Where No Man Has Gone Before: Star Trek and the Death of Cultural Relativism in America

Times Literary Supplement (London) (reviewing Star Trek: First Contact; T. Harris, et al., Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek) January 3, 1997

4 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2007 Last revised: 28 Feb 2015

See all articles by Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson

American University - Washington College of Law

Abstract

This 1997 Times Literary Supplement (London) essay reviews the 1996 Star Trek (Next Generation) film First Contact, along with a book of essays in cultural studies about Star Trek (Taylor Harrison, et al., Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek). Of greatest long term interest in the moral and political philosophy of Star Trek is the so-called Prime Directive - non interference in local culture on local planets. This Vietnam era ethic of cultural relativism was prominent in the original 1960s Star Trek series as much for its assertion as for being regularly violated by Captain Kirk and his crew. The review essay argues that among liberal elites, cultural relativism has transmogrified from a doctrine of do-your-own-thing of the sixties and seventies into a doctrine of liberal authoritarianism justified, peculiarly, on a claim of cultural relativism - transformed into the ideology of multiculturalism. the liberal authoritarian argument of the 1990s was, according to the review essay, that since standards are all relative and hence arbitrary, those that apply might as well be mine if I have the political will and power to do so. The essay describes the iron cage of relativism, leading to arbitrariness and authoritarianism precisely because, lacking any claim of even provisional objectivity, there is no place outside where a moral reformer might stand and deliver an immanent moral critique. (Note: The pdf takes a minute or so to download.)

Keywords: Star Trek, moral relativism, cultural relativism, authoritarianism, multiculturalism, Prime Directive, cultural studies

JEL Classification: K10, K19, Z10

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, Where No Man Has Gone Before: Star Trek and the Death of Cultural Relativism in America. Times Literary Supplement (London) (reviewing Star Trek: First Contact; T. Harris, et al., Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek) January 3, 1997 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=935790

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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