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Looking Beyond Current Crises: American Policy, Global Chaos and Collective Will

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing extends his finger accusingly. But where is he pointing, where exactly, in what discernible direction and toward whom or what in particular? At one level, these are silly or unfair questions. Still, at another oft-ignored and more penetrating intellectual level, these same questions might represent fruitful queries.

Taken as metaphor, the presumed object of any such artistic “accusation” could prove well worth discovering.

 But why?

L’Homme au doigt, Alberto Giacometti

A preliminary answer must be made ready and available, reliably at hand. In principle, at least, this sort of artistic indirection could begin to lead us beyond the narrowly ad hominem assessments of day-to-day Washington gossip and beyond the usual appraisals of a largely rancorous interest. Conspicuously, it could give rise to assorted creative hypothesesabout world politics and collective survival.

Without such hypotheses or tentative scientific explanations, Americans – and especially their dissembling president – will continually fail to look anywhere beyond the “tip of the iceberg;” that is, behind the narrowly episodic daily news. That would mean, among other unwelcome outcomes: (1) experiencing endlessly incremental assaults by disjointed arguments and unhelpful gossip; and (2) not experiencing any authentically meaningful analytic learning .

Several serious issues are involved in this assessment. Any such prospectively lethal failure would prevent us from creating (3) a more tolerable system of international relations and (derivatively) (4) a more sustainable US foreign policy. Ultimately, this particularly intolerable kind of failure should be prevented at all costs.

Some pertinent observations are now plain and unassailable. Ideally, all of our national leaders should begin at the beginning. World politics, inter alia, is most immutably and consequentially a system.[1]

There is more. In all geopolitical struggles for power, everything is overlapping, intersecting or interpenetrating. For the United States, the critically  salient issues arising within these complex configurations are not ones of personality, party, partisanship or ideology. Rather, they are factors that reflect various broad-based aspects of a universal human behavior.

Such factors can be successfully challenged and managed, not by any usual manipulations of public sentiment (i.e., propaganda or “public relations”), but by more genuinely diligent applications of “mind.”

Always, truth is commendable, and not just “in principle.” Here, truth, exculpatory and self-fulfilling, can bestow multiple advantages. True, we are disturbingly far from displaying what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once called “high thinking.” Nonetheless, depending upon specific assignments of meaning, or definition, we may still stand some reasonable chance of achieving a partial or residual “redemption.”

There is more. Before any mind or intellect-based rescues could be taken seriously, Americans will require more than distressingly shrill screams of collective encouragement[2] What will be required is a new-found or perhaps even resurrected respect for science and reason. To be sure, as current examples, Iranian nuclearization, North Korean threats, climate change and generally imperiled human survival are calculably real problems.

They are anything but “fake news.”

In essence, America’s increasingly perilous place in world politics can never be secured by a willfully anti-intellectual president, one who conspicuously loathes literally any dispassionate, and systematic approach to problem solving.

Conceptually, we will need to begin our pertinent analyses at the beginning. This means, among other things, with the individual human being, with the world system’s most readily recognizable and determinative microcosm. Quite plausibly, this “little world” is the authentic object of Swiss artist Giacometti’s tell-tale finger pointing.

Some obligations never change.

Accordingly, the singular individual represents the core foundation of all politics, whether national or global.

Always.

From the specific standpoint of the United States, the questions that most seriously bedevil foreign policy decision-making are not fundamentally about Trump, Putin, Assad, Erdogan, Kim Jung Un, China, Russia, the Middle East, immigration, aggression,[3] nuclear arms racing, nuclear war,[4] bipolarity vs. multipolarity,[5] barrier walls, elections, identifiable crimes or misdemeanors, etc. Intractably, these personalities and issues appear “up front” in our daily news summaries or appraisals – and are obviously of very great significance –  but they are still mere reflections of what is deeply underlying. While seemingly urgent in their own right, these distractions are the most visible “symptoms” of much more complex world system “pathologies.”

It is these underlying “diseases,” and not their multiple and tangible symptoms, that should now galvanize refined analytic attention.

As with any such carefully planned tasks, true learning must have its correct (and revered) place. In terms of classic western philosophy, we should think here of Plato’s long-famous parable of the cave, an instructive tale still told routinely to first year undergraduates in order to illustrate certain still-timeless life lessons. Most valuable here would be the core Platonic distinction between “reality” and variously dissembling “shadows” of reality.

There is a more than reasonable argument for offering such distinctions in present-day American society and politics.

“Art,” offered Pablo Picasso, “is a lie that can tell us the truth.” In this regard, certain elements of truth may still lie latent in the finger-pointing representations of Alberto Giacometti. Most significantly, these elements could reveal that the effective shape of global politics (the relevant macrocosm) is always contingent upon the flesh and blood expectations of singular or individual human beings.

 In other words, these singular individuals represent the pertinent but protean microcosm who must ultimately give both political activity and law[6] their calculable form.

In the end, all global politics – including the refractory and seat-of-the-pants foreign policies being fashioned by US President Donald Trump – must be recognized as reflective of something more expressly causal. This still-necessary recognition, in turn, must be based upon a more consciously theoretical[7] understanding of the specific wants and behaviors of human beings, either singly or as parts of some determinable “collective will.”[8] Indisputably, though the individual person is always the primal “microcosm” of any particular nation’s foreign policy decision-making, it is the collective expression of this microcosm that becomes sorely problematic and correspondingly subject to assorted forms of “misuse.”[9]

There is no shortage of apt examples. For appropriately historic and present-day instances, we may recall together the 1934 Nuremberg gatherings of the Third Reich and Donald Trump’s contemporary “rallies.” In examining each worrisome case, what matters most is not the specific content of any political speech, past or future, but rather the reassuringly common warmth of some surrounding “mass.” The fact that what is being rhythmically chanted at all such rancorous gatherings is plainly nonsense (Trump rallies) or overtly genocidal (Nuremberg rallies) is pretty much beside the point.

What truly matters here is that individual human thinking is no longer required (indeed, it generally becomes a despised object or an object of collective execration) and that individual responsibility can quickly be swallowed up in its entirety by a well- orchestrated “herd.”

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1934.

“I love the poorly educated” said 2016 presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

For the United States, adopting a more distinctly cosmopolitan orientation could help matters, but an antecedent question must first be posed and then correctly answered: From what available intellectual font could such an indispensable vision of human “oneness” actually be drawn? In an American nation encouraged by both its prevailing culture and its crushing politics to loath intellect (e.g., President Trump never reads a single book – any book), even the most vaunted universities are unlikely to offer some suitable platform for transformation.

It’s not bewildering. In today’s United States, even higher education has become commoditized. And commodities, as everyone is well aware, exist only to be bought and sold.

In these United States, it’s all about commerce –  not always for its own sake, but sometimes for the sake of individual self-esteem or what ordinary street hooligans would call “respect.”

The Talmud reminds us all: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.” Yet, we are now left for policy guidance with only the skeletal structures of a desperately-needed cosmopolitanism, that is, with only the bitter residue of what is genuinely needed. This dissembling president, ignoring the vital presence of system, has a conveniently misleading name for this trickling residue of meaningful thought.

By ignoring that everything in world politics and global economics is interconnected, he disingenuously calls such posture “America First.”

Although cheerful and seemingly sensible, any zero-sum mantra is the manifestly negative fulfillment of a society that had once been able to take itself seriously. At its core, this slogan stands for declension, for the grim triumph of endless belligerence,[10] balance-of-power politics,[11]  expanding chaos[12] and a blindly destructive collective will.[13]

For the United States, there will likely be multiple injurious consequences. Left in place by an administration that continuously fails to acknowledge its most incorrigible failings, America First  (suddenly or incrementally) will injure our interests and ideals at the same time.[14] It follows that a non-theoretic American foreign policy premised upon illogical extrapolations and a perversely proud ethos of anti-thought would produce only negative outcomes.

In more expressly technical terms, we would call such unwelcome results “force-multiplying” or “synergistic.”

By definition, in these fully predictable outcomes, the “whole” of any national injury would be greater than the aggregated sum of its policy “parts.”

Plausibly, in the aftermath of these unacceptable outcomes, Alberto Giacometti’s accusing finger will not be retracted. Instead, it will point, convincingly, at all of us. But by then it will already be too late.

For Americans imperiled by a darkly corrosive collective will, intellect or “mind” must remain uniquely vital. Among other possible contributions, intellect could reveal certain generally hidden relationships between individual human death fears and a stubbornly antagonistic nationalism. In the nineteenth century, as part of his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), Heinrich von Treitschke had looked insightfully beyond the daily news. Citing to Johan Gottlieb Fichte, the German historian opined prophetically: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”

Fichte understood something here of uncommon (and incomparable) importance. It is that there can be no greater power on earth than power over death. Never.

Still earlier, correspondingly, the German philosopher Georg F. Hegel had commented famously: “The state is the march of God through the world.”[15]

These complicated insights are not at all easy to grasp (they are intended not for the many, but for the few), but they remain stunningly important nonetheless.

“Art is the lie,” says Pablo Picasso, “that lets us see the truth.” At its core, Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing offers a prospectively illuminating representation of isolation and alienation, a troubling image that could help to lead us toward much deeper human understandings of war, terrorism and “collective will.” Reciprocally, such understandings could produce more thoughtful and auspicious foreign policies than what is currently being fashioned both ex nihilo and ad hoc.

“Normally,” as Giacometti’s art hints obliquely, each individual person can feel empty and insignificant apart from membership in some sort of reassuring crowd. Sometimes, the sustaining crowd is the State. Sometimes, it is the Tribe. Sometimes, as with ISIS, Hezbollah or Hamas, it is, at least ostensibly, the Faith (always, of course, the “one true faith”). Sometimes, it is the self-proclaimed “Resistance Movement,” as in certain aptly similar examples of Fatah, Islamic Jihad or certain other present-day terror groups.

Whatever the particular aggrandizing crowd of the moment, it is largely a craving to belong that threatens fatal subversions of individual human responsibility, and, correspondingly, the commission of truly monumental crimes. The cumulatively lethal consequences of such cravings is a convulsive and sometimes orgasmic triumph of “collective will.” Often, the proximate cause of these unmanaged cravings is an expanding fear of “chaos”[16] in the persistently Westphalian state of nature.[17]

In each and every case, the triumph of an insidious collective will must be built upon an unhidden loathing of intellect or mind. Concretely, this is the sort of seat-of-the-pants decision-making celebrating (to use Donald Trump’s own words about US foreign policy processes) “attitude, not preparation.”

Art is a “lie” that may still help us to see more clearly. “Deconstructing” Giacometti’s emaciated figure, the outlines of a pragmatic conclusion may appear, either suddenly, as a riveting “bolt from the blue,” or gradually, in certain welcome increments. It could then prod informed analysis as follows:

 Unless we humans can finally learn how to temper our overwhelming and nearly-universal desire to belong at all costs, our recurrent military and political schemes to remedy war, terrorism and genocide will fail.

Without substantial augmentation by variously basic sorts of human transformation – namely, changes that could produce more expressly individualistic human beings – alltime-dishonored schemes for national security, collective security or collective defense will continue to be ineffectual.

They will remain pretty much beside the point.

They will have no helpful impact on reducing global chaos or the most grievously omnivorous forms of collective will.

Oddly enough, all this should finally be obvious. Foreign policy making requires some serious erudition. Yet, relevant learning must embrace much more than a wholly unprepared American president’s inclinations to snap back viscerally to assorted complex questions with appealingly shallow and simplistic phrases.

Before American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson had exhorted capable national governance by “high-thinking,” Thomas Jefferson, lacking both a computer and a smart-phone, still managed to read Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf, Hobbes and Locke – together, significantly, the interwoven intellectual mainsprings of his Declaration of Independence. What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

The answer is as plain as it is incontestable. This particular answer should also be deeply humiliating; still, it is anything but that for many millions of the insistently malleable American “crowd.” The fact (unassailable) that tens of millions of Americans remain content with an effectively illiterate presidency is a symptom and reminder of a much deeper civilizational “pathology.” In possibly useful explanation, we may recall philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s unvarnished aphorism in Zarathustra: “When the throne sits on mud,” warned the 19th century German thinker, “mud sits on the throne.”

Where, today, is there any still-discernible intellectual life among the American people?

How many Americans have even any lingering acquaintance with the founding documents of the United States?

How many of our citizens expect their president to be even remotely familiar with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution?[18]

How many Americans have ever bothered to look at such musty old documents themselves?

This president proudly introduced Duck Dynasty as keynote “speaker” at his nominating presidential convention.

This same president was recently described by US General (ret.) Michael Hayden, a former head of CIA, as “the useful idiot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

These are not trivial observations, nor are they being seriously disputed. Furthermore, can anyone still credibly maintain that Donald Trump has even a remote inkling of what is contained in the basic literatures of law, science or history? Do many (or any) really care that he obviously knows nothing of importance, and most conspicuously wants to know nothing? Shouldn’t Americans reasonably expect, as an utterly bare minimum, a president who reads something, anything?

“In the market place,” reminds Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “nobody believes in higher men.”

US President Donald Trump came to the White House by way of the “market place.” For him, the self-demeaning world of bargaining and bullying was not just the only world he had ever known; it also represented the only world he had ever wanted to know. For his still numerous supporters, the presumed benefits of  belonging to the Trump “crowd” outweigh the harder-to-measure costs of American collective insecurity.

Observed Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics, and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty.”

Nietzsche had longed openly for a world “beyond Good and Evil.” Freud, who preferred the term “primal horde” to Nietzsche’s “herd,” sought steadfastly to identify a habitat in which this longed-for transcendence might have sometime been applied. His discovery turned out to be his own “lived-in” world, one where Eros was not allowed to play any unifying role, and reinforced baneful or “narcissistic” identifications with an always- terrorizing mass.[19]

“The crowd,” observed the 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Nowhere has this seminal observation remained more stubbornly correct than politics, both national and global. To be fair, not every human crowd or herd or mass need be insidious or destructive. Still, ominously ongoing crimes of war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity could never take place in the absence of such primal or even primordial manifestations of collective will.

Whenever individuals join together and form a crowd or herd or mass, certain latently destructive dynamics of mob psychology become available. Among other things, this fateful combining of “membership” with destructiveness lowers each affected person’s ethical and intellectual level to a point where even the most monstrous crimes can quickly become acceptable. In the case of insistently barbarous groups, rabidly murderous behavior is not merely agreeable to the membership. It is also deeply welcome, satisfying and sometimes even palpably lascivious.

However unseemly, this behavior offers a continuous source of ghastly collective celebrations and excruciatingly private ecstasies.

On the surface, ongoing brutalities in our dissembling world order represent fragmenting struggles between warring herds. These herds, in turn, are the “natural” product of various underlying individual human needs to belong. Such critical needs are themselves derived from the most primary human want of all. This, our national leaders must finally learn to understand, is the generally unquenchable human yearning for immortality.[20]

It goes without saying that any such difficult understanding still lies far beyond the ken of our current national leaders.

What else ought we to expect from an American president who celebrates “attitude, not preparation?”

Understood as “pathology,” our steadily growing global chaos remains only a symptom. But, as an aesthetic start to more promising and enduring national policy solutions, Giacometti’s Man Pointing may be taken as an imaginative signpost of what is most determinative in spawning war, terrorism and genocide. Sooner or later, what is deteriorating on this fragile planet will need to be “fixed” at the most “molecular” level of conflict; that is, at the ever-needful level of each individual human being.

In the end, there can be no guarantees that even more deeply thoughtful analyses of global politics could be made “operational.” Still, unless we begin to acknowledge the ubiquity and core importance of individual human longings for membership (belonging) and immortality (power over death), America’s most critical foreign policies will inevitably fail.

If, however, this crowd-oriented country could begin to place greater emphases on intellect and learning, our collective survival odds would improve correspondingly.

To make any country “great again” in isolation represents a shamelessly misconceived objective, if only because virtually all countries – including the United States – have just a partial or dubious “greatness” to revive. The only legitimate US goal, therefore, must be to make the entire world system more tolerable for all of its interdependent inhabitants. The pertinent Talmudic message here is not new. But as a conspicuous reminder: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

America’s unavoidable task can be accomplished only after we begin to search for useable meaning and truth well beyond the daily news. Giacometti’s emaciated figure points not only at world leaders of one generation or another, but more widely at millennia of individual and collective human error. Without a willingness to finally understand the rudimentary human bases of America’s “collective will,” such evident disregard for intellect or “mind” could produce once-unimaginable levels of chaos.

By definition, therefore, such a primary willingness is now indispensable.


[1] In this connection, recall the unchallengeable observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….”

[2] Such “democratic” screams would no doubt have horrified the Founding Fathers of the United States. Nurtured by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the religion of John Calvin, the Fathers began their Constitutional deliberations with the core notion that an American citizen must inevitably be an unregenerate being who has to be continually and strictly controlled. Fearing democracy as much as any form of leadership tyranny, Elbridge Gerry spoke openly of democracy as “the worst of all political evils,” while William Livingston opined: “The people have been and ever will be unfit to retain the exercise of power in their own hands.” George Washington, as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, sternly urged delegates not to produce a document to “please the people,” while Alexander Hamilton – made newly famous by the currently popular Broadway musical – expressly charged America’s government “to check the imprudence of any democracy.”

[3] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[4] For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[5] For earlier but still useful comparisons of polarity in world politics, by this author, See: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, December 1973, pp. 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[6] This includes international law or the law of nations. such law remains a “vigilante” system, or “Westphalian” law. The historic reference here is to the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the now still-existing decentralized, or self-help, state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] “Theory is a net,” observes the German poet Novalis, “and only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[8] In modern philosophy, the evident origin of this useful term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps still more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Significantly, Goethe also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenerary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[9]https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1151&context=ilr

[10] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[11] The concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a  more recent variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. Further, it has never had anything to do with any calculable equilibrium. As such a balance is always a matter of individual and more-or-less subjective perceptions, adversary states may never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, as each side must perpetually fear  that it will be “left behind,” the search for balance continually produces wider insecurity and disequilibrium.

[12] Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:”  During chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,”  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[13] Consider, in this regard, the relevant observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[14] Says Emmerich de Vattel, in his The Law of Nations (1758),  “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[15] In more complete citation: “The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth….We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is a difficult to comprehend Nature, it is harder to grasp the Essence of the State….The State is the march of God through the world….” See: See: Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as quoted by Karl R Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 4th ed., 2 vols. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), vol. 2, p. 31.

[16] Ironically, whether described in the Old Testament or in other sources of ancient Western thought, chaos is as much a source of human betterment as of declension. In essence, it is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but also where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[17] Apropos of Thomas Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.

[18] We may usefully recall here Jean Jacques Rousseau’s timeless warning about intellectual responsibility in his The Social Contract: “I warn the reader that this essay requires to be read very seriously, and that I am unacquainted with any art which can make the subject clear to those who will not bestow on it their serious attention.”

[19] Freud was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[20] The Spanish existentialist philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno (Tragic Sense of Life, 1921) has called it “the hunger for immortality.”

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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Americas

Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

Igor Ivanov

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the West in general, should build relations with Russia. The first, published on August 5 and signed by over 100 prominent American politicians, diplomats and military leaders, states that Washington’s present policy towards Moscow “isn’t working” and that it is time that the United States “rethink” it. The gist of the proposals is that the United States “must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy.”

This letter prompted a response, first from another group of former American ambassadors and political scientists (Politico, August 11) and then from several eminent politicians from Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (August 13). Both groups agree that now is not the time to reconsider policies toward Russia.

I am well acquainted with many of the signatories to these three statements. I worked closely with some of them during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and met some of them during negotiations. I still keep in touch with several of them, as we participate in various informal international projects. Since most parties to the emerging discussion are both highly experienced professionals and public figures, their stances on Russia are well known. The list of signatories under each statement hardly came as a surprise to anyone.

I do not think it makes sense to dwell in too much detail on the arguments presented by the parties. At the same time, proceeding from my own experience of U.S.–Russia relations, I would think that I have the right to put forward some considerations of my own.

First of all, on whether a “new reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow is either possible or desirable. One gets the impression that the authors of the letters see the “old reset” spearheaded by the Obama administration as a kind of bonus or advance offered by the United States to Russia in the hope that the latter would “behave” properly. The debate focuses on whether or not Russia has justified this “advance,” and whether or not it deserves a new bonus. Personally, I cannot recall a single instance where the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidency or under any other administration) gave Russia a “bonus” or “advance” of any kind, made a unilateral concession or indeed did anything that was not in the interests of the United States.

As I see it, the “reset” fully met the long-term interests of both states, particularly in security. Only a very biased observer would claim that the New START Treaty constituted a unilateral concession to Moscow on the part of Washington. Similarly, NATO’s call at the 2010 Lisbon Summit for a true strategic partnership with Russia can hardly be viewed as a unilateral concession. In both instances, the interests of both parties were taken into account, as were the interests of international security in general.

Russia and the United States remain the world’s leading nuclear powers, boasting the largest strategic weapons capabilities. Moscow and Washington have been engaged in mutual deterrence for decades now. However, an objective analysis of the challenges and threats to Russian and U.S. security shows that the very real dangers that do exist emanate not from the two countries themselves, but rather from processes and trends that lie outside the bilateral relations. Accordingly, any predictions about the possible and desirable prospects for interaction between the two states will be incomplete at the very least if they are taken out of the overall context of the development of the international system.

We have to admit that mistrust between Russia and the United States has reached an all-time high. It will take years, maybe even decades, to rectify this situation. However, I am confident that, sooner or later, we will have to start moving in that direction, not because one party will “wear” the other down, forcing it to make unilateral concessions or even throw itself at the mercy of the winner. First, each side has a large safety margin and is willing to continue the confrontation for many years to come. Second, history shows us that peace achieved through unilateral concession rarely lasts.

Life itself, by which I mean each side understanding the long-term need of its own security, will force the United States and Russia to resume progress towards cooperation. Such an understanding, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the elections in the two countries, or with the opportunistic calculations of individual political forces. Regardless of these calculations, the world is rapidly moving towards the line beyond which a global disaster looms with increasing clarity. Once we take a peek beyond this line, the entire world, primarily its leading states, which bear special responsibility for the fate of the world, will have to make decisions that go beyond their own immediate interests.

As for the debates on when and with whom the United States should enter into a dialogue with Russia, I believe such discussions have zero practical value. It would be extremely unreasonable and even irresponsible to defer talks in the hope that more convenient or more accommodating interlocutors will appear in the partner country or, alternatively, that a more favourable general political situation for negotiations will appear.

I would like to refer to my own experience. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I constantly kept in touch with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. That was in the late 1990s–early 2000s. The bombings of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, the Middle Eastern crisis, the expansion of NATO and many, many other events objectively made the U.S.–Russia dialogue more difficult. Obviously, our views on many issues differed greatly. But we never broke off our dialogue, not for a day, no matter how difficult it was. Strictly speaking, this is the art of diplomacy: conducting a dialogue with a difficult partner, achieving agreements where the stances of the parties veer widely and the chances of reaching a comprise appear minimal.

Critics will hasten to say that the U.S.–Russia dialogue in the early 21st century failed to prevent many conflicts and wars, and that is true. But it also helped prevent far graver consequences and, where possible, even led to the signing of important mutually acceptable agreements (New START, etc.). The experience of global diplomacy tells us that the only way to find solutions is through dialogue. The sooner our leading politicians realize it, the faster we will step away from mutual public accusations and destructive information wars waged with cutting-edge technologies and move towards earnest talks on the crucial issues of the 21st-century agenda.

Giving general advice is easy. It is even easier to take the high horse, insisting on staying faithful to one’s values and principles. It is much more difficult for those who have been accorded the requisite powers to make specific decisions. As the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” All we can do is hope that politicians in Russia and the United States will prefer the unpalatable to the disastrous.

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The Farce of Post 9/11 U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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This week refugee camps in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos were set ablaze rendering over 20,000 refugees homeless.  Apparently the fires were started by the refugees themselves who are sick of lives in limbo on the EU periphery.  They want to reach the heartland, get jobs, build lives for themselves.

An inevitable consequence of our modern wars, refugees have become an emblem.  Old newsreels show us their lined, worried faces in the Second World War and TV has them live from Yugosloavia, a country disappeared and reemerged as several ethnic  parts, while numerous principal actors of the time faced judges in the international courts.

Then there is 9/11 in the US — a term meaning September 11 as in the US, unlike Europe and many parts of the world, the month is written first followed by the day and year.  Patriot Day, as it has been labeled, September 11 marks the day when commercial airliners were used as weapons to destroy the World Trade Center, a skyscraper in New York City, and attack the Pentagon, the military’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

If the mastermind of the attack was a turned, non-Afghan, Mujahedin commander camped out in Afghanistan, who following Soviet withdrawal turned his attention to the other major power … committing, in his mind, the unpardonable sin of parking troops on his native soil of Saudi Arabia — no matter, they were there for protective purposes from an increasingly belligerent Saddam Hussein.

The results we know.  A naive George Bush and a populace thirsting for revenge attacked Afghanistan leading to the longest war in American history.  Many presidents later, Donald Trump too is trying to negotiate a pull-out of US troops with the Taliban.  Yes, Afghanistan holds elections and has a president, even a military, but guess what will happen if US troops leave without any resolution with the Taliban.

George Bush’s rival for governor in Texas had a great line.  ‘Poor George,’ she would say, ‘he can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’  So George went after Iraq and lacking his father’s good sense (who after liberating Kuwait withdrew) he stayed to democratize Iraq without examining the country’s demographics.  Majority Shia, it has a democratic leadership now that is Shia and closely allied with Shia Iran.  Fast forward to the present and the current president, Donald Trump, is withdrawing troops from Iraq and is in a stand-off with Iran. 

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking American foreign policy in the Middle East is a plot from a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.  Except for a sad and sobering fact.  More than a million lives lost, refugees still streaming out and many, many millions of lives displaced … including a Christian Iraqi from Baghdad who runs a 24-hour convenience store a couple of miles from my house.

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American Democracy and “The Barbarism of Specialisation”

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Jose Ortega y' Gasset

“The specialist ‘knows’ very well his own tiny corner of the universe; he is radically ignorant of all the rest.”-Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

It has been almost one hundred years since Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset  published The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas, 1930). A prescient indictment of anti-Reason, and an immediate forerunner of modern classical works by German scholars Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers,[1] Ortega was most plainly concerned about Europe’s growing fragmentation of learning. Witnessing a world rapidly abandoning the traditional goal of  broadly-educated or “whole” human beings, he worried about a future in which there would be more capable scientists than ever before, but where these scientists were otherwise unexceptional and without any wider embrace of erudition.

                These observations were seminal. Among other things, the prophetic philosopher foresaw “educated” societies in which even the proud holders of impressive university degrees were “conscientiously ignorant” of everything outside their own vocational bailiwicks. In essence, Ortega had anticipated the present-day United States. Here, even in an oft-vaunted “advanced society,” the most exquisitely trained physicians, lawyers, accountants and engineers generally reason at the same limiting level of analysis as technicians, carpenters or lightly schooled office workers.

               In large part, this is because “professional” education in the United States has effectively superseded everything that does not ostentatiously focus on making money. The adverb here is vital in this description, because the overriding lure of wealth in America remains the presumed admiration it can elicit from others. As we ought already to have learned from Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759): “The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world….At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him.”[2]

               Almost by definition, any American concerns for intellectual or historical issues per se have become extraneous. This does not mean, however, that our strenuous national efforts at improving professional education  have been successful  or productive. On the contrary, as we witness the multiple daily technical failures of American democracy – e.g. the all-too evident incapacity of our ballot calculating technologies to keep abreast of shifting vote-counting modalities – this beleaguered polity is failing on multiple fronts.

               For many reasons, many of them overlapping, this has been a lamentable retrogression. Above all, it has impaired this country’s capacity to sustain an enviable or even minimally credible democracy. Though Thomas Jefferson had already understood that proper human governance requires a purposeful acquaintance with historical and sociological learning, Americans now inhabit a country where the president can say unashamedly, “I love the poorly educated.” Significantly, this perverse preference of Donald J. Trump did not emerge ex nihilo, out of nothing.

               It is a portentous but credible echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”[3]

               Ortega y’Gasset had a specific name for this generally defiling intellectual deformation. More exactly, he called it “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.”[4] Earlier, and in somewhat similar fashion, Friedrich  Nietzsche wrote about the “educated philistine.”[5] Both Ortega and Nietzsche recognized the irony that a society could become progressively better educated in various sub-fields of human knowledge and yet, simultaneously, become less and less cultured, less and less truly civilized.[6] In this regard, the German philosopher placed appropriate conceptual blame on what he preferred to call the “herd.”[7] For his part, the kindred Spanish thinker cast his particular indictment on the “mass.”

               Whatever the terminological differences, both sets of ideas were centered on the same basic critique; that is, that individuals had been casting aside the necessary obligation to think for themselves, and had, thereby, surrendered indispensable analytic judgments to “crowds.”[8]

               Today, both ideas can shed some useful light on American democracy, a system of governance under increasing assault by US President Donald J. Trump.        To the extent that American education has become rampantly vocational – that is, oriented toward more and more “pragmatic” kinds of specialization – the wisdom of Ortega y’Gasset and others is worth probing with ever-increasing care. Moreover, the corrosively “barbarous” impact of  specialization foreseen earlier by philosophers is now magnified by the injurious effects of worldwide disease pandemic. 

               Without doubt, this unwelcome magnification will need to be countered if American democracy is able merely to survive.[9]

               But analysis should begin at the beginning. Inter alia, it is a discomfiting beginning. Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly fragmented and rancorous that even their most sincere melancholy is seemingly contrived. Wallowing in the mutually-reinforcing twilights of submission and conformance, We the people have strayed dangerously far from any meaningful standards of serious learning. In consequence, though still a nation with extraordinary scientific, medical and commercial successes, the American public is often ill-equipped to judge candidates for  high political office.[10]

               As we have seen, utterly ill-equipped.

               Surveying ever-mounting damages of the Trump presidency,[11] some of which are synergistic or “force multiplying,” could anything be more apparent?

                The grievously baneful selection of Donald J. Trump in 2016 was anything but a cultural aberration.  It was, rather, the plausible outcome of an electorate relentlessly driven and even defined by “mass.” Without any real or compelling reasons, voting Americans freely abandoned the once-residual elements of Jeffersonian good citizenship.

               Together with the unceasing connivance of assorted criminals, charlatans and fools, many of them occupants of the present US Government’s most senior positions, a lonely American mass now bears core responsibility for allowing the demise of a once- enviable democratic ethos. To expect any sudden improvements to emerge from among this homogenized mass (e.g., by continuously making the citizens more particularly aware of this president’s manifold derelictions) would be to  overestimate its inclinations.  Though truth is always exculpatory, there are times when it yields to various forms of self-delusion.

               “What the mass once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “who could ever overthrow with reasons?”

               There will be a heavy price to pay for America’s still-expanding ascendancy of mass. Any society so willing to abjure its rudimentary obligations toward dignified learning – toward what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once called “high thinking” – is one that should never reasonably expect to survive.[12]

                There is more. Treating formal education as a narrowly instrumental obligation (“one should get better educated in order to get a better paying job”), Americans now more easily accept flagrantly empty witticisms as profundities (“We will build a beautiful wall;” “Barbed wire can be beautiful;” “The moon is part of Mars;”  “Testing for corona virus only increases disease;” “Just one percent of Covid19 victims have symptoms,” etc., etc), and consult genuinely challenging ideas only rarely.

               Always, the dire result of anti-Reason is more-or-less predictable; that is, a finely trained work force that manages to get a particular “job” done, but displays (simultaneously) nary a hint of  worthwhile learning, commendable human understanding or simple compassion. Concerning this last absence, empathy is not directly related to the “barbarisms of specialization,” but it does generally exhibit some tangible nurturance from literature, art and/or “culture.” Incontestably, the Trump White House is not “only” indifferent to basic human rights and public welfare,[13] it quite literally elevates personal animus to highest possible significations.

               This is especially marked where such animus is most thoroughly pedestrian.

               Intentionally mispronouncing the Democrat vice-presidential candidate’s first name is a small but glaring example of Donald Trump’s selected level of competitive political discourse. By its very nature, of course, this demeaning level is better suited to a first-grade elementary school classroom.

               There are even much wider ramifications of gratuitous rancor. When transposed to the vital arena of international relations, this president’s elevation of belligerent nationalism has a long and persistently unsuccessful history as Realpolitik or power politics.[14] Thinking himself clever, Donald Trump champions “America First” (the phrase resonates with those, like the president himself, who have no knowledge of history),but fails to realize that this peculiarly shameful resurrection of “Deutschland uber alles” can lead only to massive defeat and unparalleled despair.

               “I loathe, therefore I am,” could well become Donald J. Trump’s “revised” version  of  René Descartes “Cogito.”[15] Following Descartes, Sigmund Freud had understood that all human beings could somehow be motivated toward creating a “spontaneous sympathy of souls,” but America’s Donald Trump has quite expansively reversed this objective. Reinforced by the rampant vocationalism of this country’s education system, Trump has consistently urged citizens to turn against one another, and for no dignified, defensible or science-based reasons. In absolutely all cases, these grotesque urgings have had no meritorious or higher purpose.

               Instead, they remain utterly and viciously contrived.

               In the bitterly fractionated Trump-era United States, an authentic American individualhas become little more than a charming artifact.  Among other things, the nation’s societal “mass,”  more refractory than ever to intellect and learning, still displays no discernible intentions of ever taking itself seriously. To the contrary, an embittered American ‘mass” now marches in deferential lockstep, foolishly, without thought, toward even-greater patterns of imitation, unhappiness and starkly belligerent incivility.

               All things considered, the American future is not hard to fathom. More than likely, whatever might be decided in upcoming politics and elections, Americans will continue to be carried forth not by any commendable nobilities of principle or purpose, but by steady eruptions of personal and collective agitation, by endlessly inane presidential repetitions and by the perpetually demeaning primacy of a duly “sanctified” public ignorance.  At times, perhaps, We the people may still be able to slow down a bit and “smell the roses,”  but this is doubtful.

               Plainly, our visibly compromised and degraded country now imposes upon its increasingly exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast and omnivorous machine.

               This machine has no objective other than to keep struggling without spawning any sudden breakdowns or prematurely inconvenient deaths.

               Much as many might wish to deny it, the plausible end of this self-destroying machinery will be to prevent Americans from remembering who they are now and (far more importantly) who they might once still have become. At another reasonable level of concern, Americans remain threatened by nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, especially now, during the incoherent Trump-era. Significantly, although there exists a vast literature on law-based strategies of nuclear war avoidance, there is little parallel jurisprudential effort directed toward the prevention of nuclear terrorism.[16]

               In fact, presidential banalities aside, this is no longer a “nation of laws.” It is a nation of ad hoc, narrowly visceral response.

               There is more.  Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we harbored a preciously unique potential to nurture individuals, that is, to encourage Americans to become more than a smugly inert mass,  herd or crowd. Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson (also fellow Transcendentalists Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau) described us optimistically as a people animated by industry and “self-reliance.”

               Now, however, and beyond any serious contestation, we are stymied by collective paralysis, capitulation and a starkly Kierkegaardian “fear and trembling.”

                Surely, as all must eventually acknowledge, there is more to this chanting country than Fuehrer-driven rallies, tsunamis of hyper-adrenalized commerce or gargantuan waves of abundantly cheap entertainments: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” rhapsodized the poet Walt Whitman, but today, the American Selfhas devolved into a delicately thin shadow of true national potential. Distressingly, this Self has already become a twisting reflection of a prior authenticity.  Now it is under seemingly final assault by a far-reaching  societal tastelessness and by a literally epidemic gluttony.

               Regarding this expressly gastronomic debility, it’s not that we Americans have become more and more hungry, but rather that we have lost any once residual appetites for real life.[17]

               In the end, credulity is America’s worst enemy. The stubborn inclination to believe that wider social and personal redemption must lie somewhere in politics remains a potentially fatal disorder. To be fair, various social and economic issues do need to be coherently addressed by America’s political representatives, but so too must the nation’s deeper problems first be solved at the level of microcosm, as a matter for individuals.

               In the end, American politics – like politics everywhere – must remain a second-order activity, a faint reflection of what is truly important. For now, it continues to thrive upon a vast personal emptiness, on an infirmity that is the always-defiling reciprocal of any genuine personal fulfillment. “Conscious of his emptiness,” warns the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), “man (human) tries to make a faith for himself (or herself) in the political realm. In Vain.”

                Even in an authentic democracy, only a few can ever hope to redeem themselves and the wider American nation, but these self-effacing souls will generally remain silent, hidden in more-or-less “deep cover,” often even from themselves. In a democracy where education is oriented toward narrowly vocational forms of career preparation, an orientation toward “barbaric specialization,” these residual few can expect to be suffocated by the many. Unsurprisingly, such asphyxiation, in absolutely any of its conceivable particularities, would be a bad way to “die.”[18]

               Donald J. Trump did not emerge on the political scene ex nihilo, out of nothing. His incoherent and disjointed presidency is the direct result of a society that has wittingly and barbarously abandoned all serious thought. When such a society no longer asks the “big philosophical questions” – for example, “What is the “good” in government and politics”? or “How do I lead a good life as person and citizen”? or “How can I best nurture the well-being of other human beings”? – the lamentable outcome is inevitable. It is an  outcome that we are currently living through in the United States, and one that might sometime have to be “died through.”

               Going forward, what we ought to fear most of all is precisely this continuously self-defiling outcome, not a particular electoral result. To be certain, at this point, nothing could be more urgently important for the United States than to rid itself of the intersecting pathologies of Covid19 and Donald Trump, diseases that are mutually reinforcing and potentially synergistic, but even such victories would only be transient. More fundamentally, recalling philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s timeless warning about the “barbarism of specialisation,” this country must resurrect an earlier ethos of education in which learning benefits the whole human being, not just a work-related “corner of the universe.”

               Also vital is the obligation to acknowledge the fundamental interrelatedness of all peoples and the binding universality of international law.[19]

               To survive, both as a nation and as individuals, Americans need to become educated not merely as well-trained cogs in the vast industrial machine, but as empathetic and caring citizens. “Everyone is the other, and no one is just himself,” cautions Martin  Heidegger in Being and Time (1932), but this elementary lesson once discoverable in myriad sacred texts is not easily operationalized.  Indeed, it is in this single monumental failure of “operationalization” that human civilization has most conspicuously failed though the ages. To wit, in Trump-era American democracy, the president’s core message is not about the co-responsibility of every human being for his or her fellows, but about “winners,” “losers,” and a presumptively preeminent citizen obligation to “Make America Great.”

               In this Trumpian context, “greatness” assumes a crudely Darwinian or zero-sum condition, and not one wherein each individual favors harmonious cooperation over an endlessly belligerent competition.[20]

               How shall we finally change all this, or, recalling Plato’s wisdom in The Republic, how shall we  “learn to make the souls of the citizens better?”[21] This is not a question that we can answer with any pertinent detail before the upcoming US presidential election. But it is still a question that we ought to put before the imperiled American polity soon, and sometime before it is too late.[22]

               American democracy faces multiple hazards, including Ortega y’ Gasset’s “barbarism of specialisation.” To be rescued in time, each hazard will have to be tackled carefully, by itself and also in coordinated tandem with all other identifiable perils. Overall, the task will be daunting and overwhelming, but the alternative is simply no longer tolerable or sustainable.

               Donald Trump’s removal from office is a sine qua non for all applicable remedies, but even such an needed step would target only a catastrophic symptom of America’s national “pathology.” By itself, saving the United States from Donald Trump would surely be indispensable, but it would leave unchanged the country’s still most deeply underlying “disease.” In  the end,[23] because Americans will need to bring a less “specialized” form of learning to their citizenship responsibilities, the nation will quickly have to figure out practical ways of restoring educational “wholeness.”

               Can this sort of rational calculation be expected? Maybe not. Perhaps, like the timeless message of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this warning has “come too soon.” If that turns out to be the case, there may simply be no “later.”


[1] See especially Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (Sein und Zeit;1953) and Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in  our Time (1952). “Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The answer will depend, in large part, on what Heidegger has to say about the Jungian or Freudian “mass.” In Being and Time (1953), the philosopher laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon earlier core insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present and interchangeable herdcrowd, horde or mass. Each such conglomerate exhibits “untruth” (the term actually favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard)  because it can encourage the “barbarism of specialisation” and suffocate broadly humanistic kinds of learning.

[2]Smith published Theory seventeen years before his vastly more famous and oft-cited Wealth of Nations (1776).

[3]See, on commonalities between Third Reich and Trump-era American democracy, by Louis René Beres at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall/

[4] Chapter 12 of The Revolt of the Masses (1930) is expressly titled “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.'”

[5]Here, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined an aptly specific term, one he hoped could eventually become universal. This  German word was Bildungsphilister. When expressed in its most lucid and coherent English translation, it means “educated Philistine.” Bildungsphilister is a term that could shed useful light upon Donald Trump’s ongoing support from among America’s presumptively well-educated and well-to-do.

[6] On this irony, Kierkegaard says it best in The Sickness Unto Death (1849): “Devoid of imagination, as the Philistine always is, he lives in a certain trivial province of experience, as to how things go, what is possible, what usually occurs….Philistinism thinks it is in control of possibility….it carries possibility around like a prisoner in the cage of the probable, and shows it off.”

[7]Sigmund Freud introduced his own particular version of Nietzsche’s “herd,” which was “horde.” Interestingly, Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. He most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and also its corollary commitment to the crudest forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was grievously “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[8] In  essence, the “crowd” was Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s equivalent of Nietzsche’s “herd” and Ortega’s “mass.”

[9] The most ominous synergies of “barbarism” would link pandemic effects with growing risks of a nuclear war. On irrational nuclear decision-making by this author, see Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/ See also, by Professor Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon). For authoritative early accounts by Professor Beres of nuclear war expected effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[10] At a minimum, in this regard, the US public ought to be reminded of the explicit warning in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “Do not ever seek the higher man at the market place.” (Moreover, it would not be unfair to Nietzsche’s core meaning here to expand “higher man” to mean “higher person.”).

[11] Most egregious, in any assessment of these damages, is this president’s wilful subordination of national interest to his own presumed private interests. In this regard, one may suitably recall Sophocles’ cautionary speech of Creon in Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[12] Still the best treatments of America’s long-term disinterest in anything intellectual are Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964); and Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1959).

[13] See, by Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/

[14] The classic statement of Realpolitik or power politics in western  philosophy is the comment of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic : “Justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” (See Plato, The Republic, 29, Benjamin Jowett, tr., World Publishing Company, 1946.) See also: Cicero’s oft-quoted query: “For what can be done against force without force?,” Marcus Tullus Cicero, Cicero’s Letters to his Friends, 78  (D.R. Shackleton Baily tr., Scholars Press, 1988).

[15] “I think, therefore I am,” says René Descartes, in his Discourse on Method (1637). Reciprocally, in his modern classic essay on “Existentialism,” Jean-Paul Sartre observes that “…outside the Cartesian cogito, all views are only probable.”

[16] See, by Professor Louis René Beres: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1410&context=gjicl

[17] An apt literary reference for this condition of “lost appetite” is Franz Kafka’s story, The Hunger Artist.

[18] In more expressly concrete terms, average American life-expectancy, unenviable for several decades, has now fallen behind most of the advanced industrial world. While Trump boasts of a wall to keep out Mexicans and assorted “others,” more and more Americans are trying to cross in the other direction.

[19] Apropos of this universality, international law is generally part of the law of the United States. These legal systems are always interpenetrating. Declared Mr. Justice Gray, in delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)). The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[20] Here it could be helpful to recall the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[21] Long after Plato, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[22] “Sometimes,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

[23] “In the end,” says Goethe, “we are always creatures of our own making.”

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the...

Reports11 hours ago

Global development efforts should increase focus on fragile states in light of COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating inequality, poverty and insecurity in vulnerable, or fragile, countries and territories, making it more important...

Africa13 hours ago

South Sudan: Progress on peace agreement ‘limps along’

Although the transitional government in South Sudan continues to function, with state governors now appointed, among other developments, progress on...

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