George Orwell

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian science fiction novel, We, belongs in the libertarian tradition.

You can also read the transcript below:

When we think of the libertarian tradition, we tend naturally to think of political philosophers and economists of the past. But surely one part of the libertarian tradition belongs to novelists and other fiction writers.

In earlier podcasts in this series, I’ve already discussed two such figures: Ayn Rand, whose 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, is, arguably, one of the half-dozen most important libertarian works of the 20th century, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the professor of philology at Oxford whose giant fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, published just a few years before Atlas Shrugged, is arguably the most culturally influential single novel published in English in the 20th century.

This week, I’d like to talk about a writer whose level of influence has been much more modest, but whose indirect influence has nevertheless been considerable. Regular listeners to this series know what I mean by indirect influence. I gave an example of it just last week, when I discussed the life and career of Isabel Paterson. Paterson’s libertarian classic, The God of the Machine, has never reached a wide readership, but, thanks to the effort of her protégé, Ayn Rand, Paterson herself has influenced millions of readers who have never even seen a copy of The God of the Machine.

The writer I’m talking about today wrote a novel in which a citizen of a totalitarian state of the future meets a woman and becomes obsessed with her. He begins a forbidden sexual affair with this woman, meeting with her illicitly in a very old part of the city where the intrusive gaze of the all-encompassing government doesn’t seem to penetrate. Through his relationship with her, he becomes involved in the organized underground opposition to the all-encompassing government — an opposition he had never previously realized existed at all. Ultimately, he and the woman are caught, imprisoned, and tortured. In the end, he is sincerely repentant of his crimes and is completely devoted to the all-encompassing government that has done him all this harm.

A familiar story, no? Can you tell me what novel I’ve just described? Ah, I see a hand in the back of the room. Yes? “George Orwell’s 1984,” you cry out confidently. And your answer is correct, but only as far as it goes, which is, perhaps, not quite as far as you thought it would.

That is a description of the plot of 1984, which was published, as we all know, in 1949. But Orwell adapted the plot of 1984 from another novel, one originally published 25 years earlier in 1924. That earlier novel was entitled, simply, We. It was the work of a not-very-well-known Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin was not very well known outside Russia when We was first published, and he was still not very well known in the West 25 years later, when Orwell published 1984. He remains not very well known in the West to this day.

[Keep reading…]


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NEWS | 2011 Prometheus Award Winners Announced Thumbnail

Darkship Thieves by Sarah HoytThe Libertarian Futurist Society has announced this year’s winners of their Best Novel and Hall of Fame awards.

Alas, I didn’t get around to reading and reviewing Cory Doctorow’s For the Win in time for the voting, but I still plan on doing so. Matthew Alexander reviewed another of the finalists, L. Neil Smith’s Ceres.

Here’s the official press release:

The Libertarian Futurist Society will hold its annual awards ceremony for the Prometheus Award during Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention, to be held Aug. 17-21 in Reno, Nevada. The specific time and location will be available in the convention program.

The winner of the Best Novel award is Darkship Thieves, by Sarah Hoyt (Baen Books). The Hall of Fame award was won by Animal Farm, a short novel written by George Orwell in 1945. Sarah Hoyt will receive a plaque and a one-ounce gold coin, while a smaller gold coin and a plaque will be presented to Orwell’s estate.

Darkship Thieves features an exciting, coming-of-age saga in which a heroic woman fights for her freedom and identity against a tyrannical Earth. Hoyt’s novel, dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein, depicts a plausible anarchist society among the asteroids. Hoyt is a prolific writer of novels and short fiction, though this is her first time as Prometheus finalist.

[Keep reading…]


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If you enjoy dystopian fiction, and dystopias often provide great fodder for libertarians, be sure to keep an eye on this week.

From the announcement:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —Nineteen Eighty-Four

Over sixty years later, 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s unsettling vision of the future continues to resonate throughout our culture, along with so many other great dystopian works of the last century, from Fahrenheit 451 toThe Hunger GamesMetropolis to Blade RunnerHarrison Bergeron to The Handmaid’s Tale…the list goes on and on and so, on this bright, not-so-cold day in April, we’re pleased to announce a weeklong celebration of a subgenre which has continually challenged the comfortable boundaries of our imaginations.

[Keep reading…]


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BOOK REVIEW | Little Brother by Cory Doctorow Thumbnail

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a tale about tech-savvy teenagers as they rebel against a Department of Homeland Security crackdown following a terrorist attack on San Fransisco. A piece of YA fiction that even adults can enjoy — it’s YA largely because of its teenage protagonists and its educational aim at young people — Little Brother is the 2009 Prometheus Award winner for best libertarian novel. Little Brother also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and was a finalist for the Hugo Award.

Little Brother is set entirely in San Fransisco, California, in the very near future. Much of the technology in the story is already available, and what is not can easily be conceived as being on the horizon. The story is told entirely in the first person, from the point of view of the main character, Marcus Yallow. Marcus at first goes by the handle w1n5t0n (Winston in leetspeak, a homage to George Orwell’s 1984, as is the title of the book) but later switches to M1k3y (which could be a reference to the computer Mike in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

As the story opens, we are introduced to Marcus and three of his friends — Jolu (Jose Luis), Van (Vanessa), and best friend, Darryl — who ditch school to play an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) called Harajuku Fun Madness in and around the city. They happen to have the misfortune of being in the wrong part of town when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. In the chaos and confusion that follows, they get picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and then subjected to several days of interrogation and psychological torture in a “Gitmo by the Bay” before being released (with the exception of Darryl) with threats to keep quiet about their experience…or else. But once set free, Marcus and his friends are disturbed to see their city being turned into a police state.

Marcus resolves to fight back against the DHS, to restore civil rights and liberties and to free Darryl. He soon becomes the unofficial leader of a growing, decentralized movement of rebellious teenagers. But his covert struggle starts to put a strain on his relationships with his family and friends.

[Keep reading…]


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In a new addition to the Mises Institute’s online media library today, part of The Libertarian Tradition podcast series, Jeff Riggenbach discusses libertarian science fiction.

Riggenbach discusses the role of science fiction in keeping individualism alive, the phenomenon of all the best known libertarian novels being science fiction novels, Eric S. Raymond’s “A Political History of SF” in which Raymond argues that science fiction has a natural affinity with libertarianism, and the importance of dramatizing our values (pdf).

Reviewed in some detail are A.E. van Vogt’s novel The Weapon Shops of Isher and Eric Frank Russell’s novel The Great Explosion.



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