October 16, 1979 was the original publication date for the first-edition hardcover of my novel Alongside Night, and on December 10, 1979 I gave a speech to the Los Angeles Libertarian Supper Club titled, “Are We Alongside Night?” That first speech was included in both the 1982 Ace rack-size paperback and the 20th anniversary trade paperback edition in 1999.

This past Monday, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of both those events, I was invited to give a new speech to the Karl Hess Club in Los Angeles, again by asking the question, “Are We Alongside Night?”

You can listen to the audio of my November 16, 2009 speech “Are We Alongside Night?” by clicking here.

Much thanks to J. Kent Hastings for recording and uploading the MP3!

Below is the original 1979 speech.

You can download a free copy of the 30th anniversary PDF edition of Alongside Night here.


Are We Alongside Night?
A Talk the Los Angeles Libertarian Supper Club
December 10, 1979
by J. Neil Schulman

An abridged version of this talk appeared as an afterword in the 1982 Ace paperback edition.—JNS

Let me take you back six years, and three thousand miles east, to the time and place seeds were planted that eventually grew into this skinny little book. For all intents and purposes, you are looking at those six years, when I hold this book up.

You are looking at an obsession worse than heroin to a heroin dependent, worse than a dragon to a knight, worse than Hamlet’s ghost to Hamlet, Junior. You’ve all heard C.S. Lewis’s line—or some variant of it—about the man who lives for others: you can tell the others by their hunted look. That’s the look I got used to from close friends whenever I saw them during the writing of this book…they knew I had another two-and-a-half pages written…and they weren’t getting away alive without reading them.

If this presentation seems a little lopsided at times, it’s because those six years are all crowded together, screaming to get out, and I’m not in any condition to adjudicate among them.

So what you’re getting is a sort of recollective pot luck.

Okay. We’re back six years, in late 1973, when I was a young libertarian writer living in New York City. Nixon was president, the economy was going to the dogs, and a fellow named Harry Browne was going around telling people that Armageddon was on the way—you’d better have your gold, silver, and Swiss Francs and a well-stocked bunker to put them in.

We were going to have a wheelbarrow hyperinflation, by God even Murray Rothbard said so—and anyone who didn’t prepare for it was just plain dense. Just look at the price of gold…Jesus, over a hundred dollars an ounce! You can’t count on the banks—even the safety deposit boxes; they might be confiscated by the government—and there was going to be rampant strikes, looting, vandalism, food riots, New York would be a disaster area…

And damned if that didn’t sound like a pretty good idea for a story.

Something like this. A guy who’s read Harry Browne and has made all the right preparations is somehow still stuck in New York City when the merde hits the ventilateur…pardon my French. This guy has his fallout shelter—excuse me, retreat—all stocked and ready to go in upper New York State, but he keeps his gold, silver, and Swiss Francs in a private lock box on the other side of Manhattan. And before he can go to his retreat, he has to fight his way across town, fending off youth gangs, and food rioters, and traffic is jammed, he can’t get a cabdriver to take his money, the buses are on strike…and I figured the idea was worth about four thousand words and a couple of hundred inflated bucks.

I made some notes on the story but never got excited enough about the idea to bother writing it.

We jump ahead, now, to February, 1974, when Harry Browne’s new book, You Can Profit From a Monetary Crisis, is being released by Macmillan. I manage to wangle myself an invitation to a press luncheon Macmillan is putting on in honor of Browne, and during the question period I ask Browne something related to Austrian economics…I haven’t the slightest idea what it was. Anyway, at the end of the luncheon, Browne’s literary agent, Oscar Collier, comes up to me, hands me his card, and tells me that if I ever decide to do a book, to get in touch with him… and the next thing I know, I’m pitching him the idea I had as a short story and telling him that I’m thinking of doing a novel. By the end of the conversation, we had a sort of understanding that I’d write three chapters and an outline, and he’d give a shot at selling it if they were any good.

Well, about a month later, I gave him the chapters and outline, and Oscar agreed to submit them…which is a statement about Oscar’s ability to develop writers, because looking back now at those first attempted chapters…they’re terrible. Overwritten, wordy, overly detailed. But I should also mention, on Oscar’s behalf, that the chapters that open my novel are the same chapters…after judicious editing that Oscar prompted me into.

Oscar made a number of submissions of the chapters and outline, which was to be a novel called Ice And Ashes. I later changed the title when a science fiction novel named Ice And Iron by Wilson Tucker was released. But not to digress too much, here, the project didn’t sell, so I put the project aside for a while, at that point five chapters and an outline.

Then Sam started spreading the gospel of countereconomics, as we all headed into the depression of 1974—as Murray Rothbard calls it—and I organized a couple of fairly successful conferences on countereconomics called CounterCon. For those of you who have read the novel already, you’ll understand when I mention that these conferences were held at Camp Mohawk, in the Berkshires, a children’s and ski camp owned by relatives of mine, and that Camp Mohawk is the location of the Utopia prison in my story.

And to jump ahead once again, we’re now up to summer of 1975, when Sam and I and a few others moved out here to California. On the way across Sam and I outlined a book called Counter Economics—which he is still going to write one of these days—and as another digression that book can be found on the library shelves of Aurora in my novel, so Sam is committed to writing it so my prophecy will come true. But this digression also has a point: when I decided to resume writing my novel, when I’d gotten settled out here, I redid the outline to include the update in libertarian theory that my experience with countereconomics represented.

The rest of this story involves too many personal details to get into here about finishing the book in May 1976, rewrites, and a sale of the book to Berkley Book’s science fiction paperback line—a deal that was broken off later—and changes in agents because Oscar Collier was out of the agent business…but the bottom line is that it took around eighteen rejections, eight rewrites, and five years to produce this little book. Remember that the next time you go into a bookstore and plunk down a few bucks for a book. That’s what some poor shmuck of a writer had to go through to give you a few diverting hours.

Does this sound like self pity? [Big grin] I sure hope so.

Okay. Now I’m supposed to talk here tonight about a few specifics related to the topic. Let’s see. Romantic Manifesto, arbitration, countereconomics, hyperinflation, what the world of Alongside Night looks like, where my ideas come from … Schenectady…that’s Harlan Ellison’s joke, by the way…How they developed and were dramatized…how publisher interest was developed…and the likelihood of the scenario coming true. [Deep breath] Well, you might as well get comfortable, we’re going to be here until next Thursday. I’ll tell you what. I’ll hit the high points and we can catch what I miss during the question period.

The question that I’m supposed to be addressing tonight is: Are we Alongside Night? I came up with that title in kind of the same way that Rand once asked in an essay; “Is Atlas Shrugging?” to address the question of how much of the events of her novel were coming true. So when I ask, Are We Alongside Night?, I’m asking; how much of the scenario of my novel is already coming to pass…and how much can we realistically expect?

Now this has an assumption in it that I have to make explicit and examine. Why should I ask—why should anyone care—whether a fictional scenario—a story—will come true or not? Does its likelihood of coming true make it more entertaining, or give it more artistic value? Does Lucifer’s Hammer become more entertaining when a comet is about to hit earth? Was Atlas Shrugged a better novel when the lights of New York went out in 1965? Does one have to abuse oneself in the Holland Tunnel to enjoy Portnoy’s Complaint?

No, of course not. A work of fiction finds it validity not in how well it records—or even projects—reality, but in terms of isolating universal experience in terms of metaphors.

So what I was trying to do with Alongside Night was not precisely prophecy. And, though it may be prophetic—since I painted in broad strokes based on long term trends that are almost impossible not to see—it can still be perfectly valid even if none of the specific events it portrays ever come to pass. What was I trying to do, then? Well, let me sneak up on that from a rather oblique direction.

And here’s where I sneak in the The Romantic Manifesto. That book, for any of you who haven’t read it, is a collection of essays by Ayn Rand stating her artistic credo…the artistic methodology she used in writing The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

And, since in her introduction to that book, she states that “There is no romantic movement today. If there is to be one in the art of the future, this book will have helped it come into being” let me state for the record that I consider myself part of the romantic movement in fiction today, based on Rand’s criteria as stated in that book.

Now, what Rand was concerned with was portraying things and characters: as they might be and ought to be. And she is very detailed and explicit about how this is supposed to be done. To restrict myself to the fiction writer, we’re supposed to abstract essential details from the subject being portrayed, then—by a process of deductive logic—put together a model that has the universality of an abstraction but looks like a concrete.

In a character, for example, I would mention only those traits that relate to the essential nature of the kind of person that character is.

The theme of a story—the central proposition—comes about in the same way: a thesis one wants to demonstrate. And the plot is a dramatized series of interconnected events that demonstrate that theme. In terms of theme, plot, characterization, one selects only the essential. Art is a “selective re-creation of reality” and what is selected is metaphysically important merely by its fact of being included. If it weren’t important, the artist wouldn’t have put it in; if it’s not important, it shouldn’t be mentioned in the first place.

Rand uses this analogy: “If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would be nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it. But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values, and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist.”

Now, if Rand were the only writer I considered to be worth a damn, I would have taken that credo and what I would have written—like so many so-called Objectivist writers—would have been imitations of Rand’s style. But that wasn’t the case. I have been a lifelong admirer of Robert Heinlein, for his science fiction, C.S. Lewis for his fantasy, and J.D. Salinger for his slick mainstream writing. And all four writers have a good deal in common, though they span the range of philosophy.

All four are moralists—though their moral codes differ widely— all four write to what Rand would call “an objective psychoepistemology” …which is another way of saying that they give you the details and let you imagine your own pictures…and all four consider themselves entertainers of a sort, as well as having serious things to say.

So armed with Romantic Manifesto, and four different writers whose writing I admired, I set out to write my own story.

And I found that by working from Rand’s basic premises— without attempting to imitate her style—I had some major disagreements with the execution of those principles.

For example. Rand says her goal was the portrayal of an ideal man, first in Howard Roark, later in the heroes of Atlas Shrugged. And she defines the essential characteristic of a man as rationality. So when she portrays John Galt, she portrays a man who is always rational. He always is right on top of it. If he has any weakness of flaw, Rand doesn’t mention it…and therefore it is metaphysically insignificant. He is, by definition and portrayal ideal and perfect.

He is also her least convincing character.

Now this in itself is not a condemnation; Rand could easily argue—and has—that anyone who objected to Galt on that basis would be declaring his own depravity…the desire to see a flaw in Galt is the desire to see perfection itself destroyed.

If one is writing epic myth, then it is perfectly okay to portray gods and goddesses. There is even a usefulness for such models: they give us a standard against which to measure our own behavior.

But human frailty is metaphysically significant. It exists in all of us, even our geniuses and heroes. And they are not made less of because of their flaws; they are made greater by it. All three of the other writers I mentioned understand this; Rand does not. But Heinlein in particular taught me this lesson. Who is more brave: the man who fearlessly charges into battle, or the man who is so afraid that he wets his pants…as he charges in anyway?

John Galt stacks up pretty well as a god. His generator even throws lightning bolts of a sort…enough to knock down an airplane, anyway. But as the portrayal of an ideal man, he falls completely flat…because if he has any weaknesses which he has had to conquer, we are never shown them.

If John Galt had some weakness—some fear—that Mr. Thompson could have used against him when he had Galt prisoner, which Galt had to overcome within himself, then Galt would have been more essentially true to the nature of Man, and the meaning of Atlas Shrugged would have been amplified.

Now, remember that woman in the evening gown with the cold sore?

Literature is not static, like a painting; it is fluid, dynamic. What a fiction writer can do that the painter can not is to portray the beautiful woman with the cold sore, and demonstrate that she regards it “as nothing but a minor affliction” that should be ignored…exactly as one would in real life. Then, the meaning becomes even clearer.

By the way, Rand’s favorite writer, Victor Hugo, did just this in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The most important thing about Quasimodo is not that he is a hunchback, but that he is a human being in spite of being a hunchback.

Okay, now to tie this up.

The naturalist writer—as Rand talks about it in Romantic Manifesto—is interested in portraying things as they are. Rand is interested in showing things “as they might be and ought to be.” And what I was interested in doing in Alongside Night was showing how things are likely to be, and what we have to do if we don’t want them to be like that. Or to put this in concrete terms: the setting of my story is the crisis that Harry Browne described…only we were ready for it.

I chose as my viewpoint character Elliot Vreeland, the seventeen-year old son of a world famous libertarian economist. His father, Martin Vreeland, is a combination of Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, Wilhelm Roepke, and a few others. But the main character is Elliot, not his father; the things that are seen are from Elliot’s vantage point, within the framework of his understanding.

Now, why did I do this? I certainly didn’t make things easy on myself. If I wanted to portray an armed uprising, a soldier would have made a better viewpoint character. If I wanted to show a business collapse, an industrialist would have been at the thick of it. Political turmoil could have best been seen by a government official on the inside, as Ben Stein did in his inflation scenario, On The Brink, or Erdman did with an international banker in Crash of 79…incidentally, both these book came out after I’d finished my own first draft.

So I had to go through a good deal of trouble, in terms of plot twists, to get my seventeen-year old into a position where he could see any of the causes of what was happening.

Now why did I do it this way?

Well, being the son of an economist, he’s had some exposure to what’s going on, so he won’t be a complete ignoramus. But being young, nobody—not even the most ardent Objectivist— could expect him to be a John Galt…to have at his command the resources of a John Galt. He would be vulnerable to the tremendous forces bulleting his world, and so if I cut him off from the only really powerful person he knows—his father— then he’s on his own, and he has to learn to cope with the world without very many resources at his command.

In other words, he’s in much the same position any of us would be in having to deal with economics catastrophe…assuming we aren’t living like a hermit in a retreat somewhere.

Throughout my story, Elliot Vreeland is pushed along by circumstances beyond his control, and very often the only choice he has is who he can trust and who he can’t trust. He has to decide—by loyalty, by friendship, by what people say and what people do—who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. His decisions aren’t made on an ideological basis, but on a personal basis…which is how most people make the choices about their lives.

In essence, his only weapon is his own moral discretion.

And so he is in precisely the position, in my novel, that most people are today when confronted with libertarians. They don’t understand all our fancy theories; all they care about is whether or not we can be trusted. They’re not interested in hearing about how perfect we are and how terrific our ideas are. They got a bellyful of that from the communists and the socialists and the utopians and the technocrats and the fascists, and each of them had the Answer…only it never seemed to work. It doesn’t make any difference that what we’re talking about would work…we have not proved it yet, and so we’re in the same position as all these others. And don’t tell me how our ideas are historically self-evident; if they were self-evident, we’d be living in a libertarian world today.

So what I did in my story was to show them a guy who has to make the same choice. He has to know who he can trust when all these things start coming down.

And here’s the important part: the libertarians in my story aren’t libertarians because they spout all the theories, and demonstrate and go to Supper Club, and read New Libertarian Strategy. They’re libertarians because they’re living their lives in accordance with libertarian principles. They have something concrete to offer: safe areas, free trade zones, communication and transportation immune from the State, ways to beat the system. Not words, but action. Not promises, but results.

And that’s precisely what will have to happen before we can deal with this nightmare that we’re “alongside.”

Shall I get to concretes?

Hyperinflation? I can’t say for sure that it’s coming, but inflation is going to be around for a while, probably in double digit and quite possibly in triple digit. And if you don’t think that’s a volatile situation, ask yourself if we’d be involved in this mess in Iran if David Rockefeller and Jimmy Carter didn’t want to get our minds off the economic problems right here.

You might also ask yourself if any of the Iranian students holding the hostages are as young as seventeen.

The counter-economy? It’s here right now. U.S. News and World Report from October 22nd—seven weeks ago. The I.R.S. already has a quarter of the American economy listed in the underground economy…half a trillion dollars a year. Twenty million Americans. And if those twenty million can’t be gotten to with the message that what they’re doing is, in fact, libertarianism in practice, then you can kiss the future of freedom goodbye: the statists will pull another hat trick and we’ll have another new “ism” to contend with.

It may already be too late on that score: those twenty million may already have libertarians pegged as a group of minor politicians trying to muscle in on the big boys. And to them, politicians are the enemy.

Arbitration? It’s so common it’s probably the only reason the U.S. court system hasn’t collapsed under its own weight. You know how long it takes to get onto a court docket? And how much business bypasses the whole mess through the American Arbitration Association and other groups like the Better Business bureau and Fair Ballot Association? Neither do I; but it’s in the millions of whatever you’re counting.

Private protection? A huge industry. Alternate money? Gold is skyrocketing at the same rate that prices are in general. Decadence and chaos? Did you hear about The Who concert a few days ago? [On December 4, 1979, eleven concert-goers were trampled to death to get through the open doors at a general-admission concert by The Who in Cincinnati.]

All the elements are already here. The revolution is already in progress. It’s simply a matter people identifying who the revolutionaries are…and for the most part, the revolutionaries don’t even know they’re the revolutionaries.

You see, we don’t have a John Galt leading us. We can contemplate him as a literary character—and maybe learn something by doing it—but the function he performs in Atlas Shrugged isn’t being performed in the real world. There’s only us. So if we want to achieve great things—our dream of a free society—we have to do it in spite of our own weaknesses, and fears, and mistakes.

But, maybe we don’t really need a John Galt after all. As libertarians, we know about the efficacy of free trade. When people trade, they parley everyone else’s production, and achieve what they could not achieve acting alone, as individuals.

The great socialist utopia has been here all along: it’s the marketplace. Or—as the ancient Greeks called it—and I picked up from Sam who picked it up from 1960’s libertarian activists— the agora.

In The Romantic Manifesto, Rand states that she writes solely for the enjoyment of living, for a while, in a universe that is “as it might be and ought to be.” Her intent is not the didactic one of teaching people how they should do things, but for the feeling of the experience of having them done. A psychological breather…soul food.

Rand used the analogy that it is not the purpose of a novel to teach its readers how to live anymore than it is the function of an airplane to teach its passengers the principles of aerodynamics.

But Atlas Shrugged—and Alongside Night, for that matter— is not a world, but a book. You can’t live in it. It is a portrait, not the thing itself—the map, not the territory. And when you come to page 1168 in Atlas Shrugged, the story is finished and you‘re stuck back in this mess which we have to live in.

So I set out, like Rand, to portray things “as they might be and ought to be” but not as an end in itself, the way it is for her.

You see, if things “might be and ought to be,” then I won’t be satisfied until they are.

My intent with Alongside Night was to show, by dramatic example, the major preconditions for the achievement of the free society.

My theme: freedom works.

My context: the political economic mess that the theories of Austria economics say must end in collapse…the sort of economic collapse that historically had led to a Man on Horseback taking over. Napoleon after the 1790s’ hyperinflation in France; Hitler after the crack-up in 1923 Weimar Germany.

My plot: the events leading up to and culminating in the collapse of the American economy, and the arising of the underground economy given conscious identity by libertarian revolutionaries.

And that’s where you all come in. On one level, I wrote my book as an adventure story—self-contained, self-satisfying, enjoyable whether or not it can actually happen.

On another level, I wrote it for you…as a teaching aid. All of us have argued endlessly, trying to tell others how libertarian ideas would work in practice and how we can achieve them. What I set out to do was give some of the fundamental necessities— the preconditions—in a form that makes it obvious what we’re talking about. Now, some of these topics are best handled in the question period. Let me just run through some of them and you can hit me about them if you‘re interested.

The idea of the General Submissions to Arbitration as a precondition to a civilized society.

Technology as a neutral element in the set…neither pro-state nor anti-state.

A centralized libertarian Cadre as a danger to liberty.

The necessity for a separation of courts and protection agencies.

Is the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, in my novel, a libertarian protection agency or a government?

You see, I’m leaving these sorts of things out of my formal presentation, because they are the sorts of things that libertarians are going to have to debate among themselves. When you get to Page 181 (Page 255, edition) of Alongside Night, and close the book, you’ll have read a road map to a libertarian society…but you’re going to have to do the driving yourself. All I was able to give you was shadows of the libertarian story that each of you can write.

Thank you.

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