Don’t do anything

Saturday, March 6th, 2021

The MacGuffin in Glory Road is the Egg of the Phoenix, a cybernetic record of the experiences of two hundred and three “emperors” and “empresses,” most of whom “ruled” all the known universes — and serves as an excuse for Heinlein to share his thoughts on politics:

For the one thing that stood out as this empirical way of running an empire grew up was that the answer to most problems was: Don’t do anything. Always King Log, never King Stork — “Live and let live.” “Let well enough alone.” “Time is the best physician.” “Let sleeping dogs lie.” “Leave them alone and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.” Even positive edicts of the Imperium were usually negative in form: Thou Shalt Not Blow Up Thy Neighbors’ Planet. (Blow up your own if you wish.) Hands off the guardians of the Gates. Don’t demand justice, you too will be judged.

Above all, don’t put serious problems to a popular vote.

Our hero meets a comparative culturologist from one of the many other inhabited planets:

But tell me: How were things when you left? Especially, how is the United States getting along with its Noble Experiment?”

“ ‘Noble Experiment’?” I had to think; Prohibition was gone before I was born. “Oh, that was repealed.”

“Really? I must go back for a field trip. What have you now? A king? I could see that your country was headed that way but I did not expect it so soon.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I was talking about Prohibition.”

“Oh, that. Symptomatic but not basic. I was speaking of the amusing notion of chatter rule. ‘Democracy.’ A curious delusion — as if adding zeros could produce a sum. But it was tried in your tribal land on a mammoth scale. Before you were born, no doubt. I thought you meant that even the corpse had been swept away.” He smiled. “Then they still have elections and all that?”

One of our hero’s companions later adds:

“Except that he sees only the surface. Democracy can’t work. Mathematicians, peasants, and animals, that’s all there is — so democracy, a theory based on the assumption that mathematicians and peasants are equal, can never work. Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.

“But a democratic form of government is okay, as long as it doesn’t work. Any social organization does well enough if it isn’t rigid. The framework doesn’t matter as long as there is enough looseness to permit that one man in a multitude to display his genius. Most so-called social scientists seem to think that organization is everything. It is almost nothing — except when it is a straitjacket. It is the incidence of heroes that counts, not the pattern of zeros.”

He added, “Your country has a system free enough to let its heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time — unless its looseness is destroyed from inside.”


“I could never be a democrat at heart. To claim to ‘respect’ and even to ‘love’ the great mass with their yaps at one end and smelly feet at the other requires the fatuous, uncritical, saccharine, blind, sentimental slobbishness found in some nursery supervisors, most spaniel dogs, and all missionaries. It isn’t a political system, it’s a disease. But be of good cheer; your American politicians are immune to this disease…and your customs allow the non-zero elbow room.


  1. Grasspunk says:

    “Above all, don’t put serious problems to a popular vote.”

    Guessing David Cameron didn’t read Glory Road before he promised the Brexit referendum.

  2. Harper’s Notes says:

    On a cross-country driving trip I listened to the unabridged unedited original audiobook 1961 version of Stranger in a Strange Land. It was very, very long. Perhaps even three times as long. All the extra text consisted of long monologues of Heinlein’s somewhat extreme libertarian thinking. Of interest to Heinlein scholars (nerds) perhaps, but really boring and somewhat naive, I think. The editor(s) deserve an A+ on that one.

  3. VXXC says:

    Well the Age of Democracy ran from Andrew Jackson through Hoover and ended with FDR. One could debate that.

    We can of course mention that we used to be a Republic, until this year anyway. Debatable I suppose.

    What we can’t debate is we have the rule of wizards and mathematicians now, in fact since FDR, and that they’ve mathed away and scienced away democracy. Also any actual heroes, they have no tolerance for such. The regime’s hero is Karen.

    Can we say that we’re better off in 2021 for having done in democracy, now that we see the mathematicians in all their glory?

  4. Gavin Longmuir says:


    A mathematician would certainly point out that an equation has to balance. No-one can run a Balance of Trade deficit for ever. A scientist would note that nuclear power is more carbon-neutral than windmills or solar panels and much more efficient in terms of use of land and materials.

    The problem we have is not with scientists or mathematicians; it is with our incompetent deluded Political Class. Clearly democracy has failed when “We the People” elect such worthless specimens as our representatives. Did democracy fail us? Or did we fail democracy?

  5. VXXC says:


    We haven’t elected our government in decades; all that happened was it’s now in the open.

    The President can’t fire people, and no one from SES can get fired. See Humphrey’s Executors, the legally Independent from the Executive/President status of the Federal Reserve, CIA, NLRB, FCC, SES, and others. Basically most of the 20th century additions to government can’t be fired, and are collectively their own boss. The above list is our Finances and currency and banking, the Intelligence organs, Labor, Communications and the SES is of course Senior Executive Service, see Fauci.

    The entire government Fronde against Trump was he thought he was President of the United States ala Article II, that’s been a dead letter since FDR. This is the LAW Gavin.

    The Laws and indeed our working Constitution are indeed the Federal Register. They have the power of judicial and constructive notice since 1935 SCOTUS decision.

    We don’t elect our government Gavin, we elect Politicians who pretend to be our government.

    Now lets understand those politicians COULD be dangerous should they decide to try and regain Constitutional government, but they’ve just fixed that but good in DC.

    We didn’t fail democracy Gavin, the voters in the 1930s did, as did their politicians. All that has changed is they’re exposed.

    The possible potential good news is America does not have Unitary government, America is a Federation. That leaves potential openings for the States and indeed the Citizens: who will fail and fail with no doubt or deceit to blame that they are cowards, that we are cowards. It’s quite blatant.

    And democracy is the one government that CAN’T fail the people, by definition the people fail democracy.

    So here’s our big chance, whether we like it or not.

  6. Mmcshrry says:

    Harper’s Notes,

    According to William Patterson’s biography of RAH, Heinlein did the editing of the originally published Stranger in a Strange Land himself. RAH cut the 220,000 words down to 160,083 by mid-January, 1961. Putnam had agreed to publish The Man from Mars if Heinlein could do a 150,000-word cut, but relented and allowed the 10,000+ extra words. The title, Stranger in a Strange Land, was agreed upon with Putnam in a March 22nd telephone call.

  7. Jim says:

    “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

    “If you’re so competent, why aren’t you running things?”

    It must be because you just don’t want it. Yeah, that’s it.

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