Thursday, 19 February 2015

On Libertarianism (and Scottish Sci-Fi Writers)

 “Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.” Iain Banks.

I've just finished reading Ken MacLeod's 'Intrusion' which contained some very interesting ideas about the implications of geno-fixing and the development of the surveillance state. 

I never know entirely how to feel about MacLeod. He was the protege of the late and much missed Iain Banks but, possibly surprising, this does not mean he is his political clone or even a close fellow traveller.

Having read Banks' entire back catalogue and being familiar with MacLeod from his Fall Revolution series and a scattering of his one off novels, I feel that the former is far more optimistic about the ability of institutions and assorted 'do gooders' to achieve positive change.

The Culture may be a post-scarcity, anarchist utopia but Banks does often present traditional hero characters working within some kind of institutional structure (Special Circumstances, Contact, his various mercantile or cultist clans); even if they are generally personally flawed and often fleeing some personal nightmare or atrocity.

By contrast MacLeod's characters can seem almost Randian in their attitudes and values. Intrusion and the Fall Revolution novels bring this to the fore in presenting self sufficient individuals engaged in life and death struggles with such unlikely 'Statist' or principled villains as the Labour Party, environmentalists and computer geeks.

Not that there is anything wrong with this. As I've said at the start of this article I find MacLeod's books compelling and imaginative (although I don't think his characters are ever quite as strong as those produced by Iain Banks). However, I do feel that it is a bit rich for libertarians to continue to present the strong State as the main nemesis of the free and the good. Ever since the Thatcher era we have seeed locked in a race for ever weaker government control. Capitalist libertarianism is certainly dominant now and for all off the doom-saying I don't see a return to totalitarianism being a threat again until governments can carry out basic functions like taxation and basic wealth distribution without being deterred by vested interests or hostile popular opinion.    

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