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Robert A. Heinlein: An Apologia

By Galen Strickland
Posted July 27, 2000

Regardless of the fact that RAH is one of my favorite authors, I would not want to imply I agree with everything he wrote. Far from it; there are quite a few of his opinions about which I have strong reservations, and I am sure he would have taken a very dim view of me. There have been friends and aquaintances who have expressed surprise at my admiration for his work after learning about some of my own ideals and values. For instance, I am a pacifist, and in fact was a conscientious objector, training as a non-combatant medic in the Army in the early '70s. I'll take my moral lessons from the likes of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Bertrand Russell, and Tenzin Gyatso, not Robert A. Heinlein, thank you very much.


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Here are a few of RAH's comments from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long:

"A 'pacifist male' is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described 'pacifists' are not pacific; they simply assume false colors."

"Killing an anarchist or a pacifist should not be defined as 'murder' in a legalistic sense. The offense against the state, if any,should be 'Using deadly weapons inside city limits,' or 'Creating a traffic hazard,' or 'Endangering bystanders,' or other misdemeanor."

It was not just in his later work that RAH began inserting such opinions either. In one of his early short stories there are two sentences toward the end that positively infuriate me, and yet overall I still like the story. This is from "The Year of the Jackpot" from 1952 (collected in The Menace from Earth). If I am any judge of people I would think this would upset quite a few besides myself.

"Aside from mathematics, just two things worth doing - kill a man and love a woman. He had done both; he was rich."

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As mentioned in my analysis of Farnham's Freehold, RAH broached the subject of incest on several occasions. Comments about this taboo subject - and in some cases the act itself - were also featured in Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. I have no idea if RAH included this subject merely for shock value or whether it held a personal fascination for him. I don't think it coincidental that these last four novels featured Lazarus Long, a character most assume is the closest to being RAH's alter-ego. It would be very interesting to learn more about RAH's own life, most especially his relationship with his mother. Lazarus' main fixation is on his own mother, Maureen Johnson Smith.

In The Robert Heinlein Interview by J. Neil Schulman, RAH mentioned that he enjoyed reading works by others with whom he did not agree since it was impossible to learn anything if you restrict yourself to reading only those with whom you do agree. This statement sums up nicely why I can disagree with some of RAH's specific opinions and yet still enjoy reading him for the abundance of life knowledge he imparts in his stories. The thoughts and ideals of RAH with which I can agree far outweigh those which I refuse to defend. His basic philosophy of individualism, balanced with his insistence that the individual has inextricable ties to the welfare of society as a whole, places RAH at the forefront of libertarian thought. Even more important than that, his most enduring legacy is his championing of intelligence and the necessity of thinking for oneself.

"What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history" - what are the facts, and to how many decimal places?You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!" - [from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long]

"When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked;contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him." - [from "If This Goes On— " in Revolt in 2100]

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