The Moral Decay of Star Trek

This excellent essay from the Claremont Institute tracks the moral decay from the JFK era Leftism of Roddenberry’s Star Trek to the utter desolate nihilism of Abram’s Star Trek: from Cold Warriors to the Wasteland in one generation. Into Darkness is an apt metaphor indeed.

Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”


Star Trek VI opens with a shocking betrayal: without informing his captain, Spock has volunteered the crew for a peace mission to the Klingons. Kirk rightly calls this “arrogant presumption,” yet the Vulcan is never expected to apologize. On the contrary, the film summarily silences Kirk’s objections. At a banquet aboard the Enterprise, he is asked whether he would be willing to surrender his career in exchange for an end to hostilities, and Spock swiftly intervenes. “I believe the captain feels that Starfleet’s mission has always been one of peace,” he says. Kirk tries to disagree, but is again interrupted. Later, he decides that “Spock was right.” His original skepticism toward the peace mission was only prejudice: “I was used to hating Klingons.”

This represented an almost complete inversion ofStar Trek’s original liberalism, and indeed of any rational scale of moral principles at all. At no point in the show’s history had Kirk or his colleagues treated the Klingons unjustly, whereas audiences for decades have watched the Klingons torment and subjugate the galaxy’s peaceful races. In “Errand of Mercy,” they attempt genocide to enslave the Organians. In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” they try to poison a planet’s entire food supply. The dungeon in which Kirk is imprisoned in this film is on a par with Stalin’s jails. Yet never does the Klingon leader, Gorkon, or any of his people, acknowledge—let alone apologize for—such injustices. Quite the contrary; his daughter tells a galactic conference, “We are a proud race. We are here because we want to go on being proud.” Within the context of the original Star Trek, such pride is morally insane.


This moral weariness highlighted the moral disarray into which the franchise had fallen. By 1987, when the new Enterprise was being launched on the new series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the liberal landscape had changed. The show premiered a year after feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding referred to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” and a year before Jesse Jackson led Stanford student protesters chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” The Kennedy-esque anti-Communist in the White House was now Ronald Reagan, a former Democrat and union leader who thought the party had left him.

Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was more committed to coexistence and non-intervention than to universal liberty and anti-totalitarianism. Following Spock’s lead, Picard would elevate the Prime Directive into a morally obtuse dogma and would seek ways to evade the responsibility of moral judgment.


By the time Khan reappears under Abrams’s direction, the fixed moral stars by which the franchise once steered have been almost entirely obscured. No longer the thoughtful, bold captain, the young Kirk (Chris Pine) is now all rashness and violence, taking and breaking everything around him. He confesses that he has no idea what he is doing.


Having lost their principles, the show’s heroes cannot really explain, or understand, what differentiates them from their enemies, and so are rendered vulnerable to the very forces they once opposed. That Nimoy was recruited to bless this arrangement on behalf of Star Trek’s older generation is perverse. But that perversity is the natural consequence of the breakdown in the liberal principles that once guided the series. Star Trek’s romance with relativism gradually blotted them out until the franchise came to prize feeling over thought, image over substance, and immediate gratification over moral and political responsibility. What was once an expression of the Enlightenment faded “into darkness.”

Over nearly 50 years, Star Trek tracked the devolution of liberalism from the philosophy of the New Frontier into a preference for non-judgmental diversity and reactionary hostility to innovation, and finally into an almost nihilistic collection of divergent urges. At its best, Star Trek talked about big ideas, in a big way. Its decline reflects a culture-wide change in how Americans have thought about the biggest idea of all: mankind’s place in the universe.

My comment: I myself had never noticed the almost one-for-one repudiation of the overwhelmingly clear central vision of Roddenberry’s Star Trek, when the Prime Directive was clearly a dramatic foil to be overcome when a stagnant society had achieved a false utopia or a poisonous Eden, to the dithering morally supercilious Prime Directive of Next Gen, where Picard blithely condemns allies and innocents to death by the planetful in order not to interfere with whatever it is the directive wants us not to interfere with. Since I had not seen the latest movie, INTO DARKNESS, I cannot confirm the writer’s opinion and conclusion, but I can say that I would not be surprised if I did see the movie and saw what he saw.

Leftism operates by eternal rebellion against civilization, but also against itself, so that whatever once-noble traces of Christian civilization, Roman legal theory, and Greek philosophy exist are the next target the next mutation of Leftism must rebel against to tear away. When the word was first coined, it represented the democratic impulse and freedom of trade against the established Church and the established monarchy. A century later, the John F Kennedy generation of the Left, survivors of World War Two, believed democracy was better than socialism, and that individual rights were paramount; the Leftists of the more slovenly generation coming after dismissed democracy as a secret oppression against the poor, but preached the equality of all races in a color blind society; the Leftists of the next generation rebelling against them now embrace the Jihad as their natural allies, and sexual perversion as their moral cause, and want a society that punishes whites and males and Christians for being born as they are, a stunning and insolent reversal of everything for which Leftism stood even back to the days of the French Revolution. The Social Justice Warriors of today are in favor of a tribal caste system in all but name, and their moral vision is of an endless and dreary utter depravity where the only forbidden thing is to be moral or speak the truth. Morality is oppression, and truth is thoughtcrime.

It is sad to the point of nausea to see the most beloved franchise in science fiction slip down the sewer slide of moral relativism, and yet, ideas have consequences, and once you eliminate Christianity as your moral North Star, your children will slide further into the twilight, and your grandchildren into the midnight. Because without Christ, there is no human yet divine person at the top of the hierarchy of being, and no law above human law.

Logic operates in thought as well as in nature, and will not cease operation merely because we do not foresee, or would prefer not to see, the end of the path on which we are inevitably being led.

If there is no law above human law, then logic says there is no law. Even if you set out with the best of intentions to retain the moral capital of Christian civilization, painfully gathered over centuries, without the philosophical underpinnings of that civilization, your arguments and your laws cannot withstand the erosion, and law is abolished. The only alternative to law is force, that is, pure tribalism. Tribalism is fending for one’s own because they are one’s own, because one has no one else to fend for you. Where there is no standard of right and wrong, and no due process, that is what is left: every tribe for itself, and the individual counts for nothing.

Because this is a logical process, even in something as innocent as a television franchise about space explorers, the philosophy will out. If your fathers accepted the deadly premise, your children taste the bitter results.