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patterns of forceThere are few episodes from the original Star Trek series (1966-69) that I do not enjoy. But one that contains a thoughtful message beneath the thriller storyline is “Patterns of Force” from the show’s second season. Following on the popularity of the parallel Earth theme—including a gangster planet and a Roman planet—the producers came up with a Nazi planet. Aside from the interesting anachronisms, and the morbid fascination that the Third Reich exerts on most viewers, there lurks a very sensible analysis of political evil.

When the story begins, we learn that Federation historian John Gill has disappeared while working on the planet Ekos. The crew of the Enterprise are startled by the rapid advances of the Ekosians, and even more so by the transformation of a once primitive culture into a totalitarian society mimicking Hitler’s regime right down to jackboots and German helmets. The Ekosians have even embarked on a genocidal war against the (suggestively named) planet Zeon. Captain Kirk and his crew manage to infiltrate the Nazi headquarters disguised as SS officers. They finally locate Gill, who has become a drugged captive of Deputy Führer Melakon. In a brief moment of lucidity before he is assassinated by Melakon, Gill explains that his experiment was benign in its intentions. He wanted to implement a modified form of National Socialism in order to produce discipline and societal advancement within Ekos’ anarchic tribal society. John Gill’s dying words are: “Even historians fail to learn from history. They repeat the same mistakes.”

Kirk and Spock understand that any form of totalitarianism, regardless of its professed aims, will end in bullying and mass violence. It is a rather nuanced view when one considers the simplistic anti-McCarthyite atmosphere in Hollywood. People were increasingly told that that Marxism sought a truly admirable social order. It was only the excesses of maniacs like Stalin that brought it into disrepute. Ho Chi Minh and Lenin were not so bad. Would they have swallowed the thesis that there was a “good” form of Nazism? As it turns out, I have often found liberals express their admiration for the Third Reich, “if only it had not been anti-Semitic.” But that still leaves a lot of other unsavory practices, like forced eugenics and political policing. At the time of Star Trek those things were still frowned upon. It is less the case today.

“Patterns of Force” revealed the roots of the totalitarian temptation. It is a temptation to micro-manage human existence that we are all prone to, quite apart from the proximate manifestations of Hitler and German nationalism. People wonder how the forces of extremism can enervate the popular psyche. They may ask, with an air of smugness: “How could the Germans have allowed this to happen?” A more relevant question is, why are modern Americans so easily cowed by small but thuggish groups bent on dismantling traditional society? The deeper answer is that people will often accept the plausibility of emotive arguments by extremists. They are willing to concede moral points for the sake of fear, greed or hubris, without pondering the ultimate consequences. The Germans found out the hard way. You cannot delegate basic responsibility to political parties or five-year plans. Likewise, our own culture wars will ultimately be won or lost in the moral wars that take place in the heart of every individual.

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6 replies to this post
  1. Where are the real-world liberals praising Nazism? Can you show me one serious liberal who praises Nazism? Furthermore, Nazism is anti-liberal by nature. The Nazi government and its ideological successors boast of restoring traditional society.

  2. A non-response, of course. I really don't mean to be either cruel or to sound superior, but the decades I mention are full of liberal praise for both the Italian and the German form of fascism. And communism, for that matter. Liberals have always had a desire to sound strong, while being weak and refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.

  3. John, I wish I had my library to hand, but between the wars the British elites and intelligencia who flirted with neither fascism nor communism were few indeed: Eliot, Campbell, Edith Sitwell were among them. I think that the choice between two bloodthirsty ideologies was often for elites (a) cultural – communists had better art, often cutting-edge modern stuff, so fascism appealed more to the lower orders and less among educated elites; and (b) communism appealed to elites who resented their own Establishment versus pro-establishment figures who liked fascism because it 'made the trains run on time' and kept the lefty trade-unionists down.

    The Spanish Civil War was pivotal. Most British elites supported the democratically-elected Republicans which meant also the communists and anarchists aligned with Moscow; Campbell was nearly unique in choosing the Requetes, Carlist monarchists for tradition and faith, but that put him in with the fascist Franco aligned with Germany. (Campbell, however, fought against fascism in WW2 while most of his former British adversaries in Spain became conscientious-objectors, emigrated to the New World until the fighting was over, or took safe jobs at home in the fire-brigades, etc.)

    it is noteworthy that the secretive homosexuals who became the Cambridge spies resented the establishment and fell for the revolutionary-liberationist rhetoric of communism: hard to imagine them liking Hitler who despised homosexuals and leftists equally. elites who felt that their establishment destroyed Britain in the Great War, and those who culturally despised plutocrats, and those who benefited from the class-system but thought it unfair – saw fascism as an accelerated industrial status quo, while communism was marketed as anti-establishment, egalitarian and revolutionary. Either side thought that liberalism had failed and that something "rational,scientific and muscular" was needed, so both sides fell prey to ideology.

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