"Citizenship is an attitude, a state of mind..."

“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.
--Exchange between Major Reid and Juan "Johnny" Rico, excerpted from Starship Troopers

LTC Kratman's latest pair of columns over at EveryJoe address a seminal book that is near and dear to both of us:
I’ve long been surprised that our political and bureaucratic masters haven’t put their ballet-slippered feet down and demanded that the book be removed from the reading lists, removed from the shelves of the PX and BX book sections, too, for that matter, and removed from the military’s consciousness. It is, after all, suggesting that our system is deeply flawed, hence certainly doomed, and probably fully deserving of that doom. It is, after all, in opposition to unlimited democracy. It is, too, after all, a refutation of the liberal and progressive notion of easy, certain, and reliable malleability and perfectibility in mankind. It’s also a huge sneer at the Mammy Yokumesque (“good is better than evil because it’s nicer”) in modern politics. 
It’s quite revolutionary, really, not only in itself but in who it deeply appeals to, which is to say, those with the training to use force to impose political solutions they’d prefer, the military and veterans. 
Why the appeal? The very short version, for those who haven’t read the book, is that Starship Troopers proposes – or proposes by description – a political system not too different in structure from what we have, but with one huge policy change. The change is that nobody votes or is allowed to hold public office by virtue of having a body [temperature] around 98.6 [degrees Fahrenheit], an age over XY or the absence of a criminal record. Instead, the vote and the right to run for and hold public office comes from demonstrating, through honorable completion of a period of arduous, ill paid and dangerous service, that one cares about society enough that we can be relatively more confident that one will vote the common good, rather than the personal. That, at least, is the theoretical appeal. I suspect the practical appeal is that most military types utterly detest the progressive politicians who are usually their masters, and would prefer to see them hanged, even as they’d prefer serving a population and system that understood and cared for them, because it sprang from them, and vice versa. 
Another set of factors in the book that appeals to the military is the logical pairing of dualities. In the society of Starship Troopers, rights are balanced by responsibilities, responsibility and authority go hand in hand, authority is not a given, but must be paid for or wagered for at considerably cost, real or potential. 
Of course, the left – liberals, progressives and outright reds – really, truly, thoroughly and completely hate the notion. They hate it so much, and have since publication, that they’ll attack the book, the author, the fans, the theories and their defenders relentlessly, tirelessly and rarely with any obvious integrity or insight.
It is refreshing indeed to read a military man's take on a novel that, in many ways, lays out a vision of society based on facts rather than feel-good emotions.

Actually, LTC Kratman is uniquely positioned to offer such an opinion on this novel, given that his Carrera novels essentially build out a system of government based explicitly on the setup described in Heinlein's book, and since he is one of the few people anywhere- and it pains me to say this- who knows the book better than I do. (Considering how many times I have read it, and the fact that I can quote passages in it from memory, that is saying something.)

As LTC Kratman points out in his first column, there are any number of progressive and leftist objections to the society outlined in the book- but precious few such objections come from military servicemen. Why is that?

Because the entire book is one giant middle finger to the entire philosophy upon which progressive thinking is built.

Progressivism is built upon the patently false and unrealistic belief that Man's character is malleable, that it can be changed and moulded into something better through the practiced and careful hands of the Wise and the Benevolent among us. Yet progressives strangely never seem to bother attempting to come up with a rigourous system for figuring out exactly who those Wise and Benevolent Leaders should be. And inevitably- invariably- progressive systems end up electing, or permitting, leaders who are so lacking in both moral and civic virtue as to be anywhere from dangerous to outright disastrous for the very fools who gave them power.

What makes the timocracy- and that is the right word for it- described in Starship Troopers so very different, so profoundly unique, and so radical, yet so conservative, is that it starts by pointing out that Man's character simply is what it is. There is nothing we can do to rid Man of his age-old jealousies, flaws, and follies. The most we can do- the best we can do- is to build a system of governance that matches the facts of Man's nature.

And that is precisely the system outlined in Starship Troopers- where those who seek to wield the enormous power of the sovereign franchise, must first prove their fitness to do so, through arduous and difficult voluntary service.

So what, if any, are the objections that one could come up with to requiring that otherwise free men and women should earn their right to vote?

I can think of precisely one: that those who do so, will be no better, no more virtuous, no more capable of leadership in times of hardship and duress, than those who have not served.

There is much truth to this objection. The book itself, during Major Reid's beautiful speeches in the OCS course on History and Moral Philosophy, is at pains to point out that the crime rates among veterans in the Terran Federation are much the same as they are among the civilian population- and that, in fact, the average IQ among citizens is no higher than, and in some cases lower than, that of the civilians.

And yet, as Major Reid also points out, the system described in Starship Troopers endures, because it works.

Would such a system work in Western countries, which have all but forgotten what it means to truly earn the sovereign franchise, and how to wield the rights and responsibilities that come with it to good effect?

LTC Kratman addresses the objection above in all of its permutations and combinations in his second article:
I think this objection hinges on the preposterous notion that if someone has one virtue, he must be deficient in all others. Why someone should think this I cannot be sure; it may be a case of projection, which is something of a specialty for many on the left and especially for the social justice warriors. Still, are there any grounds for believing that someone with a sense of civic virtue or altruism is, say, unintelligent? I think not. Devoid of compassion or selfish? The man or woman who puts their life on the line for others is devoid of compassion or selfish? Oh, please. In short, the question is fraudulent; no one is pinning everything on one virtue; they couldn’t if they tried. Rather, presuming that the virtues are present in large chunks of the populace, they’re asking for a little bit more of one, an objective demonstration of a little bit more of one, that we have become deficient in overall.
And furthermore:
We pin our hopes on that partly because we sense that that few percentage points warping the body politic and the fabric of our civilization are a mix of the free shit army, left-wing fantasists, which is to say fantasy-obsessed, sociopathic, larval stage mass murderers, corrupt bureaucracies staffed with self-serving bureaucrats, and the corrupt and denationalized rich, few or none of whom have any civic virtue, though they may mouth the platitudes eloquently enough, and though they may wrap themselves in a threadbare cloak of false altruism. 
Indeed. That is all it takes, ultimately- a few percentage points here and there, to surrender the hard-won gains of a free and robust society in favour of the blind stupidity of progressivism.

Or, as Walter Bagehot once put it,
History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it. 
What Starship Troopers proposes, ultimately, is a system that avoids this retrogression- for that is really what progressivism comes down to, a surrender of free will and individual responsibility to a comfortable, anaesthetised world  built for us by those who presume to be our masters.

And that, among many other reasons, is why it remains such a brilliant work of civics, as well as the greatest military sci-fi novel ever published.

Oh, one other thing- LTC Kratman is perfectly correct to excoriate the movie as execrable nonsense relative to the book. It IS a horrible movie and a mortal insult to the memory of a true legend of speculative fiction. (It probably says something about my rather low tastes in film that I have seen the movie many times and consider it to be a pleasant "distraction" while doing chores, but nothing more.)

However, there is a rather good OVA directed by Shinji Aramaki, and also a children's 3D cartoon, set in the Verhoeven universe, that actually are worth watching. What Paul Verhoeven did was unforgivable, and I hope to live long enough to see someone with real brains who really understands the book make a film that is worthy of the book's incredible legacy- and if, in the process, that director ends up taking a giant steaming dump all over what Verhoeven did, well, that's just fair turnabout as far as I'm concerned...

Comments

  1. I know how that movie should start. It should start in a Pacific island jungle, the Island of New Georgia, matter of fact, with a single man charging a machine gun and being killed, even as he destroyed the machine gun. And then it should cut to the drop on the skinnies. At the end of the movie, while Rico's Roughnecks drop, the scene cuts back to the jungle, James Earl Jones reads off Rodger Young's Medal of Honor citation, and the music kicks in. "But in every soldier's heart..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is, indeed, perfect.

      If you've got a screenplay lying around somewhere, I'm sure that between Vox Day, John C. Wright, and the rest of the ELoE, we could get the funding together to at least film a trailer...

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    2. My daughter does screenplays. I haven't clue one of how even to format one.

      Delete
    3. I am pretty good friends with the indie director Justin Timpane. He's the one that did Ninjas vs zombies, Ninjas v vampires, and ninjas v monsters. If you are really serious about this, I can talk to him about details.

      I mean, he's a hack, he knows he's a hack, but he does get movies made. And he's not really all that wedded to liberal hollywood.

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    4. I think it's already taken, DB.

      Delete

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