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March 26, 1997

Voyage From Yesteryear, Libertarians, Marxism

Questions and Answers

I received the following comments recently, and thought they might be of general interest, along with my responses.

>A few days ago, I wrote something speculative about the background behind
>VOYAGE FROM YESTERYEAR. Since [Louis] is a friend of mine & I knew he
>had met you, I asked him about approaching you for answers. He gave me
>your email address.
>It's my understanding from Louis that you do not like the "libertarian"
>label - but the book came up in a discussion of libertarian fiction. With
>that explanation, what I wrote is below.

(JamesPHogan) "Do not like" is a rather strong way to phrase it. I was probably playing Devil's advocate with [Louis] in one of our exchanges. As is testified by the fact that the Libertarian Futurist Society's twice giving me their Prometheus award, they (you?) and I are in sympathy on most principles and issues.

The points where we differ to some degree, I'd say are:
(1) I'm not an anarchist, as I'd interpret a faction within the Libertarian movement to be. Although I agree that we're over-governed and over-regulated at present, it doesn't follow that a better situation would be no government at all. It's true that governments have caused horrific amounts of death and destruction. But I believe that on the longer timescale, through bringing about the conditions of stable economies within secure borders, they make possible the creation of wealth that produces more human beings than are destroyed. A macabre kind of calculus, I know, but offered in answer to questions that were not my invention.

(2) Private law-enforcement/military. I've read and thought about the arguments, but don't buy them.

(3) Free-market ideology. I get uncomfortable when one solution is pushed as the answer to everything, on principle, and with attempts to twist and contort it into fitting even when it doesn't seem to want to. The result becomes a quasi-church. (I have the same feelings about Darwinian evolution.) With 50-plus states and I don't know how many cities and counties, the U.S. could be a perfect natural laboratory for ideas of economics, education, taxation mechanisms, etc. In short, let any group of people with an idea they feel is worth trying give it a try, and allow experience without prejudice be the judge. If there turn out to be good reasons why certain transactions or commercial activities should preferably be restricted, regulated, or otherwise mandated, then so be it. Most worthwhile discoveries, it seems to me, are things the experts and theorists never dreamed of.

The other reservation I have about the free-market ideal is if it could ever exist in practice. Start the race with a fair field, and some, through ability, luck, or whatever other combination of reasons will do better than others. As soon as some begin to amass sufficient wealth, human nature being what it is, they will use it to influence the lawmaking processes of whatever society they live in to advantage themselves and disadvantage their competitors. Very likely they won't perceive themselves as doing this, but as merely protecting themselves against others who are--or who would if we don't preempt them. And as soon as that happens, a free market has ceased operating. The situation is somewhat like a cone standing on its tip--theoretically possible, but too susceptible to the least disturbance to be stable.

>> Also, he seems to have reached libertarianism by an independent route.
>>My guess is that he didn't know what a libertarian was when he wrote
>>VOYAGE.
>
>> I believe that. VOYAGE is based quite clearly on one and one only piece
>> of libertarian writing: Russell's '...And then there were none.'
>> Otherwise, it's Hogan's own vision.

(JamesPHogan)
Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None" was a major influence on VOYAGE--no question. A number of readers have spotted that. And yes, it is probably true to say that when I wrote VOYAGE, I pretty much didn't know who the Libertarians were.

>I've wondered, though I don't have any proof - & though it must sound
>heretical to many libertarians - if there are Marxist roots behind VOYAGE.
>If you think about it (& if you've actually read Marx) a lot of what he
>describes going on in Chironian society sounds like the second or higher
>phase of communism.
>First, there is no state. Second, there is material abundance guaranteed
>by high technology. Third, each can take according to their need (or even
>wish). There is no money-based economy. Fourth, the large-scale
>"instruments of production" could be described as collectively owned -
>where that is not understood as equivalent to state-owned. Fifth, people
>are free & autonomous, able to pursue their own goals & ambitions without
>worrying about material necessities. Sixth, though people are not made to
>work, they do so because they find the work & the recognition they get
>from it intrinsically satisfying - rather than for a paycheck. Religion,
>of course, has nearly disappeared because the needs to which it answered
>are satisfied in other ways.
>I think it's a rather striking set of parallels, but I've never had the
>chance to ask Hogan if there was anything more to it than coincidence.

(JamesPHogan)
Well, certainly there's no denying that these are amazingly striking parallels. At the time I wrote VOYAGE I hadn't read anything about Marx, so they are coincidental. I guess, then, it must make me a Marxist. But then I've probably always been more of a socialist in favoring a society that collectively takes care of its sick, elderly, needy, educates its children, and so forth, much in the way an extended family accepts its obligations. Nobody, however, really disagrees with such goals. The disagreement is over whether it can best be achieved through state coercion or unrestricted private enterprise. I have a feeling that this isn't a realistic alternative, since any excess of one provokes a resurgence of the other. Such swinging back and forth is a characteristic of systems that offer only a choice between two opposites. (Pendulums are moving at their fastest and impossibly to stop just at the mid point where you'd want them.) The traditional answer, as seen in the structure of political systems that have lasted, has been the division of power among three "houses" (Representatives, Senate, Executive; Parliament, Lords, Crown; Army, KGB, Party) so that when any leg of the tripod grows too long, the other two will combine against it. (Interesting that the triangle is also an inherently stable mechanical structure.)

The only point on which I'd change from when I wrote VOYAGE, and it appears where take issue with Marx, is that I have more time for religion than was the case then. Perhaps that side to our being needs to form the basis of that third side to the triangle that seems to be lacking.

 
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