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The Trouble With Standing Athwart History

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Trouble With Standing Athwart History"

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JeanLucPicard

Lots of chatter on the internet about NRO contributor Mike Potemra’s views on Star Trek: TNG:

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. [...]

So, yes, as everyone’ saying this shows that conservatives are monsters. But then I think he says something that, if interpreted charitably, is insightful. He says conservatives like the character of Jean-Luc Picard, “a moral hardass,” a “compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

I think the right way to say this is that Picard is a conservative person living in a liberal socialist utopia. That’s not to say that he’s a closet version of an early 21st century American right-winger, someone who secretly yearns for the reintroduction of capitalism, religion, and the routine use of lethal violence. Instead, he’s a characterological conservative, someone who believes deeply in authority and tradition and who’s not inclined to subject the basic political values of the Federation to a lot of scrutiny.

But of course this is the trouble with basing your political value system on things like authority and tradition. It’s always changing! William F Buckley’s determination to stand athwart history yelling stop led him to a robust defense of apartheid as a system of government for the American South. At times in different countries, authority and tradition has meant backing absolute monarchy or vicious dictatorships. Or maybe conservatism means women can’t vote. Eventually, you wind up defending the United Federation of Planets just like Captain Picard. Earlier this week TNR did a fun look back at various instances of social progress that the right swore would doom America. By Picard’s time, it’s bound to be a much longer list.

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