First things first – this is a Nietzschean interpretation, not the Nietzschean interpretation.
Since his death, his work has been subject to a variety of interpretations and put to a wide variety of uses. An analysis must be selective – I will mainly be drawing from the ideas expressed in “Genealogy of Morality” (concerning master/slave races and truth-asceticism) and in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (concerning the Last Men, the religion of pity, and the Will to Power).
One of the fundamental distinctions in Nietzsche’s writing, and one which appears again and again, is the distinction between the higher men and the lower men (the ‘masters’ and ‘slaves’ in “Genealogy of Morality”, the ‘Last Men’ and the ‘free spirits/higher men/Ubermensch’ in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”).
In both cases, the distinction consists of their attitude towards other people and cultures. The masters in “Genealogy of Morality” define all people in relation to themselves; they are: the good, the noble, the beautiful, the honest; those who do not measure up to them are: the bad, the ugly, the common and the untrustworthy. The slaves, on the other hand, define themselves in terms of the Masters; they take the values which the masters prize and adopt the inversions. Courage, arrogance, pride and violence are the virtues of the Masters therefore meekness, humility, altruism and pacifism are the virtues of the slaves.
This presents an interesting problem where the Federation are concerned. On the surface, their values are slave values. They prefer peace, seek cultural exchange, and conquer no territory. They eschew greed, act on the basis of interventionist pity, and persistently pretend that Starfleet is not a military organisation. Fundamentally, however, their attitude is that of the masters.
Consider Kirk. He does not hesitate to interfere with the cultures he finds, to make and enforce moral judgements. He is unswervingly confident in the superiority of his values and culture, even though those values and culture include tolerance and diversity. He (and the TV series as a whole) defines all cultures in relation to his own; recall the ‘nazi planet’ and the ‘gangster planet’ and the ‘greek mythology’ planet, none of which seem to have any distinctive features outside of their resemblance to past Earths. Even the non-human, alien species seem wholly defined by their differences to the Federation; Vulcans are LOGICAL and nothing else, Klingons are ROWDY and nothing else. These people are not slaves – they do not take Kirk’s values and invert them – but Kirk is unquestionably a master.
What about “The Next Generation” and subsequent series? Picard is certainly less keen to bust out the Phasers and ‘bomb them into the stone age’. His first reaction to every crisis is to sit down with his senior officers and discuss the situation like a normal person. The Prime Directive sits in his conscience, denying him the unquestioning self-assurance of a master. Sisko, similarly, is even less masterly; his job is to arbitrate between warring factions, some of whom are arguably much stronger than the Federation. He can impose his values and definitions only in a very limited domain. His attitude towards other cultures is slavish; he studies them in order to subvert them, and turn their aggression away from him. As Nietzsche’s slaves overcame the masters by subverting and polluting their values, so Sisko overcomes the Dominion by encouraging Cardassian dissidents and finding ways to rid the Jem’Hadar of their addiction to the White. He confronts his enemies openly only when forced to do so; in victory, he does not impose his will, settling instead for simple peace.
So much for the master/slave distinction. What light can the Will to Power shed on Star Trek? Firstly, I should clear up some misconceptions. The Will to Power is probably the most grievously abused philosophical concept in the history of philosophy. It’s not fascism or authoritarianism, though it includes the will to conquer. It isn’t egoism, though it is profoundly concerned with personal agency. Its meaning is clearer in the original German – the Wille zur Macht. Macht, a German word for power, is a form of the verb machen, meaning to make or do. Thus, the Will to Power should be understood, not as the will to hold power, but as the will to express power. The Will to Power – which Nietzsche believes is fundamental to all living things – is the will to affect change in the world, to bring it in line with oneself, to create and express beyond oneself. The master/slave distinction is about how one defines one’s personal values; the Will to Power is about how one acts on them.
It is immediately obvious that the Will to Power is central to the original series. Kirk not only makes moral judgements, he enforces them. Where the universe offends his moral or aesthetic senses, he does not hesitate to change it. Examples are too numerous to list here; for a start, consider all of the aforementioned alternate-earth planets, none of which are left unchanged by the superabundance of Kirk’s overflowing will to express and create. Even the many godlike or near-godlike aliens Kirk encounters are but an opportunity for him to demonstrate his moral courage and personal strength. Consider also the various alien and alternate-human women who engage in passing liaisons with the redoubtable captain; they, too, do not go unaltered by the abundance of his overflowing (ahem) will.
What of Picard? Here we must tread subtler waters. It is true that he makes fewer moral judgements, and is far more hesitant to express power. The Prime Directive may seemingly exist mainly to be ignored, but it exerts a nominal restriction on Picard’s power nonetheless. The universe of “The Next Generation” is more developed and connected than that of the original series; Picard does not have Kirk’s assumed military superiority over most of those he meets. The Will to Power he expresses is different. Picard is driven by two things, primarily – the need to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise, and the desire to expand the Federation’s scientific knowledge. On the former, I have already commented. As to the latter, Nietzsche writes in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and the third part of “Genealogy of Morality” that the will to knowledge, properly expressed, is a form of the will to power. It is “the will to make all things thinkable, for [he] doubts with well-founded suspicion that they are already thinkable”.
Picard’s mission is to encounter new strangeness and absorb them into his frame of reference; to make them into something he can understand and ultimately control, to make himself into someone who can understand and control them. This is every bit as much an expression of the Wille zur Macht as is Kirk’s propensity for violence.
I will finish by considering the Will to Power as expressed by the minor captains, Sisko and Janeway.
We have already noted that Sisko’s approach is slavish, but this does not, in itself, imply that it is not an expression of the Will to Power. Unlike the starship captains, he cannot fly from place to place to impose his will on new places; he must content himself with expressing power where he can (note his badly-hidden glee at being able to take part in the War with the acquisition of the Defiant).
How are we, therefore, to interpret his reluctance to adopt the role of the Bajoran Prophet – a role which, after all, carries with it an astonishing amount of cultural power, authority and autonomy? The answer, to my mind, is simple – the Prophet is a role imposed from outside, by beings he does not understand or control. Further, it provides power only over the Bajorans, a people with whom Sisko does not identify, in whose culture he desires to work no changes, and to whose worship he is largely indifferent. However he tries to apply it through slavish subversions, Sisko’s Will to Power is stunted by the situation in which he finds himself, by the fact that his command and power are tied to an area already contested by a multiplicity of wills.
And what then of Janeway? Finding herself extraordinarily far from home, she has an unrivalled opportunity to express whatever is in her, and to remake a distant quadrant in her own image. It is established early in the series that her technology is much greater than that of her new neighbours, and there is no authority present to restrain her actions. The fact that she turns away from this possibility reveals her fundamental Untermenschlichkeit. She has no overflowing abundance of the procreative will of life. She spends seven seasons fleeing to the welcoming arms of her accustomed authority, consoling herself with petty tyrannies (the destruction of Tuvix, the forced integration of the Maquis into the Starfleet command structure) along the way.
Of Enterprise I will not speak – some people are not even slaves.
William Small is an interested amateur with a political education and philosophical inclinations. An American-in-exile, he also blogs about religion and politics
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