In fifty years of watching various Star Trek series and movies, few considered Star Trek politics. But Star Trek does have a political system. It must, to support the ships (or the fortress) of which the series speak. That system is the Articles of Federation.
What are the Articles of Federation?
The Articles of Federation of the United Federation of Planets mirror exactly the Charter of the United Nations. When Paramount licensed the Star Fleet Technical Manual in ca. 1977, that work led with the Articles of Federation. Replace “human” with “intelligent life-form,” Security Council with Federation Council, General Assembly with Supreme Assembly, etc. That’s all one needs. Except for one thing: the United Nations today does not have a permanent unified army, navy, or air force. Nor does it (yet) have a United Earth Space Probe Agency. In contrast, the Federation has Star Fleet.
This comes as no accident. The show Enterprise ends with the signing of the United Federal Charter, or at least a precursor. Captain Jonathan Archer, having a reputation as a great hero, makes a grand speech, and signs this Charter. These are in fact his last acts in command. (But not the last acts in his career. Clues in some of the last scripts say that Jonathan Archer rises to command Star Fleet. He then rises to lead the Federation as one of its first Presidents.)
Articles of Federation v. The United Nations
So what do the Articles of Federation provide? The Federation Council, like the UN Security Council, has five permanent members. Humans somehow end up with two seats, one for Earth itself, the other for the Alpha Centauri A and B Concordium. (Recent reports say that Alpha Centauri C might have a “Class M” planet in orbit around it.1) Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites have one seat each. The Enterprise show, in its last season, describes how those three peoples got those seats.
One armed service subsumes all others
It also drops this hint to how Star Fleet grew beyond its beginnings as the UESPA and became the unified armed service for the Federation. Star Fleet accepts non-humans into its ranks, and treats them no differently from humans.2 Simplicity itself. The Vulcan High Command dissolves before the Enterprise show finishes its run. It does so after what begins as rebellion quelling becomes a planet-wide scandal.3 The Andorian Imperial Guard presumably dissolves after Star Fleet sets up enough recruiting stations on Andoria.4 Tellarites likewise fold their armed services for the same reasons.
This might hint at plans to fold all the world’s military and security services into one. Imagine the United States armed services becoming the United Federal armed services. Imagine a Department (or Ministry) of Global Security, and a Main Intelligence Directorate. At least the Federation does not have a Main Political Directorate. Perhaps that particular Soviet institution was dying when The Next Generation came out. (Or does the ship’s counselor also function as a Deputy to the Captain for Political Work?)
From xenophobia to unity: rise of the Federation
The Federation has its beginnings, in fact, in reaction to xenophobic scandal—on Earth and on Vulcan. On the latter world, a secret cabal in the Vulcan government bombs the United Earth Embassy in their capital city. They then blame the bombing on a philosophical sect claiming Vulcans have lost the “way of Surak,” their great philosophical reformer. And in fact, Captain Archer soon helps recover Surak’s lost texts. These provoke a revolution on Vulcan.
On Earth, a seething suspicion of all things ET takes hold after a very real September 11 style attack leaving seven million people dead. Toward the end of the series, a xenophobic tycoon threatens an attack against Star Fleet unless all ET’s leave. Of course, Captain Archer “sees about that.”
A bit of Nine-eleven Truther
These fictitious events should remind everyone of the “Nine-eleven Truther” movement. Recall: authorities quickly identified nineteen Saudi Arabians and accused them of the Attacks of September 11, 2001. A Nine-eleven Truther holds those men either innocent of any wrongdoing, or excusable in that wrongdoing. The Vulcan bombing scandal plays out the classical Truther narrative. Agents of the government itself committed the terrorist act and blamed their social outcasts for it.
On Earth, the brief “Terra Prime War” simply reflects people not knowing when the larger war is over. But in an additional vicious twist, the xenophobes somehow engineer a Vulcan-Human hybrid child who later dies. Perhaps they knew it would die and hoped to gain points with the “There-you-sees.”
Rights under the Articles?
So: do Federation citizens truly govern themselves? On this the Articles of Federation are absolutely silent. Moreover, never once does any character mention a legislature, other than the Federation Council and Supreme Assembly. Nor does anyone mention an executive, other than the President of the Council or the occasional colonial governor. No elections take place. No one even pretends to have elections, as the old Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact member states did.
The Articles of Federation do speak of “intelligent life-form rights.” But the Star Trek canon mentions only those “rights” that derive from rules of civil or criminal procedure.5 Or it mentions how to define an intelligent life form. Do “androids” have rights? Or holographic “persons”?6 But the Articles of Federation do not guarantee property to anyone, except maybe personal property. (And who would steal that, when one can replicate anything one covets?)
The Academy rules
Most likely, the academy governs the people. The government runs all lower, middle, and high schools. Beyond that, one goes either to Star Fleet Academy or to university. Obviously if one gets into Star Fleet Academy, and graduates, Star Fleet will “set one up for life.” If one goes to university, one must imagine some kind of Career Placement Board that selects one’s career. This Board would base its selection on:
- the aptitude the candidate shows for different areas of intelligent life-form endeavor, and
- the needs of society for certain kinds of jobholder.
So in theory, someone has your life planned out for you. And that someone is not your mother, father, or other guardian. It is the government. Or else it is the Combined Interlocking Board of Regents. The only place you really have to work at, would be Star Fleet Academy and any school of medicine. No one goes to business school. Instead they go to an organization and management school.
Management or art?
Today, the Yale University School of Organization and Management already offers a degree they call “Master of Public and Private Management.” In the Star Trek era, that degree would have a simpler name: Master of Management. And all management is public.
The Career Placement Board could also send a person to art school, music school, or journalism school. Everything depends on qualifying for admission, then getting a degree. The academy knows how many people society needs for what jobs. (This society has no ditch diggers. Robots dig the ditches on Earth, Vulcan, etc.)
Inventors all work in government laboratories. Imagine Thomas Alva Edison, not as a laboratory owner, but as a chief project officer and government employee. Or else they work in university laboratories, that the government coddles with generous in-kind grants. One can assume Star Fleet always gets the best inventors the academy can find.
Hosts, symbionts, and rare opportunities
At least one Federation member society has its own unique education program. Trill society consists of two races living in harmony: a bipedal human-like host race, and a far less numerous race of worm-like symbionts. A host will train for years even to be a candidate for Joining with a symbiont. Such Joining is a rare privilege. The Permanent Commission on Symbiosis reserves Joining for physically compatible hosts who show some kind of exceptional qualities.
This is the only instance, apart from getting into Star Fleet Academy, in which an individual can truly distinguish himself or herself. (In fact, one Joined Trill character proves the worth of the Trill to the Federation. He successfully negotiates an end to a decades-long and bitter war with the Klingon Empire.)
Aside from this extra-special circumstance, how free do the Articles of Federation make a person? One can safely assume no one, except a law-enforcement officer, a Star Fleet officer or enlisted person (especially a member of the security services), or a privileged person or his transporteer, ever carries a weapon of any kind. Most of the time, no one will arrest someone for holding or expressing a dissenting opinion. But nothing changes in human or Federal society. People, in or out of Star Fleet, seem to do what someone tells them. A dictator wearing velvet gloves wields no less authority for all that.
In fact, several programs have shown how dangerous this system can be. Deep Space Nine explored this in two distinct sub-arcs. An admiral orders a false-flag pseudo-op to excuse a Draconian crackdown on Earth society.7 A secret “section” in Star Fleet infects an innocent man, knowing he will shortly infect all others of his kind.8 And in Insurrection, an officer leads a rebellion after the Admiralty lets a despicable person corrupt it. Who can forget Lt. Cmdr. Data telling his captain, “Saddle up” and “Lock and load”? He sounds like a modern American militia activist!
Watering the tree of liberty…
In each of those arcs, courageous officers fight against corrupt superiors as they would against external enemies. But why should they have to? Why don’t the Articles separate the powers of government? No one thought of any of this. And considering the revenues involved, someone should have. That they never did, shows they subscribed to, and promoted, a utopian view of government. The government always does right. Or if it does wrong, a courageous officer need only reach “the right people” to set it right.
The producers would have done better to expand the Insurrection story. Insurrection played in the last season of Deep Space Nine. That project exposed festering corruption and elitism that should have infuriated the people. Its ending did not satisfy. Captain Picard, or even Commander Data, could and maybe should have started an open, large-scale rebellion. But of course Star Trek still had the baggage of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian ethos. Neither he nor his successors could ever imagine a “War Between the Planets.” Much less could they imagine good coming out of such a conflict. (At least, they did not imagine this in the “regular” universe. In Jerome Bixby’s “Mirror, Mirror” universe, such a rebellion did take place.)
1William M, “Earth-like Planet Around Proxima Centauri Discovered,” Universe Today, 14 August 2016.
2The first non-human to get a Star Fleet commission was the Vulcan representative, T’Pol. She didn’t trade in her form-fitting “cat suits” for a standard uniform.. But she attached to them all the accouterments of rank and unit assignment. See “These Are the Voyages,” last episode in Enterprise.
3“The Forge,” “The Awakening,” and “Kir’Shara” in Enterprise
4The name Andoria refers to the actual home of the Andorian race. This is an icy moon of a gas giant, Andor, with Saturn-like rings.
5See “Court Martial” in the original series.
6See “The Measure of a Man” in The Next Generation and “Author, Author” in Voyager.
7See “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” in Deep Space Nine. In fact, the spectacle of Star Fleet Security troops patrolling civilian streets violates the Posse Comitatus Act. Or it would if the Federation had such an Act in force. Perhaps it doesn’t.
8See “Inquisition,” “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges,” and “Extreme Measures” in Deep Space Nine. The second title repeats a quote by the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero. In English it reads, “In time of war, the laws fall silent.” See this discussion in Wikipedia for details.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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