Wednesday, November 4, 2015

For Us, The Living

I keep expecting For Us, The Living to be exposed as some sort of hoax. It seems too good to be true, not because it's particularly good writing but because it's relatively rare to get a glimpse of a creator's early thought processes leading up to memorable works, and even rarer for these to qualify as even tangentially readable. Indulgent, pedantic and quite flat in terms of plot, this book nonetheless captivates Heinlein fans via half-molded versions of later character types and ideals.

The biggest revelation remains the socialist precept of a Utopian welfare state in which the subsistence of each individual citizen is assured. Only after reading it did I realize that this shows up repeatedly throughout Heinlein's later works, usually under the guise of an obscenely wealthy benefactor assuring the finances of whatever idealized society he's describing. In For Us, The Living, it's much more clearly, inescapably stated. Despite his fascination with the self-reliant frontiersman archetype, Heinlein never glorified privation in itself. He viewed the freeing of humans from the restrictions of necessities as an inherent good, every bit as much as he touted the moral obligation to work toward greater goals. Much of the book is taken up by lengthy, tedious postulations of economic theory by which his imagined future state assures each individual the freedom to pursue whatever life seems worth pursuing.

The libertarian movement in the United States has been collared and re-branded by the rich, but as much as the right wing may try to claim Heinlein the libertarian as their own, his writing stands as a constant reminder that liberty is individual and individuality can never be defined by a political movement. I cannot imagine the Heinlein who wrote this book promoting the ideals of self-declared libertarians today, of deliberately impoverishing the working class, of keeping them under constant threat of starvation, violence and disease to force them into the yoke of wage-slavery.

The mind who wrote For Us, The Living would not have supported the freedom of the rich to restrict the freedom of the poor.

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