One of the libertarian movement’s recent proposals for a strategy for attaining a freer society is the “free state movement.” In brief, this recommends that libertarians should choose one of the less populous American states and move there in sufficient numbers to influence or even take over its state and local governments. In Molṑn Labé! “ ” (a pseudonym for Kenneth W. Royce) examines how this proposal might work out. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the time to learn how to write fiction before doing so, and the resulting effort is at best amateurish.
To start with, a substantial part of this book isn’t narrative at all, but essays on various topics. Some of these describe the novel’s fictional future, and their inclusion as part of a work of fiction could be justified, but they’re not smoothly integrated with the rest of the text. Others present the author’s views of the actual present-day world, and ought to have been left out entirely.
Beyond that, Molṑn Labé! repeatedly violates the old maxim, “Show, don’t tell!” Part of the craft of fiction is to come up with imagined facts, present them, and let readers draw their own conclusions from their reactions to those facts. Many passages in this book offer the reader not imagined facts, but the author’s interpretation of those facts, or even the author’s value judgments of characters, events, and states of affairs, which the reader is apparently supposed to accept on trust. In fact, several passages show characters in the book reaching value judgments which the reader is apparently supposed to accept on the strength of those characters being good and heroic (the characters are readily identifiable as Good Guys and Bad Guys), without actual evidence, from a woman on an airplane who is classified as an evil liberal environmentalist by her “pony-tailed brunette hair . . . heavily streaked with gray”and her choice of clothing styles to a writer who is judged as deserving death because he advocates world government.
The novel’s title refers to the reply of the king of Sparta to the Persian emperor’s offer to accept a surrender if the Spartans would lay down their arms; freely translated, it means, “Come and take them in battle.” To “”’s credit, he takes his premise as far as realizing that it leads toward the prospect of succession, and toward military confrontation with the federal government. To his discredit, he fails to deliver either of the things his title promises, a heroic last stand by the forces of freedom, or a desperate victory of an armed populace over the United States Army. Instead, his imagined free state of Wyoming survives because the federal government is subjected to nuclear blackmail with stolen hydrogen bombs. In terms of simple fictional technique, this is a failure to carry through with his story.
There are also questions to be asked about the author’s libertarian values. A credible nuclear threat against the United States government entails a willingness to kill thousands, if not millions of other Americans, many innocent of any wrongdoing; this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to defend in libertarian terms. And in parallel to the overt progress of the free state movement, Molṑn Labé! shows us an underground movement, the Krassnyites, devoted to killing politically undesirable people. The message in which Harold Krassny announces his two killings states only the following facts about them (as opposed to moral judgments against them made by Krassny): that the first was a Hollywood media figure who ran for the United States Senate and developed presidential ambitions and that the second was an advocate of world government who favored United Nations jurisdiction over the United States. Objectionable as such people might be, the right to hold wrong ideas is a cornerstone of libertarianism. Neither a series of secretive killings nor the theft and threatened use of hydrogen bomb warheads has any good reason to be part of a story about the free state movement, and their presence weakens the novel as fiction; and its expressed sympathy for acts of political violence—for assassination and terrorism—undermine its claim to be an expression of libertarianism.
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