Politics in 2048 — An American Dystopia?


With the shocking and sad news of NBC political journalist and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert’s death, my mind has been on politics today, specifically American politics and the future.  This year’s presidential election will simply not be the same without Tim Russert, especially on election night, with his astute observations and conclusions.  And he seemed like a genuine Mensch.  My condolences to his family on their loss.  He will be missed.

America’s politics continues down the road to November and the elections.  We have a flawed democracy (Electoral College, length of primary season) but the system has worked fairly well since the country’s founding.  No coups, not even after JFK was assassinated, which would have been a prime moment (and some conspiracy theorists believe that it might have been a “failed coup”).  However, even elections can produce non-democratic results, e.g. the German election that brought Adolf Hitler to power. 

Which started me thinking when I began writing Perceval.  If the novel is set in the future, what kind of a future did I imagine and what would American politics be like?  What would the rest of the world be like?

First of all, in 2048, I saw the European Union as democratic and including Russia.  China would lead a coalition of nations called the Asia-Pacific Coalition.  America would continue to dominate North America and play an important economic role in the world.  The rest of the world, for narrative purposes, would not be as clearly defined as these three, and much of the definition would depend on Evan’s perceptions. 

When Evan was about three, the American population voted in a government led by the New Economic Party which had campaigned on the issues of insuring national security and strengthening the economy.  The NEP had formed out of two groups: one had split from the Republican Party, the other from the Democratic Party (I’m an equal opportunity splitter).  After that first election, the NEP consolidated its power at both state and federal levels, creating a “permanent majority” or dictatorship.  The context of democracy framed this dictatorship, i.e. elections occurred regularly, the three branches of government continued to operate, the opposition was token, and a certain level of representation existed in Congress.  The NEP believes it’s the best political party for America, that it can preserve and protect the country and its institutions.  Its methods, however, resemble the Kremlin’s during the 1930’s — social oppression and control, purges, and a secret police.

Oppressive social control and an authoritarian or totalitarian government characterizes a dystopia.  Those in power in a dystopia don’t care about doing or being good.  All they care about is their power and control.  The NEP believes it is doing good, however.  They believe that their social and economic policies are the best for America and the world.  So, America in Perceval is not a dystopia. 

America in Perceval is an anti-utopia , i.e. a society intended to be good but a fatal flaw or other factor (the NEP) destroyed or twisted the end result.  Americans believe their system of government is basically good and beneficial for their society and people in general, including the democratic process that elects an NEP president and majority in Congress.  The NEP continues to call America a democracy.  Resistance to the NEP government began early, triggering a civil war and an active Underground of “freedom fighters” that the NEP calls “domestic terrorists.”

Perceval is set primarily in Europe, in Vienna, so America remains in the background, an essential part of Evan’s life.  Unlike most dystopian/anti-utopian future fiction, the action does not occur within the dystopian/anti-utopian society but outside of it.  Evan arrives in Europe an outsider as an American and America is his psychological home so the dystopia/anti-utopia exists within him.  I wanted to explore how Evan (an individual) would respond to European society, what effect it would have on him as he forges a new life in Vienna, not focus on the American anti-utopian society itself. 

The futuristic element of the Perceval novels is anti-utopian, not dystopian, which I suppose technically makes the series social science fiction: the cultural and psychological clash between American and European societies as experienced through a musician and conductor…. 

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6 responses to “Politics in 2048 — An American Dystopia?

  1. Sounds like an interesting novel.

  2. Would ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Animal Farm’ qualify as dystopias? or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ [god, there’s a horrifying picture].

    I have found the historical future-fiction to be interesting. E.g. ‘Fatherland’ by (Robert??) Harris. It’s set in a fictious ‘future’ extrapolated from a point in the real past. It is 1963 or ’64, in Berlin just before the visit of President Kennedy. Except in this version of the world, German didn’t loose world war 2. They came to a screeching halt at England, which is now a sort of client-state, Scandinavia is pretending that they can be nice to everyone, and the war on the Eastern Front is an on-going drain on the German economy in the same sense that Afghanistan was to the Soviets. Oh, and the peace-making President Kennedy coming to visit isn’t actually the one you’d expect. It’s a murder mystery, with the murder revolving around the impending Fuhrer’s 75th Geburtstag & the presidential visit& the politics that pervade everything.

    Unlike Handmaiden’s Tale, this is a picture of the ‘it might have been’ Germany where one sees yet again that the totalitarian dystopian regimes will never rest easy. People will fight against oppression in this book. Atwood’s tale was far more disturbing, since no one was really fighting the system (a few were fighting for themselves or for persons, but not for The People, not to overthrow the horrifying system).

    Strangely, in a comparison, both of these books were made into movies. Rutger Hauer is the lead Berlin detective in Fatherland. [Probably the most famous ‘German’ actor who is actually Dutch.] Abbreviated, but a pleasant adaptation. The Handmaid’s Tale was a low-budget film, with (despite the low budget) Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, and Faye Dunaway. It was horrifying. I had already read the novel. But, what Atwood described in the book so eloquently was shocking in the film version. (I didn’t read the book again afterwards, so I’m not 100% sure if the parts that shocked me were Atwood’s or the scriptwriter’s).

    Strangely, I’m not sure which is more plausible: a Europe dominated by a war-torn, economically struggling 20 year old Third Reich, or a chronologically non-descript American-esque land where some women have become biological chattel. Perhaps Atwood is more horrifying because it is something that might come to be; Harris is safely scary in the knowledge that it didn’t happen.

    Perhaps as you describe Percival, Harris’ Fatherland is similar. The war, the deportation of the Jews to some wretched land ‘out east’, etc. all form the framework around which the murder mystery occurs. The detective’s experiences as a soldier in the war and a stolid, devoted police officer could be retold otherwhere/when, but they would then be a very different story without the same frame.

    I’m hoping you can get a publishing contract, so that I could read some of this opus.

  3. Thanks, leafless. Stay tuned for updates….

  4. I’m hoping “Perceval” gets published too so anyone who wants to read it can, especially you, Elizabeth. I think you may enjoy it….

    As for “Fatherland” — I saw the movie but didn’t read Robert Harris’ book. It was an intriguing premise, very different from my novel. Atwood’s novel was amazing and the movie quite faithful to it right through the somewhat weak ending (I thought). I love your description “historical future-fiction.” Technically, Harris’ book isn’t in the future — I can’t think of the label such books have, something like alternate histories. Future fiction doesn’t have to be about a dystopia — lots of science fiction isn’t. Future fiction also doesn’t have to be science fiction, but it’s considered a subgenre of it, I guess.

    I read “Brave New World” so long ago I can’t remember if it’s a dystopia, but “Animal Farm” is more a satire. “The Handmaid’s Tale” would probably qualify, as does “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451.” I’m sure there are other novels out there about dystopias…..

  5. Dystopias are great reading – and “Brave New World” definitely qualifies as dystopia, though ironically Huxley thought of it as a utopia, which makes the man kind of frightening. Story sounds interesting, I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for that. Thanks for the great post.

  6. Pingback: Top Ten Posts of All Time on Anatomy of Perceval | Anatomy of Perceval Blog

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