Is Star Trek Libertarian?

picard1It’s hard to deny the impact Star Trek as a franchise has had on people throughout the world. By presenting a hopeful future of peace, prosperity, respect, diversity, meaningful work, and cooperation amongst people of different beliefs, religions and cultures, Star Trek has doubtless encouraged and inspired many to pursue careers in science, government and community activism. Even within the halls of government, Star Trek has made an impact. For example, NASA recently invited Nichelle Nichols / Lt. Uhura onto their flying observatory, and President Barack Obama issued statements on the passing of Leonard Nimoy / Spock. So with all the ways that Star Trek has inspired and encouraged people through the years, why should it matter whether Star Trek is libertarian or not?

It matters, because without libertarianism – the future proposed by Star Trek simply wouldn’t work. Socialism, which is often touted as being the philosophy behind the Star Trek universe, realistically would offer a view of a huge centralized government using force (and threats of force) to properly shepherd people along whatever view it believes as right – which just isn’t very peaceful, tolerant, or respectful of people’s varied beliefs. And while Starfleet and the Federation within Star Trek certainly are large centralized government organizations, the series simply doesn’t provide enough details on how their system works. Rather, it suggests that somehow a massive war in which billions of people are killed convinced people to start working together, with technology conveniently providing many of the solutions to problems regarding healthcare, poverty and ignorance (to name a few).  Libertarianism, on the other hand, bypasses the huge governmental organizations in favor of the free market, individual rights and principles of non-aggression. Without any mega-government legislating morality or telling people how to think, behave and act, the friction and division experienced by diverse people groups trying to gain influence and power within the government is nonexistent. As for the construction of ships and the fantastic cities and space stations of the future, some will once again insist that this could only happen through a powerful government demanding resources and energy from the people, and jailing anyone who refuses to help out. But come on. Seriously? Is this really the happy picture of people voluntarily sacrificing time for a meaningful job, or are they simply slaves brainwashed into doing whatever the State requires of them?

picard2I didn’t realize when I first set out to write about Star Trek (which also happens to be one of my favorite science-fiction franchises) that there were already a number of others who had written about it from a libertarian perspective. F0r example, The Federalist writes in Is Star Trek Really an Anti-Libertarian that, “Political themes are not central enough to the franchise that I would necessarily include Star Trek as a top “libertarian” show. (That should go to “Firefly,” which is not merely individualist but quite specifically libertarian in its outlook, with a dash of the conservative’s skepticism about the perfectibility of man.) But by showing us the individualist future culture of the Federation and the nightmarish collectivist dystopia of the Borg, Star Trek has done plenty for the cause of liberty.”

And Speak of the Daryl blog, written by a Ron Paul fan and Law student with the University of London International Programmes, notes that, “The Progressive Liberal movement has hijacked the Star Trek fandom for far too long now, proclaiming Star Trek as the pop culture beacon of what modern day liberalism stands for, and that Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy of humanism is fundamentally incompatible with Libertarianism. I intend to debunk this notion by exploring the realm of the Star Trek universe and delving deeper into Libertarianism and reconciling them both…” Read more at A Libertarian Analysis of Star Trek.

So in the end, although I’d agree that the Star Trek universe isn’t specifically libertarian, I can’t help but think that this proposed path to the very best human society can offer simply wouldn’t work without it.

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3 Responses to Is Star Trek Libertarian?

  1. JJ Grey says:

    More like the federation was like the pre-civil war USA – very libertarian leaning, and each state (race/planet) was capable of being more or less so. But with replicators and near free energy the governments and private enterprises and charities can give away basic necessities of life for practically free, thus allowing the appearance of socialism (an economic not political stance), and through almost negligible taxation can afford the occasional massive project (hundreds of entire planetary GDP taxed at 1/1000th a % is a whole LOT of income especially when the planets are very wealthy thanks to replicators and energy and trade/transportation that is very cheap, and few days of labour lost to illness disease or death. Basically an near ideal world for generating lots of capital, and for the federation capital ships).

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  2. Sifu Mode says:

    The show also has depictions of people running coffee shops, miners, and any number of other jobs, that quite frankly, are unlikely activities of hobbyists. Some of these roles could be explained that way. A restaurateur might be doing so for the pride in his skill and they personally enjoy cooking and teaching cooking. A bar owner may enjoy the socializing and pop-psychology that comes with the “job”. A miner? Highly unlikely to be a passion you do as an uncoerced choice. If all of their material needs are met for free, what coerces these people into such (relatively) hard lives for no personal gain?

    This is where I can only see the hand of the absolute central authority of the Federation. Dilithium may be incredibly energy efficient, but it still must be obtained to run all these replicators and engines. Some people will likely need to be influenced to do these jobs in some way, which would almost have to be some kind of favor or force.

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    • Dranimm says:

      Sifu Mode, this is a great point that you bring up in regards to people having to do work that isn’t necessarily a whole lot of fun (hah hah). Yes, I get that people would want to do work that makes them fulfilled and makes a good use of their talent. But not every job will be this way (like the ones you mentioned). Sure, a lot of people in starfleet (which the show mostly depicts) would possibly enjoy the adventure of being aboard a starship, even if their role on said ship isn’t so glamorous. But what about the rest of the planets with billions of people out there?

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