A Star Trek Political Compass: On some similarities and differences between the Borg and the Federation

When the Borg were introduced in Star Trek: TNG, there was a clear contrast between their collective being (which seemed to represent Soviet communism) and the Federation’s defense of individual freedom (which seemed to represent American values). The first series of Borg episodes coincided with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, so it’s unclear if writers still felt the need to incorporate anti-communist material. Nevertheless, the episodes had a distinct anti-communist tone.

Trekonomics by Manu Saadia raises the point that there are profound economic similarities between these two civilizations. Both, the Borg and the Federation, have had sufficient technological development to become a post-scarcity economy, where no currency or market mechanisms are utilized to allocate goods or resources. Demand and supply are collectively determined through communication— be it through subspace communications between Federation ships, planets, and starbases, or through the Borg’s cybernetic collective consciousness. The difference lies in its politics and in the motivation driving the individual. In the Borg case, the individual disappears. There is no choice in their drone-level existence. The Borg drone by definition must do as the collective requires. It is absolute authority, for the drone cannot even conceive refusing an order. In the Federation, a high sense of moral obligation (akin to Che Guevara’s new man and woman) drives individuals to choose to do what the collective requires. In the Star Trek universe, the fact it is high moral standards what drives individuals to do what is best for society is not conceived within an idealist perspective. As Saadia, notes:

Star Trek believes that material conditions are the primary determinant in people’s actions. In the Federation’s cornucopia, individuals’ needs, desires, emotions, and activities are significantly transformed and reoriented toward noneconomic goals. This is what makes the inhabitants of the Federation so bizarre and impenetrable and sometimes even boring. They do not seem to care at all about the same stuff as us, mostly because they do not have to. And that is why they are truly from the future (emphasis added).

Thus, we can synthesize some of Star Trek’s contending economic systems in the following political compass chart. As other researchers have noted, this cartesian political map is undoubtedly an oversimplification. Notwithstanding, the framework is useful for critical analyses of the Star Trek universe, as well as research on alternative economic systems for the future.

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