I suppose I should first answer the burning question uppermost in all your minds: What the hell is a libertarian? (Please note I use a lowercase “l”.)
Trouble is, there isn’t any single universally accepted definition. Ask a thousand libertarians and you’ll get 1022 definitions. And I hate definitions—they’re straight-jackets. But strip away all the rhetoric and what you’ve got is an unshakable reverence for and commitment to the individual’s right to self-determination. And it logically follows that if all individuals have the right to their own lives, then no single individual or group of individuals—no matter how large—has the right to use force against another individual. As a song went in the Sixties when I was in college: “Go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do, with whoever you want, Babe”…as long as that “whoever” wants to do and go with you. Put more crudely: Swing your fist any way you please, just don’t hit anyone’s nose. Or more succinctly: Laissez-faire.
You are free. If you are able, you can accumulate three cubic acres of cash, put it all in one big building, install a diving board and swim in it; or you can give it all to the poor (or better yet, build some factories and give those poor jobs); or eschew all wealth and live with some like-minded people on a farm in pure agrarian communism. No other social system—or non-system, as we like to say—allows you such latitude. You are free. You can explore all the possibilities of human existence, Just as long as you don’t apply force to others in order to make them share your vision. That is the ideal libertarian world.
Which right now can only live in fiction. The Prometheus Award was born to honor works of fiction which moat closely approximate that ideal in their pages. The reason I have the mike in my hand at this moment is that my second novel, Wheels Within Wheels, won the first Prometheus Award in 1979. My third novel, An Enemy of the State, was a finalist for the second. A novella I named “The Tery” which was published in Jim Frenkel’s Binary Star #2, has become a libertarian favorite. All of which prompted a fan at a Lunacon a few years ago to introduce me to his girlfriend as “F. Paul Wilson—he writes libertarian sf.”
As I’ve said, I don’t like labels. I don’t even like to be called a libertarian—but “libertarian sf writer”! I vowed that my next book would be neither sf nor libertarian. It turned out to be a horror fantasy called The Keep and I did my damnedest to keep libertarianism out of it. The protagonist’s moneybelt full of gold coins snuck in there, but for the most part I succeeded. Wasn’t easy though. Libertarianism is not a suit of clothes you can put on and take off. It’s ingrained in the heart and in the mind. It’s in your cells. It’s a worldview and it colors all your perceptions.
But it’s not as much fun being a libertarian anymore. In the Sixties, a libertarian was a complete oddball. You didn’t have the name “libertarian” to hold up. You didn’t know how many others there were like you—or IF there were any others like you. You were a freak. No one knew what to do with you. But you could have FUN! You could blow people’s minds by being anti-draft and pro-gold, anti-social security and pro-Lenny Bruce. You were a scandal to everyone in the middle of the road; the John Birchers didn’t want you ‘cause you didn’t see anything wrong with legalizing the smoking of a certain weed; the New Left thought you were groovy til you started talking up laissez-faire capitalism as the only truly moral economic system…stopping their poor little Marxist hearts in mid-beat. You gave them ALL a rash.
Look what’s happened since then. Everyone now knows that the social security system is nothing more than a giant chain letter. Richard Pryor plays the Hollywood Bowl and every other word is one of the ones Lenny Bruce used to get busted for; and the draft is gone and will stay gone unless certain elected officials—most notably, my favorite fascist Ted Kennedy—have their way and bring it back. And gold is legal.
Did I ever have fun with gold in the mid-seventies.
“Hey, Paul! What are you putting our money into?”
“Uh, mostly my mortgage payments, but I’m using whatever’s left over to buy gold.”
“Yeah. It’s only $102 an ounce.”
“$102 an ounce? You jerk! It’s only worth $35! Aw. You’re kidding me! Hey Tony! Wilson says he’s buying gold! Whatta clown!”
I just smiled. I knew. All libertarians knew where gold was going.
But back to how things have changed. Would you believe there’s even a Libertarian Party now. A decade ago, some of us thought that was impossible. (Some of us still think it’s impossible. But I won’t open that can of worms...)
Being a libertarian these days is almost—ugh—respectable. I can’t stand it.
I remember when Neil Smith called me in the summer of ‘79 to tell me Wheels Within Wheels had won the Award—$2500 in gold at the time—I wasn’t sure of my feelings. I was naturally elated to have been chosen, but had reservations about accepting an award from a political party. I hesitated. Neil wasn’t aware of my hesitation because it’s hard for the human mind to appreciate a nanosecond. During that nanosecond, a still small voice spoke from the back of my brain. It said. “Hey! Schmuck! It’s 2500 bucks—in gold!” So I said, “Thank you Mr. Smith, I’d be proud to accept the award.”
This year, as last year, the award is being presented by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which maintains a certain discreet distance from the party. (A libertarian futurist, in case you didn’t know, is someone who, when you tell him that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes, will differ with you on both counts.)
The envelope please…
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