Peace Through Bureaucracy: Star Trek’s Federation as Utopian Fascism

Without getting into depressing (and obvious) specifics, I’ve been thinking about fascism lately—specifically the concept of “utopian fascism”. As is often the case when grappling with such issues, I turned to science fiction for a guide. Fortunately, there is a fictional government perfectly suited to explore the question “can democracy and universal prosperity ever be successfully combined with fascism?”: Star Trek’s Federation.

The Federation’s exact political structure is sometimes difficult to pin down, but it seems to be a combination of a democratic interplanetary parliament, a massive military alliance, and a totalitarian bureaucracy.


This isn’t what it looks like.

Now don’t panic! This isn’t going to be super depressing nor is it going to be about space Nazis (unless you count the above-pictured episode TOS episode “Patterns of Force). When I talk about fascism, I’m talking about the philosophical concept as it dates back to Rome, not the actual horrific reality of modern-day fascism. I am not about to ruin all of our moods by writing some anti-Starfleet propaganda… at least, not too much of it. What I will do is take a look at how the Federation is utopian, how it’s fascist, how (and if) the two can be combined, and what that all says about our vision of a perfect government.

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Throwback Thursdays: Jean-Luc Picard, Last of the Great White Men

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

—Walt Whitman, O Captain! My Captain!

Get a Kindle, old man

Cap. Jean-Luc Picard on duty

Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. Where Captain Kirk ripped his shirt open and threw punches, Picard was the thinking man’s captain, skillfully conducting Federation diplomacy before retiring to a mug of Earl Grey and the latest journal on exoarchaeology. He’s not a nerd who became an action hero, he’s a nerd who did an action hero’s job while staying a nerd.

I'm still not counting Tennant twice, Moffat

Fine, 13 Doctors Who

When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, it still went without saying that a white guy would sit in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise. William Shatner was still making movies as James Tiberius Kirk, and the other major science fiction and fantasy franchises of the era were headed by the likes of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we were through the first seven of twelve Doctors Who. Hints of change were in the air, though, and Sigourney Weaver’s turn in Alien compelled an update to the infinitive-splitting mission statement of the Enterprise. Picard, unlike Kirk, was going “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

In that context, when Captain Picard spoke with his usual wisdom and eloquence, he not only appeared to be speaking for the best of humanity, he seemed to be speaking for all of humanity. You could pretend that he was of a world beyond race and gender, and that it was good. You can’t pretend forever.

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