In my last post, we discussed a recent, fallacious claim that classic science fiction from the 20th century was monolithically anti-free market. As I would assume is common knowledge, the anti-statism triumvirate of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” were all published in the 20th century. Granted, these works are known for being anti-statism, rather than excitedly pro-free-market. But, such works absolutely exist and were powerfully influential.
The following are five novels that exemplify the pro-free-market vein of science fiction which have built the rich heritage we see today in books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of “Hunger Games” and the like, but I do hope that they can introduce modern readers to some of these well-written classics.
1. “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein
The conflict which drives this dystopian novel is the struggle between the totalitarian government of Earth, and the free market of a lunar colony. As one blogger puts it, this novel is “carefully plotted, stylistically unique, politically sophisticated and thrilling from page one, it’s hard to imagine anyone else writing a novel that packs so many ideas (both big and small) into such a perfectly contained narrative.” I couldn’t agree more.
Heinlein understands the United States Constitution and the free enterprise system, which have made America the land of the free, with breath-taking clarity and conviction. Published in 1966, after Heinlein’s trip through the Soviet Union, this book provides a powerful critique of statism which most visitors to the Soviet Union weren’t willing to level at the time. Heinlein provides more details of this fascinating trip in his collection of essays, “Expanded Universe,” but shadows of his criticism, as well as enormous endorsements of free enterprise, can be found in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”
2. “Timescape” by Gregory Benford
This novel was recommended to me by a friend, to whom I am forever grateful for introducing me to the prodigious Gregory Benford. Since finishing “Timescape,” I’ve snatched up several of Benford’s other works (preferably first-edition finds at used book stores). “Timescape” is a great introduction to the worldview of Benford, which might draw readers in to further reading as it did with me. A modern renaissance man, Benford is also a contributing editor of Reason Magazine, and has many interesting thoughts for young free marketers.
“Timescape” is a thriller. Reading it, one forgets that that they are actually consuming a significant amount of hard science. Benford’s background as an astrophysicist at the University of California, Irvine, makes his explanation and incorporation of science and technology unmatchable. While his political philosophy isn’t the primary focus of this work, his pro-freedom ideology can be seen in subtle ways if you know that it’s there.
3. “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand
I imagine “Atlas Shrugged” needs no introduction on this list of 20th century pro-free-market fiction. Rand’s savior-figure, John Galt, spends more than 70 pages proclaiming the superiority of free enterprise over statism, saying at one point, “The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force… no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality—to think, to work and to keep the results—which means: the right of property.”
Weighing in at well over 1000 pages, depending on the edition, this book is a project to read. However, as with most classic works, the book offers great detail which builds a better story than the movies. The book is worth reading, if only once. Whether you are a fan or critic of Rand, it’s worth investing the time to read her magnum opus.
4. “The Great Explosion” by Eric Frank Russell
This little-known novel, published in 1951, is based on Eric Frank Russell’s successful short story “And Then There Were None.” The story is set hundreds of years after humanity has invented faster-than-light travel and has spread out across the galaxy—the name refers to the great explosion of humanity through the stars. The plot follows one of the first voyages from Earth to visit all of the colonies and unite humanity under a single Empire.
The challenge comes when the crew encounters a colony that has embraced a free enterprise system. I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s worth reading through Russell’s satirical style to discover the [spoiler alert!] pro-freedom ending.
5. “When the Sleeper Wakes” by H.G. Wells
When Ewan Morrison wrote in The Guardian about what he calls “the free-market-will-bring-hell-on-earth period of speculative fiction,” he dated the period from H.G. Wells (late 19th century) to Margret Atwood (who is still alive). The works on this list prove that this was in no way a period of uniformly anti-free-market thought, but rather a diverse period of battling ideologies. Additionally, there was a variety of thought within the work of the more prolific authors, including H.G. Wells.
While much of Wells’ work supports the socialist ideology he was known for, he spent most of life conflicted. He dreamt of the utopia promised by the communists of the 19th century, but without the turmoil of 20th century. Morrison considers one of the flaws of current dystopian fiction, the “rampant individualist” protagonists.
And yet, many of Wells’ novels feature such a character—one of the best of which is “When the Sleeper Wakes.” Set in the 22nd century, a man awakes after 200 years of sleep to find that his estate owns the entire world. The board who manages his estate has ruled the world in totalitarian fashion, and the people have longed for the Sleeper to awake and free them. The man from the 1890s is thrown into an epic struggle against the state he inadvertently created.
While this may not be the most pro-free-market book, the story does feature a “rampant” individual and speaks of shaking off totalitarianism. So, H.G. Wells himself undermines Morrison’s case.
These are just a few of the great works of science fiction from the 20th century that promote freedom, the sanctity of the individual, and the superiority of a free enterprise system. As we’ve concluded before, today’s young adult books, such as “The Hunger Games,” are building on a rich pro-freedom literary heritage from the 20th century, the age when freedom triumphed over communism.