Is Heinlein’s Starship Troopers Totalitarian?

Mongoose Publishing is releasing a miniatures game and RPG based on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Read the press release. From the press release it sounds like they’re mixing elements of the book and the movie and they specifically describe the ST government as “totalitarian”. That’s soemthing that annoys me, because I don’t think it’s a valid description.

Certainly the book has the voting franchise is limited to veterans, but at the same time, active military personnel are not allowed to vote themselves. We don’t see much of civilian life in the Starship Troopers book, but what glimpses we do get are of a society that’s similar to ours. Non-veterans share all the same rights as veterans, save the right to vote, and anyone can earn that by joining the military. Even military service isn’t compulsary — anyone has the option to wash out.

This just doesn’t fit with the nature of a totalitarian government, which necessitates absolute control of every aspect of life and the surpression of all opposition. In a true totalitarian state, you would not have the option to drop out of the military — indeed, you wouldn’t have any options at all.

Even the movie, which was designed as a parody of fascism, retained these core elements. The government might have been creepy, but totalitarian? No way.

Now if you want examples of true totalitarian states, look at Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Those were empires that knew how to terrorize their populace into absolute servituude. I’m not going to say that the government of Starship Troopers doesn’t have its collectivist elements, or that it doesn’t idealize the concept of duty, but for the most part, it’s a more extreme version of America. In some ways, its what we would have been like had the nation taken an even more authoritarian turn after World War II. But totalitarian? No, I don’t think so.

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