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International Law

Defying the Herd: “Personhood,” War and the Triumph of Peace

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Art, we may learn from Picasso, is “the lie that lets us see the truth.” In this connection, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s iconic sculpture, Man Pointing, appears to indict an entire world. Skeletal and (at least by inference) tormented, it casts a prophetic “last judgment” upon our determinedly self-dooming species. Willfully self-destructive, humanity continues to murder almost routinely, en masse and, in essence, to fully scandalize its own creation.

Usually without any hesitation.

There is more. For millennia, of course, the lead engine of human destructiveness has been war. Reciprocally, this unending “tribal” conflict has expressed myriad spasms of individualhuman needs. Though generally inconspicuous in launching such expressions, the personal and political have always been both darkly overlapping and deeply inter-penetrating.

Always, though not readily apparent, insistent human needs emerge as the principal driving force of all world politics. More than anything else, sometimes even more than the “normally” overriding drive to avoid death, human beings need to belong. This particular need can be manifested quite harmlessly, as at any large sporting event or rock concert, or perniciously, as in predictably recurrent eruptions of war and terrorism.

Still, one underlying dynamic of belonging never varies. This one is always the same. From the start, each individual human has carried forward, in his or her own memory, a bygone collective moment. This is an indelible marker of “membership” that, even over time, has lost none of its hideously virulent satisfactions.

This is a difficult concept to decipher and apprehend. Widely overlooked, its core source of comfort is an allegedly sacred complicity, that is, a tacit sharing with some and against “others,” a collaboration which sanctifies the original forfeiture of self and then inaugurates a grotesque and now all-too-familiar metamorphosis. When, at long last, the bitter transformation is more-or-less complete – when certain lethal differentiations based on “us” versus “them” have become de rigueur – entire civilizations could come to understand Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard’s utterly primal scream: “The crowd is untruth.”

There is more. In part, at least, Giacometti’s Man Pointing may represent a statuary expression of human isolation, of alienation, of “aloneness.” Already recounted for us long ago by Homer and Aristotle, each individual person ordinarily feels empty and insignificant apart from some recognizable membership in the crowd. Sometimes, that sustaining crowd is the State. Sometimes it is the Tribe. Sometimes it is the Faith (always, of course, the “one true faith”). Sometimes, it is even the “liberation” or “revolutionary” movement. 

Whatever the particular aggrandizing group of the moment, it is always the persistent craving for membership that threatens to bring forth a catastrophic downfall of individual responsibility. The calamitous result, as we have witnessed so often from time immemorial, is a convulsive and plausibly irreversible triumph of collective will. As a modern example of what can ultimately happen, the most alarming is plainly Nazi Germany. Hitler’s own personal filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, even named her classic work about the 1934 Nuremberg party congress accordingly (The Triumph of the Will).  

“Reading” between the lines of Giacometti’s emaciated figure, a practical conclusion should quickly present itself. Unless we humans can finally learn how to temper our overwhelming desire to be members, to belong, all currently prevailing military and diplomatic schemes to deal with war and terrorism will immediately or eventually fail. Without more expressly protean human transformations, these assorted and generally well-intentioned schemes for a balance of power, collective security (United Nations) or collective defense (alliances such as NATO), will remain effectively beside the point. Them expressed in more properly social scientific terms, these ineffectual schemes will remain “epiphenomenal.”

There is still more. The categorical obligation to read must go beyond any pertinent metaphoric allusions to art. This obligation must represent a distinctly literal imperative.

To wit, to finally succeed in its planetary search for peace, humankind would especially benefit from understanding Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Emerson, Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Ionesco, and Beckett. There, as a philosophic start, one could learn how to frame human-scale strategies and imperatives for defying the “crowd.” To survive and to prosper, Freud had noted, every civilization will need to harness Eros, that is, to help unite each single human life with all others.

Alternatively, as Freud had already understood, individuals, in the name of some sort of ritualized herd loyalty, will continue to flee their own inwardness. They will flee “normally,” in expectation of a desperately needed liberation from “repression.” Facing even a conclusive death of self, these terror-struck individuals will still refuse to be resuscitated.

Then, at last, perhaps stubbornly, they will have succumbed altogether to the crowd-created dizziness of the irremediable.

Conspicuously, Nietzsche had longed for a world “beyond Good and Evil.” Freud, who preferred the term “primal horde” to Nietzsche’s “herd” or Kierkegaard’s “crowd,” sought dispassionately to identify a world in which this longed-for transcendence might already have applied. Unsurprisingly, his discovery turned out to be our very own extant world, one wherein Eros remains unable to play its indispensable world-unifying role. Instead, it merely reinforces baneful or narcissistic identifications with each individual’s particular herd of choice.

For easily determinable reasons, the evening news is always about “disease” manifestations, but never about any authentically underlying pathologies. Our most pressing dangers of war and terrorism continue to stem from the combining of more-or-less susceptible individuals into various crowd-centered herds. Not every herd is violent, of course, but war and terrorism can never take place in the absence of herds.

This is a point well worth keeping in mind.

Whenever individuals crowd together and form a herd, the latently destructive dynamics of the mob may sometime be released. These dynamics lower each person’s moral and intellectual level to a point where even mass killing may become acceptable or welcome.

Genocide, it follows,must now “join” both war and terrorism as a potential consequence of these myriad collective identifications.

This brings us back to current events, to symptoms, to “epiphenomena.” At their core, most ongoing conflicts across the world – e.g., Syria; Egypt; Afghanistan; Pakistan; India; Sudan; Nigeria; Kenya; etc. – represent just another expression of endlessly fragmenting struggles between warring herds. Often, though the various tribal contenders would have us believe that “God’s will” is the gold standard of all their policy decisions, the de facto end to their blind fury is anything but divine.

In the end, Giacometti’s Man Pointing may be taken as an imaginative signpost of what is most deeply causal in spawning war and shaping peace. This is a consciously far-reaching detachment of individual human meaning from membership in certain herds, and a corresponding awareness that war has already decimated the herds of centuries. Whether such detachment and awareness are still within our remediating grasp is uncertain. What can be said with certainty, however, is the following:

 A triumph of peace can never be achieved at just the “symptomatic” level of international relations, but only at the more starkly underlying level of individual human beings.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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International Law

Authentic Justice Thus Everlasting Peace: Because We Are One

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The ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a good thing. We thank God for it. Be it between two individuals or institutions or nations or the internal colonial and colonized, war does not do anything except cause more immediate or future mass misery and human destruction. Our continued memories of our interpersonal and international and internal colonial and civil wars and the memorials we erect to remember them recall and record wounds and pains we never get over. 

So it becomes a bothersome puzzle as to why we human beings still just don’t get that war like oppression leads to nowhere except to more human devastation. And we should have learned by now but have not that peacemaking like ceasefires mean nothing without justice.

 It is the reason why I constantly find myself correcting those who stress Peace and Justice.No Justice No Peace is more than a cliche.It is real politic emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Our American inner cities like those in every continent where culturally different and similar people live cramped impoverished lives and nations and colonial enclaves with such unequal wealth remind us of their continued explosive potentialities when peace is once again declared but with no justice.Everyone deserves a decent quality of life which not only includes material necessities but more importantly emotional and spiritual freedoms and other liberations.Not just the victors who conquer and rule and not just the rich and otherwise privileged.

 And until such  justices are  assured to everyone peacemaking is merely a bandaid on cancerous societal or International conflictual soars which come to only benefit those who profit from wars which are bound to come around again when there is no justice and thus peace such as  family destroying divorce lawyers, blood hungry media to sell more subscriptions , arms dealers to sell more murderous technologies, politicians needing  votes so start and prolong wars, and military men and women seeking promotion while practicing their killing capacities.

So if those of us who devoutly practice our  faiths or our golden moral principles,  let us say always and pray and advocate justice and peace always  as a vital public good  and  do justice then lasting peace in our personal lives and insist that national leaders, our own and others do the same in their conduct of international affairs and affairs with those who are stateless in this global world. 

All such pleading is essential since we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God who created all of us  in God’s image as one humanity  out of  everlasting divine love for all of us so we should love each other as God loves all of us  leading to desiring justice and thus lasting peace for each and every one of us.

This is difficult for those in international affairs to understand who take more conventional secular approaches to historical and contemporary justice and peace challenges as if our universal spiritual connectivennes  ( not to be confused with the vast diversity of organized religions)as human beings which makes us all brothers and sisters has no relevance. But if we are going to find true enduring peace we have no alternative but to turn our backs on increasingly useless secular methods which go either way, stressing peace then justice or justice then peace and understand how much we must begin to explore and implement approaches which we look at each other as spiritually connected brothers and sisters in which it is the expectation that peace only comes and lasts when  through the equal enjoyment of justices for every human being, we restore our universal kindred rooted in the everlasting love of God and thus for each other, no matter the different ways in which we define God or positive moral principles which originate in understandings that we human beings in all our diversities are one and thus brothers and sisters.

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