Was Star Trek a Libertarian Show?
About once a year, I take an entire week off to do absolutely nothing. I try to escape from politics and libertarianism. I escape from work, stress, and people. I become anti-social, sit in my room, watch Star Trek, or whatever else I can find on Netflix, and eat as much junk food as I can. But this year, in trying to escape, I realized that libertarianism seems to follow me wherever I go.
For example, I was surprised to discover that Star Trek the Original Series has strong libertarian themes. Almost every episode involves Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy fighting against communist ideas. They often beam down to planets where someone is trying to create a utopian society. A society where everyone is the same. In many episodes, the crew visits a planet where everyone is happy. The crew soon discovers, however, that everyone on the planet has become mindless drones. Kirk and his crew help everyone snap out of it, and demonstrate that freedom has to be fought for. “You said you wanted freedom,” says Captain Kirk to the local oppressed population, “It’s time you learned that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned.”
Countless episodes involve Kirk battling against rulers with god-like powers. Perhaps it’s a robot gone mad with power, or a hyper-intelligent race of beings that can control everyone. Captain Kirk always gives the message that individuals are better off choosing for themselves.
“Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity,” says Captain Kirk, to the Squire of Gothos.
The Star Ship Enterprise, though a state invention, is always committed to non-interventionism. Frequently Captain Kirk wants to get involved, but the logical minded Spock reminds him not to get involved with the affairs of other planets. It is only when their safety is jeopardized, do they act to save themselves, and often, in the process, promote freedom of individuals across the galaxy.
The Lord of the Rings is also said to be a libertarian work. In the epic story, the ring represents power. Power over people, nations, things. Whoever wears it turns invisible. They can go anywhere, and do anything. They have absolute power. But absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the ring must be destroyed.
The only person who can destroy the ring then, is someone who doesn’t care for power at all. Someone like Frodo Baggins. Frodo is a simple hobbit, who lives in a very free society, and he is given the task of taking the ring of power and throwing it into a volcano.
But Frodo doesn’t want the ring. He tries to give it to the good wizard Gandalf. However, Gandalf shouts, “Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”
“Don’t tempt me Frodo!” shouts Gandalf.
The Lord of the Rings is a good reminder that power corrupts. Even well intentioned power can cause great harm. Well-meaning politicians use their power to cause all kinds of problems in the world today. It is only the politicians who challenge their own power, who do the most good. And often, like Frodo Baggins, those are the same politicians who don’t actually want to run at all.
There are many more examples of libertarianism in fiction. Atlas Shrugged, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are some of the most popular fictional books of the past century. All of these books explore the ideas of liberty and oppression. On TV, libertarianism is all over the place, with shows like South Park, King of the Hill, Breaking Bad, and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which all have stories with strong libertarian themes.
In fact, any show or work of fiction which promotes freedom, even in the most general sense, can be said to be libertarian. Stories about freedom are among the most popular works in the world today. Audiences love hearing stories about sticking it to the “man”, free competition, the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Americans loves to surround themselves with books, movies, music, and TV shows all about breaking free from the chains of oppression and fighting for liberty. Today, liberty is everywhere. And in that sense, perhaps liberty isn’t such an alien concept after all.