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Take Back Your Government

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Robert A. Heinlein

Science Fiction Grand Master Robert A. Heinlein discuss government and poltiics in a book originally written in the 1950's.

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publisher: Baen (July 1, 1992)
1 review about Take Back Your Government

Hardcore Robert Heinlein Fans Will Enjoy This

  • Mar 6, 2009
  • by

Hardcore Heinlein fans will find Take Back Your Government to be an engaging monologue on democracy and American government. Take Back Your Government, as the title suggests, is a polemic, albeit a light-hearted one, about the importance of participation in a democratic system of government. Heinlein often states that if people do not participate in democracy, then they cannot complain about the corruption and malfeasance of their government. He strongly asserts that people participating in politics does matter. Heinlein's key message is that democracy can only survive if citizens participate and take responsibility for their government. He conveys substantial anecdotal evidence where one ordinary person or groups of people, participating in politics, made a difference. Without citizen participation, government becomes atrophied both morally and effectually.

Although written in 1947 and a bit out-of-date, one of the basic premises of the book, that local government matters and is the place to start if you are interested in politics, still holds true today. The book is filled with Heinlein's witticisms and conjectures about the democratic political process. One can find little fault with the facts and opinions Heinlein expresses vis a vis local politics at mid-century. Those familiar with academic literature on urban machines, the reform movement, and local politics will find Heinlein's analysis both accurate and humorous. The only time I found Heinlein's analysis to be questionable was in his too optimistic outlook for the possibility and efficacy of starting a third political party in the United States. History and precedent suggest that third parties are greatly disadvantaged in the American system of government for reasons too numerous to examine here. Probably the most enjoyable chapter is the second to last entitled "Footnotes on Democracy". Therein, Heinlein maintains that if the United State's did not have any Communists "we would almost be forced to create some". He goes on to aver:

"any social field or group in which Communists make real strides in gaining members or acceptance of their doctrines...is in bad shape from real and not imaginary social ills [and] the rest of us should take emergency, drastic action to investigate and correct the trouble. Unfortunately we are more prone to ignore the sick spot thus disclosed and content ourselves with calling out more cops (pages 223-224)."

Maybe Heinlein is not quite the authoritarian his detractors would have us believe.

Heinlein also has some interesting insights on the role of lawyers in politics that ring true today. Specifically, he notes about the creation of laws: "[lawyers] assert that their special language is necessary, as ordinary speech is not sufficiently exact...[yet] lawyers are forever disputing as to what a law means after they have written it" (page 225). These are just a few examples of Heinlein's clever analysis of American politics.

Take Back Your Government was published, I assume, mainly for fans of Robert A. Heinlein. I doubt non-Heinlein fans would find the book particularly interesting. The book, from an academic standpoint, is pedestrian and dated. Therefore, the audience most likely to enjoy this book are those who have some interest in Heinlein's works.

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