The oracle...was sound asleep all through the writing of the book. Sound asleep in the corner of the office. Philip K. Dick (1963) The Man in the High Castle.
of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Ecclesiastes 12:12
One branch of political philosophy is a species of comparative institutional analysis; in which the earthly models of the heavenly exemplar are developed in different ways because they are based on different empirical axioms. I have proposed to call this genre, Socratic political theory about ideal theory. In the past I have suggested that More's Utopia and Le Guin's (1974) The Dispossessed are instances of the genre. (To say that does not mean they don't belong in other genres, too.)
I picked up The Man in the High Castle at an airport recently. I am grateful to the TV series for making it so easily and widely available, but I have not seen the series. The Main the High Castle can be read as imaginative counterfactual history about what would have happened if the Axis powers had won the Second World War and the Axis powers have divided the spoils. It's clever and troubling (it's a world of massive genocide, racial hierarchy, betrayals, censorship, but also uncommon moments of humanity, etc.). Yet within the novel, and arguably the key theme of the story is another book writen by Hawthorne Abendsen [a homage, perhaps, to Asimov's Nightfall or, Wiesel's Night, or, perhaps, Celine's great novel], who has authored The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (itself an allusion, as Wikipedia notes, to Ecclesiastes 12:5). This books is also a counterfactual history, but -- even if you agree that there is no metric for such things -- closer to actual history (the allies win the war, although with plenty of variations from actual history).
We can say, then, that we are explicitly invited to compare two imagined, but institutionally rich worlds to each other. One means for doing so, is by looking at what remains the same in both imagined worlds despite the historical and institutional variation as well as what differs in both worlds despite points of contact. Some other time I want to say more about this, but there is a further complication. For the The Man in the High Castle also goes meta on us (I forget who gave me that phrase recently---apologies!), because the way Abendsen's book is supposed to be interpreted is also a matter of, well, conflicting interpretations throughout the book. And here I want to close with a note on it.
At the end of the The Man in the High Castle by relying on an interpretation of the I Ching (cf here), we are presented with the thought by Juliana (one of the main characters who turns out one of the few heroes of the plot and who is compared to a daemon from the underworld) and Abendsen that the The Grasshopper Lies Heavy has an Inner Truth. (The idea also angers Abendsen.) Remarkably then, we are explicitly invited to consider that books have a surface meaning and an inner truth. A few pages before Juliana had already concluded that the point of Abendsen's book is not about that novel's "make-believe world." She grasps that its inner truth is a commentary on her world (the one in which the Axis won).
We are, thus, invited to treat The Man in the High Castle not just as counterfactual history but also as a commentary on Dick's actual world (ca 1963)--that is on the nature of the civil rights movement and the nature of US imperialism (both issues in the two novels). For example, in Abendsen's imagined world discrimination between 'Whites and Negroes' is ended by the second world war, and US and UK imperialism compete for global victory. How to think about such a commentary in a methodological fashion -- as rigorous as the interpretation of the I Ching -- is for another occasion.