I’ve been listening to If This Goes On in audiobook while I clean the house. I still think that Heinlein was right about the coming theocracy – that is he was right about the theocratic impulse that he saw in the American people. I see it too. It’s what I’ve referred to in the past as Americans being, in the community of nations, the Aspergers kid who takes things seriously, things that no one else accepts as written/said. This has a good side, such as a lot of us taking things like the Constitution very seriously, and a bad side, such as people taking the whole multiculti thing seriously. (The rest of the world might parrot it, but no, they don’t take it seriously.)
The problem was that Heinlein was a man of his time – as we are all men and women of our time, and it would be good for certain people on the extreme left to remember that – and his place, and when he thought of “theocracy” he thought in terms of traditional religion.
I think it’s funny, since even as he wrote If This Goes On that “traditional religion” he spoke of was vanishing from the world. It was largely gone from Europe, and the seeds of its vanishing were already planted in the states. Religious faith in a supernatural power was in fact being replaced with a faith in the state as the arbitrary of morals and the end of all psychic life — a faith that would penetrate even the Catholic church and most of the protestant churches in the US (no? Ask any mainline minister/priest about government help to the poor/immigration laws/socialized health.)
Now, when I say Heinlein didn’t see it, I should say he didn’t consciously see it. True artists see thing with other than their conscious mind.
Though Nehemiah Scudder is not Christian as such, he is “Christianish” and the religion is definitely supposed to ark to the Christian fundamentalism of Heinlein’s youth. He mentions in fact the first prophet teaching at Mississipi Valley tent revivals and all the names of places/mapping of the character’s mind is Bible-related.
This to me is the most alien part of Heinlein’s world building, and the reason I never got Job, A Comedy of Justice. I was not raised in a religion that in any way resembled that strain of American religion. My own spiritual formation was far more haphazard, but also more mystical and less rigid. And, again, by the time I became aware of it, in the early seventies, in Europe, religion in all its forms was sneered at by all “right thinking people.” (Yes, I’m religious. I’m contrary. Deal.)
Of course, the fact that this supposed “monolithic” religious consensus was already dissolving is what allowed Heinlein to publish works like If This Goes On and Job and even Stranger, I guess. The intellectual life of this country had broken free from traditional religion shortly after WWI, as it did all over the world. Part of it was the recoil at the war. A lot of it might have been the fruits of the French revolution. (Things work themselves very slowly through the collective mind.) And of course the blossoming of the state, and the edging out of religion in favor of the state had been going on for a long time — since at least Henry VIII.
To me this was obvious as was what might or might not have been obvious to Heinlein (I think to a certain extent he saw it, but perhaps not consciously) because I was born almost sixty years later, and in a place where the transfer of moral arbitration from the divinity to the national state was almost completed. (And not because I am more of a clear thinking than Heinlein, thank you so much. I don’t intend to be haunted.)
Now, before you think this is a Heinlein bashing post and before the Heinlein bashing brigade sashays over, let me repeat what I said before: Heinlein was a man of his time. Science fiction pretends to have a crystal ball, and convincingly written science fiction is good enough to pass as the future to contemporaries.
It is not, however, an act of prophecy, and that science fiction which is convinced it is is the worst of all (No? Read some of “the ice age is coming” sf from the seventies, or the “we’re all burning up” from the late eighties/early nineties. It wasn’t even believable THEN such its righteous air of jumping on the bandwagon.)
However, Heinlein was a good artist and like all good artists (Pratchett, anyone?) saw things he might not even have been aware he was seeing.
Nehemiah Scudder might have been intended for a fundamentalist preacher, with only a vague whitewashing so it could be published, but forget that part. That part was sort of a reflex from Heinlein’s own upbringing.
Instead, let’s analyze what Nehemiah was. He was someone infused with a set of beliefs that denied the American constitution and the right of free people to rule themselves. He rode to power on a set of beliefs that were supposed to be “good” for people. The “moral” thing to do that would get us to paradise. His policies more or less crashed the economy, at least in relation to the rest of the world, and were completely devoid of contact with reality. His moral precepts were all pervasive and impinged on everything – and he rewrote the past and made people think he had come to power over a terrible, heathen land – and that there had been no free citizens before him.
I was going to say “let us not make invidious comparisons” but you’re free men and women and I’m not going to dictate what you can and cannot think. Instead, I’m going to point out that the worship of the state and that beast which goes under the name of Progressivism is in fact a religion.
Someone said it’s not a religion but a cult, because religions are more internally consistent, but that’s not true. They’re comparing the religion of Progressivism to Judaism and Christianity. Those tend to be internally consistent, or at least its followers try to make it so – in the present era.
This was not always so, and it certainly doesn’t apply to every religion, particularly not to folk religions. I know. I grew up in an area where every invader and every ruler left behind a piece of folk religion and a bit of superstition. People believed in them all and in the official religion, regardless of the contradictions.
This is more what Progressivism resembles. It’s made of the myths of many groups, all of which are sure they’re THE group and willing to tolerate fellow travelers. Thus progressive women have their myths, starting with the Earthly paradise of the matriarchy and ending, eventually with the restoration of the same matriarchy. Black supremacists… we won’t go into their myths. We’ll just say they deny other races full humanity. If you poke around, you’ll find it. And the myths of the class warriors start in a distant paradise of Rosseau-like nonsense, where men neither spun nor labored and yet had everything they needed, through the current vale of tears of Capitalism, which is weirdly responsible for every human vice (that is for vices that existed before it existed) and which will end in the wonderful classless society of the future, where, to quote Star Trek, “we don’t have money, we just work because we want to.” (Thus throwing all the credits system away. Never mind.)
And the impulse that drives this type of worship of the government is the same impulse that drove the Prophet’s sacred armies in If This Goes On.
The excuse is not divine, it’s more suited to our times.
For over a century people – who really don’t know a scientific principle from a hole in the ground – have been preached to about science as the ultimate arbiter of all things. And of course, the state is run according to ‘science’ and enforces ‘science.’
It’s truly amazing how much we resemble medieval peasants, who believed in the divine right of kings.
Look – science and capitalism (the real science, i.e. things that are provably so, not the nebulous foggy computer model predictions which can only be considered to be coming through if you squint and shake the magic eight ball) have lifted humans above our normal condition of poverty. They also made the “ruling elites” and the would be ruling elites very uncomfortable.
There is a subset of human for whom it is not sufficient to be happy or rich. His neighbors must be miserable and poor. This is manifest usually by trying to distance oneself from those one considers one’s social inferiors. As someone who shops in thrift stores and loves diners, I’ve been known to shock other college-educated women with my “plebian” tastes. They might not be any better off than I, but by gum, they keep a proper distance. (I always sucked at this, and it was even worse in Portugal than here. The classes are more distinct.)
This I suppose is normal monkey behavior. At least Dave Freer tells me simian bands signal “class and status” all the time. I don’t know. By those lights, I’m a rather crazy monkey, since I do what I like to do and damn the torpedoes.
That subset of the “elites” has been dying to bring back the proper state of things, where they get to enjoy all this improved stuff, but the peasants are kept in their right place.
If you look at most of the dictates of our state and its “green” obsession, you’ll see just that. We won’t go into the hubris of imagining that humans have that much effect upon the Earth or the “read me” files, or… We’ll just go into the fact that if the Earth were in fact cooling disastrously or burning up disastrously, there would be scientific solutions to the problem (and actually a warmer temperature wouldn’t be a problem for a long, long time. Humans thrive in warm periods.) Gregory Benford ran a series of articles in reason suggesting hacks to cool the Earth if indeed it were burning up.
More importantly, if the Earth were burning up/freezing over, the solution wouldn’t be exactly the same, and wouldn’t so much resemble an excoriation of sins that the peasants committed when they tried to live in the same way as the elites.
Al Gore, whose carbon footprint is larger than Estonia’s and Moldavia’s put together, flies around the world telling people that they’re not supposed to drive cars, live in artificially cooled/warmed houses, have enough electricity to entertain themselves, etc. etc. etc.
The gist is “you’re sinful. You’ve overstepped your bounds. Go back, or cataclysm will follow.”
This is, like in all imperial religions, created and centered on the state (this is not new, btw. Rome had one.) a religion that applies to the masses, not the rulers. The rulers are special by virtue of being rulers.
And this part is what is right about If This Goes On. Heinlein foresaw the theocracy quite well, and the impulse that drove it quite well. His lens was just a little deformed by his perspective.
The book is still worth it and there are points that will make you stop with sudden realization. For instance, when he says that the worst thing the Prophet did was steal history from the American people, so they had no idea their ancestors had been free.
Our children have no idea, either. If you have kids, make sure you find them some stories from oh, the beginning of the last century. And some movies, like
1766 1776 (this is why I’m not an engineer. Digits do weird things between mind and fingers) and The Patriot, though flawed are worth it. So is Independence Day by showing, in the end, American ingenuity coming through.
But all our kids have been taught are the sins of America and none of its glories. And Heinlein was right about that part – if you don’t know your own history, if you don’t know the truth, your mind is already a prisoner of those who taught you the flawed history.
One of the mistakes Heinlein’s generation made was thinking the religious impulse went away when organized religion did. It doesn’t of course. As religion loses force, the state-as-religion moves in. Of the two the second is probably the most harmful, as it wants to bring about a reality that simply doesn’t fit into the physical world. No matter how much we squash capitalism, we’re not going to have an Earthly paradise. (On the contrary.) The paradise hereafter is each person’s concern and ultimately neither testable nor enforceable (not to say that some places and times haven’t tried it.)
The reason the book is still applicable, is that theocracy can exist outside conventional religion, and he nailed exactly how it works.
We keep wondering how things like journolist can exist, how people who are supposed to be writing the truth can justify lying in unison. We keep wondering how people in the IRS can live with themselves when they’re persecuting the enemies of the party in power.
The answer is that they’ve been taught a distorted history. In the light of that history what they’re doing is just and necessary.
Their minds were captured by the enemy – which is a toxic mix of statism and Marxism– and therefore they are no longer free.
The only way to return freedom to the people is to break the mental chains holding them. This involves breaking the back of the media-entertainment complex.
We’re not there yet. We might not be there for the rest of our lives. The process takes time. (Another thing for which “If This Goes On” is useful. You see the slow “de-indoctrination” of the main character, and how long it takes.)
However, it has begun. And even in its beginning, its scaring the living daylights out of the statists, the state-worshippers, the enemies of freedom.
It is our duty as free men and women, to continue scaring them. It is our duty to scare them as much as possible, and to free as many people as possible from their rotten doublethink.
The truth shall set you free.
UPDATE: If you feel a terrible need to listen to the accent that ate the world, here’s an interview with me.