HOME Inevitable Aftermath?
World Government, World Dictatorship The Crisis of Democracy A Revised Democracy

However inevitable it seemed, an apocalyptic end was not always Heinlein's solution to the shortcomings of American society. In order to appeal to the public and perhaps his own rationality, he had to offer some sort of solution to the problem of the ultimate offensice weapon and the gradual weakening of American values. He found very few of the options he presented particularly tasteful, but the issues he was facing were not simple either. In the end, the best Heinlein could hope for was a cyclical view of American history - all he could do was lament the decline, describe the fall and offer suggestions for the reascention.
"being a real-life Cassandra is not happy-making" (Expanded Universe, 95)

World Government, World Dictatorship

. The presumed American line of thinking that went into the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was that if America had the ultimate force, it should by all means use the force to end the war and promote peace. Whether Heinlein agreed or disagreed with this philosophy, he put it to use by the fictional American government in Solution Unsatisfactory, when they realize the power of the radioactive dust Dr. Estelle Karst discovered. As the narrator, John DeFries, observed, "The only possible chance to keep the world from being turned into one huge morgue was for us to use the power first and drastically…enforce a world-wide peace, ruthlessly and drastically, or it would be seized by some other nation" (EU, 115). Therefore, John's boss, Dr. Manning, forms the Commission of World Safety and becomes Commissioner, with the explicit purpose of controlling the power of the dust. Men from all countries were inducted into the Peace Patrol, assigned to any country but their own, under oath to preserve the peace of the world. The oath was important, DeFries remarks, because Every other similar oath had been to the Constitution of the United States" (EU, 140). This solution is, as Heinlein admits, extremely unsatisfactory, but it seems like the only alternative.

Striking in this suggestion for preventing the apocalypse is Heinlein's abandonment of the American Constitution. If he is trying to preserve and play upon American values, why would he forsake the document that most consider to be the bedrock of the United States? Heinlein was making a statement about the desperation of the atomic age. The only real defense against American annihilation by atomic bomb was to disperse the American cities and American government. As America lay in the 1940s, the commercial and governing centers were easy targets. America's strength has almost lay in its massive size, for resources, the building of the hardy pioneer instinct and in the modern age, for safety. Even so, dispersion would come with a loss of civil rights:

The other necessary consequences of defense by dispersion are even more chilling than the economic disadvantages. If we go it alone we must be prepared to permanently to surrender that democratic freedom of action which we habitually enjoyed in peace time. We must resign ourselves to becoming a socialistic, largely authoritarian police state, with freedom of speech, freedom of occupation, and freedom of movement subordinated to military necessity, as defined by those in charge (EU, 159).
Heinlein often mentions that the world is under a new order in the atomic age, precisely because there is no defense against atomic firepower that does not require some sacrifice of freedom. The abandonment of freedom and constitutional democracy is horrifying to Heinlein, but even he can dream up few alternative. Logically, it seems that a weapon that can destroy any country in the world must be controlled by all the world, binding men together for their mutual preservation. The idea offends Heinlein's American soul, but even a cowboy can settle into society in order to survive, however uncomfortably.

The Crisis of Democracy

Democracy is the American value perhaps most in crisis during the post-World War II era. With the government's increased autonomy during wartime, the return to a government by and for the people is slow if not impossible. When Dr. Manning proposes his Commission of World Safety to the United States government, they object on the grounds of its unconstitutionality, and the following exchange takes place:
Manning: "We can be dead men, with everything in due order, constitutional and technically correct; or we can do what has to be done, stay alive and try to straighten out the legal aspects later."
Secretary of Labor: "I, for one, do not regard democratic measures and constitutional procedure as of so little importance that I am willing to jettison them any time it becomes convenient. To me, democracy is more than a matter of expediency. It is a faith. Either it works, or I go under with it…I propose that we treat this as an opportunity to create a worldwide democratic commonwealth! Let us use our present dominant position to issue a call to all nations to send representatives to a conference to form a world constitution…Not a League of Nations. The old League was helpless because it had no real existence, no power…This would be different for we would turn over the dust to it!" Manning: "What are you going to do about the hundreds of millions of people who have no experience in, nor love for, democracy? Now perhaps I don't have the same concept of democracy as yourself, but I do know this: Out West there are a couple of hundred thousand people who sent me to Congress; I am not going to stand quietly by and let a course be followed which I think will result in their deaths or utter ruin" (EU, 128-9).
This sort of Catch-22 is precisely what makes the atomic world so complex for governments, or science fiction writers proposing types of governance. Is their responsibility to the survival of their citizens, or to higher democratic ideals? Do democratic ideals matter when there are no survivors to run a democracy? With the atomic threat leaning over his shoulder, Heinlein caves in to the suggestion that Americans give up their sovereignty to a larger world protectorate. Or perhaps he hopes that this solution will finally offend the American public to the point of reaction; citizens will be moved to educate themselves, improve themselves, and recapture their American ingenuity in order to find a better solution.

A Revised Democracy

Heinlein does offer a democratic, if controversial, alternative to the impotent pseudo-democracy of the 20th century. In Starship Troopers, he describes the earth's government as a world-wide democracy, where military service is the only way to gain the franchise. When Mr. DuBois compares the form of democracy he lives under to the American democracy of Heinlein's time, he finds only one key difference.
Superficially, our system is only slightly different; we have democracy unlimited by race, color, creed, birth, wealth, sex , or conviction, and anyone may win sovereign power by a usually short and not too arduous term of service-nothing more than a light workout to our cave-man ancestors. But that slight difference is one between a system that works, since it is constructed to match the facts, and one that is inherently unstable…Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage…his average performance is enormously better than that of any other class of rulers in history (Starship Troopers, 145).
Heinlein's dilemma over the effectiveness of democracy reflects the anxiety of the American public of his time. When so much seems to go on under the noses of an uneducated and easily swayed electorate, it seems logical that reducing the participating members of the democracy to a selective, concerned, educated class would improve the quality of governance. And even in this elitist attitude Heinlein was decidedly American. After all, not everyone can be the hero.
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