Andy Duncan of The God That Failed Blog gave a talk titled Liberty through Literature at the 2012 meeting of the Property and Freedom Society conference. He pointed out that fiction may be an excellent way to reach out to a broader audience to promote liberty and Austrian economics. I think that he is correct. The existing corpus of hardcore works on Austrian political economy is widely available for those with an intense interest to learn. However, not everyone has the inclination to read works by von Mises, Rothbard, etc. Such people are more willing to read good stories that contain the essential ideas of the treatises.
To support this effort, I started this page to list works of libertarian fiction. I have not read all of these, so I cannot personally endorse all of the works listed. I will quote summaries/reviews and then add my thoughts for those works that I have read.
(F) indicates that the book or story is available for free. Click on the title to download.
Time Will Run Back (F) – Henry Hazlitt
“Here is a splendid novel by Henry Hazlitt, first published in 1951 and revised in 1966. The plot line explores the economic theories of capitalism and socialism.
It begins in a fully socialist society in which the new leader, who finds himself in that position only by accident, begins to rethink the economic basis of the system. He first begins to wonder whether the economy is doing well at all, and how they might discover this. This sets the leadership on a path to thinking about prices and calculation, and the very meaning of productivity.
Trading is introduced when the leadership can’t see anything wrong with the idea of trading rationing tickets, and shortly markets appear, and everyone seems to be better off as a result.
So on it continues. Slowly, piece by piece, he dismantles central planning and replaces it with a market system. All the while, the characters engaged in a Socratic-style discussion about the implications of money, exchange, ownership, markets, entrepreneurship, and more.“
This is an Austrian economics treatise disguised as a novel. Hazlitt was an excellent writer, so the book is a pleasure to read as well as informative. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn about the essential concepts of Austrian economics in an accessible format.
Sword of Marathon – Jack England
The New Utopia (F) – Jerome K. Jerome
This book was reviewed by Philip Vander Elst in an article published in The Freeman, Two Early Prophetic Anti-Socialist Satires. It is a satire of socialism narrated by a man who falls asleep in late 19th century England and awakens in 29th century socialist England. Here is an excerpt:
“Some people washed three or four times a day, while others never touched soap and water from one year’s end to the other, and in consequence there got to be two distinct classes, the Clean and the Dirty. All the old class prejudices began to be revived. The clean despised the dirty, and the dirty hated the clean. So, to end dissension, the State decided to do the washing itself, and each citizen was now washed twice a day by government-appointed officials; and private washing was prohibited.“
Pictures of the Socialistic Future (F) – Eugen Richter
“This book is a remarkable discovery, as fresh today as when it was first translated in 1893. It is a novel of life under socialism by Eugene Richter, a German liberal of the 19th century.
Prophetic is not quite the word for this book. Richter saw with chilling clarity what would happen under socialistic control. The economy would be smashed. Families would be destroyed. The population would grow poorer by the day. The state would be unleashed to crush political dissent and lock everyone into a national prison. None of the ideals would be achieved.
The novel’s narrative voice, however, is blinded by ideological loyalty to the cause. As he describes the calamity, he justifies it all in the name of progress, equality, and fairness to all. The reader, then, experiences the horrors of the events and then also the horrors of the intellectual twists and turns that some people will undertake to keep the disaster happening as long as possible.
To remember that this was written before any country actually experienced the total state is astonishing, page by page. The tone of the narrative is chillingly light and detached. Meanwhile, the events taking place make the blood run cold. The novel not only fulfills Mises’s own predictions of life under socialism; it anticipates them long before any country embraced socialism as a system.
This is the book that shouts out, as clearly as any ever written: we were warned!“
And Then There Were None (F) – Eric Frank Russell
This is one of my all time favorite stories and an outstanding exploration of civil disobedience. Previously, there had been an explosion of colonization of planets in the galaxy. An earth based empire decides to reassert control over the various lost sheep. A representative of the empire arrives at a planet (I won’t mention the name as it will reveal much about the plot) on a military spaceship and attempts to establish control. Unfortunately for the empire, the colonists refuse to be controlled. What emerges is essentially a sociological study of a voluntaryist versus a fascist society. My only quibble is with the monetary system which betrays the author’s misunderstanding of money as a medium of exchange. Regardless, this is a wonderful read.
Watchbird (F) – Robert Sheckley
This is an eerily prescient story about the use of unmanned aircraft (drones) by local police. It also explores the immorality of the military/prison industrial complex and the ethical questions raised by public-private partnerships.
Wyst: Alastor 1716 – Jack Vance
Jack Vance is one of the greatest science fiction/fantasy authors of all time. He is known for his masterful prose, dry wit, and stories that abound in irony. A theme that Vance explores in many of his writings is the plight of an outsider in a bizarre society. In this novel, Vance creates a society that embraces radical “egalism”, meaning communism taken seriously. The outsider is a tourist, Jantiff Rovensroke, who experiences all of the “wonders” of communism while also getting caught up in a dangerous conspiracy.
I found two aspects of Vance’s exploration of egalism to be of interest. The first, was what happens when a society takes radical egalitarianism seriously. For instance, there is no division of labor in this society. Work is assigned by a planning board with no regard to competence. Even more absurd is that the work week is only a few hours and people are constantly rotated among various jobs. Thus, there is no expertise gained. Since this is obviously unworkable in certain industries, the society relies on outsiders for skilled labor. Since the society is so unproductive, such reliance brings about balance of payment problems.
The second aspect is the progressive degeneration of morals. The people are lazy, deviant, untrustworthy, etc. Panem et circenses serve to keep the people indolent and obedient.
Wyst: Alastor 1716, is one of Jack Vance’s many masterpieces. For libertarians, it is a reminder of the true horrors of socialism taken to its logical extent.