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Part II of this article acquaints the reader with the Star Trek universe, both as a mirror of Western cultural development for the last three and a half decades, and conversely as a force that has had a remarkable impact on contemporary Western culture. This acquaintance provides a foundation to understand how and to what extent the Prime Directive, a product of science fiction, can be useful in understanding future intercultural contacts right here on Earth. Part III of this article reviews specifically the appearance of the Prime Directive in Star Trek lore, for the most part with reference to Star Trek's captains Kirk and Picard. This review analyzes the fictional evolution of the Prime Directive from its straightforward origin as political commandment to its fuzzy, modern complexity as an aspirational principle.

Part IV.A transports the reader back to "the real world" to show how the Prime Directive has operated both before and since the advent of Star Trek, chiefly in international relations, but also in areas ranging from the hard science of space exploration to the thoughtful business of eco-tourism. Synthesizing the lessons learned from fictional starship captains with the practical and real world applications of the Prime Directive, Part IV.B recognizes three important and related principles in understanding and employing the Prime Directive: (1) it is not inviolable, rather its violation is inherent in its nature; (2) it is not a rule of law, rather an aspiration; and (3) it is a product of a Utopian fiction, and as such can never be fully realized on the Earth as we know it. Finally, Part IV.C applies the Prime Directive, understanding these limiting principles, in the context of the present conflict between the West and the Islamic world, concluding that the modern Prime Directive should not and cannot flatly prohibit Western involvement there.

Part V concludes that the proper and modern understanding of the Prime Directive dictates that the value of cultural autonomy must be balanced with the inevitability of cultural interference and transformation. Ultimately all that the Prime Directive can teach is that when two worlds collide, people must work together to preserve the best of both.


This article was prepared for and first published by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review in Volume 23 and is reproduced with its permission. Further information about the UALR Law Review is available at