Lion of the Blogosphere

Farnham’s Freehold, review

This book was very entertaining. And also whacked. Because of what people might call “misogyny” and “racism,” a book like this would never be written today. I have to say that this is Heinlein’s most underrated novel. Unlike Stranger in a Strange Land and a lot of other middle and late period Heinlein novels, this book has an engaging adventure-story plot and avoids being long and rambling. So I would urge you to read the book first rather than have the story ruined by my review.

Spoilers ahead!

I read many reviews of Farnham’s Freehold on the internet. This was the best of them. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any reviews written in the 1960s when the book was published.

Is the book “racist”? It’s definitely a book in which race is a prominent issue and the races of the characters matter. That, in itself, makes the book “racist” according to modern thinking. And there are white characters who use the n-word. God forbid! But realistically speaking, there were a lot of white people in the early 1960s who would use the n-word, and Heinlein wanted to have such types in story, to contrast them with the older and wiser Hugh Farnham, as well as to make points about racism.

It’s ironic that SJWs say that “all whites are racists,” but then when there’s a book that depicts white characters being racist, just as SJWs say is the case, this makes the SJWs outraged at the author of the book. Whites can only be shown being racist in historical novels and movies so we can look back and see how much progress we’ve made since the evil 1960s. But wait, this book was written in the 1960s.

However, I think that the real killer in this novel, as far as making SJW types hate it, is that it portrays black people being racist. Not just future blacks who were raised to believe that whites should be slaves, but also Joe, the family’s negro “houseboy,” becomes racist against whites when the roles are reversed and he’s welcomed into the future society as one of the “Chosen” (someone with dark skin). He even brags to Hugh that he’s going to keep his ex-wife Grace and castrated son Duke as household slaves. And no matter how bad it may have been to be a “nigger” in the South in the 1960s, it’s much worse to be a white slave in the dystopian future imagined in the novel.

And even worse, the blacks in the book are depicted as cannibals. They not only use whites as slaves and as “bed warmers” (enslaved prostitutes), but they also eat them for food!

And they use reverse-eugenics to breed the white slaves to be short, so they could be more easily handled by the larger Chosen race. This seems like a pretty good idea: If you are going to keep a race of slaves, it makes sense to make them physically less imposing than you, so they always feel physically inferior and don’t get any ideas about beating up their masters. Furthermore, the Chosen castrate most of the male slaves. And all slaves are kept drugged on a substance called “Happiness,” which, exactly as the name implies, keeps the slaves happy. It all adds up to a system where slave revolts are very unlikely. Heinlein put a lot of thought into this future slavery system.

I am pretty sure that Heinlein believed that this role reversal would teach racist whites a lesson about what it feels like to have the shoe on the other foot. I also think that Joe becoming a racist was supposed to teach us how easy it is to go along with the wrongheaded beliefs of society when such beliefs benefit you personally. One of the messages of the book, repeated many times, is that all ruling classes believe in the goodness of the social order in which they’re on top. Ponse, the noble who owns Hugh, sincerely believes that he is a protector and benefactor for his slaves who would not be able to survive on their own.

However, the role-reversal plot goes against the modern SJW belief that only white people can be racist. So even though the future society envisioned by Heinlein is pretty interesting, and the novel presents the obvious message that slavery is bad, and the less obvious message that people in the ruling class shouldn’t assume that the social order they rule over is fair and just, the book is condemned as “racist.”

* * *

Now let’s talk about what SJWs would call “misogyny.” Yes, women aren’t portrayed very positively in this book. Women are shown as having nothing useful to contribute to the world besides babies, emotional support for their men, and partners for playing contract bridge. All real work and real thinking requires men. Heinlein would probably say that without babies the human race would die out, so having babies is a pretty damn important contribution.

I would say that Heinlein is red-pilled, except that Heinlein has a fantasy that Hugh is the most attractive man to the women of the novel because he’s independently successful and smart and wise in a grumpy-old-man kind of way. Sorry, that’s not reality. Reality is that young women are massively turned off by boring men in their fifties like Hugh. Reality is that Duke, the character Heinlein hates, would be the lady’s man of the group, not Hugh.

Even Hugh’s own daughter offers to have sex with him. Heinlein’s favorite tale from the Bible is the story of Lot. Lot’s city of Sodom is destroyed by “brimstone and fire,” the Biblical equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Although everyone in Lot’s family is warned about looking back at the city, his stupid wife ignores the warning and looks back, and she is killed. Lot winds up living in a cave with just his daughters, and the daughters have sex with him. It’s absolutely not a coincidence that events in Farnham’s Freehold align with chapter 19 of Genesis. Jubal Harshaw specifically mentions that Bible chapter in Stranger in a Strange Land.

Sodom was targeted for destruction because the city was full of homos, and although Farnham’s Freehold doesn’t have any condemnation of homosexuality, perhaps Heinlein thought that the United States of the 1960s was similarly decadent and deserved the punishment of a nuclear attack, an event which would put smart capable men like Hugh Farnham at the top of the new social order.

* * *

Now let’s talk about why Heinlein hates Duke. Duke is Hugh’s son, a recent law school graduate. There’s a message there that Heinlein hates lawyers, and hates formal education in general. His ideal man does not have a formal college degree. He’s self-educated in practical scientific and technical things, plus he picked up some useful and practical knowledge while serving in the military. Like Hugh. And like Heinlein himself.

Duke’s other big character flaw, according to Heinlein, is that he’s a mama’s boy. According to Heinlein, Karen should be lauded for being willing to have sex with her father, but Duke is a worthless human being because he cares about his fat alcoholic mother’s well-being.

At the beginning of the novel, Duke has a disagreement with his father about the likelihood of a nuclear war. He explains why it will never happen. In the context of the novel, Duke is wrong, but only because Heinlein wrote his fictional novel that way. In the real world, Duke was 100% right. Fifty-four years have passed since this novel was written and there has never been a nuclear World War III.

In the novel, Duke’s “reward” for being a mama’s boy is that he gets castrated so that he’s allowed to live with his mother who has become a “bed warmer” for Ponce, the noble who owns them and who has some sort of weird liking for Grace. Duke doesn’t mind the situation because he’s drugged up on “Happiness.” Heinlein really hates Duke.

* * *

And then Hugh manages to live happily ever after, despite his failed escape attempt. (Is the message that even a super-wise super-competent guy like Hugh is unable to escape from a well-set-up slavery system?) In an extremely unlikely ending, Ponce has scientists who work for him figure out time travel and how to sent Hugh back in time. Hugh and Barbara and the babies ride out the nuclear war in an abandoned mine and then they live happily ever after. Hugh is married to a woman young enough to be his daughter, and they live in a post-nuclear-war world where there are no taxes and no government. That’s utopia for Heinlein!

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 8, 2018 at 9:49 AM

Posted in Books

22 Responses

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  1. Heinlein graduated from Annapolis in 1929. He was not against higher or practical education.


    March 8, 2018 at 10:02 AM

    • And in Stranger in a Strange Land, he depicts Jubal Harshaw, the crusty older man Heinlein-mouthpiece character, as holding three advanced degrees. He’s introduced as “Jubal E. Harshaw, LL.B., M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosoper.” Which is extremely unrealistic. Who goes to medical school AND law school AND gets a doctoral degree in science? And what universities award an Sc.D. degree anyway? I feel that was kind of amateurish of Heinlein, the way a naive kid might tried to depict someone as being very knowledgeable, not knowing how unrealistic it would be for someone to have two advanced professional degrees plus a third doctoral degree.


      March 8, 2018 at 11:25 AM

      • There was an MD in my law school class, so it really happens.

      • I realize it happens, but two would be about the max. No one is going to go get another doctoral degree after all that, and then become so successful as a popular author that he is independently wealthy and gets to spend his days lounging around his own private resort watching his three beautiful young secretaries who have total recall jump in and out of the swimming pool.


        March 8, 2018 at 11:48 AM

      • No argument from me that Jubal is a totally unrealistic character. Stranger in a Strange Land is heavy on satire and hard to take seriously. I vastly prefer Farnham’s Freehold as a better representation of Heinlein.

      • It’s possible … barely. A person who gets both a J.D. and either an M.D. or an advanced science degree can make serious book as a patent attorney. And when you hear about people like Michael Crichton or Michael Burry, the doctor-slash-visionary hedge fund manager in The Big Short, you realize that there are people who are so driven that they do more in each of their multiple fields than us normal people can do in their one chosen profession.

        But yeah, a person who is so driven that he gets multiple advanced professional degrees will be spending 80+ hours a week in the office, not out lounging by the pool.

        Jeff the Donleavy Fan

        March 8, 2018 at 2:45 PM

      • I have multiple professional degrees, and I’m doing the minimum. (Although I’d probably work 80+ hours a week if corporate America cared enough to put me into a high-level job).

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        March 8, 2018 at 3:05 PM

      • I’m reminded of a childhood friend of mine who used to write stories in school where the protagonist was simultaneously a Navy Seal, lead singer of a popular metal band, AND best quarterback in the NFL. Being a brilliant doctor/lawyer/scientist/author/philosopher is the nerd equivalent of this.


        March 8, 2018 at 2:45 PM

      • Lion, do you have a master’s degree in science or math? If you have a bachelor’s degree in science or math, have you thought about getting your master’s in something like EE or mechanical engineering and then pursuing work as a patent attorney?

        Jeff the Donleavy Fan

        March 8, 2018 at 3:17 PM

      • No engineering degree, and too old for more education. I’m going to retire to Florida.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        March 8, 2018 at 3:29 PM

      • I’m going to retire to Florida.

        Try taking vacations in different parts of Florida before you go.

        I suggest Sarasota first.

        The Undiscovered Jew

        March 8, 2018 at 3:58 PM

      • What’s special about Sarasota?

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        March 8, 2018 at 4:22 PM

      • And when you hear about people like Michael Crichton or Michael Burry, the doctor-slash-visionary hedge fund manager in The Big Short, you realize that there are people who are so driven that they do more in each of their multiple fields than us normal people can do in their one chosen profession.

        But yeah, a person who is so driven that he gets multiple advanced professional degrees will be spending 80+ hours a week in the office, not out lounging by the pool.

        Michael Crichton graduated from medical school, did one year of a postdoc research fellowship, then became a full-time writer for the rest of his life. I’m not aware of any significant contribution to medical research he made during his year of postdoc fellowship. He never did a residency (not even the first year, which used to be called an internship.) I wasn’t familiar with Michael Burry, but biographical information available on the internet suggests that he quit residency to focus on his financial endeavors. This is not a knock against either of these men, but neither of them did much of anything in medicine.

        And to be fair to Jubal Harshaw, he didn’t just lounge by the pool. He would perodically get an idea for a story, shout “front!” to get one of his secretaries to run over to him, and, while lounging by the pool, extemporaneously dictate a short story to her, which she would effortlessly keep in memory using her total recall (as her eyes welled up with tears in response to the powerful emotions his masterful prose evoked) then dash off to type it up to send to his agent for publication. That makes it so much more realistic, right?


        March 8, 2018 at 9:39 PM

      • Oy, vey. Always amused at how Heinlein warns against projecting your assumptions and folks do just that after reading him. Reminds me of Lamarr Burton criticizing Heinlein for not having Black heroes citing a Heinlein book where the hero was, uh, Black.

        People got the LL.B. then instead of a BA or as a Master’s substitute, and many became M.D.’s. In the US there’re many joint J,D/.M.D/Ph.D.. programs that cater to inventors and researchers, which is what Harshaw is at least before he discovered the profitable world of writing bodice-rippers. In Germany and Spain multiple doctorates are a dime-a-dozen. They get offended if you don’t call them Dr.Dr.Dr. Hinkelstein.

        A Sc.D. was then in the US and still in many countries typically awarded for an invention or by-thesis–no or minimal classroom work.

        The only surprise is Harshaw didn’t have an Habilitation Doctorate.


        March 9, 2018 at 10:00 AM

  2. Incidentally, black slaves in the Arab world were also all castrated, which is why you do not have large black populations there (unlike, say, the US).


    March 8, 2018 at 10:10 AM

    • The US had the only major slave population in human history where birth rates exceeded death rates. In virtually every other civilization, slaves were worked far past Malthusian limits. They weren’t fed well, they worked very hard, and lived in poor conditions. Slaves could barely keep themselves alive, let alone provide for children.

      The antebellum south poses a stark contrast. There’s strong indication that American slaves had significantly better living standards than even Western European peasants. They were taller, had lower infant mortality, and ate more meat. This was due to a combination of America in general having exceptionally high living standards for the time, American slaveowners being religiously driven to treat slaves well, the exceptional economic productivity of American cash crops, and generally better legal protection than other slaver societies.

      The US only accounted for about 3% of all African slaves imported to the new world. Yet the US now contains over 1/3 of the African diaspora. That’s because of sustained positive growth of the slave population due to generally higher material living standards.


      March 8, 2018 at 10:52 AM

      • “There’s strong indication that American slaves had significantly better living standards than even Western European peasants. They were taller, had lower infant mortality, and ate more meat.”

        This type of issues was addressed in Farnham’s Freehold. The message of the book is that it’s better to be FREE than to be well-cared for by slaveowners.

      • Didn’t Britain cut off the transatlantic slave trade? How did a country like Brazil sustain its slave population until 1888 if what you’re saying is true?


        March 8, 2018 at 11:15 AM

      • @Magnavox: How do white people continue to exist when our TFR in many countries has been less than 2 for decades? The same principle applies. A dying population is not the same as a dead one.

        Brazil continued to import slaves long after the U.S. prohibited the practice. Also, while Brazil was worse than the U.S. for a slave, I believe it was better than the Caribbean, especially because they had a tendency to manumit slaves (as was the case in the U.S. in the years preceding the cotton gin).

        Incidentally, another side effect of the differential in black death rates is the more African nature of black Caribbean culture (due to constant new arrivals from Africa making up a large share of the population) vs. the more idiosyncratic nature of African-American culture, as most blacks have very deep roots in this country.


        March 8, 2018 at 3:11 PM

  3. Vipltd

    March 8, 2018 at 11:33 AM

  4. Thoughful review, Lion. Thanks.


    March 9, 2018 at 10:09 AM

  5. O/t – Not Farnham. but related to pharma — Golden boy of value transference in the prescription market, Martin Shkreli, is sentenced to rot in a cage for 15 years.

    We need more authoritarian gov’t to put these cocky parasites – Yuppies, SWPLs and Hipsters in their place, or else we get a generation of spoiled brats with entitlement issues, who can’t take the heat when serious sh!t reigns on them.


    March 9, 2018 at 1:51 PM

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