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The Robert Heinlein Wars, Part MDCCLXIV

John Scalzi watches as Dave Itzkoff begins another round of the Heinlein Wars:

Whatever: NYT Review Fallout: There's been some interesting commentary and discussion following Dave Itzkoff's NYT Book Review piece on me and my books, so I thought I'd post links to some of them I've found, for the edification of Whatever readers. In no particular order: Instapundit notes the piece, and has some thoughts on the idea of [Robert Heinlein's novel] Starship Troopers being fascist, roping in Spider Robinson to rebut that claim...

I would dispute Scalzi's claim that either Glenn Reynolds or Spider Robinson has "thoughts" on this issue. I would characterize them as having "reflexes."

I think I had some "thoughts" on this issue some 10^8 seconds ago:

The Starship Troopers novel I read had four layers:

  1. Johnny Rico's story: How a young, naive upper-class twit gets transformed into the human equivalent of a Bug warrior--someone who will fight bravely and fiercely without regard for his own probability of survival in the interest not of liberty, utopia, or justice, but of the biological expansion of the human race.
  2. The historians and moral philosophers: the military of Sergeant Zim and Colonel DuBois, who seem to me to be, well, fascist in the technical sense of the term. The German philosopher Ernst Nolte's classic Fascism in Its Epoch (and he should know: he's a somewhat creepy character himself) set out four key characteristics of fascism:
    1. strong belief that--through social darwinism--morality is ultimately tied to blood and race, understood as descent and genetic relationship;
    2. strong rejection of the classical "liberal" belief that individuals have rights that any legitimate state is bound to respect;
    3. an assertion, in its place, that what individuals have are duties to the state, seen as the decision-making organ of the race; and
    4. a strong fear of Marxist communism, and a willingness to use communism's weapons--suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth--to combat it.
    The sympathetically-drawn teachers in the military preach the first three of these at great length in the novel, and otherwise remind me of dear little Ellen May Ngwethu.
  3. The authorial persona, the narrative voice, who adopts the same point of view as do the historians and moral philosophers, and adds on the fourth of Nolte's key characteristics of fascism--the strong fear of Marxist communism, and an eagerness to use its very own weapons (suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth) to combat communism. Consider the fear of the Bugs as a mighty adversary ("we were learning, expensively, just how efficient a total communism can be when used by a people actually adapted to it by evolution" (p. 152)). Consider the invented historical background of the novel, in which the twentieth-century United States collapsed because of its excessive solicitude for individual rights and its worship of the words of Thomas Jefferson and was replaced by the "veterans' government" that made no claim to derive its powers from the consent of the governed. Thus the authorial persona is "fascist"--where "fascism" is not just an insult, but is a descriptive label for a certain viewpoint that has been tragically common in twentieth-century politics.
  4. Robert Heinlein, who wrote Starship Troopers at the same stage in his career where he also wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and A Stranger in a Strange Land.

I would, today, add that by now more people remember the Starship Troopers movie than remember the Starship Troopers book. And Paul Verhoeven explicitly uses the visual tropes of World War II movies to make the movie "fascist". As Moe Lane once wrote:

Obsidian Wings: Movies That Must Not Be: Not movies that should not be, nor movies that we wish never were: movies that simply cannot be actually real, because otherwise the fabric of reality would begin to unravel and then we'd have nowhere to put our stuff. All entries to this - well, not contest - must thus be of 'films' that appear to have some evidence of existing for some inexplicable reason. Please note the title, why it Must Not Be and a plausible reason that explains away the aforementioned evidence for existence. For example....

Starship Troopers: While the idea of a Gestapo Doogie Howser does admittedly have a special appeal, if Verhoeven had dared make a movie anything remotely like the rumors he would have been messily assassinated by now by an angry mob of Heinlein fans. He's still alive, right? So therefore he didn't do it and the 'script' that's circulating around is merely a (well-deserved) smear campaign against the director...

UPDATE: Epeus's Epigone wins a decisive victory by deploying YouTube videos banned under the Geneva Convention.