Egalitarianism taken to coercive extremes in attacks on excellence: Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron,” the 2019 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as anti-authoritarian or pro-freedom, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of all past award-winners.

Here is an Appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron,” the 2019 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction.

By Michael Grossberg
The government’s Handicapper General enforces new constitutional amendments mandating that no one can be stupider, uglier, weaker, slower – or in any way better – than anyone else.

To enforce this authoritarian and radical egalitarian edict, perfectly capable people are forced to accept and wear various disabling devices that handicap their capabilities and basic humanity.

Leave it to the great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to come up with such a classic cautionary fable about a dystopian future in the United States in which coercive egalitarianism – a close cousin of progressivism – is taken to such radical and inhuman extremes in a perverse authoritarian revolt against personal excellence.

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Honoring Kurt Vonnegut for Harrison Bergeron: Hall of Fame acceptance speeches

Kurt Vonnegut’s cautionary fable “Harrison Bergeron” was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame at the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, Ireland – where acceptance statements by the late Vonnegut’s family and by the Vonnegut Museum and Library were read.

In ‘Harrison Bergeron,’ first published in 1961 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vonnegut blends a satirical and tragic tone in depicting a dystopian future in the United States where constitutional amendments and a Handicapper General mandate that no one can be stupider, uglier, weaker, slower (or better) than anyone else. Vonnegut dramatizes the destruction of people’s lives and talents and the obliteration of basic humanity via a denial of emotions and knowledge that leaves parents unable to mourn a son’s death. ‘Harrison Bergeron’ exposes and mourns the chilling authoritarian consequences of radical egalitarianism taken to an inhuman and Orwellian extreme that denies individuality, diversity and the opportunity to excel.

The sons and daughters of Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) sent a short statement, in the wry self-deprecating spirit of their father, which was read at the ceremony:
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