My conversion into a fan of science-fiction began with an unusual order from a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Each Marine shall read a minimum of three books from the [Commandant’s Professional Reading List] each year.”
Included on the list of books suitable for shaping the minds of young Lance Corporals like me were two sci-fi novels: Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
I soon discovered what lay hidden in these literary gems. Along with surprisingly intriguing story lines, both novels provide some keen insights on the role of training, discipline, and creativity in preparing an effective military. But Ender’s Game also included a concept that, at the time (1990), I would not have been able to classify: a Hayekian view of knowledge and liberty.
As Sam Staley says, the novel provides “lessons about individualism, liberty, and the value of markets.”
Ender has a startling degree of empathy. He understands the motivations and psyche of his friends and his enemies. And, as a commander, he allows his officers to lead, take risks, and use their judgement. Even when he is outnumbered, Ender is able to use the creativity of his sub-commanders to gain advantage. In fact, Ender’s insubordination—his willingness to take risks and follow his own path–is an essential part of his development as a commander. This is the entrepreneurialism that forms the heart of much free-market economics, particularly Austrian economics.
In contrast, his enemy, “the buggers,” are directed by a central commander. A Queen Bee, if you will. The enemy’s strategy is centrally coordinated. More uniquely, their entire strategy is based on complete and instantaneous knowledge of the central planners goals, values, and directives. It is a true collective. Even in this ideal setting, the centrally coordinated strategy is less adaptable, less nimble, less robust, and, ultimately, less resilient.
Thus, Card has set up a battle of values and social systems, not just military strategies. Ender instinctively and effectively utilizes the intelligence of all the individuals in his fleet by letting them use their decentralized and fragmented knowledge, expertise, and skills to make critical decisions in the field, including being alert to new opportunities (entrepreneurship) and being accountable for their actions. While Ender still plays the commander, he learns that his effectiveness increases by giving his friends more freedom, not less. Humans survive the war, thus showing the benefits of individual freedom over central planning.
Ender’s Game is one of my all-time favorite novels of any genre, so I recommend it unreservedly. I can’t say the same, however, about the movie. While it was an enjoyable film, it failed to capture many of the deeper themes of the book.
And if you’re already a fan of the Ender Wiggin’s saga, check out Jaqueline Isaacs’ “Five Books You’ll Love if You Liked ‘Ender’s Game'”.