One of us (Mark) is a life-long consumer of science fiction. And, growing up in the 1960s, you can’t be into that genre without knowing more than a little about Robert Heinlein, who published from the early 1940s through the late 1980s.
Heinlein delighted in sparking controversy…which is why he has been considered a towering figure, a racist1, the inventor of modern libertarianism2, and the spark that led to flower power3.
But what he is perhaps best known for was a future history that began with his very first stories and continued in various short stories and novels up until his death. In that “history” the United States fell into a religious dictatorship after the 2012 Presidential election.
It made a huge impression on me because I could not imagine how something like that could happen. But as I learned more history and learned more about the things we touch on in our podcasts…I’ve come to believe it could conceivably — and easily — happen.
But I hope it won’t. And part of the reason I speak out against fundamentalism is because I don’t want it to.
Here’s what Heinlein had to say in some endnotes he wrote, lightly edited to shorten it. Keep in mind these were written in the early 1950s. And think about how the world has changed to give us the tools to stop something like it from happening…while at the same time making it more likely that it could. Copyright Robert Heinlein, 1951/52.
As for…the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific and anti-libertarian.
It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed, it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.
Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not — but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television4, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck5. Throw in a depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negroism, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be something quite frightening — particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.
I imagined Nehemiah Scudder as a backwoods evangelist who combined some of the features of John Calvin, Savonarola, Judge Rutherford and Huey Long. His influence was not national until after the death of an early convert who had the single virtue of being the widow of an extremely wealthy man6. She left Brother Scudder several millions of dollars7 with which to establish a television station8. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state and they were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtrooopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.
Sixth Column and Farnham’s Freehold ↩
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, about the revolt of the Lunar penal colonies in 2076. Guess what actual revolution that was patterned after? ↩
Stranger in a Strange Land ↩
think what could be done with the internet! ↩
or Walmart, nowadays ↩
a little misogyny here, but the point is valid independent of gender ↩
read billions today ↩
a media empire nowadays ↩