Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Inner Anarco-Capitalist in Robert Heinlein

 Robert Heinlein
Justin Raimondo tweets:
There is, indeed, a beautiful Robert Heinlein story in the link that Justin provides, so be sure to click through and check it out.

The story eventually leads to a letter by the great science fiction writer. In the letter, Heinlein provides various story ideas to Sturgeon (aimed, apparently at one specific editor "JWC") and manages to say a number of anarcho-capitalist and near anarcho-capitalist things, which I want to highlight here.

It should be noted that Heinlein tended to have an anarcho-capitalist streak in much of his writing, especially in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Here are the letter snippets:
a society where there are no criminal offences, just civil offences, i.e., there is a price on everything, you can look it up in the catalog and pay the price. You want to shoot your neighbor? Go ahead and shoot the bastard. He has a definite economic rating; deposit the money with the local clearing house within 24 hrs.; they will pay the widow. Morality would consist in not trying to get away with anything without paying for it. Good manners would consist in so behaving that no one would be willing to pay your listed price to kill you. Of course if your valuation is low and your manners are crude, your survival probabilities are low, too. Down in Paraguay murder is a private matter, the government figuring that either his friends and relatives will avenge the deceased, or he was a nogoodnick and who cares? There is another culture in which if a man kills another man, accidentally or on purpose, he must replace the other man, even to taking his wife and his name. Obviously our own pattern is not the only way of looking at crime; maybe we are prejudiced.


This idea, developed, should appeal to JWC. He hates all government, all authority, even though he is not fully aware of it—and he thinks money can do no wrong.

Here is another Campbell-type culture: why should government enforce private contracts at all? At present you can go into court and sue—and (sometimes) force another man to conform to his contract or wrest damages from him. Is there good reason for this to be a function of government? Should it not be a case of let the contractor beware? Why should society as a whole give a hoot whether or not the private, civil promises between two men are kept?


What are the minimum, indispensable functions of government? What functions are present in all human societies? Is it possible to name anything which obtains in one society which is not differently just the reverse in another? Or not done at all? Has there ever been a truly anarchistic society? The Eskimos, perhaps? We have an anarchist running a newspaper in this town, who is opposed to public roads, public schools, public anything—he maintains that it is not ethical for a majority to do anything collectively which each individual did not already have the right to do as an individual. This is an explosive notion; a corollary is that all taxation is wrong, all zoning laws are wrong, all compulsory education is wrong, all punishment by courts is wrong. In the mean time he lives in a well-policed society, his own considerable wealth protected by all these things he deplores. But one thing is sure: many of the things we take for granted are not necessary to a stable society, but we take them for granted. You could get a Campbell-style story out of doubting the most sacred of sacred cows—except big business, of course; John does not tolerate outright heresy.



  1. The first thing that hit me was Sturgeon's writing a letter about writer's block and Heinlein shooting back ***26*** story ideas. I immediately thought of Bob Higgs' story about sending a manuscript to Rothbard for his take. Rothbard sent back pages and pages of single spaced feedback and a massive bibliography.

  2. Brilliant! TMIAHM is one of my all time favorites.

  3. After reading this, I'm left feeling my favorite science fiction writer, Heinlein, was less anarco-capitalist than I'd previously thought. The anarco-capitalist ideas in the letter are aimed at John W. Campbell. That doesn't necessarily mean that Heinlein doesn't also entertain those same ideas, but it's possible he was writing more about Campbell's ideas.

  4. Anarcho-capitalists imagine all these rules and have no one to make them. It's stupid.