Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, the author of Snuff, our July Lightmonthly Read, has been diagnosed with an early form of Alzheimer’s. No longer able to type, he now reportedly dictates to a software program. This was the first time I had read a Pratchett novel, and in researching the author and his book, I came across a couple of interesting things. First, the novel was scoring significantly lower on sites like Amazon than other Pratchett novels, and second, many of the book’s detractors were bewildered by what they had read, some of them seriously proposing that someone other than Pratchett had written the work. I can have no opinion on that, but learning that his earlier works were of a markedly different style does make me more inclined to give them a try.

Snuff is a Discworld novel, the most recent in a long line of stories from that fictional world. It tells the story of Sam Vimes, a “copper” in the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork who has married into aristocracy. An incorrigible workaholic, he is practically forced into a vacation outside the city, at the manor that he has inherited. While there, he discovers a murder and, relieved to have something to do that is work-related, investigates.

There was more libertarianism in this work than in the other finalists for the Prometheus Award, save for one, and I appreciated that. The main thrust is an exploration of goblins as sentient beings and Vimes’s chafing at the society that so badly esteems them and so poorly treats them. While much of it is a mere libertarian-friendly argument against bigotry, the novel increasingly turns towards the question of law and rights. Though it never delves as rigorously into the question as one would expect from, say, Hans Hermann Hoppe, there are a number of comments and even a discussion or two that dance around the theme of natural law versus man’s execution of his laws.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Whatever good you have heard about The Hunger Games, the reality is more spectacular. Not only is this the literary phenom of our time, but the movie that created near pandemonium for a week from its opening is a lasting contribution to art and to the understanding of our world. It’s more real than we know.

In the story, a totalitarian and centralized state — it seems to be some kind of unelected autocracy — keeps a tight grip on its colonies to prevent a repeat of the rebellion that occurred some 75 years ago. They do this through the forced imposition of material deprivation, by unrelenting propaganda about the evil of disobedience to the interests of the nation-state and with “Hunger Games” as annual entertainment.

In this national drama and sport, and as a continuing penance for past sedition, the central state randomly selects two teens from each of the 12 districts and puts them into a fight-to-the-death match in the woods, one watched like a reality show by every resident. The districts are supposed to cheer for their representatives and hope that one of their selected teens will be the one person who prevails.

So amidst dazzling pageantry, media glitz and public hysteria, these 24 kids — who would otherwise be living normal lives — are sent to kill each other without mercy in a bloody zero-sum game. They are first transported to the opulent capitol city and wined, dined, and trained. Then the games begin.

At the very outset, many are killed on the spot in the struggle to grab weapons from a stockpile. From there, coalitions form among the groups, however temporary they may be. Everyone knows there can only be one winner in the end, but alliances — formed on the basis of class, race, personality, etc. — can provide a temporary level of protection.

Watching all this take place is harrowing to say the least, but the public in the movie does watch as a type of reality television. This is the ultimate dog-eat-dog setting, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in the words of Thomas Hobbes. But it is also part of a game the kids are forced to play. This is not a state of nature. In real life, they wouldn’t have the need to kill or be killed. They wouldn’t see each other as enemies. They wouldn’t form into evolving factions for self-protection.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin Thumbnail

Justin Cord, protagonist of The Unincorporated Man (2010 Prometheus Award winner for Best Libertarian Novel) once quips that, “You often learn more about a situation from the questions than the answers.”

My highest praise for the book is for the questions it raises in the best tradition of social science fiction, questions that get us thinking about economic, legal, and even financial institutions in new ways. The book portrays a future society with a minimalist limited government, strong corporations, and a universal system of “personal incorporation.”

Each person is owned by a shifting combination of self and others through a joint stock arrangement set up at birth. Making corporations personal serves to amplify and universalize the conventional image of corporate titans maneuvering against each other for power and position. Everyone plays the “corporate game” and plays it with their whole lives, not just their jobs. Into this mix awakens one man from 300 years of suspended animation. Can he remain wholly self-owned? Will his ancient ideas of autonomy infect others and upset the new social order?

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