Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Harrison Bergeron

October 1961 — This Vonnegut classic takes place in 2081, a year when “everybody [i]s finally equal.”  The U.S., at this point, has adopted a Handicapper General whose job it is to ensure that nobody is ever more abled than anyone else.  Our hero, Harrison Bergeron, is an enemy of the state precisely because he refuses to be regulated.

Cat’s Cradle

1963 — This end-of-the-world mini-epic, told by a cynical author named John, serves as an allegory to the potential destruction of humanity resulting from irrationality and ethical nihilism.  Interestingly, Vonnegut attacks both religion and science in this novel, each for lacking what the other has.  Thus, he attacks religion as nothing more than a pack of lies (albeit potentially useful lies) and a tool for shunning thinking, while he attacks science—particularly the sort of science that created the atomic bomb—for whatever amorality it may engender.  It seems that Vonnegut held that both science and religion, although neither inherently bad, can be unwieldy tools.  More so than anything else, this book is an attack on atomic weapons and on power—for these things, Vonnegut presents no positive side at all.

Works about Vonnegut

In Defense of Non-romantic Literature (.pdf) by Jerome Tuccille

March 1971 — This article, published in vol. 3, no. 2 of The Libertarian Forum, describes Vonnegut as “the closest approximation we have in this country of a first-rate satirist using the novel as an effective vehicle for social criticism.”

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature by Murray N. Rothbard

Fall 1973 — In this essay, first published in Modern Age, Rothbard argues against coercive homogenisation of humanity, which he labels egalitarianism.  Whether or not one believes it appropriate to use the term egalitarianism to describe coercive homogenisation of humanity, we can all agree with Dr. Rothbard that a forced homogenisation of humanity, as depicted in Vonnegut’ “Harrison Bergeron,” is undesirable and dystopian.  In contrast to this essay, and for a much more libertarian conception of equality, see Roderick Long’s essay, “Equality: The Unknown Ideal.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Neocon America: War and Socialism in Player Piano by Thomas M. Sipos

2 May 2005 — This piece argues that Vonnegut’s Player Piano, a book about a dystopian, centrally-planned future America, reflects the troubling neoconservative trend in modern America.

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP by Jesse Walker

12 April 2007 — Reason Magazine’s Jesse Walker pays tribute to a recently-deceased author.

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP by Anthony Gregory

12 April 2007 — Anthony Gregory, at the LRC Blog, also gives his eulogy to a recently-deceased author.

See also

2081, directed by Chandler Tuttle

29 May 2009 — This superbly-executed short film is based on Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922–2007)