Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Learned Better

Not completely off the topic of this blog: The second and final volume of the late William Patterson’s biography of Robert A. Heinlein, The Man Who Learned Better, is out today.

That subtitle is significant. I won’t have the book in hand for a few more days, but “The Man Who Learned Better” was Heinlein’s description of one of the main plots in fiction. I’m sure you can come up with examples. Heinlein himself, a Navy officer in the 1920s and 30s, whose career was cut short by tuberculosis, was an All-American patriot and (self-described) libertarian, but also very much a liberal-progressive and World Government advocate (to control nuclear weapons), until a trip around the world, the actions of the “liberated” colonies and the behavior of the Soviet Union came together in 1950s to impel him toward what might be called a more reactionary position, at least on some issues.

By the time he published the classic Starship Troopers in 1959 he was being called a “fascist” by some on the Left. From progressive to “fascist” in a matter of a few years; The Man Who Learned Better, indeed. Anyway, what Heinlein was, always, was an individualist. He was never a man who would stand still to be pigeonholed.

Also, you might find this intriguing: Mencius Moldbug to Larry Auster

[B]asically, where I’m coming from is that I grew up reading a lot of science fiction. Which except for (a very significant exception) Robert A. Heinlein, was of a generally liberal flavor. Also, I was a Foreign Service brat and lived overseas a lot.

So I was never much of a believer in the American nationalist mythology. I was a believer in the American liberal mythology. Thus I fell out of the latter not into the former, but into (as you put it) nothing at all. Of course, I would say I identify more with European civilization as a whole, but this is not really a living tradition. The only significant living traditions are American nationalism and American liberalism. While I prefer the former, you are correct that I don’t identify with it.

I of course understand and am sympathetic to your point that no politically significant population will ever adopt an “Astro Man” perspective. Even libertarianism is far more accessible than reactionary neo-Jacobitism, or whatever. However, since I’m not a believer in democracy, this doesn’t really bother me. In the long run, power is held by elites. In the short run, I think people read UR not because they think they’re participating in a plot to take over the world and restore the Stuarts, but because it’s always refreshing and entertaining, and hopefully a little liberating as well, to think this far outside the box.

5 thoughts on “Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Learned Better

  1. Pingback: Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Learned Better | Reaction Times

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