Even among the irascible and often insane candor of this campaign’s Republican presidential primaries, it was odd to hear Newt Gingrich take advantage of his short-lived frontrunner status to make an outlandish campaign promise to people the moon with American settlers in less than a decade. Gingrich himself is no stranger to this kind of rhetoric—in his 1995 book To Renew America, he suggested one way to live up to its very title would be to build Jurassic Park in real life. A decade earlier in another book co-written with his then second wife Marianne, Newt suggested one way to reduce crime and provide cheap, energy efficient roadside lighting could be the construction and erection of giant mirrors in space in order to create “ambient light” providing ”the light equivalent of many full moons.” In time, he suggested, there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.”
You could probably spin an argument out about how velociraptors are job creators. And maybe this was, in fact, what Newt was going for. Yet as a recent article in The Atlantic puts it, Gingrich’s appeals to a world far, far away ”are actually evidence of something much more important, the deep affinity between American conservatism and one branch of science fiction”:
Historically, science fiction has been a literature of the left, with writers as diverse as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, George Orwell and Ursula K. Le Guin using the genre to explore ideas about socialism, technological transcendence, radical democracy and feminism. As critics like Fredric Jameson have argued, the affinity between science fiction and the left has been a natural one, with both the literary form and the political tradition built on attempts to imagine radically alternative futures and, in the case of writers like Orwell, trying to figure out some of the problems with changing the world.
Yet in the last 60 years, there has emerged a powerful right-wing counter-tradition in science fiction which offers a vision of a future dominated by the capitalism and American military might. This influential strand of flag-waving futuristic fiction has shaped the worldview of countless readers, not least of whom is Newt Gingrich.
The pioneer of this fierce Republican-friendly brand of sci fi is Robert A. Heinlein, author of the cultish classic Starship Troopers and (take note of the title, Newt) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The latter title paints a picture eerily akin to Gingrich’s vision for the frontier of space, a “libertarian lunar colony that would revitalize the ideals of the American Revolution.”
This relationship with science fiction also explains another odd fact about the inexplicable balance of optimism and fear-mongering in republican rhetoric today. Given his predilection for hyperbole, Jon Stewart asked last week, how on earth can Newt Gingrich call himself “cheerful?” Reactionary science fiction gives the GOPers who subscribe to its fantasy a peculiar advantage:
In an era where left-of-center voices increasingly paint a dark vision of the future as fraught with ecological dangers, science fiction conservatives have a near monopoly on utopian dreams of a tomorrow of abundance and technological wonders. During the 1970s and 1980s there was brief upsurge of feminist and environmental utopian novels from authors like Ursula K. Le Guin and Ernest Callenbach, but in recent decades left-of-center novels about the future see only looming dystopias, such as Margaret Atwood’s grim series of books that imagine the consequences of resurgent patriarchy and out of control genetic engineering.
The candidate, as many candidates before him, makes much of his faith. But what is truly important to a Presidential contender who espouses an ultimate vision for space travel in which ”people will flow out to the Hiltons and Marriotts of the solar system, and mankind will have permanently broken free of the planet.” As the republican primary drags on into what is sure to be a long and tenuous election season, we should start to look farther along the candidates’ bookshelves into the sci fi section.
[via The Atlantic]