Heinlein’s Future History: Coming True Before Our Eyes

David Brin
7 min readMar 25, 2017


You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. — Robert A. Heinlein, Revolt in 2100

Science Fiction author Robert A. Heinlein’s 1953 “Future History” collection, Revolt in 2100, vividly portrays citizens rising up against an authoritarian theocracy which has taken root in America. A succession of fundamentalist despots have ruled for nearly a century, dating back to the First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder. John Lyle, a graduate of West Point and now a member of the Prophet’s elite guard “Angels of the Lord,” joins an underground revolt when he finally begins to question the society under which he always lived:

“I began to sense faintly that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy … censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, ‘This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,’ the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.” — Robert Heinlein, If This Goes On

Does that sound familiar?

As a fellow Science Fiction author, Heinlein largely raised me, and I resent it when some folks lazily dismiss Heinlein as a “right winger” or even “fascist.” Sure, there are ways in which he reads rather retro, today…. and he yelled “get off my lawn!” at hippies who came to pay homage, after Stranger in a Strange Land. But he truly saw himself as a champion of equal rights and equal opportunity, even if his characters can seem cringeworthy, through modern eyes. Rather Heinlein’s libertarianism is of a Jeffersonian-Adam Smithian variety.

Of course, our chief overlap is seen in that extract, above. Heinlein and I both portray light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen’s duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing. Transparency is key to reciprocal accountability, which we use to be both free and smart. It is the miracle tool that enables us to question the lies of monsters.

Heinlein’s prophetic view

Is it ironic that the author of a novel about false prophets nailed the future so well? Oh, but it gets much better. Especially the paragraph in bold, below.

Here, I’d like to quote extensively from Revolt in 2100’s afterword, “Concerning Stories Never Written,” in which Robert Heinlein takes an incisive look at a possible dark future for our country:

As for … the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past.

“It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

“Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country — Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva’s Zion, Smith’s Nauvoo, and a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not — but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck.

“Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening — particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.”

Heinlein wrote that in the early 1950s! Is there anything he did not hit right on the head? Heck, he even nailed the dominionist “Prosperity Gospel” so popular among Ted Cruz types, promising fervid followers that their “material heaven here on earth” will come by righteously seizing the property of unbelievers. (Late note: a prosperity gospel preacher keynotes Donald Trump’s inauguration.)

Seriously, read his last paragraph (above) again. Then recall that Heinlein portrayed Nehemiah Scudder taking the White House against the will of a majority, in 2012. (He also spoke of America sinking into “The Crazy Years.”)

Oh, but back to Heinlein’s essay. It gets even more amazing:

“I imagined Nehemiah Scudder as a backwoods evangelist who combined some of the features of John Calvin, Savonarola, Judge Rutherford and Huey Long. His influence was not national until after the death of Mrs. Rachel Biggs…. who left Brother Scudder several millions of dollars with which to establish a television station. Shortly thereafter he teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state; they placed their affairs in the hands of a major advertising agency and were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtroopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name — sheets, passwords, grips, and all. It was a “good gimmick” once and still served. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.

“Impossible? Remember the Klan in the ‘Twenties — and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. Remember Karl Marx and note how close that unscientific piece of nonsense called Das Kapital has come to smothering out all freedom of thought on half a planet, without — mind you — the emotional advantage of calling it a religion. The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.”

Give Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 a read (available for Kindle.)

Are the parallels with our present situation perfect? Well, no. For one thing, there is the spectacular hypocrisy of U.S. fundamentalist Christians gushing their fervid support for a man who is — in every conceivable measure of action or character — the diametric opposite of Jesus. Even Heinlein could not have written that.

No, this has to be a clarion call. Members of the American center and moderate-left must get past their clichés… like the insipid stupidity of calling old-fashioned Jeffersonian libertarians like Heinlein “right-wingers.” For one thing, anyone who loves science, nowadays is, by definition, no member of that cult.

We must be welcoming of fellow citizens who flee the rising madness. Soon, these will include waves of ‘retiring’ U.S. military and intelligence officers, potential allies of stunning value in our task of saving civilization! So do not listen to fools on the far-left, who would spit in the faces of such refugees. The far-left can be as crazy as the entire-right has become. Especially if they would reflexively spurn powerful allies, just because they have good posture and sport crewcuts.

Or powerful inspirations, like the science fiction author and American, Robert A. Heinlein.

The meta problem, here

Look, there’s one more factor at work now. Fear. When that emotion reigns, even the side that believes in openness and originality shuts down psychologically. At the very moment when we need a wide stance and originality, mass media have circled the wagons, allocating op-ed soapboxes to pals who re-word the same whines, over and over.

Like the latest wave of ill-considered reactions, screaming about the Trumps’ increase in military spending, as liberals fall for a baited trap, reflexively shouting hate at the Military Officer Corps, spurning another set of victims, another fact-centered profession. This is the stupidest thing we could possibly do, right now.

It’s not that they are wrong in opposing this tsunami of Confederate madness! Their mistake is a belief that the Union can win this phase of civil war with “resistance” alone, pushing back with grunting sumo. Again and again I cry — as Heinlein did — that this is a time for agility. For judo.

== Final note: Honor the legacy of Heinlein and Pay It Forward! Support the efforts of the Heinlein Society — which promotes education, blood drives and provides books to veterans.



David Brin

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.