Bryan Caplan  

What Do Constitutions Do? Star Trek Edition

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Political scientist and game designer Chris McGlothlin has a neat Facebook post on Star Trek and the Constitution, building off the classic episode "The Omega Glory."  Here's Chris, reprinted with his permission:


As both a political science professor and a Trekkie, it's more difficult for me than most to sit through the Original Show episode "The Omega Glory", which you may remember as The One Where the Planet is Exactly Like Earth, Except for One Thing. You may also recall it as the one where Gene Roddenberry came to your house, stood behind you while you watched, and periodically interjected, "Get it? Get it? Yangs and Kohms--like 'Yankees' and 'Communists.' You're welcome--it's just my gift."

The show ends when Kirk hands the utterly baffled primitive tribespeople a copy of the U.S. Constitution--one they demonstrably can't read or pronounce properly. Then, it's mic drop from Shatner and a quick beam-up to the ship in time to lay down more tracks for The Transformed Man.

Let's be nice here and pretend the tribe figures out the proper words in a reasonable time, since language never seems to be a problem for anyone else on Star Trek. This society is still pretty much doomed.

Don't get me wrong: I revere the U.S. Constitution which has both protected freedom and provided me a comfortable living. But I also appreciate it's not for beginners.

For instance, we never see a copy of the Bill of Rights in the bundle of aged parchments Kirk leaves them. Sure, the Yangs promise to respect the words--even for their Kohm enemies--but without the Amendments, those Kohms are goners. Sure, they're still safe from bills of attainder (whew!), but are otherwise on their way to the headsman's axe.

Even if the Yangs opt not to be bloodthirsty, they have ahead of them all the Framers' misfires like "What? An Electoral College? What is this ****?! Damn you, Kirk!" And since there's no mention of judicial review in any of the documents they have, the Kohms had better hope this planet's copycat nature includes a Arburymay v. Adisonmay (or whatever they'd call it) on the docket soon. Otherwise, we're once again left with dead Kohms stacked up like cordwood.

I hope that by Picard's time they realize no away team is complete without a political scientist.




COMMENTS (7 to date)
Hazel Meade writes:

I hope that by Picard's time they realize no away team is complete without a political scientist.

He's almost certainly be the guy with the red shirt.

Purpleslog writes:

Alas, they added a psychologist to the Away Team instead.

roystgnr writes:

The Federalists thought that a Bill of Rights was redundant. This made it dangerous, because such a redundant list might be used as an argument by which power-grasping people might convince stupid people that the federal government had general powers limited only by a few enumerated restrictions, rather than a few enumerated powers. Clearly they were correct.

The anti-Federalists thought that government power would naturally grow to exceed its charter in any case, and that a Bill of Rights was the only way to impose *any* limits on the excess. I think they were correct too, but it would have been nice to have a control group to find out for sure.

libfree writes:

That's the problem with too much of this research, we need more control groups. We need to do controlled experiments on whole nations and let them play out over a couple of hundred years. Will we be able to do this with AI and simulations?

gmm writes:

Thanks for blowing yet another hole in one of the worst episodes ever.

JKB writes:

It's the Federation. The question is why they hid the Political Officer. Really, a socialist state run by an all powerful military? They'd have a political officer.

Democracy can't even be mapped over another Earth culture effectively without years of mentoring. You need the cultural history of weak leader, centralized justice, but decentralized government, etc.

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

And this understanding of democracy and constitutionalism as a distinct historical evolution fits in with "anyone can enter" open borders precisely how? Not surely.

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