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What About The Prime Directive?

Matt Steinglass raises a good question in response to my Star Trek post below:

Isn’t the Prime Directive’s doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of (particularly underdeveloped) alien civilizations a classically paleo-con non-interventionist position?

Indeed it is, which is why most Star Trek plotlines are so annoying. If the most important principle is non-interference, why is the moral of almost every Star Trek story that this or that Federation captain is right to violate the Prime Directive in order to “do something” whenever there is a crisis? Surely the stories should drive home why non-interference is the better, wiser course, but instead they routinely show the Prime Directive to be the invention of moral and political idiots. It is hard to think of another fictional world in which its heroes so regularly disrespect the core values that they are supposed to espouse. Anyone who watched very many of the original episodes with Kirk would come away with the impression that the Prime Directive was a rule mostly observed in the breach, and most TNG episodes and movies would tell you that non-interference is either misguided or actually morally corrupt. The entire ninth movie was one big celebration of so-called humanitarian intervention. The advocates of non-intervention–the people invoking the Prime Directive most often–were portrayed in that feature as corrupt collaborators with the worst of the worst. I have a lot of time for the Prime Directive, which is a lot more than most Star Trek writers ever had for it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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