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“Every society rests on a barbarian base. The people who don’t understand civilization, and wouldn’t like it if they did. The hitchhikers. The people who create nothing, and who don’t appreciate what others have created for them, and who think civilization is something that just exists and that all they need to do is enjoy what they can understand of it—luxuries, a high living standard, and easy work for high pay. Responsibilities? Phooey! What do they have a government for?
“And now, the hitchhikers think they know more about the car than the people who designed it, so they’re going to grab the controls.
“It wasn’t the war that put Hitler into power. It was the fact that the ruling class of his nation, the people who kept things running, were discredited. The masses, the homemade barbarians, didn’t have anybody to take their responsibilities for them. What they have on Marduk is a ruling class that has been discrediting itself. A ruling class that’s ashamed of its privileges and shirks its duties. A ruling class that has begun to believe that the masses are just as good as they are, which they manifestly are not. And a ruling class that won’t use force to maintain its position.”
— H. Beam Piper, Space Viking
Space Viking is a novel written nearly 60 years ago, before the years of rage and widespread protests of the 1960s. Its main plot threads include Lukas Trask’s hunt for his bride’s killer and the rise of a Hitler-like character on a planet called Marduk, loosely based on Great Britain at the height of its power.
While an enormously entertaining space adventure, it is also a meditation on government, the bases of government, and the use and misuse of power. Piper’s view of the power of mobs, the barbarian core at the heart of every civilization, and the necessity of accepting the responsibilities that go with privilege proved prescient — not in the years immediately after the book’s publication, but today. We see all the elements presented in this quote present in the events of the last week — an uprising of the barbarian base and a ruling elite shirking its responsibilities while abusing its privileges.
If you have not read this book before, click the link for a free online copy. (Piper’s work is now in the public domain.) Accept no substitutes for the real thing. Piper’s storylines have been continued by many authors. All except Jerry Pournelle (who is the only one whom Piper granted permission to write in his worlds) have made a hash of things.Published in