Hari Seldon and the liberal punditocracy

By Razib Khan | March 29, 2010 12:59 pm

Matt Yglesias muses on the possible influence of Isaac Asimove’s Foundation series on the way he looks at the world. Interestingly, Paul Krugman admits his debt to this series as well in getting him interested in economics. Unlike Robert Heinlein or mentor John W. Campbell Asimov was a political liberal. It is not uncommon for nerdy males, who are disproportionately represented in the pundit-class, to go through a science fiction phase in their youth. It would be interesting to see how interests in various authors tracked their current political positioning (I’d bet money that Poul Anderson is more popular with people who work at the Cato Institute).

Note: William Sims Bainbridge’s Dimensions of Science Fiction explores the various demographic trends which characterize the science fiction subculture. Politically there’s a bimodal distribution between liberals and libertarians, with more traditional conservatives such as Jerry Pournelle being the exception.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Science Fiction

Comments (6)

  1. Another famous data point is Newt Gingrich, who discusses his inspiration as a kid by Asimov’s Foundation in his 1996 book. He draws a comparison between the “dead hand” concept of the fictional Hari Seldon with the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith.

    I myself was a big Asimov fan and have gradually drifted from relatively moderate conservatism into wacky borderline-minarchist land, so add one more point to the bimodal distribution theory.

  2. Interesting. While I read a lot of Asimov I never cared for Heinlein as a kid but I loved Pournell and Niven who are both notably conservative. (Even though I find Pournell’s conspiratorial views of a lot of science about the environment pretty silly) As you say though, there just aren’t that many conservatives. Orson Scott Card almost fits but he’s an odd duck. He’s conservative in some things (foreign policy, “moral” issues) but extremely liberal in others (social equality).

  3. To add, how you read Foundation and his later (poorly written) attempts to reconcile his Foundation series with his robot series really varies. I tended to find many elements horrific that I suspect liberals might have liked. Particularly when you find out the role of the robots doing social engineering of the humans.

  4. miko

    “Particularly when you find out the role of the robots doing social engineering of the humans.”
    Yeah, eagerly awaiting our metallic overlords is totally a liberal talking point. Apparently you’ve been watching our secret “public television” stations.

    Am I the only one, who even as a ten year old, found “psychohistory” just stupid? I haven’t read a lot of sci-fi, and while I enjoyed the scope of the Foundation series, the characters and plot were ridiculous. It’s no “I’m in Marsport Without Hilda!”

  5. trajan23

    It’s odd, but finding out that Krugman was a huge fan of Asimov’s Foundation series has given me a tremendous egoboost.I read the series when I was 12, and I distinctly recall being very unimpressed. The prose was very pedestrian in style. Even worse, the concept of psychohistory struck my 12 year old mind as ludicrous;how could Seldon’s plan account for technological change, environmental catastrophes, etc.For that matter, the whole idea that an event like the European Dark Ages could recur in the context of a Galactic Empire was simply too feeble-minded for my 12 year old self.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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