Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Isaac Asimov and the Submission to Law
In an earlier post I spoke about the necessity of submission to Law as a form of salvation from "every man doing what is right in their eyes." I was recently reading an Isaac Asimov novel, The Stars, Like Dust, that, in its own way made a similar point.
Before I continue, I might as well say something about the novel as a whole. It is very typical Isaac Asimov, both in its strengths and weaknesses. It is a pan galactic mystery novel with a square jawed hero, Biron Farril, a female companion, Artemisia oth Hinriad, who serves no purpose but to be a mindless damsel in distress and fall madly in love with the hero midway through the book, and a wise old comically endearing scientist, Gilbret, to serve as the voice of reason, off on an adventure through space. Writing in 1951, Asimov did an incredible job covering the technicalities of hyperspace travel with plausible sounding jargon. That being said he has his characters stick paper labels on ship controls, and smoke cigarettes on a space ship. One can only imagine: "Welcome aboard my spaceship. Please take a cigarette. No need to worry about such primitive diseases as lung cancer; you will be blown to bits by the exploding oxygen long before that." Asimov had this problem covered by something even more bizarre. He seemed to have assumed that it is necessary to constantly breath in carbon so his spaceships have carbon in their atmosphere and his spacesuits have small carbon emitters. I have no idea where he got that idea. Perhaps one of my readers who know something about 1950s science could help me out here.
Our heroes, Biron, Artemisia and Gilbret are on the run in a stolen space cruiser from the evil Tyrannians (pun very much intended). Seeking to free the Nebula Kingdoms, our heroes search for the hidden rebel world. Along the way, another mystery keeps floating over their heads; there are references to a secret document from ancient Earth that if ever revealed would destroy the Tyrannians. While fighting for freedom and justice, our heroes have a problem; they are all noblemen and, as such, illegitimately rule over their subjects just much as the Tyrannians do over them. In fighting against the Tyrannians are they merely seeking to replace them? This ceases to be an idle question when they come up against a rebel leader, who trying to do precisely that.
After many twists and turns (and Asimov was nothing if not clever), our heroes finally find the rebellion and meet its leader. The leader, it turns out, has heard of the secret document from Earth and even has it in his possession. Biron breathlessly asks the leader to reveal what is in this document; how could a mere document be so powerful as to destroy an empire? The leader explains that, yes, this document, once revealed, will destroy the Tyrannians as well as the nobility, paving the way for a truly just government. He begins to recite the text by heart: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
And the novel ends just like that.
There is a simple beauty to Asimov with his utter faith in classical liberal principles, that a free society combined with scientific rationalism could bring the salvation of society. As ironic as this might sound talking about an agnostic scientific rationalist, but, in reading Asimov, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the force of his faith as it demands that I too submit myself to the power of such law and put my faith in it. (See also On the Comforts of Reading Isaac Asimov.)