The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein


The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Once I would have said that I leaned Libertarian in my political views. Then I started hearing more about what Libertarian actually believed. From what I can tell, it’s far more than a free-market small government attitude. I started realizing that the underlying philosophy was aggressively anti-God. It just so happened that some of my beliefs overlapped tenents of Libertarianism. So, when I heard that this book would demonstrate the world as a libertarian saw it (and I like some of this author’s other works), I decided to give it a try.

End result: Good story, terrible philosophy.

Briefly stated, the philosophy is that when left alone, men will naturally choose to develop a society in which everyone works together. Government is evil and non-government is good. Unfortunately for that point of view, mankind has a thing called: sin nature. In a perfect world, Libertarians would be right, but as Judges points out, men choose to do what is right in their own eyes and that is often a detriment to others.

Libertarians miss the fact that the government has a legitimate purpose as a restrainer of tyrants, bullies and shysters. Without a strong government (and I still believe in a small limited government) we would be back in the Middle Ages with lots of petty tyrants abusing the locals and trying to usurp one another’s power.

As to the book, the story is quite good. The story is told in retrospect by one of the main characters. The moon was turned into a penal colony. But, if one stayed on the moon too long, they would be unable to return to Earth as changes in their body would prevent it. So, after a person’s sentence was finished, they were stuck on the moon. Soon a colony of free people developed. Without any form of government, this colony “developed” into a wonderful place. Unruly people were spaced. Of course everyone agreed with the decision because it was “obvious” that these people deserved it for violating the understood social contract.

As an aside, Heinlein falls into the trap of assuming that their is no government outside of the people on the moon. But, that’s not true. The environment is truly a harsh mistress. Stupidity and a failure to get along will result in the entire colony dieing a brutal and sudden death. So, while there isn’t a fickle and tyrannical man made government, there was still a restraining inhibiting man’s inherent selfish desires. Failure to do one’s part could lead to a rupture or other cataclysmic event in the life support systems…. So, it is wrong to imply that mankind could live in freedom and harmony without a government. Besides, since evil governments are made up of men, the evil nature of the government must be a result of the nature of men. That point is a bit to subtle for the author.

Anyway, back to the story. 🙂

So, this story is about the struggle between an oppressed colony on the moon and their exploitative masters on earth. The main character Manny and his two compatriots architect a revolution from earth with the assistance of their friend: the world’s only self-aware computer. The story spends as much time discussing the nature of the conspiracy against earth as discussing the lifestyle of life on the moon.

Personally, I found the story to be quite exciting though it *is* a style that would probably annoy others. The story is an action story, but it is presented in a recitation of facts manner. In my mind, this works and of course plenty of others agreed, but your mileage might vary.

As for negatives, you have my opinion of the philosophy. Still, there is a small amount of profanity and the moral character of the family lives is problematic. They have strange open marriages and all sorts of odd stuff that is portrayed as acceptable because “it works.” A major underlying philosophy of the book is pragmatism: whatever achieves my goals is OK. gag….

Anyway, despite all the problems or rather because of them, I recommend that you read this book. Learn more about what a Libertarian thinks. And while your learning, enjoy a legitimately good story.

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4 thoughts on “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

  1. The main point for most libertarians is that what is wrong for the individual is also wrong for the government. You seem to imply in your first paragraphs that individual men have sin natures but that men in groups called governments do not. You then in your aside almost make this very point and then accuse Heinlein of missing it. Just because Heinlein in much of his work tends toward a libertine version of libertarianism doesn’t logically lead to thinking all libertarians are the same.

    Just because there are large portions of current law that are not within the governments right to control does not then mean that I think all areas of sin are ok. That is quite a leap. In your aside you also mention that men are still restrained anyway. You seem to think men will only do stupidity if the government isn’t there to tell them what to do.

    You may have other reasons to think that all libertarian thought is based in anti-god philosophy, but if it begins and ends with Heinlein as in your article it seems a pretty poor argument.

  2. Even if Libertarians did argue for equal morality between government and men, it does not change the fact that the morality that is so often argued for is one founded in humanism and pragmatism.

    I did not mean to imply that government is always right and moral. You know me better than that. :-p Mostly, I was trying (albeit poorly) to say, that the government is necessary in God’s organization of this world. Without the government to restrain sin, we would see more chaos, anarchy and violence then we do now. The difference between myself and most Libertarians is that I see a place for the government even with its flaws. God instituted the government for specific purposes.

    Actually, Heinlein reinforced my thought that Libertarianism is based on an anti-god philosophy; it didn’t make it. It was other discussions that brought me to that point of view.

    🙂 Thanks for reading!

  3. I think your assertion that all people under the banner of “libertarian” believe the same thing or have the same philosophical foundation is a bit of a stretch. The brand of libertarianism that you seem to be attacking is “anarcho-capitalism”. Also, since you attack all libertarians as having an anti-god based system, what system of government do you propose as best? Do you believe that what we have in the United States is best and most biblically based?

    For just a sampling of the diversity among libertarians from an author that I think you would have a difficult time arguing his system of thought is anti-god, read Gary North’s article on the Authentic Libertarianism.

  4. Heh. You are right. I was lumping the all together which isn’t correct. On the other hand, I really haven’t heard many calls for limited government from Libertarians. Yes this is secondhand info and some hearsay, but every plan or idea explained to me has usually involved a “no-government” component and an assumption that men will choose to do right. So, I guess I come by that interpretation honestly (however wrong it might be).

    As for our government? You know better than that. I don’t agree with many parts of our government. You also know that I believe that our government was founded in religious ideologies but was never biblically based. So, please, no red herrings…. 🙂

    The only true/best form of government is a Theocracy. But as that’s not happening, I do think that a representational democracy is the next best thing. It helps spread power around and puts checks on people’s sin nature.

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