libertarianism

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

The Libertarian Futurist Society issued a press release on Saturday, July 20th, announcing this year’s winners of the Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Novel and the Hall of Fame Award.

Best Novel

Winner

Finalists

Hall of Fame

Winner

Finalists

My thoughts on the results briefly: I still wish actual libertarian authors would win more often. Step up, people!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

There are a number of familiar names listed here, including past winners Cory Doctorow, Sarah Hoyt, Dani and Eytan Kollin, Neal Stephenson, Poul Anderson, and Donald M. Kingsbury.

Tobias S. Buckell, Daniel Suarez, Lois McMaster Bujold, Harlan Ellison, and Rudyard Kipling have been finalists before.

In other words, no newcomers made it to finalist this year. I hope this doesn’t become a trend and that fresh talent is not being overlooked.

I haven’t read Pirate Cinema, but I have reviewed three of Doctorow’s previous novels: Little Brother (2009 winner), Makers (2010 finalist), and For the Win (2011 finalist). I hope that Doctorow was able to sustain his radical momentum through the end of the book this time around, but if he follows the pattern set in these other books I expect Pirate Cinema to have a rather milquetoast ending as well. I hope I’m wrong, because it won and it deals with timely and important issues surrounding civil liberties, intellectual property, and resistance.

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Analog January/February 2005

If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside the mindset of the utilitarian pragmatist and unabashedly statist, then you would do well to read or listen to David Brin’s novelette “Mars Opposition.” Begun in 2003 with the launch of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), and originally published in Analog in January 2005, “Mars Opposition” has been republished in audio format in episode 298 of StarShipSofa (free). It is a well-written tale, though predictable and unsubtle, and is superbly narrated by Dave Robison. Unfortunately, Brin uses the story as a vehicle for riding some of his political hobbyhorses:

  • defending government and its officials from antigovernment criticism,
  • making government smarter with the help of the technocratic elite (such as himself),
  • and smearing libertarians as dogmatic, asocial creatures who are clueless about the human condition.

Fair warning, what follows is spoiler-ridden.

“Mars Opposition” opens at Cape Canaveral with the landing of a strange spaceship. What follows is an even stranger first contact with 50-odd beings who claim to be Martians. They each bear a long list of human names and offer payment in exchange for being given the location of one person on the list. When one of these people — Bruce Murray, one of the founders of the Mars Planetary Society — happens to be present, the Martian looking for him promptly walks over and “shoots him dead.” Before long, the Martians are scattering in all directions, each hunting for the next name on their list.

Why are Martians killing these people who all happen to be space enthusiasts? The unidentified narrator (from here on referring to the POV character, not Dave Robison) eventually figures everything out and explains it to us as events unfold. As fresh and interesting as this take on a first contact story is, I won’t dwell on it and will instead turn to examining Brin’s political message.

Brin himself describes “Mars Opposition” as a creepy campfire tale. That would make the Martians the boogeymen of the story. And the Martians — the boogeymen — are, as the narrator calls them at the end, ultimate libertarians.

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Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Set some years before the events of Victor Fleming’s work, it tells the tale of the wizard himself, a travelling magician from Kansas making a meager, day-to-day living. A magician is a trickster, of sorts, and Oscar Diggs (James Franco) has a character well suited to it. Though one gets the sense that at his core he is not entirely amoral, he lies to friend and stranger alike. He lusts after money and women, whom he tricks for his own benefit.

It is this very duplicity in his nature that gets him running from trouble and sets him on course for Oz. After flirting with the wife of a circus strongman, he escapes the enraged husband in a hot air balloon just as a tornado begins to ravage the landscape. As happened in the original film to Dorothy, the tornado transports him to the magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora, a witch played by Mila Kunis.

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Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller

In this January 12, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the important role played by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in the early libertarian movement.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach discusses Rand’s role in the early libertarian movement. Along the way he highlights Heller’s defense of the quality of Rand’s writing against mainstream literary critics. He goes on to argue that Heller’s book is the better of the two and explains what mars Burns’s book. He plays a couple of clips of Rand herself explaining why she and her philosophy of Objectivism are not conservative, and challenges the coherence of Burns’s conception of the American Right.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her importance in the libertarian tradition, this episode offers a good primer on the subject as well as on what differentiates libertarianism and conservatism.

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Goddess of the Market Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns

In this January 6, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach takes us on a biographical tour of the life of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach goes on to chronicle Rand’s early life in Soviet Russia, how she got out and immigrated to the United States, her work in Hollywood and her Broadway play, Night of January 16th, and her marriage to Frank O’Connor.

Riggenbach then covers the publication of her four major works of fiction: We the Living, Anthem (a novella), The Fountainhead (adapted to film with a screenplay by Rand), and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. He also discusses Rand’s relationship with Nathaniel Branden, the formation of her inner circle, the publication of Rand’s nonfiction works, and the growth of the Objectivist community.

All that in 20 minutes! Phew!

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her work and life, this episode offers a good overview.

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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.

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, can be counted as a libertarian.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

Riggenbach argues that The Lord of the Rings is “both an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power and an allegory of power exerted for domination.” The story is a dramatization of Lord Acton’s famous dictum that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After a delving deeper into Lord Acton and his dictum, Riggenbach reads a couple of passages from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son, Christopher, that were also quoted by Alberto Mingardi and Carlo Stagnaro in their Mises Daily article, “Tolkien v. Power” (February 21, 2002). I quote the passages below for your convenience, but the whole article is well worth reading:

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