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from Starship Troopers

by Robert Heinlein

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from Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein, is one of the background documents relevant to the document series that discusses limiting franchise directed to mitigating the worst consequences of unrestricted franchise within the context of poorly educated populations.
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Curious Republic of Gondour by Mark Twain
from Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Kantsaywhere by Francis Galton

from In the Wet by Neville Shute
utopianists : Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells, William Morris
historic UK vote allocation
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starship troopers: the book [first published 1959] Three and a half GoldenYak (tm) award

Historic examples range from absolute monarch to utter anarch; mankind has tried thousands of ways and many more have been proposed, [...] But the intent has always been moralistic: to provide stable and benevolent government.

“All systems seek to achieve this by limiting franchise to those who are believed to have the wisdom to use it justly. I repeat ‘ all systems’; even the so-called ‘unlimited democracies’ excluded from franchise not less than one quarter of their populations by age, birth, poll tax, criminal record, or other."

Major Reid smiled cynically. “I have never been able to see how a thirty-year-old moron can vote more wisely than a fifteen-year-old genius . . . but that was the age of the ‘divine right of the common man.’ Never mind, they paid for their folly.

“The sovereign franchise base been bestowed by all sorts of rules--place of birth, family of birth, race, sex, property, education, age, religion, et cetera. All these systems worked and none of them well. All were regarded as tyrannical by many, all eventually collapsed or were overthrown.

“Now here are we with still another system.. . . and our system works quite well. [...] ” [p. 154]

In Starship Troopers, Heinlein imagines a society where franchise is only granted to those who complete a course of pseudo-military service to the planetary government. Service is absolutely voluntary to anyone who can understand the military oath. Only people who have completed their service may vote; that is people still in service cannot vote, nor can anyone who does not complete their military service. Any person can resign from the service at any time, whence they will never be allowed a second chance to join up.

The terms of service [p.33] includes, “do now enrol in the federal service of the Terran Federation for a term of not less than two years, and as much longer as may be required by the needs of the service”, in other words an open contract with a minimum duration of two years to achieve franchise.

At induction, individuals are allowed to state a choice of area of service. It is said that one in twenty recruits will be allocated to their chosen area, according to ability and preparation. Stating their preference is the last choice recruits have during their service. The allocation is made according to the needs of society. While the story is gung-ho militarism in a battle against an insect civilisation during a time of war, we are told that the normal state of affairs is over-subscription and difficulty in placing the would-be citizens in useful employment, preferably unpleasant.

“You realize that you aren't allowed to pick your service?”
Carl said, “I thought we could state our preferences?”
“Certainly. And that's the last choice you’ll make until the end of your term. The placement officer pays attention to your choice too. First thing he does is check whether there’s a demand for left-handed glass blowers this week—that being what you think would make you happy. Having reluctantly conceded that there is a need for your choice—probably at the bottom of the Pacific—he then tests you for innate ability and preparation. About once in twenty times he is forced to admit that everything matches and you get the job . . . until some practical joker gives you dispatch orders to do something very different. But the other nineteen times he turns you down and decides that you are just what they have been needing to field-test survival equipment on Titan.” He added meditatively, “It’s chilly on Titan. And it’s amazing how often experimental equipment fails to work. Have to have real field tests, though—laboratories just never get all the answers.”
[pp. 30-31]

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“Why, the purpose is,” he answered, hauling off and hitting me in the knee with a hammer (I kicked him, but not hard), “to find out what duties you are physically able to perform. But if you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe. The only way you can fail is by having psychiatrists decide that you are not able to understand the oath.” [p. 31]

Heinlein’s writing is often ragged and a bit disorganised. Thought through with great sophistication, it is not. Heinlein is a highly readable and creative writer, but he is no great intellectual. His better books, like this one, can be recommended for teenage assignment and for discussion of society and ethics. They are also interesting background reading for social studies.

This book is often written in a clumsy fashion and, at the very least, Heinlein’s knowledge of psychology has been overtaken. Here is an example of an assertion that is contradicted later at p.155:

“Man has no moral instinct. he is not born with a moral sense” [p. 103]


“What is moral sense? it is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. the instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it.”

There is much more, but it is not so; humans (and animals) are born without moral instincts. Yes, moral instinct does grow through natural experiences but it is clearly an embedded tendency. There are several things humans and animals learn in the natural course of maturation that are not there at birth - for instance, speech or walking. These can be stymied by an ‘unnatural’ ‘environment’ such as never hearing speech. However, this is different than (can be distinguished from) learning to ride a bicycle. Heinlein confuses these.

Further, like Adolf Hitler and others, Heinlein has an immature/crude understanding of ‘survival’. It is not ‘the instinct to survive’, crudely put, that drives human action. Human behaviour is much more a reflection of what in the past enabled your parents to survive, and often in very different environments. For example, a major element of passing on your genes in present society is a willingness to breed fecklessly, while relying on government handouts. These are behaviours that certainly would not represent a survival strategy in a less effete society. Nevertheless, should that pattern long persist in modern society, any genetic tendency to live as a human parasite would spread until willing hosts became less available.

Now, a little later from Starship Troopers [p.155] is the contradiction to the assertion [p.103] quoted previously:

“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.”

Note that Heinlein’s world view is often quite socialistic, in fact. For instance, Heinlein tended to assume a citizen army with much more mixing and ‘equality’ in ranks than is common in armies. In fact, some of his social attitudes/theories are quite like those of Adolf Hitler, and involve a similar crudity.


Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

pbk, 1987, Berkley Pub Group, 0441783589 $5.20 []
pbk, 1975, New English Library, 0450025764 2.25 []

Edition used for quotations:
Hodder and Stoughton, 2005, pbk, 0340837934

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