Revolt in 2100

Cover art for Revolt in 2100

Cover art for Revolt in 2100

In a hurry to get out the door, I grabbed a paper­back at ran­dom for sub­way read­ing. It was a bat­tered copy of Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 which I had last read in 1985. It’s three sto­ries are early Hein­lein, mate­r­ial that had first appeared in the pulp mag­a­zines in the 1930s and 1940s. The sto­ries that he wrote at that time were framed within a puta­tive “future his­tory.” That is to say, that the sto­ries were not directly con­nected, but all existed in the same pro­jected imag­i­nary future, cov­er­ing sev­eral thou­sand years. Much was made of this “future his­tory” at the time, but Hein­lein aban­doned the project to pur­sue other writ­ing paths from the 1950s until his death in 1988. The books that col­lected the “future his­tory” sto­ries each repro­duced a chart plac­ing the sto­ries in time, with notes on tech­no­log­i­cal, social and polit­i­cal events. It was, Hein­lein always main­tained, a work of spec­u­la­tive imag­i­na­tion, not of attempted prophecy. But some of its spec­u­la­tions weren’t too far of the mark. In sto­ries writ­ten in 1940 an 1949, he had the first land­ing on the moon take place in 1978. In sub­se­quent real­ity, it occurred in 1969. But what is espe­cially inter­est­ing is that the “future his­tory” has the United States suc­cumb to a fun­da­men­tal­ist reli­gious dic­ta­tor­ship some­where close to the year 2017. One of the sto­ries is about the rebel­lion against this dic­ta­tor­ship. At the end of the vol­ume, first pub­lished in 1953, Hein­lein pro­vided a postscipt, Con­cern­ing Sto­ries Never Writ­ten, in which he explained that some of the sto­ries listed in the chart, those tak­ing place dur­ing the early part of the dic­ta­tor­ship, he chose not to write because the sub­ject mat­ter was too depress­ing. Con­cern­ing their main premise, he wrote:

As for the sec­ond notion, the idea that we could lose our free­dom by suc­cumb­ing to a wave of reli­gious hys­te­ria, I am sorry to say that I con­sider it pos­si­ble. I hope that it is not prob­a­ble. But there is a latent deep strain of reli­gious fanati­cism in this cul­ture; it is rooted in our his­tory and it has bro­ken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evan­gel­i­cal sects in this coun­try in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theo­cratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian [1].

Fur­ther on, he added:

…a com­bi­na­tion of a dynamic evan­ge­list, tele­vi­sion, enough money, and mod­ern tech­niques of adver­tis­ing and pro­pa­ganda might make Billy Sun­day [2]’s efforts look like a cor­ner store com­pared to Sears Roe­buck. Throw in a depres­sion for good mea­sure, promise a mate­r­ial heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism [3], and a good dose of anti-“furriners” in gen­eral and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be some­thing quite fright­en­ing — par­tic­u­larly when one recalls that our vot­ing sys­tem is such that a minor­ity dis­trib­uted as plu­ral­i­ties in enough states can con­sti­tute a work­ing major­ity in Washington.

Hein­lein imag­ined his fic­tional dic­ta­tor, Nehemiah Scud­der, as a back­woods hick bankrolled by big-money tycoons and helped along by the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment, with murky ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The key to his power is his use of tele­vi­sion. This is remark­able con­sid­er­ing that broad­cast tele­vi­sion in the United States had existed for only three years when Hein­lein wrote this. Few peo­ple thought tele­vi­sion was polit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant until a decade later. Equally inter­est­ing is his ref­er­ence to the pecu­liar­i­ties of the Amer­i­can elec­toral sys­tem that went largely unno­ticed until they made Nehemiah Scu…— I’m sorry, I meant Don­ald Trump — the Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica. Reli­gious fanati­cism is not the only com­po­nent of Trump­ism, which is a total­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy sim­i­lar to Nazism, Com­mu­nism and Fas­cism. Like all such total­i­tar­ian move­ments, it brings together many dis­parate groups and motives. But reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists form a con­sid­er­able block of Trump’s cred­u­lous “core” fol­low­ing — and among them many are “Domin­ion­ists”, i.e. believ­ers and pro­mot­ers of a lit­eral reli­gious dic­ta­tor­ship abol­ish­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State. There is even a bizarre move­ment that explains Trump’s obvi­ous irre­li­gion, sex­ual per­ver­sion and per­sonal cor­rup­tion as “proof” that he is a vehi­cle of divine inter­ven­tion — a typ­i­cal sort of men­tal gym­nas­tic that one expects from the reli­gious fanatic.

Hein­lein is a writer who has been bizarrely co-opted by some of the most evil and trea­so­nous move­ments in today’s Amer­ica. He is often quoted by peo­ple who are essen­tially dis­ci­ples of Nehemiah Scud­der. A sim­i­lar process has taken place with George Orwell. Orwell, an anti-totalitarian who utterly despised Con­ser­vatism, is reg­u­larly quoted by Con­ser­v­a­tives to sup­port the very things that Orwell opposed. Every­body who thinks and writes seri­ously has to take into account that their work might be exploited and dis­torted in this fashion.

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[1] the term “lib­er­tar­ian”, in 1953, did not sig­nify the “Lib­er­tar­ian” polit­i­cal move­ment of today, but instead meant roughly what the term “lib­eral” is now used to signify.

[2] Billy Sun­day (1862–1935) was an evan­ge­list with fun­da­men­tal­ist views whose pop­u­lar­ity peaked some­what before World War I. He pio­neered many of the tech­niques used by later evan­ge­lists in mass ral­lies, which were then mod­i­fied for radio and tele­vi­sion. He attached him­self to the Repub­li­can party, and cam­paigned against immi­gra­tion from Europe, the teach­ing of evo­lu­tion, danc­ing, card-playing, attend­ing the the­atre, read­ing nov­els, and the usual sex­ual “sins”. He was one of the key moti­va­tors in the move­ment toward alco­hol pro­hi­bi­tion that cul­mi­nated in the 18th Amend­ment in 1919.

[3] The use of the terms “Black” and “African-American” were unknown in 1953. Lib­er­als and non-racists at that time referred to African-Americans as “Negro”, as did most African-Americans them­selves.

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