John W. Campbell Was Not a Fascist

God, too, is called The Great Judge— and Democracy has a much kindlier concept; that no one should judge his fellows. This business of a Great Judge who sits in unarguable judgment, as Judge, Jury, and Prosecuting Attorney— complete with built-in and inescapable truth-perception— turns many more away from the idea of such a tyrannical system toward the kindlier ideas of Democracy-without-end.

The churches continue to prosper— but one of the most prosperous I know of is a suburban church where Sunday is the community fashion show and social get-together. Church and Courts alike have recognized the temper of the people, the popular belief that ruling tyrants are inherently evil, to be rejected— an image to be softened. Not a stern, just, all-powerful but merciful
King, but a jolly politician type, who recognizes the Will of the People, and does favors for the Right People.

That particular school of theology has been tried by other cultures, other times in other places. It doesn’t work. The culture comes apart at the seams— for the essence of that form of “theology” is that there is no hard discipline, no real necessities, in the Universe.

John W. Campbell, God Isn’t Democratic, editorial, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 1964




As faithful readers of this blog know, I like to read science fiction.  I have been distressed over the past few decades that left wing hacks have largely succeeded in taking over many of the organizations of science fiction fandom.  They are fulfilling this observation of Iowahawk as to the standard mode of operation of Leftists:

1. Identify a respected institution.
2. kill it.
3. gut it.
4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

The latest manifestation of this in the world of science fiction is when the graceless Jeannette Ng won the John W. Campbell award for best new science fiction writer, and, while accepting the award, made these remarks (This is a cleaned up, profanity removed, and shortened version.):


John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists. Yes, I am aware there are exceptions.

But these bones, we have grown wonderful, ramshackle genre, wilder and stranger than his mind could imagine or allow.

And I am so proud to be part of this. To share with you my weird little story, an amalgam of all my weird interests, so much of which has little to do with my superficial identities and labels.

But I am a spinner of ideas, of words, as Margaret Cavendish would put it.

So I need say, I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain.

I’m sorry to drag this into our fantastical words, you’ve given me a microphone and this is what I felt needed saying.

The World Science Fiction Society in response to this rant promptly renamed the award The Astounding Award For Best New Writer.  Let’s take the name of the man off the award and put on the name of the magazine he will be forever associated with.  Smooth.

Who was John W. Campbell?  From 1937 until his death in 1971 he was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction.  (He changed the name of the magazine to Analog Science Fiction and Fact in 1960.)  Under his tutelage science fiction came of age and emerged from the pulp magazines into being a true literary genre.  He brought forth to the world some of the greatest writers of science fiction in his magazine.  The late Poul Anderson summed him up:  “By his editorial policies and the help and encouragement he gave his writers (always behind the scenes), he raised both the literary and the intellectual standard anew. Whatever progress has been made stems from that renaissance”.

It should go without saying that Campbell never evinced any support for the German Nazis or the Italian Fascists.  His politics tended to be all over the place.  I think technocratic libertarian, or cranky (Go here to read a collection of his editorials to see what I mean), would best define his heterogeneous  stances.  Ms. Ng labeled him as fascist, not because he was, you know, an actual fascist, but because she is a child of her time and place, and besotted with the current fad of identity politics of race and sex.  Fascism has become the all purpose insult on the Left, which usually means someone who has the temerity to disagree with a Leftist about anything.  Ms. Ng should be careful however.  Her support of the Hong Kong protestors will in time cause her to be labeled as a fascist by other denizens of the Left who will regard her as a stalking horse for Western Imperialism, especially since she now lives in the UK.

Beyond the usual SJW insanity this silliness demonstrates a complete forgetting of why we honor people.  We honor them not because they share in the common virtues and vices, opinions and prejudices of their times, but because of something notable they accomplished.  That this is lost sight of in the politically correct scramble to arraign the past for not being the present is as lamentable as it is predictable.  It demonstrates a decided lack of imagination, and that, above all, is a cardinal sin against science fiction.


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  1. Wait… given the video above, does this mean you’re endorsing “Extra Credits History,” Don? (Or at least, that one in particular.) Because I had heard of enough missteps (and reshapings as done by Ms. Ng in the quoted section) to be wary of them.

    Not saying that they’re wrong, but I wouldn’t buy into what they’re saying without say… you endorsing it since you are the better historian. 😉

  2. “does this mean you’re endorsing “Extra Credits History,” Don?”

    No. Unless I specifically endorse the validity of a video I post I normally put them up for entertainment purposes. In this case I used that video for the general overview of Campbell. When it comes to Campbell it is hard to find any videos, unless they are of Campbell speaking, where factual errors do not creep in.

  3. Fascist, no. Rigid, yes.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

    I’d like someone’s rigid palm repeatedly slapping this woman across the face.

  4. The mainstream science fiction publishing industry and related industries – comics, RPGs and so on – are now controlled by the SJWs, most of whom don’t really have much of an interest in science fiction or comics or RPGs. And in true Orwellian fashion it is they who are imposing a crushing creative sameness on formerly incredibly diverse fields.

    And ironically, they are being supported in their efforts by good old-fashioned establishment corporate interests.

    Any random set of mass market sci-fi or fantasy paperbacks from, say, the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s would yield a much more diverse set of points of view than the sterile and predictable output of the award-winning SJW mediocrities of today.

    Kudos to Ng for giving a shout-out to the Hong Kong protesters (in that otherwise execrable speech). But though she would violently deny it (with screeched-out profanity, no doubt), in the West, she’s working for The Man.

  5. Verily one would be labeled a “fascist” for not believing that that person with a penis in the girls’ locker room is actually a girl.

    The words fascism and racist have no meaning except to signify things judged undesirable by the mentally deranged.

  6. After 1973, or thereabouts, with the advent of “punk” sf, the genre lost its appeal for me. With the exception of a few authors–Bear, Benford, Wolfe–there have been no authors with exciting or, to say the least, interesting visions of the future.

  7. I disagree with Mr. Kurland. Many writers continued to create interesting science fiction after 1973. Including my favorite SF writer, Poul Anderson, till his death in 2001. In fact, even in his final years, Anderson continued to write excellent and thought provoking science fiction, such as his four HARVEST OF STARS books, STARFARERS, GENESIS, etc.

    And I esp. enjoy the alternate history works of S.M. Stirling, such as his four Draka books, THE PESHAWAR LANCERS, CONQUISTADOR, the two Lords of Creation volumes, etc.

    Good things can be found in SF, despite the current plague of Politically Correct Social Justice Warriors, and sexual identity bores.

  8. Good things can be found in SF, despite the current plague of Politically Correct Social Justice Warriors, and sexual identity bores.

    Correct, although if you are unfamiliar with the field it takes some hunting. I would add to your list John C. Wright, Sarah Hoyt, David Weber, David Drake, Eric Flint, Mike Shepherd, Tom Kratman, Larry Correia, the team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Steve White, Tim Powers (Strong Catholic themes), the late Jerry Pournelle, John F. Carr, etc,.

  9. I thank Mr, McClarey for responding to my comments. I agree with the additions he would add to my list of writers. At least of the ones I’ve read!

    I never thought before of regarding science fiction as rebel literature! Rather, as I think Mr. Wright suggested, science fiction is or was that branch of literature which began in the 19th century as a result of the rise of modern science. With Jules Verne and H.G. wells as its “founders.” Good SF writers speculated about the consequences, good or bad, of the kind of societies we might get because of the discoveries of science. But it does make sense to consider SF which is interesting, well written, worth reading, etc., now, as REBELLING against Political Correctness.

  10. Anytime, Mr. Kurland! Alas, I’ve not read many of the works of Robert Silverberg, which means I can’t comment too emphatically about them. I did read a collection of his articles and the first three of his Majipoor books. And enjoyed them.

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