Conservative Utopias and Dystopias

Conservatism connotes many different things: church, capitalism, limited government, nationalism, tradition, acceptance of inequality, rule of law, distain for unrestrained democracy, and even once included environmental conservation. So I have cast a rather large net to capture idealized conservative societies – and criticisms thereof.

Click the pictures for more info and/or to buy.

Conservative Utopias

A good place to start would be Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God's Eye On the surface it is an alien first contact story with a twist: a far flung human empire finds the aliens, yet the alien civilization is older are more advanced. The story is well worth reading for having one of the most well imagined alien races ever penned. But I include it here for the very conservative human civilization which mixes aspects of the British Empire and ancient Sparta. Jerry Pournelle went on to backfill how this civilization arose from a collapsing welfare state in books such as High Justice , Exile and Glory , and quite a few others (some with collaborators).

Crime is out of control in the cities, so the upper middle class is moving into giant managed megabuildings to escape the chaos. Such is the backdrop of Oath of Fealty another Niven-Pournelle collaboration. The work asks how much privacy would you be willing to give up in order to have full security? And it suggests how a new feudalism could arise from a dysfunctional democratic society if we are not careful.

Much like Ronald Reagan, Robert Heinlein went from ultra left-liberal to somewhere between conservative and libertarian after seeing communism in action. Starship Troopers is Heinlein at his most conservative. Unlimited democracy leads to corruption; the solution is having to earn the right to vote. The Arachnids are out to get humanity; the solution is a crack volunteer army with brutally realistic training. (The book is largely a critique of how we fought the Korean War.) I don’t agree with all of Heinlein’s recommendations in this book, but it’s a great read and quite thought-provoking. It’s also a good antidote for the unrealistic isolationism favored by many libertarians. (P.S. avoid the movie! Read the book.)

For those of a more religious conservative bent, be sure to read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books. Yes, they are written for kids, but there are plenty of deep insights and jabs at the progressives for adult readers. Read them in the correct order. Some boxed sets put The Magician’s Nephew as the first book, when it should be Book 6. Also: the second book, Prince Caspian, is not as good as the rest. Do read it for context, but realize that the books get much better afterwards.

For a more adult take on C.S. Lewis utopian thinking, read , the first in his space trilogy . The first portrays his utopia, a world where three different intelligent species coexist. The second is a long theological rumination. The third is pure attack on the progressivism of his day – it is a Christian analog of Atlas Shrugged, featuring many similar villains.

For a non-religious take on the theme of diversity through non-democratic hierarchy, try Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine's Castle and its sequels.

For those who would still mix conservation and conservatism, a great place to start would be with Jack Vance’s works. I recommend his series, The Demon Princes , a series I have reread multiple times for sheer enjoyment. On the surface, these are not utopian novels; they are detective/revenge stories against five extremely quirky master criminals who destroyed the hero’s colony. But the backdrop of these stories features a wild array of human civilizations scattered across hundreds of worlds, civilizations that are truly human, both for good and ill. There is no overarching empire, and no Singularity. How this is achieved is truly interesting…

For a more explicit mix of conservatism and conservation, see Vance’s Araminta Station and its sequels.

For positive conservative portrayals on movies/television, you generally need to go back to before 1970. Television portrayed an America where private citizens casually owned weapons, fathers were wise, free range children explored their neighborhoods unsupervised, and children had respect for their elders. Even the liberal shows of the day are conservative by today’s standards. The original Star Trek defended America’s Cold War, had two anti abortion episodes, and endorsed Christianity. And, like The Demon Princes, Star Trek rejected The Singularity as unsuitable for humans. The only robots are alien, and cause mischief to humans. Attempts at genetically improving humans proved disastrous in the 20th Century and were since rejected. Note also the ineffectiveness of Federation medicine and the limits on the ship’s computer power. These were intentional plot features, as the crew encountered post-Singularity civilizations, or the remains thereof, frequently.

But for the most blatantly conservative utopia on television, break out The Andy Griffith Show. Yes, it is a silly comedy, but silly comedy is perhaps the best way to make a true utopia entertaining. (It’s kind of hard to have true drama when everything is working reasonably well.)

For the economic conservatives in the audience, check out the libertarian utopias for positive portrayals for extremely capitalistic societies.

Conservatives might also enjoy reading dystopian take-downs of non-conservative political positions, especially eeconomic leftist dystopias and social liberal dystopias. Some of the authoritarian and libertarian dystopias might also be entertaining to some of you.

But if you seek balance through criticism, try some of the conservative dystopias below.

Conservative Dystopias

Since Hollywood is full of liberals, my go-to source of conservative dystopias is movies over books. Some of these movies are good enough that you might enjoy them even if you are a conservative.

For a gentle warm-up, how about a conservative dystopia starring conservative icon Charlton Heston: Soylent Green. It’s a well-done wakeup call for those in denial over global warming or the need for birth control. (Yes, global warming is featured and the movie came out in 1973, well before Al Gore took the national stage.)

Mix corporate domination with heavy-handed police and you get movies like Robocop, The Running Man, and Total Recall . For a sustained hatefest of all things Republican, try James Cameron’s Dark Angel series. The first season is well done; the second gets kind of goofy. For a few more examples dystopias of corporations run amok, see the libertarian dystopias

For written literature, try Fredrick Pohl’s Gateway [18+] for a well done dystopia inequality and environmental destruction. John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider [18+] is perhaps the first cyberpunk novel – written well before the term was coined – and features runaway corporatism and intelligence agencies.

For a dystopia featuring an out of control religious government, try If This Goes On, a novella in Robert Heinlein’s future history. (This book also features a utopian short story, “Coventry” based on the City of Refuge provision in the Bible. Heinlein had a love-hate relationship with the Bible; Biblical references are scattered throughout his works, both positive and critical.)

(The book and movie links are affiliate links. The reviews are genuine.)