Dieselpunk as a Political Statement

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As dieselpunk is gaining popularity and recognition as a genre, dieselpunk enthusiasts are endeavoring beyond the restraints of fiction in an effort to frame a dieselpunk aesthetic, a dieselpunk culture and, ultimately, a dieselpunk philosophy. Does dieselpunk lend itself to make a political statement however?

A Punk Politics

One blog which has proposed that the genre may be political is the amply named Dieselpunk. Its author, Larry, after admitting that much of the dieselpunk community prefers to think of its hobby as something strictly apolitical, believes that “certain elements inherit in dieselpunk” may allow political or economic notions to be attached to it. He particularly cites the “punk” in dieselpunk and interprets it as a sign of rebellion, “to the degree that it’s often held as derogatory by the establishment.”

If so, then we may be able to say that a dieselpunk politics would have to include, along with the previously mentioned two elements, political trends that are highly critical of the status quo and are not found in the mainstream of that time or today.

The prevailing political philosophies of the dieselpunk era, according to Larry, included capitalism, communism and fascism. Hayen Mill proposes as an alternative to these prodiminant visions the philosophy of French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) who conceived mutualism. Mutualism “envisions a society where each person might possess a means of production, either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labor in the free market.” Mutualism rejects state intervention but does require mass collectivization of industries and business.

Beyond Anarchism

Anarchism may typically be interpreted as politically leftish and is therefore easily associated with socialism and likeminded philosophies which favor collectivizing efforts. But this would seem to contradicts the independent minded spirit characteristic of dieselpunk enthusiasts.

Jack Rose was early to suggest that the “punk” in dieselpunk should not be understood as promoting anarchy; instead, he referred to an individualism which “manifests in every aspect of the culture, from the proliferation of sky pirates to the refusal of many individuals to define what, exactly, the fashion is.” Piecraft, in the third installment of his “History of Dieselpunk,” published in the Gatehouse Gazette, sees a similar attitude in dieselpunk fiction and describes the “punk” as “the otherness in juxtaposition to the type of society or world in which the adventure and stories take place.”

There is a strong refusal to abide by custom, convention, or, indeed, according to Tome Wilson, webmaster of the community Dieselpunks, historical accuracy.

Dieselpunk enthusiasts don’t hide in the coffins of history, writes Wilson. Rather than confusing the past with the present, the genre fuses the two, building “something new that would be unexpected in any age.” Yet it’s more than that. “It is not enough to live in the shadow of another generation,” he attests. Dieselpunk enthusiasts should not be content with reviving past ideas or inventions; they must have their eyes firmly fixed on the future to “achieve greatness and inspire others to do the same.”

The Free Promethean

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper portrays Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1949)

As a fiercely individualist movement, dieselpunk, politically, may perhaps be described as “anarcho-capitalist.” Mill raises this philosophy, besides mutualism, as a possible political philosophy for dieselpunk. Anarcho-capitalism, in Mill’s words, “advocates the elimination of the state and the elevation of the sovereign individual in a free market.” It is grounded in the libertarian, capitalist views of economists as Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) and novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982). It pays tribute, according to Mills, to the dieselpunk era “when the idea of the businessman as the agent vital to the advancement of society was immortalized by examples of many great industrialists,” which, in turn, reflects the Objectivist notion of man, especially the businessman, as an heroic being. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) is the ultimate expression of this ideal.

Every dieselpunk is an individual in Wilson’s scheme of “achieving greatness,” whether it is an author writing fiction, a designer creating fashion, a maker giving shape of the aesthetic of dieselpunk or an entrepreneur seeking to monetize his passion. The community may bolster his efforts, but he and he alone is responsible for fulfilling his potential. This is what Wilson has dubbed the “New Promethean” mindset and it is a far cry from the paternalism inherent in philosophies which sacrifice man’s dignity in favor of the group.

1 COMMENT

  1. If we subscribe to Hayen Mill’s point of view, we should proclaim Herbert Hoover the greatest Diesel Era hero – independent, well-educated, energetic, cosmopolitan self-made millionaire, brilliant public administrator, charismatic person, etc. Just one thing spoils the bright picture: Mr. Hoover was unlucky enough to take the President’s office in 1929.

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