Science Fiction writer Philip K. Dick is suddenly fashionable again. I say suddenly because in the past his works have been a favorite source material for filmmakers. In 1982, his short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was the basis for the cult classic Blade Runner. At the turn of the century, Steven Spielberg adapted Minority Report (2003) into a film starring Tom Cruise. Both movies expressed a political theme; the world of Blade Runner was an environmentalist nightmare, with pollution literally clinging to citizens’ clothes. With Minority Report, Spielberg used the police unit tasked with jailing those who merely thought about committing a crime as a means to criticize then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s policy toward suspected terrorists.
Last year, Amazon Prime adapted his Hugo-Award-winning novel, The Man in the High Castle, an alternative history tale of the Nazis and Imperial Japan winning World War II and carving up America. It proved popular enough to warrant a second season, which will air on December 16.
Despite this set-up for political phrase-making, Dick, famously bi-polar, always insisted that his works were not political, but instead dealt with whether reality was “real,” and/or whether there was another reality elsewhere–certainly an affliction of those with bi-polar who sometimes drift in and out of reality.
But a political theme does run throughout his works. In The Man In The High Castle, the postwar unconquered British Empire is frankly racist and imperialistic. The US engages in friendly business relations with Chiang Kai Shek. His novel Eye in the Sky attacks 50s era investigations of security risks in the government.
Personally, Dick would seem, at first glance, to be a leftist. At one time, he attended Communist Party meetings. When Communist dictator Mao Tse Tung died, Dick reacted as if “a piece of my body been torn out.”
But beneath all the LSD-taking and leftist statements lurked an anti-communist libertarian. In the 1950s, he subjected the Communist Party to such “penetrating questions” that he was thrown out of their meeting. In the short story “Faith of Our Fathers”, the leader of a victorious Communist Party that has taken over the world is so deathlike that when he touches the protagonist the latter becomes hemophiliac.
At times, Dick criticized big government. In an interview shortly before his death, he cheered what he foresaw as “a great decentralization of the government.” He took swipes at the welfare state, declaring it a failure in solving economic problems. He even had kind words for then-candidate Ronald Reagan, believing him to be right about the draconian power of the federal government, which Dick regarded as “bad as the Soviet Union.”
Nor did he shy away from being politically incorrect. A student of the Civil War, he attacked Lincoln “for contesting the supremacy of states’ rights.” As such, he favored Thomas Jefferson’s belief in states remaining autonomous with regard to the federal government, and saw Lincoln violating one of the founding principles of the US.
Conservatives lament that the creative professions have been taken over by the Left. But at least one influential writer would be worthy of claiming.