“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”-Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)
More than anywhere else, Donald Trump take his decisional cues from the American “mass.” In present circumstances, this term references a succession of viscerally compliant private citizens and a seemingly endless chorus of similarly deferential public officials. If there should still arise any further doubts about such a worrisome assessment, one need only consider Trump’s rancor-filled “rallies” or the undiminished Republican Senate support for his always-accumulating leadership derogations.
What is to be done? Most concerning among these ample derogations are those actions that would impact a US presidential authorization of military force. In an evidently worst case scenario, these impacts could include an actual use of nuclear weapons, either by the American side or by a pertinent adversarial state (e.g., North Korea).
Such risks and dangers did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Rather, Donald Trump’s very conspicuous derelictions – both in the past, and still-impending – are rooted in a population that disavows two complementary obligations. These obligations are the reinforcing imperatives of serious analysis and true learning. “I love the poorly educated,” exclaimed the successful US presidential candidate in 2016. “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Chief of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at his own Nazi rallies, back in 1935 and 1936.
Truth, however inconvenient or embarrassing, is always exculpatory. Any differences between the purposely dissembling statements of President Trump and those of Minister Goebbels are minor at best. Reciprocally, the evident commonalities are distressingly plain and compelling. Both Donald Trump and his de facto German philosophical mentor represent champions of public disinformation or anti-thought.
Both seek or sought results without even a scintilla of human empathy or hint of compassionate intention.
At first, these comparisons may seem scandalous, even outrageous, but upon further reflection, they are not at all un reasonable or unfair. Indeed, what would be more manifestly unfair or dishonest is for such tangible and information-based comparisons to be blithely dismissed or casually overlooked. This is because any such whimsical disregard could lead, ineluctably, to catastrophic war.
It’s not a mysterious connection. No sensible US war avoidance policies can be expected to emerge from a society that is being steadily weakened by a compliant and obsequious mass culture. In any such anti-science context, there exists a widespread American indifference to intellect or “mind.” .
More precisely, within the demeaning interstices of United States mass culture, any such brazen indifference could result in irremediable misfortunes. These hard-to-imagine outcomes could arrive more-or-less immediately, or eventually, that is, in various foreseeable and unforeseeable increments.
Among these especially portentous prospects, the most worrisome would be nuclear attack and/or nuclear war.
There is more. Though not readily apparent in America’s current national politics, nuclear violence in variously assorted forms represents the greatest possible risk posed. No such dire prediction could be expressed as a true mathematical probability (because any nuclear war would necessarily represent a unique event), but the broader connections between generalized American anti-intellectualism and American national security are recognizably evident.
There has never been any specific or general American outcry about an American president who proudly reads nothing, literally nothing at all. At his first Republican presidential convention, an early Trump-selected “speaker” was Duck Dynasty.
Need anything more be said?
Still, there are always core lessons to be learned. Americans should look much more carefully behind the news. Everything that we/they most genuinely need to know is not on television or on the internet. More generally, “The crowd,” noted the 19th-century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”
In present-day United States, no single characterization could be more obvious or less contestable.
In this mass or crowd-based society, a continuing Trump presidency – the most patently injurious result of America’s demeaning orientation to mass- could (sooner or later) become intolerable. “The best lack all conviction,” warned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in The Second Coming, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For now at least for bewildered or beleaguered Americans, this existential warning remains confined to cerebral poetry.
But the stanza deserves a far wider audience,
Let all relevant assessments be forthright and candid. For the United States and certain of its allies, a nuclear war is never really out of the question. At the moment, the most plausible site for any such unprecedented conflagration would be northeast Asia (US versus North Korea). Still, in light of a resurrecting “Cold War” with Russia (“Cold War II”), preliminary and contagious “sparks” could ignite virtually anywhere on earth. Most problematic, in this regard, would be southwest Asia (India/Pakistan)
There is more. I have lectured and published widely on these issues since chairing Project Daniel for Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon back in 2003.
Substantial nuclear conflict dangers will obtain in the Middle East even if Iran should somehow remain non-nuclear. This is the case, inter alia, because Israel could sometime need to rely upon nuclear deterrence or actual nuclear weapons use in response to certain non-nuclear forms of unconventional aggression (i.e., biological attack) and/or “only” massive conventional aggressions.
More than likely, this second category of risk would involve assorted “hybrid” aggressions launched (plausibly, in some definitive concert with Iran) by Hezbollah.
Already, the size and military capacity of this formidable Shiite militia exceeds that of many area armies.
Let us look more closely at these strategic issues. What discernible linkages exist between mass society and nuclear war? Though mass thinking or “crowd” thinking (Kierkegaard) is always “untruth,” Donald Trump is not the most genuinely root cause of America’s expanding atomic war perils. He is rather, an “outcome,” a mere result, though a prospectively devastating result, of larger and far more deeply insidious national pathologies. More formally, knowledgeable scientists and philosophers (not this president’s mass “base”) would identify Trump’s incessantly demeaning incumbency as “epiphenomenal.”
But this does not make them any less dangerous.
There is more.Some complementary or corollary concerns aremore expressly legal than military or strategic.In these similarly urgent matters of US foreign policy making, President Donald Trump, leading a major world power that remains party to both the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Genocide Convention (1948), has no defensible legal right to call openly for international aggression. But this is exactly what Trump demanded when he first threatened “total destruction” of North Korea in the earliest days of his presidency.
While the American president intermittently claims (with evident pride) that he and Kim Jung Un are “in love,” this allegedly deep affection remains an unreliable basis for nuclear war avoidance. Moreover, looking ahead dispassionately, the more visible and credible source of verbal belligerence between Washington and Pyongyang is the White House.
In law, there is no legitimate American right of tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). Among other historical instances, this legal defense was rejected at the original Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, and also at the later Tokyo Trials. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless legal derogations lies in his sweeping unfamiliarity with all normally recognizable instances of history and jurisprudence.
Even now, Donald Trump appears unaware of the basics. International law remains an integral part of U.S. domestic (municipal) law. To date, at least, this president has been unable to nullify Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) or any of the several major Supreme Court decisions detailing binding sources for “incorporation.” Among seminally core case judgments linking valid international rules to United States obligations, the most plainly important are the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (1984).
Does anyone reasonably expect that US President Trump or his personal lawyers would have even a tiny substantive notion about these landmark American decisions?
It’s a silly question.
This sort of essential information is discussed only by the Constitutional lawyers. Now, unassailably, our vaunted American democracy rests unsteadily on the retrograde sovereignty of wholly unqualified persons. Even now, in the Senate leadership of his own party, only a pitiful few are prepared to say emphatically and unambiguously: “This emperor is naked, irremediably naked. He has no clothes.”
In metaphoric candor, Donald Trump’s refractory authority has “slipped back,” to use the illuminating images of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, and on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This ancient “stage” remains shabby, shaky and profoundly anti-democratic. Cumulatively, it does not bode well for a secure American life at any level.
At the conceptual heart of our America’s “crowd” or “mass” problem, the current US president remains a malignant and determinative “symptom.” Any further American “slippage” into the presidentially-augmented mass will have discernible and distinctly palpable consequences. There are certain obvious and unstoppable reasons for this. Reasonably, no country so openly fearful of independent thought – no country so fervidly torn between its loud public proclamations of “exceptionalism” and the silent estrangements of its grievously unhappy people – can hope to overcome its screaming declensions.
We may continue this nuclear war background analysis. No blustering affirmations of “America First” can supplant authentic thought.
Such painfully shallow affirmations, now repeated daily, as if they were some sort of religious incantation, can only deflect America’s attention from what remains vitally important. Most urgently, Trump must better ensure that his seat-of-the-pants strategic posture toward North Korea (a posture drawn directly from the commercial worlds of real estate branding and casino gambling) does not sometime explode uncontrollably. Significantly, such an obviously unacceptable outcome may at first seem less likely or worrisome than is actually the case.
“Do not seek the higher man in the marketplace” warned Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra.As usual, the philosopher’s underscored wisdom was timeless.
Should North Korea and the United States enter into any outright hostilities or even an unintentional nuclear war, the horrors of the earlier Vietnam conflict will be magnified many-fold. Before anything decent could ever be born from the rubble of such a conflict, an army of gravediggers would need to wield the “forceps.”
Once upon a time in America, virtually every barely-attentive adult could recite some intuitively Spenglerian theory of decline. Today, at a very different historical moment – at an especially acquiescent national juncture where the riddle of human destiny has been reduced by American public life to vulgar and degrading entertainments – almost no one can recognize The Decline of the West. “Logically,” this far-reaching lack of recognition should be expected whether we are speaking of a classic historical text written by a once-obscure German professor or some actual and precipitous historical declension.
What else should one now expect of a nation where the 2016 keynote presidential convention speaker of the victorious political party was Duck Dynasty.
In some respects, it is a very old story. Both frightened and repelled by any plausible expectations of genuine learning, expanding masses of Americans proceed blindly and in reassuring lockstep with crowds of similarly-fearful marchers. Consciously, this Trumpian “mass,” these obliging “crowds,” keep a desperate pace with all those other homogenized men and women who similarly loathe serious thought. Always, identifiably sizable segments of this submissive crowd coalesce energetically around a delusionary “pied-piper.”
In the present American case, Trump reflects a president who promises multiple accessible scapegoats in compensation for citizens’ most stubborn fears and personal failures. For the all-too-many listeners, these seductive promises are convenient, but untrue.
In the real American past, which has been “great” only selectively, certain circumstances have never been quite as degrading or ominous as today. In the words of Nixon-era White House advisor John Dean, speaking on CNN in March 2018, “Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids and stilts.” That’s quite a telling (and accurate) metaphor.
Worldwide, this is hardly the first time in the past hundred years that a dissembling political wizard has promised self-blinding followers some sort of lascivious “redemption” in exchange for their total political obedience. In an easily best remembered example, the ultimate costs inflicted by Third Reich wizardry included the destruction of an entire continent and over100 million souls. The lesson for those Americans still willing to read and think? It is that there is always a great and unforgivable price to be paid by societies that wittingly abjure intellect, history and capable thought.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” At the very moment when an American president should be focusing systematically and analytically on prospective nuclear war dangers from North Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere, Donald Trump prefers to lead his chanting crowds in strange and futile directions. Now, more than ever, these incoherent refrains are not “only” inane and irrelevant. More portentously, they will drown out the still-surviving vestiges of any residually sensible American thought.
In every presidential election, the American mass more-or-less indefatigably patronizes itself. The difference in 2016 was that these results were effectively sui generis; that is, they were darkly unique in the most regrettable and forseeably sinister ways. Over time, as we have seen, the palpable consequences could include nuclear/existential harms.
The remedy? Above all, it must be founded upon a meaningfully prior understanding: No society, including allegedly “exceptional” ones, can coexist together with mindlessly chanting crowds that masquerade as democracy.Unless we can finally display some sincere willingness to oppose the shrill and yelling American mass – a crowd that increasingly becomes a corrosive solvent of social conformance and intellectual mediocrity – Americans will continue to find too little air to breathe. Inevitably, at some point in the declining Trump years, there will be no air to breathe at all.
Asphyxiation, Americans would only then discover, is a bad way to die.
Every mass society, not just the United States, loves to chant deliriously and in some form of stupefied chorus. “We the people” continue to seek comforting resonances of “exceptionalism” in pitifully shallow slogans, raw commerce and blatantly vacuous political promises. Oddly enough, this elusive search for happiness, amid its convulsive shrieking and imitation, would be less perilous if it did not issue from a depressingly terminal ailment.
What, more precisely, is the underlying malady? If Donald Trump is “merely” a symptom, what is the country’s true national pathology? The correct answer has much to do with understanding current war threats from North Korea or even Russia. This answer is logically antecedent to discovering hopeful solutions to still-growing existential threats.
At the most sorely critical “illness” levels of national despair, politics and government have become pretty much beside the point. In America’s battered landscape of clichéd wisdom, mass shootings, copycat violence and dreary profanity, there remains, at bottom, a recalcitrant and metastasizing sickness of the soul. Ironically, America’s national debility of personal surrender to crowds lurks mainly undisguised. Conspicuously, it is most easily detectable in Donald Trump’s proudly flaunted hatreds of intellect, individualism and real learning.
“Alas,” observed T.S. Eliot,in a still-unheeded warning, “Our dried voices, when we whisper together, Are quiet and meaningless.”
At their very deepest levels, American politics and government remain determinably extraneous to whatever is genuinely important. The bewildered nation’s expanding ocean of personal addictions, now too vast for remediation by any normal reformist strategies, is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.
In an earlier and foundational American national history, both liberals and conservatives read Lucretius, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and (later) Blackstone. Excluding the eighteenth-century English jurist, whose refined thoughts were to become the starting point of all American jurisprudence, Thomas Jefferson read them all.
What does US President Donald Trump read or write?
Prima facie, this is a silly question.
Until just a few years ago, I had been a university professor for almost 50 years. For the most part, my students were less interested in exhibiting any high-thinking than in acquiring high net worth. Given a presumptive opportunity to earn impressive incomes without continuing their formal education, an overwhelming majority would have unhesitatingly grabbed at the “offer.” How do I know this?
Because, as an “experiment,” I occasionally asked them.
From year to year, the grimly anti-intellectual results never changed.
In our once still-ascendant American intellectual history, some time shortly after the literary ascendancies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of accomplishment earned commendably high marks . Then, more often than now, young people strove to rise originally, not by incessantly craving expensive and unnecessary goods, but as the still-confident proprietors of an exemplary American Self. Though Emerson and his fellow New England Transcendentalists had taught the flip side of “high thinking” must be “plain living,” current US citizenry generally seeks private wealth above any other barely competing objectives.
Nothing could possibly be more obvious.
This is true, at least in principle, for the poor and disregarded as well as for the very rich.
In America, the truly telling question is implicit. Why bother to read or study literature? It has no cash value. Furthermore, as the current president can readily attest, it has no believable place in the acquisition of personal political power. Indeed, Americans now live in a land where visible intellectual deficits have become an unimpeachable political asset.
In the end, US President Donald Trump – however destructive his presidency eventually becomes – must remain a symptom. On its face, with precious few exceptions, wealth is always taken as America’s final and quintessential form of personal validation. Many years back, economist Adam Smith concluded that wealth is most eagerly sought not because of any intrinsic purchasing power, but on account of its incomparable capacity to elicit envy. Later, Emerson expressed a very similar idea when he incautiously advised that any “foolish reliance upon property” is the inevitable result of “a want of self-reliance.”
In the end, the transient warmth of an American mass or crowd promises each US citizen a concocted but still-comforting defense against loneliness. This reassuringly seductive mass quickly and expansively defiles whatever is pleasingly wondrous, gracious and generous in American society. Already anticipating this lamentable development, Charles Dickens had observed, back in 1842: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country (USA), in the failure of its example to the earth.”
Dickens was “spot on.” Americans have protected their political freedom from the most visible and invidious kinds of oppression, though even this key protection is now subject to reasonable doubt. At the same time, they have wittingly sacrificed the coequal obligation to become authentically fulfilled persons. More openly deploring a life of some greater meaning and purpose than this one of calculated imitation and sterile accumulation, Americans now routinely substitute reality shows for real literature and a reality show “wizard” for capable national leadership.
What should they expect?
Is it any wonder that America already stands on the precarious brink of irremediable nuclear confrontations?
In America’s sorely blemished democracy, a declining system of governance driven by what political “elite” theorists had long called the “iron law of oligarchy,” those individual Americans who would still choose disciplined thought over fitting-into the crowd must accept related kinds of “punishment.” Usually, these sanctions are delivered as some form or other of social or professional ostracism, but sometimes they are meted out in corollary examples of “aloneness.” “The most radical division,” observed Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…”
In reality, American democracy and its closely corresponding presidential elections represent an inelegant and simultaneously lethal masquerade. Again and again, they seek to cover-up and legitimize what has been constituted and consecrated by a backward-looking mass. Now, at long last, it is high time for such perilous camouflage in the inert American mass to yield tosomething better.
Now, in America, even after such a patently catastrophic presidential selection in 2016, the people may have been granted one graspable last chance for being-challenged-in-the-world.
In the end, creating proper American governance is not all that complicated: Only those few individuals who would dare to reject an insistently demeaning amusement society can offer this imperiled nation any enduring hope.What next?
To proceed, there are pertinent corollaries. The strength and courage of America’s desperately-needed “inner-directedness” can never lie only in holding an advanced degree, in engaging with others during periodic electoral contests or in advancing various intentional contrivances of language. In America, the indispensable qualities of individual authenticity must be sought, instead, in the potentially complementary powers of intellectual independence, social justice and spontaneous empathy.
This last power cannot be taught. Nonetheless, it can be encouraged by stepping back from a declining American culture that values endlessly crude consumption over intelligent erudition and independent thought.
Adam Smith, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), saw in capitalism not just an admirably rising productivity, but also a required foundation for political liberty. He also understood that a system of “perfect liberty” – one that we might presently call an ideal democracy – could never be based upon smug and facile encouragements of needless consumption. The inexorable laws of the marketplace, he had reasoned, demanded a suitable disdain for all vanity-driven buying.
For Adam Smith, the main problem of any dangerously orchestrated hyper-consumption was neither economic nor political, but psychological.
It was, in other words, a problem of unresisted absorption into the mass or crowd.
For Adam Smith, contrary to very widespread misunderstandings of his complex thought, “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more explicitly and engagingly by sociologist Thorsten Veblen, must never be taken as evidence of economic or political progress. It follows that while the crowd call of American democracy may remain loud, crass or even alluringly persuasive, We the people must still keep up the struggle against the suffocating mass, purposefully, and, above all else, asgenuine individuals.
Then Americans could finally lay bare the essential ingredients of a democracy that would offer more than the sum total of individual souls fleeing desperately from themselves.
Then, perhaps, Americans could avoid re-electing a president who stands in chaotic opposition to sensible foreign policies of nuclear war avoidance, and who substitutes ad hominem attacks for any minimally intelligent diplomacy. Then, determinedly, the American nation could choose its presidents from among candidates who can understand that the United States is part of a much wider world. This means from those aspirants who could acknowledge that “America First” represents a potentially irreversible triumph of mass.
In the end,
if ever the American constitutional State should succumb to what Swiss
psychologist Carl G. Jung euphemistically called a “fit of
weakness,” such triumph could hasten
the nation’s most utterly lethal declensions. A nuclear war would resemble any
other terminal illness in at least one overarching respect. This is that the
only “cure” would lie in prevention.
 “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”
 On the terrible possible outcomes of “mass,” see especially: C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957); Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932); and Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Of course, all three share as core intellectual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the 19th-centiry German philosopher’s still-incomparable classic, Zarathustra (1883).
 “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remains minors all their lives….” says Immanuel Kant in his classic essay: What is Enlightenment (1784).
 We learn, again, from Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment, that submission to deleterious mass is “self-imposed.” The core problem we read from the German philosopher, lies ultimately in a “lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.”
 See especially: Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (1935); Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (1939); and Robert Michels, The Iron Law of Oligarchy (1949).