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Has science fiction co-opted political philosophy?

Ethan SmithEthan Smith Origin name: Beart4toArlington, VARegistered User regular
edited May 2010 in Debate and/or Discourse
apologies for the shakily written intro, I kinda came up with this thought during a walk, and it's a huge thought so it's going to come out jumbled

There have been a great many changes in the past several hundred years, I doubt many people could argue with this. This world of things has affected the world of ideas in massive ways. Whereas a writer two hundred years ago had what information they chose to consume, in the form of novels, periodicals, and plays, a writer now is completely inundated with information.

This has massively changed the world of philosophy, and especially of political philosophy, because so many things are political now. The realm of politics has washed over the media and academia, as well as everyday life. Unlike before, when many if not most philosophers were independent forces if they operated outside of the royal courts, now to be an independent force a philosopher must not be involved in the media, the universities, or the comparatively massive state. Nor can he write to those organizations either. Had Machiavelli written now, he would be working for the Department of State, Homeland Security, or Defense, or any of the huge number of NGO's involved in foreign and domestic policy.

So while a form of philosophy--analysis--has survived in a similar form since the writing of the Prince, something which was a very important part of the lives of most philosophers has to some degree disappeared, at least from political philosophy. Since Plato and Socrates, the philosopher has existed only partially within society. A great deal of them have been outsiders, from Marx to Thoreau. But the political writers of today, the public intellectuals, are very much within society, whether it is the media, the state, or the university. Who, then, plays the purpose of the outsider?

George Orwell, during the beginning of his writing career, found that he had very little success. On a technical level, he was a bad writer, and he was mostly writing down the social democrat line. He gained some fame after writing about the Spanish Civil War, but not much. It was only after he started writing speculative fiction that he became a great public intellectual. Now, the political philosopher is no stranger to speculative fiction. The Republic, the first story of a utopia in Western fiction, was a speculation at what it would take to create a perfect society. Within the same period of time as 1984, The Plague was written, which was a metaphor about fascism seen through the perspective of how people would react to a plague.

However, 1984 was the first massively popular story that fit both in political and science fiction. After this point, speculation--the other side of philosophy--has been largely in the realm of science fiction. This has gone from unquestionably political works, such as Jennifer Government or Atlas Shrugged, to works which shed light on an issue, such as District 9, to works which look at society from another angle, such as cyberpunk or the later works of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick.

So, as academics have steadily been losing ground in the realm of speculation to concentrated writers, we must ask ourselves, has the speculative part of philosophy been co opted by science fiction? And secondly, is this a good or a bad thing?

Ethan Smith on


  • Ethan SmithEthan Smith Origin name: Beart4to Arlington, VARegistered User regular
    edited May 2010
    note--I also wanted to write about how many politically speculative works before the science fiction became big were utopias, while much of political science fiction is about dystopias, but I couldn't fit it in

    Ethan Smith on
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