Libertarians and the ApocalypsePosted on January 1, 2011
I’ve always loved apocalypse fiction, ever since I was a kid. Nuclear war, plague, natural disaster, zombies, the medium doesn’t matter – Day of the Triffids, I Am Legend, Alas Babylon!, A Canticle for Leibowitz, 28 Days Later, The Road, Survivors, The Death of Grass, The Walking Dead, I’ve enjoyed them all. (Before anyone gets scared, I should probably add that I do read and watch other things as well…)
I’ve come across plenty of other fans of end-of-the-world fiction over the years, from all walks of life and points of view (Tom Harris MP, for example). However, a pattern has definitely established itself bit by bit - libertarians are more likely to enjoy apocalypse fiction than any other political group I’ve come across.
Why should this be the case?
There’s a lazy answer, which we should deal with straight away. The usual political smear-merchants would trot out that it’s because libertarians hate human beings and wish secretly that everyone was dead. Obviously this is nonsense – for a philosophy founded on admiring people enough to trust them to live their own lives, it would be absurd to want everyone killed.
In fact, far from being a macabre interest in the apocalypse - stories about everyone dying – I think this is actually an interest in post-apocalypse fiction – stories about how people survive without the State.
There’s obviously the basic appeal of a world where there’s no-one bossing you around, telling you off for smoking or drinking or trying to gather your personal data. That’s something any libertarian merrily daydreams about. But most intriguing and fascinating of all is speculating about human innovation and interaction without an overriding authority either doing it all for you or forcing you to do as it wishes.
In our world as it is today, there are myriad restraints on living by a libertarian code. Indeed, most activity by libertarian campaigners is taken up opposing proposals that would further impinge on our individual freedom, so it seems that the general shift is even further away from our ideal position.
We are so far from a libertarian world that the best way to explore how our ideas might work in practice is through what scientists and philosophers would call a thought-experiment – testing out political ideas in a theoretical, simplified world.
For example, a physicist wanting to test a theory of how radiation operates under particular circumstances might well imagine a thought-experiment world where there was no background radiation, no sun and no stars to interfere. Similarly, someone wanting to explore how people might live in a libertarian way inevitably finds it interesting to imagine life in a world without authority, state, nosey neighbours or hectoring puritans – a thought-experiment provided most commonly in the world of apocalypse fiction.
Tags: 28 Days Later, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Alas Babylon!, Apocalypse, Apocalypse Fiction, Books, Culture, Day of the Triffids, Freedom, I Am Legend, John Wyndham, Libertarianism, Liberty, opinion, Pat Frank, Politics, Robert Kirkman, Survivors, Terry Nation, The Death of Grass, The Road, The Walking Dead, Walter M Miller