CLASSIC Book Review: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
“But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico.”
He had picked one I could answer. “Responsibility, sir.”
“Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral ones, to permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority . . . other than through the tragic logic of history. The unique ‘poll tax’ that we must pay was unheard of. No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead—and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple.
“Superficially, our system is only slightly different; we have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex, or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service—nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable. Since sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility—we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life—and lose it, if need be—to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert.
“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids in a way they could understand—that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights.’ “The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature. ”
Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait.
“Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”
“Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.
I could hear Colonel Dubois in my mind: “Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional conviction that the whole is greater than the part . . . and that the part should be humbly proud to sacrifice itself that the whole may live.”
I still didn’t know whether I yearned to place my one-and-only body “between my loved home and the war’s desolation”—I still got the shakes every drop and that “desolation” could be pretty desolate. But nevertheless I knew at last what Colonel Dubois had been talking about. The M.I. was mine and I was theirs. If that was what the M.I. did to break the monotony, then that was what I did. Patriotism was a bit esoteric for me, too large-scale to see. But the M.I. was my gang, I belonged. They were all the family I had left; they were the brothers I had never had, closer than Carl had ever been. If I left them, I’d be lost.
- The ability to vote is inseparable from the authority to use force against others to accomplish a goal. There is absolutely no moral distinction between voting for your neighbour's impoverishment through the ballot box and ordering an air strike to carpet-bomb his home.
- Because the power of the ballot box is inseparable from the use of force, only those who have proven that they can be trusted to wield that power responsibly may be allowed to do so. In the case of the Terran Federation, that means military service- and not the kind of soft squishy service that is carried out by 70% or more of most modern militaries.
- In the Mobile Infantry, the motto is simple- "everyone works, everyone fights". In peacetime, this means that those who are granted the franchise have, from the Sky Marshall right down to the greenest private, trained together, worked together, and built the same values together. In wartime, it means that every single man, from general to boot, drop to the surface together. The officers fight with their men; there are no Fobbits or REMFs in the MI. There is no wasted manpower, there are no easy jobs. In the MI, 10,800 men form a division- and all 10,800 men fight, with merely 317 officers to supervise the lot of them.
- The difference between a civilian, who has every possible freedom but the right to vote, and a citizen, who has affirmed that he has the moral right to vote through the concrete demonstration of his commitment to his duty, is that the citizen is willing to do the one thing that the civilian is not- defend his people with his body and, if necessary, his very life.
Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics—you name it—is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is —not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.