Quotulatiousness

April 11, 2017

The return of Jane Galt

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, who used to blog as “Jane Galt”, did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit:

I’m Megan McArdle, a columnist for Bloomberg View, covering business, economics, public policy and the latest in kitchen gadgets. Ask me anything!

[…]

[–]LegalInspiration 5 points 6 hours ago*

In the short, medium, and long terms, generally speaking, would you say the US as a political and civil society is screwed? If so, how screwed would you say it is? If that’s too argumentative, maybe a more polite way to phrase it is: Do you see the gradual disruption of national unity post WWII as something that will cycle within a set of sustainable boundaries, or will the trend continue long term to the point where the US is no longer sustainable as a coherent and singular entity?

    [–]janegalt[S] 4 points 5 hours ago

    A couple of decades ago, I toyed with the idea of writing a novel where the US broke up into two countries: Liberalstan and Fundamentalistalia. Back then I thought it was a metaphor; now I’m less sure. The country feels more divided than it has in my lifetime, or that of my parents. It may be the worst it’s been since the Palmer Raids; maybe the worst since the Civil War.

    That said, to quote Adam Smith, “There’s a lot of ruin in a nation”. I think we have plenty of room to turn it around. But I think to do so, we need to think creatively about a kinder, gentler nationalism. Not the kind that says “Whee, let’s invade other countries”, but the kind that emphasizes love of country and the things we have in common–not the love we’ll grudgingly dole out after the nation has perfected itself, nor the things we’ll have in common after all those wretches in the other half of the country see the light and/or die. But love of each other right now, despite our many flaws.

    Every country needs a certain amount of myth making, and a certain amount of irrational pride in itself to hold it together. That’s particularly true for America, which can’t derive a national identity from, well, not being America. I think a lot of people imagined that tearing down all the myth making, and disparaging that irrational love of country, would turn us into good global citizens. Only it turns out that the opposite of nationalism isn’t globalism; it’s tribalism. And the tribes are gearing up to make war on each other in a way that the US hasn’t seen for a long time.

[…]

[–]TJIC1 4 points 6 hours ago

You are libertarian – but a “pragmatic” one who suggests / acknowledges that gov is necessarily going to end up in pretty much every corner of everything, and that the space of reasonable policy debate is small changes at the margin. This seems to suggest that we will never repeal FDR innovations like ignoring the 9th and 10th amendment, changing commerce clause to read “Federal gov can do whatever it wants”, etc. What’s the best we can hope for for liberty? What we have today – a modern welfare state where USG consumes 30% of economy and regulates everything from toilet flushing to proper woods to make a guitar fretboard from?

…or a welfare state where USG consumes 50% of the economy?

…or 90%?

[–]janegalt[S] 5 points 5 hours ago*

    The gap between real and ideal for libertarians is certainly wide, and I am less hopeful than I was twenty years ago that we’ll ever close it. I hate the “read whatever the government wants to do into the Constitution” jurisprudence that was required to enable the New Deal, and the fact that judges have appointed themselves to replace poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

    At some point as a commentator you have to decide whether to advocate for first best or eighth best policy. I’ve generally decided to advocate for what I think is politically realistic, rather than what I think is ideal. I think you need both kinds though–the compromisers need the hardline idealists to provide a sort of compass point, and the idealists need the compromisers to provide the actual movement in the right direction.

    That said, this last election was very bad for libertarian ideas, representing a rejection of both our ideas about social policy, and those about political economy. I think libertarians have a lot of hard work ahead thinking about where we can realistically make advances in the next decade or so. I wish I knew the answer to that. My best guess is: the middle class entitlement state is not going to be rolled back. There may be some room for progress on America’s incredibly inefficient regulatory state, which would be a great boon for both economic liberty, and growth. I think the GOP will try to do tax cuts, but will fail to accomplish anything significant, for much the same reasons that their health care bill failed: there’s no money, and no public appetite for a tax cut that mainly benefits the affluent-to-rich (as it will have to, because at this point, the middle class and below don’t pay significant income taxes).

    That said, we should also remember the progress that has been made on the liberty front. In 1944, FDR had the head of Montgomery Ward arrested for thwarting his war planning board; in 1952 Truman nationalized the steel mills. That stuff doesn’t happen any more, and a lot of the worst New Deal regulations have gone away. Police practices are way better than they were before Miranda and other decisions made sure that defendants knew their rights (I’m not saying they’re perfect, but they’re definitely better). And if you’re a minority or a woman, all sorts of legal discrimination has been erased over the last fifty years. Those are major victories for libertarians, and we shouldn’t think that there’s some golden age we’re falling away from. We’ve lost a few, but we’ve won a few too.

March 26, 2017

The Mark Steyn Show with Maxime Bernier

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Mar 23, 2017

In this brand new edition of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark talks to Canadian Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. M Bernier was the country’s Foreign Minister under Stephen Harper until his rising star somewhat spectacularly self-detonated. But, after biding his time, he returned as a hero of the libertarian right – “the Albertan from Quebec”, as he became known. Steyn and Bernier talk about what it means to be a conservative francophone in rural Quebec, the role of a medium-rank power in a turbulent world, and Canadian-US relations.

January 21, 2017

Inauguration day

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Warren Meyer on the downside of Inauguration Day for small government fans, regardless of which “team” won this time around:

Inauguration day is probably one of my 2 or 3 least favorite days in every decade. My feelings on the whole exercise are probably best encompassed by a conversation I had the other day at a social function.

A couple of my many liberal friends were complaining vociferously about the upcoming Trump Presidency. After a while, one observed that I seemed to be insufficiently upset about Trump. Was I a secret supporter?

I said to them something roughly as follows: You know that bad feeling you have now? That feeling of anger and fear and exasperation that some total yahoo who you absolutely disagree with has been selected to exercise power over you, power that offends you but you have to accept? Yeah, well I feel that after every Presidential election. Every. Single. One. At some point we need to stop treating these politicians as royalty and instead treat them as dangerous threats whose power needs to be circumscribed in every way we can find.

Trump and libertarian concerns

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Reason, Peter Suderman can only come up with nine reasons for libertarians to be worried about Il Donalduce‘s new regime:

Here are nine reasons why libertarians should be very concerned about a Trump presidency:

1) He has repeatedly promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants upon taking office, relying on a “special deportation force” to carry out the task. And even in the occasional moments in which he has seemed to recognize that this task would be logistically impossible, he has continued to insist that he will deport several million people right away, and that other undocumented immigrants who are in the country will not have a path to citizenship unless they leave the country first.

2) More generally, Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and outsiders ranges from disdain to outright hostility. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the closure of mosques, and he opened his primary campaign by declaring that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. were rapists and criminals.

3) Trump has also promised to build a massive, expensive wall along the southern border, and has insisted that Mexico will pay for its construction, an absurd notion that is already crumbling, as the incoming administration has asked Congress, not Mexico, to pay for the wall.

4) Trump has made clear that his administration will take a much more aggressive stance on trade as well. During the campaign, he floated the idea of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, which would be deeply harmful to consumers and the U.S. economy. Since winning the election, his administration has raised the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on all imports, a policy that could spark a global recession. After winning in November, he said he would pull the nation out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on day one of his presidency.

On the other hand, Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy are a bit more upbeat about libertarian causes in Trump’s America:

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian but his presidency provides a tremendous opportunity to advance libertarian policies, outcomes, and aspirations in our politics and broader culture. Those of us who believe in reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government and expanding the autonomy, opportunities, and ability of people to live however they choose should welcome the Trump era. That’s not because of the new president’s agenda but because he enters office as the man who will inevitably close out a failing 20th-century model of governance.

Liberal, conservative, libertarian: We all understand that whatever the merits of the great political, economic, and cultural institutions of the last 70 years — the welfare state built on unsustainable entitlement spending; a military that spends more and more and succeeds less and less; the giant corporations (ATT, IBM, General Motors) that were “beyond” market forces until they weren’t; rigid social conventions that sorted people into stultifying binaries (black and white, male and female, straight and mentally ill) — these are everywhere in ruins or retreat.

The taxi cab — a paradigmatic blending of private enterprise and state power in a system that increasingly serves no one well — is replaced by ride-sharing services that are endlessly innovative, safer, and self-regulating. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign slogan — Uber everything — was the one self-evident truth uttered throughout the 2016 campaign. All aspects of our lives are being remade according to a new, inherently libertarian operating system that empowers individuals and groups to pursue whatever experiments in living they want. As one of us (Nick Gillespie) wrote with Matt Welch in The Declaration of Independents, the loosening of controls in our commercial, cultural, and personal lives has consistently enriched our world. The sharing economy, 3D printing and instantaneous global communication means businesses grow, flourish, adapt, and die in ways that perfectly fulfill Schumpeterian creative destruction. We live in a world where consuming art, music, video, text, and other forms of creative expression is its own form or production and allows us to connect in lateral rather than hierarchical ways. Pernicious racial and ethnic categories persist but they have been mostly supplanted by a tolerance and a level of lived pluralism that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, when less than [50%] of Americans approved of interracial marriages. Politics, Welch and Gillespie wrote, is a lagging indicator of where America is already heading and in many cases has already arrived.

January 20, 2017

QotD: Freedom versus equality

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.

Milton Friedman

January 14, 2017

Mad Max for PM!

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier gets an unusually even-handed profile from the CBC:

Bernier’s life is a moveable banquet of rubber chicken, and shaking grimy, anonymous hands, and pretending great interest in everyone, trying all the while to turn the discussion to Maxime Bernier. And perhaps asking for some money while he’s at it.

Actually, that’s unfair. What Bernier mostly turns the discussion to is his ideas.

He’s libertarian, to the extent that it’s possible to be a libertarian and seek high office in a country that was built on protectionism and entitlement and government being the answer to everything.

He advocates the end of quotas and supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs. Oh, and maple syrup. Most Canadian politicians — let alone MPs representing rural Canada like Bernier — prefer to leave such topics undiscussed.

He wants to abolish interprovincial trade barriers. Stopping companies from growing into other Canadian jurisdictions, or stopping workers from travelling between provinces, he characterizes as “foolish,” “doubly foolish” and “ridiculous.”

Go ahead and argue with that.

Bernier wants an end to what he calls “corporate welfare,” his term for governments using tax money to pick winners, such as Bombardier and General Motors, and letting losers struggle with market forces.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, it’ll come as no surprise that Bernier is far and away my preferred choice for Tory leader.

January 11, 2017

QotD: Seasteading

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s an enticing idea though hardly an uplifting one, a pricer version of the escapist Free State Project. Yet the underlying rationale behind those fleeing to New Hampshire, or trying to establish civilization in the middle of the ocean is the same: We’ve lost the battle for freedom at home.

This defeatist mentality is common among refugees. It is also understandable among those whose countries have fallen into dictatorship and civil strife. America is neither a dictatorship nor on the verge of a second civil war. Adam Smith observed that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation. It will take more than eight years of Barack Obama to fell the most powerful nation on earth.

There’s a strange irony with projects like Seasteading and the Free Staters. The type of people naturally attracted to these movements are hardly weak willed or easily deterred. A list of advocates for setting up some small piece of libertarian paradise reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Men and women who feel confident enough to creatively destroy entire industries but, somehow, feel incapable of winning a political argument against those often less intelligent and accomplished than themselves. There is more than a whiff of nerds being intimidated by the cool kids.

The dream of running away and creating a perfect society, or at least a better one, is hardly new. It must have been in the minds those early colonists who spread across the Mediterranean in the wake of the Greek Dark Age. It was, of course, the impetus for British settlers to establish their colonies in North America and the Antipodes. There are times when the only sensible thing to do is leave.

The cost, however, is enormous. Creating a new society, even while carrying the best of Western Civilization, is a dangerous and incredibly complex undertaking. It took the thirteen American colonies more than a century and half to reach anything like a critical economic and political mass. This is the basic flaw in Seasteading, even leaving aside the enormous cost of building the infrastructure. Societies are not computer software, they cannot be programmed or adjusted at will. They must evolve organically over time if they are to survive. This is why many Seasteading proposals come off as pitches for high-end hotels and conference centers. The social element is missing.

Richard Anderson, “A Billionaire’s Utopia or How To Run Away From Your Problems”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2015-05-28.

December 22, 2016

The Libertarian Holiday Gift Guide

Filed under: Humour, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on Dec 20, 2016

Don’t know what to get the libertarians on your holiday list? We’ve got you covered!

December 15, 2016

QotD: Why reducing the size of government is so tough

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s not that I don’t want smaller government. I’m a libertarian; my ideal government is about the size of one of those miniature dogs that have to wear coats all the time because they don’t generate enough body heat to keep themselves warm. The problem is, the voters don’t want smaller government. They’d like to pay lower taxes, of course, but they go wild if anyone suggests cutting any sizeable portion of the services that those taxes pay for. By and large, politicians have refused to cut spending anyway. And without doing so, you can’t have a tax cut in any real sense, because to spend is to tax (eventually).

Megan McArdle, “Trump Tax Cuts: A Bad Idea With a Bright Future”, Bloomberg View, 2016-12-01.

December 9, 2016

Global anti-libertarianism

Filed under: Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tom G. Palmer on the rising tide of anti-libertarian parties, organizations, and groups around the world:

A spectre is haunting the world: the spectre of radical anti-libertarian movements, each grappling with the others like scorpions in a bottle and all competing to see which can dismantle the institutions of liberty the fastest. Some are ensconced in the universities and other elite centers, and some draw their strength from populist anger. The leftist and the rightist versions of the common anti-libertarian cause are, moreover, interconnected, with each fueling the other. All explicitly reject individual liberty, the rule of law, limited government, and freedom of exchange, and they promote instead radical, albeit aggressively opposed, forms of identity politics and authoritarianism. They are dangerous and should not be underestimated.

In various guises, such movements are challenging libertarian values and principles across the globe, especially in Europe, in America, and in parts of Asia, but their influence is felt everywhere. They share a radical rejection of the ideas of reason, liberty, and the rule of law that animated the American Founding and are, indeed, the foundations of modernity. Those who prefer constitutionalism to dictatorship, free markets to cronyist or socialist statism, free trade to autarchy, toleration to oppression, and social harmony to irreconcilable antagonism need to wake up, because our cause and the prosperity and peace it engenders are in grave danger.

THREE THREATS

At least three symbiotic threats to liberty can be seen on the horizon: a) identity politics and the zero-sum political economy of conflict and aggression they engender; b) populism and the yearning for strongman rule that invariably accompanies it; and c) radical political Islamism. They share certain common intellectual fountainheads and form an interlocking network, energizing each other at the expense of the classical liberal consensus.

Although all those movements are shot through with fallacies, especially economic fallacies, they are not driven merely by lack of understanding of economic principles, as so many statist interventions are. While most support for the minimum wage, trade restrictions, or prohibition of narcotics rests on factual misapprehensions of their consequences, the intellectual leaders of these illiberal movements are generally not thoughtless people. They often understand libertarian ideas fairly well, and they reject them root and branch. They believe that the ideas of equality before the law, of rule-based legal and political systems, of toleration and freedom of thought and speech, of voluntary trade — especially among strangers — for mutual benefit, and of imprescriptible and equal individual rights are phony, self-interested camouflage for exploitation promoted by evil elites, and that those who uphold them are either evil themselves or hopelessly naïve.

H/T to Johnathan Pearce for the link.

October 13, 2016

QotD: Libertarian constitutionalism

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Libertarian constitutional thought is a distinctly minority position among scholars and jurists, one that at first glance has little connection with either modern Supreme Court jurisprudence or the liberalism that remains dominant in the legal academy. However, libertarian ideas have more in common with mainstream constitutional thought than at first meets the eye. They have also had greater influence on it.

This article explores the connections between mainstream and libertarian constitutional thought in recent decades. On a number of important issues, modern Supreme Court doctrine and liberal constitutional thought has been significantly influenced by pre-New Deal libertarian ideas, even if the influence is often unconscious or unacknowledged. This is particularly true on issues of equal protection doctrine and modern “substantive” due process as it pertains to “noneconomic” rights. Here, both the Supreme Court and much of the mainstream academic left have repudiated early twentieth century Progressivism, which advocated across-the-board judicial deference to legislatures. They have also rejected efforts to eliminate common law and free market “baselines” for constitutional rights.

The gap between libertarian and mainstream constitutional thought is much greater on issues of federalism and property rights. Here too, however, recent decades have seen significant convergence. Over the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has begun to take federalism and property rights more seriously, and the idea that they should get strong judicial protection has attained greater intellectual respectability. Moreover, much of libertarian constitutional thought merely seeks to apply to federalism, property rights, and economic liberties, the same principles that mainstream jurists and legal scholars have applied in other areas, most notably “noneconomic” constitutional rights and separation of powers.

Ilya Somin and David Bernstein, abstract to “The Mainstreaming of Libertarian Constitutionalism” in Law and Contemporary Problems, reposted in the Washington Post, 2015-02-20.

August 1, 2016

QotD: Heinlein versus Pournelle

Filed under: Books, Media, Military, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I took some heat recently for describing some of Jerry Pournelle’s SF as “conservative/militarist power fantasies”. Pournelle uttered a rather sniffy comment about this on his blog; the only substance I could extract from it was that Pournelle thought his lifelong friend Robert Heinlein was caught between a developing libertarian philosophy and his patriotic instincts. I can hardly argue that point, since I completely agree with it; that tension is a central issue in almost everything Heinlein ever wrote.

The differences between Heinlein’s and Pournelle’s military SF are not trivial — they are both esthetically and morally important. More generally, the soldiers in military SF express a wide range of different theories about the relationship between soldier, society, and citizen. These theories reward some examination.

First, let’s consider representative examples: Jerry Pournelle’s novels of Falkenberg’s Legion, on the one hand, and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the other.

The difference between Heinlein and Pournelle starts with the fact that Pournelle could write about a cold-blooded mass murder of human beings by human beings, performed in the name of political order, approvingly — and did.

But the massacre was only possible because Falkenberg’s Legion and Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry have very different relationships with the society around them. Heinlein’s troops are integrated with the society in which they live. They study history and moral philosophy; they are citizen-soldiers. Johnnie Rico has doubts, hesitations, humanity. One can’t imagine giving him orders to open fire on a stadium-full of civilians as does Falkenberg.

Pournelle’s soldiers, on the other hand, have no society but their unit and no moral direction other than that of the men on horseback who lead them. Falkenberg is a perfect embodiment of military Führerprinzip, remote even from his own men, a creepy and opaque character who is not successfully humanized by an implausible romance near the end of the sequence. The Falkenberg books end with his men elevating an emperor, Prince Lysander who we are all supposed to trust because he is such a beau ideal. Two thousand years of hard-won lessons about the maintenance of liberty are thrown away like so much trash.

In fact, the underlying message here is pretty close to that of classical fascism. It, too, responds to social decay with a cult of the redeeming absolute leader. To be fair, the Falkenberg novels probably do not depict Pournelle’s idea of an ideal society, but they are hardly less damning if we consider them as a cautionary tale. “Straighten up, kids, or the hero-soldiers in Nemourlon are going to have to get medieval on your buttocks and install a Glorious Leader.” Pournelle’s values are revealed by the way that he repeatedly posits situations in which the truncheon of authority is the only solution. All tyrants plead necessity.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.

July 20, 2016

The New Yorker calls Gary Johnson “The Libertarians’ Secret Weapon”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the current issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza introduces readers to the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate:

Johnson and Weld were set to appear that evening in a CNN town-hall special, which, it was later estimated, was seen by almost a million people. The stakes for Johnson were high. When pollsters include Johnson with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their surveys, he has been the choice of roughly ten per cent of respondents, and in a Times/CBS News poll released last week he hit twelve per cent. If his standing in the polls rises to fifteen per cent, he will likely qualify to participate in the Presidential debates. “If you’re not in the debates, there’s no way to win,” Johnson said. “It’s the Super Bowl of politics.” Johnson has many flaws as a candidate, but being unlikable is not one of them. If he is allowed to debate Trump and Clinton, the two most unpopular presumed nominees in decades, then the most unpredictable election in modern times could get even weirder.

[…]

There hasn’t been a serious challenge from a third-party Presidential candidate since 1992, when Ross Perot, the eccentric Texas billionaire, ran as an independent and bought hours of TV time to educate voters about the large federal budget deficit. Perot won entry into the Presidential debates and received nineteen per cent of the vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Bush blamed Perot for his loss, though the best analyses of the race concluded that Perot had drawn equal numbers of voters from Bush and Clinton.

This year, the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump has created an opportunity for Johnson to at least match Perot’s impressive showing. Last week, Republican delegates in the Never Trump movement attempted to change the rules for the Republican National Convention, in a failed effort to deny Trump the nomination. For anti-Trump conservatives still searching for an alternative, Johnson may be the only option. On the left, anti-Clinton Democrats, including some determined supporters of Bernie Sanders, would prefer a candidate who is more socially liberal and noninterventionist than Clinton.

“We have arguably the two most polarizing candidates,” Johnson told me. “Hillary has to go out and she has to appeal to this ‘everything’s free, government can accomplish anything, what can you give us’ constituency. She’s doling it out as fast as she can. Trump is appealing to this anti-abortion, anti-immigration, ‘bomb the hell out of them, lock them up, throw away the key’ constituency.”

Johnson is charming and more transparent than most politicians — sometimes to a fault — and has a knack for putting a happy face on the rougher edges of libertarianism. Weld has a shabby-genteel bearing and a boarding-school sarcasm that comes across as both appealing and arrogant. Together, Johnson and Weld represent the first Presidential ticket with two governors since 1948, when the Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, of New York, and Earl Warren, of California. One of the Johnson-Weld campaign slogans is “A Credible Alternative to ClinTrump.”

July 2, 2016

New Johnson/Weld TV spot gets plaudits

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Nick Gillespie calls it “masterful” and asks if it’s the greatest presidential ad ever. I think it’s pretty good, but unlike actual voting Americans, I’m not inundated with political advertising 24/7/365, so perhaps I’m not the best judge of what is and is not effective for US elections:

June 8, 2016

QotD: Categorizing science fiction

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In 1994, critical thinking within the SF field belatedly caught up with reality. Credit for this goes to David Hartwell and Cathryn Cramer, whose analysis in the anthology The Ascent of Wonder finally acknowledged what should have been obvious all along. Hard SF is the vital heart of the field, the radiant core from which ideas and prototype worlds diffuse outwards to be appropriated by writers of lesser world-building skill but perhaps greater stylistic and literary sophistication. While there are other modes of SF that have their place, they remain essentially derivations of or reactions against hard SF, and cannot even be properly understood without reference to its tropes, conventions, and imagery.

Furthermore, Gregory Benford’s essay in The Ascent of Wonder on the meaning of SF offered a characterization of the genre which may well prove final. He located the core of SF in the experience of “sense of wonder”, not merely as a thalamic thrill but as the affirmation that the universe has a knowable order that is discoverable through reason and science.

I think I can go further than Hartwell or Cramer or Benford in defining the relationship between hard SF and the rest of the field. To do this, I need to introduce the concept linguist George Lakoff calls “radial category”, one that is not defined by any one logical predicate, but by a central prototype and a set of permissible or customary variations. As a simple example, in English the category “fruit” does not correspond to any uniformity of structure that a botanist could recognize. Rather, the category has a prototype “apple”, and things are recognized as fruits to the extent that they are either (a) like an apple, or (b) like something that has already been sorted into the “like an apple” category.

Radial categories have central members (“apple”, “pear”, “orange”) whose membership is certain, and peripheral members (“coconut”, “avocado”) whose membership is tenuous. Membership is graded by the distance from the central prototype — roughly, the number of traits that have to mutate to get one from being like the prototype to like the instance in question. Some traits are important and tend to be conserved across the entire radial category (strong flavor including sweetness) while some are only weakly bound (color).

In most radial categories, it is possible to point out members that are counterexamples to any single intensional (“logical”) definition, but traits that are common to the core prototypes nevertheless tend to be strongly bound. Thus, “coconut” is a counterexample to the strongly-bound trait that fruits have soft skins, but it is sorted as “fruit” because (like the prototype members) it has an easily-chewable interior with a sweet flavor.

SF is a radial category in which the prototypes are certain classics of hard SF. This is true whether you are mapping individual works by affinity or subgenres like space opera, technology-of-magic story, eutopian/dystopian extrapolation, etc. So in discussing the traits of SF as a whole, the relevant question is not “which traits are universal” but “which traits are strongly bound” — or, almost equivalently, “what are the shared traits of the core (hard-SF) prototypes”.

The strong binding between hard SF and libertarian politics continues to be a fact of life in the field. It it is telling that the only form of politically-inspired award presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention is the Libertarian Futurist Society’s “Prometheus”. There is no socialist, liberal, moderate, conservative or fascist equivalent of the class of libertarian SF writers including L. Neil Smith, F. Paul Wilson, Brad Linaweaver, or J. Neil Schulman; their books, even when they are shrill and indifferently-written political tracts, actually sell — and sell astonishingly well — to SF fans.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

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