Plato’s Tyrannical Republic, TOS: S3E10 “Plato’s Stepchildren”

One of the most iconic episodes of the original Star Trek, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, claims the first interracial kiss portrayed on television. Aside from the groundbreaking milestone, the philosophy behind the story walks the well-trodden ground of absolute power and its ensuing corruption. Kirk and crew respond to a distress call from the Platonians, a group of ultra-powerful beings who modeled their civilization after the ancient Greeks. They are telekinetic aliens who lead a life of quiet contemplation, but a hyper focus on mental prowess has left their bodies weak and prone to infection. The leader, Parmen, is dying of a simple infection, and therefore needed Dr. McCoy’s expertise to heal him. The treatment works and Parmen demands that McCoy stay with them to treat any future injuries. Only one of the Platonians, an abused servant named Alexander, does not seem to have the telekinetic powers, and suffers humiliation and contempt from the other Platonians because of it.

The arrogant Platonians were so proud of having a civilization modeled after Plato’s Republic. However, this outward attempt at a democracy instead became a tyranny. The purpose of a government is to mediate an agreement between its people to protect human rights at the cost of absolute freedom. For example, with no laws of any kind, one is free to steal, cheat, or murder as much as they want, but every other person can do as much in return. With a strong social contract, via a system that prevents antisocial behavior, the rights of even the weakest person will be respected. This could take the form of a strong justice system, but it is just as effective when it is internalized as a value system. Plato believed that happiness arises from being a virtuous person. In contrast, the Platonians’ powers made them arrogant and corrupt. As a result, the leadership functioned less as a government and more like a group of power hungry bullies. The Platonians held no value for human life or dignity, and instead of Plato’s Republic they created an alien anarchy.

This is especially apparent in how they treat their servant Alexander. Being equally matched to each other, but also unanimously inclined toward abuse of power, the Platonians were happy to use a defenseless person as a target for their amusement. Poor Alexander was the victim of all the bullying, but even though he suffered, he never desired powers like they had because he didn’t want to become monsters like them. For all their arrogance, the Platonians often lost sight of how weak they were. In the end, it was Alexander who threatened Parmen with a knife. The defenseless victim learned the value of his own worth, and the hollowness of his ruler’s power. Although his plan didn’t work, Alexander was still able to leave with the Enterprise, giving up the tyranny of “Plato’s” republic, and embracing new freedom.

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