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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Robert A. Heinlein, once known as the “Dean of Science Fiction”, was an anarchist, i.e. he continually questioned the manner of our civil laws, justice and legal systems, and as a writer of futuristic concepts, he continually created societies which found new “solutions” to the current state of affairs.  Whether or not Heinlein’s ideas could be considered to be viable within the constraints of the human race is a moot question.  But his thoughts on Anarchy did provide a wealth of possibly very interesting modes of civilized interactions.           

His book, Starship Troopers (from which the movie was made) was interesting in that he envisioned a government whose citizens were pulled exclusively from those who had previously served the government in the military.  Non citizens still had rights, but they simply couldn’t vote; voting being a privilege which could only be obtained after the individual had served his fellow man in a governmental position.  Heinlein’s government was a Timocracy, a government by the elite, but where everyone had an equal opportunity to become a member of the elite (and where one did not join the elite solely by reason of birth).  If the concept of serving society is extended from purely military to such things as a job corps or peace corp (or any derivations of the idea), then the Timocracy, with a citizenry of individuals who have served, sounds more and more interesting.  

Heinlein really went out of his way to create new possibilities of self-government in his novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Quoted below are a variety of excerpts, which may give one some very choice morsels on which to intellectually dine:  


“An earthman expects to find a law, a printed law, for every circumstance.  Even have laws for private matters such as contracts.  Really.  If a man’s word isn’t any good, who would contract with him?  Doesn’t he have reputation?”  [See, e.g., Nature of Law]           

“We don’t have laws.  Never been allowed to.  Have customs, but aren’t written and aren’t enforced -- or could say they are self-enforcing because [they] are simply way things have to be, conditions being what they are.  Could say our customs are natural laws because the way people have to behave to stay alive.”  [Ah, yes, the frontier life!]           

“If you eliminate a man [kill him] other than self-defense, you pay his debts and support his kids, or people won’t speak to you, buy from you, sell to you.”  [This requires a group of individuals who are truly into Sovereignty, and its mate, responsibility!]           

 “A managed democracy is a wonderful thing... for the managers... and its greatest strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is defined as ‘responsible’ and the managers define what is ‘irresponsible’.”  What is needed most is “A news system that does not bottleneck through one channel.”  “Limiting the freedom of news ‘just a little bit’ is in the same category with the classic example ‘a little bit pregnant’.  We are not yet free nor will we be as long as anyone controls our news.”  [This is a guarantee!]           


Then there are Line Marriages, where there can be multiple husbands and wives, and when one dies, the marriage continues (i.e. the “line”).  Heinlein assume that such marriages do not often have a divorce.  “A line marriage increase in stability year after year, gains practice in art of getting along together, until notion of anybody leaving is unthinkable.  Takes unanimous decision of all wives to divorce a husband -- could never happen.  Senior wife would never let it go that far.”           

Other advantages of Line Marriages:  “financial security, fine home life it gives children, fact that death of a spouse, while tragic, could never be tragedy it was in temporary family, especially for children -- children simply could not be orphaned.”  [“It takes a community to raise a child.”]           

Senior wife “not likely to make mistakes and if did, has other wives to steady her.  Self-correcting, like a machine with proper negative feedback.  A good line marriage is immortal... best part of each goes on living.”  One becomes senior wife, not by all other wives more senior dying, but  that other wives will opt out of family management by then.

“Line marriage is the strongest possible device for conserving capital and insuring the welfare of children -- the two basic societal functions for marriages everywhere -- in an environment in which there is no security, neither for capital nor for children, other than that devised by individuals.”            


Then Heinlein gets into the idea of a new government being formed, and a constitutional convention being assembled to set it all down.  This is where he really gets going!  

“Government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master. You now have freedom -- if you can keep it.  But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly to yourselves than to any other tyrant.  Move slowly, be hesitant, puzzle out the consequences of every word.  I would not be unhappy if this [constitutional] convention sat for ten years before reporting -- but I would be frightened if you took less than a year.           

“Distrust the obvious, suspect the traditional... for in the past mankind has not done well when saddling itself with governments.  For example... a proposal for setting up a commission to divide Luna into congressional districts and to reapportion them from time to time according to population.  

“This is the traditional way; therefore it should be suspect, considered guilty until proved innocent.  Perhaps you feel that this is the only way.  Surely where a man lives is the least important thing about him.  Constituencies might be formed by dividing people by occupation... or by age... or even alphabetically.  Or they might not be divided, every member elected at large -- and do not object that this would make it impossible for any man not widely known to be elected; that might be the best possible thing.           

“You might even consider installing the candidates who receive the least number of votes; unpopular men may be just the sort to save you from a new tyranny.  Don’t reject the idea merely because it seems preposterous -- think about it!  In past history popularly elected governments have been no better and sometimes far worse than overt tyrannies.           

“But if representative government turns out to be your intention there still may be ways to achieve it better than the territorial district.”  “...Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by...” a minimum number of citizens.  He would then represent those citizens affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial constituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them.  All would be represented by men of their choice.  Or a man with twice as many petitions might have twice as many votes.”  The key is to “avoid the chronic sickness of representative government, the disgruntled minority which feels -- correctly! -- that it has been disenfranchised.”           

M[Can you imagine what it would be like if all members of Congress could only vote on the basis of the percentage of voters who had voted for them in the last election?  Those being elected with only 5% of the registered voters -- a typical occurrence in “off-year” elections -- would have very little power.  In effect, all of Congress would likely have only twenty to thirty percent of the registered voters, and thus would not constitute a quorum!  This has the effect that unless the people are interested in government doing something, then the government does not have the quorum to do anything!  This is very appealing!]  

“Whatever you do, do not let the past be a straightjacket!            

“I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body.  Excellent -- the more impediments to legislation the better.  But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house of legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws.  Let the legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority... while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority.  Preposterous?  Think about it.  If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of  your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law?  And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?”  [There is also jury nullification as part of Trial by Jury in order to get rid of poor or bad laws.]           

“But in writing your constitution let me invite attention to the wonderful virtue of the negative!  Accentuate the negative!  Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do.  No conscript armies... no interference however slight with freedom of press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation... no involuntary taxation.”           

“What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing.”           

As for how to pay for things without taxation:  “I can think of several ways.  Voluntary contributions just as churches support themselves... government-sponsored lotteries to which no one need subscribe... or perhaps your Congressmen should dig down into their own pouches and pay for whatever is needed; that would be one way to keep government down in size to its indispensable functions whatever they may be.  If indeed there are any.  I would be satisfied to have The Golden Rule be the only law; I see no need for any other, nor for any method of enforcing it.  But if you really believe that your neighbors must have laws for their own good, why shouldn’t you pay for it?  I beg you -- do not resort to compulsory taxation.  There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”            

“You have put your finger on the dilemma of all government -- and the reason I am an anarchist.  The power to tax, once conceded, has no limits; it contains until it destroys.  I was not joking when I told them to dig into their own pouches.  It may not be possible to do away with government -- sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings.  But it may be possible to keep it small and starved and inoffensive -- and can you think of a better way than by requiring the governors themselves to pay the costs of their antisocial hobby?  


Heinlein seems to have put his finger on the crux of the problem: “Seems to be a deep instinct in human beings for making everything compulsory that isn’t forbidden.”   


Anarchy         Nature of Law         Justice, Order, and Law

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