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A Debate for the Ages December 23, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
Tags: ,

At Crooked Timber they are debating the relative virtues of Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard (for the uninitiated, they were Star Fleet commanders on, respectively, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, TV shows from a bygone era.)

This is not the most pressing of issues but the context is interesting.

At the National Review blog, conservative Mike Potemra wrote:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).

The puzzle is that conservatives are not well-known for embracing peace, tolerance, due process,  and progress, so why would they embrace Picard? Potemra continues:

I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

But as CT’s John Holbo points out, this won’t fly:

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

I think Picard’s attractions stem from his characteristic bit of dialogue. Whenever his subordinates came up with a good suggestion about how to handle an emergency, Picard would sternly and austerely command “make it so”. That commanding, stern austerity is enough to send shivers up any authoritarian spine.

Remember that George Bush famously referred to himself as the decider. And as journalist Ron Suskind famously reported, Bush flunkies were under the impression that ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

“Make it so” indeed.

It is that one phrase that has so enraptured conservatives.

One might think this an excessively simplistic explanation. But in this context that is a feature not a bug.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



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