THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 856, January 24, 2016
We live in a moral leper colony.
Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein: A Book Review
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Saturday morning in the wake of the Snowpocalypse that has buried Greater Appalachia it looks as if another chapter in the Norseman's Diaries will be forthcoming.
Before I get started on that will come the daunting prospect of digging out and who knows what else will happen in the final week of January. As I put the finishing touches on this book review. Another Robert A. Heinlein and what is my favorite among all his novels: Farnham's Freehold. Which was also the source that introduced the concept of Freeholder to my mind and vocabulary. I had long been intrigued by the comical rendition of a makeshift sign on the front cover of the paperback version advertising and informing prospective customers that might patronize a post nuclear apocalypse trading post.
If you find that scene funny—you might like the story of Hugh Farnham; which is the tale of a family that is castaway in time some 2,000 years into the future after their bomb shelter propelled through a time rip created by an atomic blast. They start out struggling with wilderness survival until discovered by the Chosen Race—a black African people who came to dominate the Earth by default after the destruction of the Northern World by mutual annihilation of the superpowers in the East-West War. Leaving the white race which had literally bombed itself back to the Stone Age easy pickings for the slave trade that emerged when the people in Africa recovered and expanded their civilization around the world.
Having landed in on what amounts to a wilderness reserve owned by the Lord Proprietor of the Chosen (a fact initially unbeknownst to Hugh Farnham and his party—consisting of his unhappy alcoholic wife Grace, and two grown children—their son Duke and daughter Karen, a neighbor- Barbara and Joe—a young black man who is their hired servant)—they settle in under the assumption they might be the only human beings alive in this world which they believe is either a Parallel Earth or a future one depopulated by the nuclear holocaust. Before they are discovered by a scouting party of the Chosen they manage to put together an impressive homestead that would make Robinson Caruso and the Swiss Family Robinson envious. However they do not do so well dealing with the issue of child birth under primitive conditions as they end up loosing Karen and her baby shortly after. Barbara who is also pregnant delivers twins after they are captured by the Chosen.
Hugh and his family end up as domestic servants on the estate of their Lord Protector Ponce who is a member of the nobility among the Chosen Race. Referred to as "Their Charity" as the enslavement of the surviving white population is described euphemistically as a mission of mercy in which the life as a well cared for slave is considered superior to life as a savage; scraping for existence in the wilderness. Similar rationalizations were employed by southern planters to justify keeping black people in bondage. Heinlein is quite the historian when it comes to "that filthy habit" that mankind falls into from time to time; known as slavery. It is also the theme of another novel: Citizen of the Galaxy which is also a very good read. He notes the plight of slavery is not unique to black Africans as all peoples at one time or other have played the role of master and slave. In the Middle Ages, Muslim slavers used to raid the coasts of southern Europe. And the word Slav that describes people of eastern European heritage derives from the Scandinavian word for slave—as the Vikings often sailed as far as Russia to take captives.
As for Hugh—he is lucky that they had Joe among them. Otherwise they would likely have been killed. Also "Their Charity" the proper term he must use to address Ponce in formal situations has an interest in ancient history. In private Ponce is very no-nonsense and insists his servants use "Equals Speech" and he has taken a liking to Hugh and understands the value of his knowledge of the bygone world and wants his services as a translator. In particular—the Encyclopedia Britannica that was in Hugh's bomb shelter. There are only two other surviving copies in the world which are very bad condition. This gives Hugh a measure of pull. He is even allowed to see Barbara who is raising two twins that were the result of the fling they had the night of the nuclear exchange that ended their world. His wife Grace meanwhile has fully assimilated into the role of a bedwarmer for Ponce and wants nothing to do with Hugh. She cares only about her creature comforts and has grown quite fat from the rich diet and easy life of a pampered servant.
Hugh is a pampered servant too and has even been given a bedwarmer of his own—a cute plump blonde who is but a teenager. He does not take advantage of her services and explains that he his getting too old for that sort of thing so not to offend her and puts the girl—which he nicknames "Kitten" to good use as a courier to deliver letters to Barbara—as male slaves are forbidden to go onto "Slut's Quarters" as the harem wing of the estate is called.
Despite the fact he is well treated—Hugh fears for the future in regard to Barbara and the twins. It is a given that women of the conquered eventually submit and as loving and loyal as Barbara is—she will not be able to hold out forever. Once she is finished nursing her babies she will be considered eligible to fulfill her obligation as a bedwarmer also. And Hugh dreads the prospect of their sons growing up in bondage.
Then comes trouble involving his head strong son Duke who had a very difficult time adapting. An interesting insight comes from a conversation between Hugh and his former Negro servant Joe who has now earned himself a place among the Chosen. Hugh is upset because his son Duke has been castrated. The Chosen call it "Tempered". And he feels his former employee has taken up something like a white supremacist's apologist attitude toward the whole situation. When Joe says what amounts to turnabout being fair play; Heinlein missed a great opportunity for a rebuke that distinguishes the situation of Joe in his formal role as a domestic servant of Hugh Farnham while working his way through college—Free Labor vs the kind of chattel slavery inflicted on blacks by white plantation owners and again on whites by the Chosen. In the former world order—Joe could always have quit his job without having to worry about someone sending out bloodhounds to track him down. Hugh certainly didn't have that option anymore than a slave in the pre-bellum south. It's like something Isaac Asimov was reputed to have said to his editor John W. Campbell who tried to argue that economic pressures tend to enslave people. Isaac countered by saying that at least he didn't have an overseer with a whip who would punish him for trying to take a vacation.
Over the course of a lifetime all the above has led me to the realization how the lot of a Freeholder is superior to that of a rent serf ; let alone a chattel slave or Soviet socialist worker. The root of the problems in the story with Joe or Duke (who was a terrible bigot in the former world) is the idea of the social pecking order which is the source of many of our ills. In a twisted way, Karl Marx was right about Class Struggle—but the notion of Property is Theft has become a counterproductive distraction along with the more recent concepts of social and economic injustice. Collectivization just institutionalizes the domination of the group by the stronger and more socially savvy among us who rise to the top and gain privilege and priority access to resources over other members. Private property can liberate you from that by giving everyone each according to their abilities and their ambitions-personal resources and private space away from the tyranny of both your betters as well as peers who might want to hold you back or bring you down.
If you have the courage of Hugh Farnham there is always the possibility of escape. Even black chattel slaves had the option of opting out of the plantation. It was called the Underground Railroad. Ask Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. Long as there is somewhere else to go where you can be safe and can defend yourself against those who might come after you—and a government that won't send you back or help your former master recapture you—and even in spite of these things; you can be free.
Fredrick Douglas escaped from the belly of the beast by his own wits and went on to become a great champion of Liberty in the abolitionist movement. And the greatest thing about him was that he believed in himself and the individual as opposed to the twisted ideology of group rights and identity politics.
It would be interesting these days to see the reactions if Farnham's Freehold were ever made into a movie in today's politically correct culture. I believe it would live up to its reputation as the most controversial science fiction story of all time!
Citizen of the Galaxy is a very excellent novel on the theme of slavery also. In addition to the chattel slavery, there is also a description of bondage to clan or family from which the protagonist must also escape. It is more subtile but also an impediment to liberty and pursuit of happiness. Yet like the kind of bondage that Campbell attributed to economic pressure—escape is a matter of choice. And choice was also the case for Frederick Douglas as well as those who fought in the Revolutionary War—though the stakes were much higher.
In the Farnham novel—Hugh's creative escape plan does not go so well. Like many an escape plan or slave revolt in a world where there is no where else to go it is a testimony of how dear Liberty is—because once lost it is next to impossible to regain and then only by great peril or through the passage of time when the social order eventually collapses. Most slave revolts like the ones led by Spartacus or Nat Turner are brutally crushed and like many a revolution—the ones that succeed often go badly with the slaves rampaging against the free population. That was always a great fear in the pre Civil War south and a big part of why the Johnny Rebs were so much better fighters than their Union counterparts. Most of them had nothing to do with slavery as they were poor farmers who worked their own land but were fearful of slave revolts because angry blacks who might take up arms would kill them as readily as the plantation owners—so they organized themselves into militias to protect themselves.
During the time of Farnham's despair near the end of the novel—the protagonist contemplates a lot of rich historic and philosophical stuff. When I first read the novel in the late 1980s—it was there that I learned of things that I would see again many years later in Thomas Sowell's Black Rednecks & White Liberals. Like the fact that many slaveholders in the Creole culture of the Caribbean—including Haiti and even New Orleans were black or of mixed race who owned plantations. And slaves. There were also white people owned by blacks in various parts of the world and times in history. Heinlein noted that lily white western liberals were usually in fervent denial of such realities—as much as they liked to set themselves up as the benevolent champions of people of color—the very idea that that social pecking order could be inverted is as unthinkably politically incorrect as the white racism they have supposably devoted themselves to fighting.
Bruce The Historian said recently that within a hundred years the population of North America will look more like that of Brazil. Which is fine and dandy—so long as the people remain free. In the long run- memes that determine the kind of society we live in will be more important to the wellbeing of future generations than the genes that determine skin and eye color.
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