A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Libertarian Fiction

Students for Liberty are running a fiction contest for a story, 1000-10,000 words long, "illustrating the positive role of freedom in human life".

I recently read a suggestion somewhere - I forget where it was - that it is impossible to write a great story advocating something, and that all the great political novels - Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps Atlas Shrugged if you're into that kind of thing - were railing against a system. I'm thinking that I might attempt to write an entry for this competition, and I'm thinking that I might set it in an anarcho-capitalist society. This, of course, incurs great danger in terms of literary quality.

I must avoid presenting it as utopian - partly because I don't see this as entirely realistic and partly because it's a story, and every story aimed at people above the age of six needs a problem. I could make the problem an evil, aggressive state which neighbours the anarchist society, but this seems rather close to the Ayn Rand-type "Freedom Good, State Bad" assertion that most libertarians secretly believe but tends to turn off the uninitiated. So, what I want to do is to, in a sense, normalise anarchy: to present it as a valid, workable alternative to our current socialist/corporatist hybrid with its own unique benefits and its own unique problems.

How can I best emphasise the difference between my fictional society and those which currently exist? My protagonist should fill a role which would change significantly in an anarchist society. The industry I would expect to change most is that of law creation and enforcement. And it just so happens that one of the great genres - the whodunnit - is entirely about people in this line of work.

So my main character should be a detective. I don't want him to be a Poirot or a Sherlock Holmes, because this is supposed to be realistic and believable. Deducing from a left-behind banana skin that the murderer was a left-handed homosexual with an interest in stamp collecting is beyond the ability of the average genius, let alone the average person who might possibly read my story.

I also need problems for them to overcome. I'm thinking that Creative Destruction could play a role - perhaps a company gone down the toilet, taking a load of data with it. I like the idea of the crime being investigated being the murder of a man with no friends or family - presumably he paid a company to commit to catching his killer, as an (unfortunately insufficient) form of self-defence.

That's about as far as I've got with thinking through it, so far. I'm also re-listening to David Friedman's talk "Vinge, Heinlein, the Sagas and Me", which looks at a variety of anarchist structures, both historical and fictional.

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