William H. Patterson, Jr. talking about Robert A. Heinlein at the Cato Institute in 2010

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William H. Patterson, Jr., author of Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century a new biography of Robert A. Heinlein, is the speaker in this Cato Institute video from 2010. Here’s the official description:

Robert A. Heinlein is regarded by many as the greatest science fiction writer of the 20th century. He is the author of more than 30 novels, including Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and the libertarian classic The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. According to biographer William H. Patterson Jr., Heinlein’s writings “galvanized not one, but four social movements of his century: science fiction and its stepchild, the policy think tank; the counterculture; the libertarian movement; and the commercial space movement.” This authorized biography, reviewed enthusiastically by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post, is the first of two volumes, covering Heinlein’s early ambition to become an admiral, his left-wing politics, and his first novels. Heinlein later became strongly libertarian.

The speech itself is short, and isn’t particularity exciting, but Patterson gives some very detailed and interesting answers to audience questions. Some are about the connections between Ayn Rand and Robert A. Heinlein, the philosophy of Heinlein, socialism in the U.S.A., and Heinlein’s mysticism.

But one question asked, about how to rebuff arguments that Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers is fascist’, has Patterson point to the compulsory military service in Switzerland. He equates it with being a part of Swiss citizenship. However, military service is only compulsory for Swiss men. In South Korea, where the threat of war is much more pressing, compulsory military service works the same way – only men are compelled. In fact compulsory military service works, and has worked, that way just about everywhere – including in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. A much better example of equating military service with citizenship would be Israel, where compulsory military service includes both men and women – and there aren’t very many exemptions. Problem is, this isn’t what the book, or the movie, has. Heinlein has voting rights for veterans – soldiers can’t vote and anybody who doesn’t join the military can’t vote. That’s not fascism. I don’t know what it’s called but it is not fascism.

Posted by Jesse Willis

2 thoughts to “William H. Patterson, Jr. talking about Robert A. Heinlein at the Cato Institute in 2010”

  1. Nice find, Jesse. It bears repeating that militarism is not fascism. Plus, fascism extends voting rights to just one person: the Great Leader.

    I suspect the reason so many people think of fascism when they read Starship Troopers is that Heinlein, via his favored characters, displays a relentless impatience–contempt, really–for shirkers, whiners and freeloaders, which reminds people of the fascist contempt for any weakness.

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