CRB: The politics of Star Trek

We are winding down our preview of the new (Summer) issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Subscribe here for the heavily subsidized price of $19.95 and get online access thrown in for free. Tomorrow we will conclude the preview with a book review bonus taking up the new book by my friend Michael Paulsen. Today it is time for something completely different.

I have led a sheltered life. I have never seen a single episode of Star Trek in any form. Early in my career one of my best friends at work routinely greeted me with the expression, “Beam me up, Scotty.” Years later when I asked him what he meant, he explained that he was quoting Captain Kirk.

Now comes Timothy Sandefur to go boldly where no man has gone before. In “The politics of Star Trek” (subhead: “From the New Frontier to the final frontier”), Sandefur explores the the show from its beginning in the sixties through the Next Generation television series and the films. He finds the show tracing the arc of liberalism, from the respectable creed advocated by JFK through its decline into contemporary forms of nihilism and relativism. Sandefur arrives at this destination:

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.

It’s an interesting and provocative essay about an enduring cultural phenomenon. I hope you will check it out and enjoy it.

Sandefur’s essay reminds me of other such overviews that I have greatly enjoyed in the magazine over the years. Among them are Christopher Flannery’s consideration of the work of Alan Furst in “Furst things” and Doug Jeffrey’s tour of Charles McCarry’s espionage series in “Le Morte de Christopher.”