is called war...where every man is enemy to every man. In such condition, there is no place for arts, no letters, no society...continual fear of vioelnt death and the life of man, solitary, power, hasty, brutish, and short." Leviathan was a "monster composed of men"-- the government is a regrettable necessity. I think I overstate everything on this blog because I believe that it is better to say too much than not enough. But I do believe that 50's SciFi embraced the idea that technology had all the answers and that the ruling powers were doing the best they could considering the circumstances. It was exciting to be a peon in the space age because the exploration of outspace was good for everyone. The fascist part of it is that space becomes a mythology. Star Wars was a sort of return to that idealistic view. Then, in the 60's, scifi began a sort of cultural exploration, but it still either fell into the side of optimism (which I am conflating with fascist idealogy--the best and brightest are leading us to the a golden age) or, increasingly, dystopia (which is a romanticization of returning to our primitive roots.) My argument is full of holes, and it is not applicable to everything in SciFi. 1984 is beyond my ability to pigeon hole. My gut tells me that Brave New World is Fascist. But I don't know why. See, the thing is about this sort of writing is that it shows you a problem with society but it offers no alternative. Or, the alternative is implied--"If only things were like they used to be." "Or if only we could somehow achieve a purity of some kind." If only things could be like a Wagner opera. This sort of thinking leads to mental shortcuts, opens you up for brainwash. Ta-da fascism.

Joseph said...

Libertarians currently make up a disproportionate fraction of SF fans, but it's not the first choice of SF political philosophy. The ideal State would be a benevolent planned society under the benign guidance of SF fandom. (This explains the popularity of stories featuring the Second Foundation, Lensmen, or the Psychology Sevice.) A few decades ago, many of us came to our senses and realized the likelihood of such a society is of the same order of magnitude as the Statue of Liberty turning cartwheels. We then decided to settle for the next best thing, which is to ensure the mundanes have as little power as possible.

sarcasmus said...

In other words, fascism.

hairymoonstone said...

Just like to point out a few things. That the above is an authoritarian view, with a possiblity of being totalitarian, whilst not being fascist at all. Fascism is something completely different. With historians and political writers still debating its actual meaning. It is for debates like this where a strict definition for fascism would be benficial and this discussion hinges upon this fact.

One thing all definitions have in common since Roger Griffin is that fascism is about rebirth... for example throughout the inter war period, the creation of a nation from its ruined state was the major concern. However rebirth through stripping it of all the rotten parts of society, i.e National Socialism's attack on the Jewish commuity trying to return germany back to the natural state. Whilst the oppression of the mudanes is common in Fascist states, it does not mean that a state is fascist if it is oppressive to the mudane. It makes it Totalitarian.

Another thing, SF is divided into 3 types. Hard, soft and satire.
Hard being concerned with science pushing the boundries of technology and actually containing detailed descritions of how that technology would work. Asimov's Laws of robots is a perfect example.

Soft is romantic SF. Pieces like Star wars.

Orwell, Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut Jr are not strictly SF , if they are to be considered SF they are thought to be satire, not hard science fiction. a dystopia of "what could happen if science is pushed to far" is satirical, not focusing on technology like Authur C. Clarke.

To try and say all SF is fascist is very silly because you are giving a title to science fiction that it cannot possible sit upon as the medium is so vast and constantly changing. By what definition is starship troopers a fascist piece of work? Surely it is satire SF about an oppressive state. Just because SF is speculative fiction about science and optimistic does not make it a fascist medium, because the removal of other parts of society are not present in most writings. 1984, [if we are to take it as SF], contains an oppressive state within the story line. But it is not Fascist just because it is oppressive. I struggle to think of SF that is Fascist and being a MA student in SF i have read an awful lot of SF.

What happened in the genre throught the 50s to 60s was a maturing of the genre. To state one thing greater than the other in hightly subjective and rather pointless to this debate. I'm not sure i agree with that remark "form didn't match the content", maybe i don't understand what you mean.

Another common error is that SF is about escapism. It is not. The Novel itself is about escapism, the whole action of reading is about escapism, not specifically SF.

hairymoonstone said...

A few more things.

Philip K. Dick wrote plenty of books throughout the 50s,

What do you mean by you think Brave New world is Facsist? A Fascist poiunt of view in the Novel? Not it is not, A fascist government within the Story? No it is not.