Summary: Political fiction is not only an age-old art form, but it is also a highly effective way to influence culture and popular opinion. Throughout history—but particularly over the last two centuries—political fiction has had a major impact on how people view critical issues from slavery to communism.
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Truth is often stranger than fiction. Especially when it comes to modern-day politics. Stories we see in the news today are so incredible that we’re often forced to question their veracity.
Good stories don’t always have to be factual, though. Some of the greatest stories of all time are myths and legends. The history of storytelling is as old as humanity itself. Stories not only enrich our lives, but they help form our culture, our societal identity, and allow us to share values that matter from generation to generation.
Heroes Make a Story Great (and So Do Dastardly Villains!)
Great stories inspire us with the heroic deeds of spectacular characters. And political fiction invariably produces villains whose detestable traits we see (sadly but all too often) in actual, real-life politicians.
While not all fiction is purely political, almost all fiction has at least some elements of politics. I would never describe the Bible as political fiction, but it’s interesting to see so many stories in scripture that include political figures like pharaohs, kings, soldiers, and tax collectors. Fiction or not, the stories have stood the test of time because of the enduring allure of a heroic protagonist who faces challenges—often seemingly insurmountable obstacles—and who struggles valiantly to overcome evil.
Sometimes tragedy befalls the hero, but in those cases, we are at least left with an enduring legacy, the example of the hero’s brave character. (Although it’s not political fiction, think of William Wallace in Braveheart).
Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
I enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction. But it strikes me that, ironically, sometimes fiction is the best way to illuminate the truth. For example, Harriett Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a fictitious story about slavery in the Old South. Although the story was entirely made up, it exposed the evils of human bondage and raised awareness of its injustice throughout the country.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a major impact on American views toward slavery. While the book and its author were wildly unpopular in the South, it sold over 300,000 copies in the North and contributed greatly to the growth of the abolitionist movement there. It helped bring national tensions to a boiling point in the 1850s. In fact, when Harriett Beecher Stowe met with Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War in 1862, he reportedly said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
Charles Dickens (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol)
Also in the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens wrote tales of suffering and impoverishment in England. The novels he wrote—such as David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol—revealed the miserable conditions in Industrial Age England. Dickens’ books were widely read throughout the
English-speaking world in the 1800s and undoubtedly impacted both public opinion and ultimately public policy.
Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) and Emile Zola (Germinal)
Later in the 1800s, French authors Victor Hugo and Emile Zola wrote in the naturalist style that, like Dickens’ stories, showed the everyday suffering of the underclass. Hugo’s Les Miserables and Zola’s Germinal continue to tug at the (often bleeding) heartstrings of readers even today, more than a century later. These novels, while not as overtly political as others, strengthened the public outcry for more humane treatment of common laborers, women, and children. My guess is that these books inspired labor organizations and angered the industrialists. (Funny how businessmen are always the villains. As an MBA, I think they get a bad rap).
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago) and George Orwell (1984, Animal Farm)
The political fiction that interests me the most are the stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and George Orwell written in the twentieth century. I like them because they shine the light on the evils of communism and totalitarianism. Their stories bring the horrors of Marxism to life—vividly and truthfully.
Perhaps Solzhenitsyn’s greatest books were One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. They paint a bleak picture of Stalinism, where civil liberties and basic human rights are sacrificed at the altar of collectivism and “equality” for all. Where the mantra of the secret police was “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” Where only the elites of the Communist Party are allowed to bear arms. And where ultimately hopelessness and despair reign supreme in the broken souls of the Soviet subjects.
Orwell’s classic political fiction is best represented by 1984 and Animal Farm. In 1984, Orwell predicted a future state controlled by Big Brother, where language is twisted to the point that good is bad and up is down. (Perhaps “misinformation” rings a bell?). Although his date of 1984 was a few years off, Orwell accurately predicted our current era where Big Tech colludes with the Deep State in DC, where privacy is a thing of the past, dissenting voices are censored, and “truth” is whatever the state-controlled media tells us.
Examples of false narratives, outright lies, and information suppression have proliferated in recent years. The most notorious of these were the Russia hoax (alleging Trump’s collusion with Putin), the Hunter Biden laptop story (labeled Russian disinformation by the Deep State intelligence community), the inaccurate portrayal of law enforcement (and America writ large) as “systemically racist,” the deplatforming of conservative voices (along with anyone questioning Dr. Fauci, the origins of COVID 19, the government shutdown during the pandemic, forced masking, the vaccines, or alternative treatments), or the truth about the January 6 “insurrection.” When the media colludes with Big Tech and the Deep State, they truly are an “enemy of the people” as described by President Trump.
The Federalist Society is one of the few organizations willing to push back publicly on recent government initiatives to stifle free speech and to disseminate misinformation. In an article in March, 2023, Margaret A. Little and Jenin Younes expose the government’s orchestrated effort to label their opponents’ viewpoints on social media as “disinformation” and “misinformation” during the Covid-19 pandemic, while using coercive tactics to bully physicians, scientists, and others into silence through self-censorship.
Animal Farm reveals the truth about how communism really works. In theory, everyone is equal in a Marxist utopia. The problem with that theory is that it has failed miserably wherever it has been tried. (Venezuela is just the latest example). The theory ignores the flaws of human nature. Communists promise a paradise of equality, yet the elites invariably end up living high on the hog—just like the pigs in Animal Farm—while everyone else pays the price.
Orwell summed it up beautifully. Under communism, everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.
Tom Clancy (The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games)
One of the most successful authors of political fiction in recent years was Tom Clancy. His books The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, and others tell the story of the American hero—namely Jack Ryan—fighting against the evil forces of Soviet communists and terrorists. Clancy’s success as an author is a particular point of interest to me, since Clancy toiled away in obscurity for years as an insurance salesman prior to reaching the pinnacle of success as a writer. Like Clancy, I spent decades selling commercial real estate before I wrote my first novel. I haven’t reached a level of success anywhere near Clancy’s, but his story gives me hope!
Gib Kerr (States of Rebellion, The Rise and Fall of the Ocasio-Cortez Administration)
When I wrote States of Rebellion, The Rise and Fall of the Ocasio-Cortez Administration, one of my top objectives was to highlight the dangers of tyrannical, unchecked, centralized power—particularly Marxist authority—in Washington, DC. At its core, it’s a story of common people revolting against a despotic foe; a timeless story told with a 21st century backdrop. And with a Jack Ryan-like hero named Duke Shelby.
Mark Twain, a fellow Missourian, is rumored to have said that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. As a life-long student of history—and a gray-haired one at that—I have come to recognize familiar patterns. Current events almost always have precedent in the past. There really is nothing new under the sun.
I imagined a future America controlled by a totalitarian, Marxist regime. I envisioned a future United States that was no longer protected by the guardrails of the Constitution and the rule of law. I conjured up a future Land of the Free and Home of the Brave that was no longer free, but thankfully still brave.
Could Fiction Come True?
Fortunately, the events that I created in my novel were just a figment of my imagination. Less fortunately, though, everything in States of Rebellion is completely plausible. Not only are there countless historical precedents for the events in the story, but it could all happen very easily—and very soon. In fact, it just happened in Venezuela. And it appears to be happening in California as I write this.
The story of Duke Shelby and his fellow Flyover State rebels is in many ways a timeless tale of an oppressed group rising up to fight injustice. The literary tool of political fiction is a highly effective means of highlighting what Clancy might call a clear and present danger in America.
Conclusion — Political Fiction can educate and inspire the reader, ultimately triggering action and bringing about real change
Political fiction has played an enormous role in shaping public opinion and, more importantly, in promoting cultural ideals for centuries. My hope is that works of political fiction such as States of Rebellion can be a force for good, inspiring readers by the heroic acts of protagonists like Duke Shelby.
When we read well-written works of fiction, we lose ourselves in the drama of the leading characters. We ask ourselves how we might respond if we were in the hero’s shoes. And hopefully we take away lessons of virtue, courage, tenacity, perseverance, and—as I like to think is the American way—in triumph over evil.