Connect with us

Americas

What Do We Do Now? Larger Lessons From The Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1971)

To survive and prosper after Covid-19 – a pandemic with pertinent political as well as biological origins – will require both courage and reason.[1] There is nothing new or insightful about such a prescription; nonetheless, it is well worth reiterating. After all, despite its apparent obviousness,  useful recommendations for seeking integrity and rationality in public affairs are frequently disregarded.

This is hardly a contestable proposition.

 There is more. In these starkly vital security matters, at least one thing is certain. Before this two-part requirement can actually be met, more will be needed than perpetually transient changes in American politics. Though still generally unacknowledged, the political sphere of human change is always epiphenomenal, in the United States and everywhere else. Always, it offers only an imperfect reflection of what lies far more meaningfully below.  

What matters most in all such dauntingly complex circumstances is an underlying willingness to seek what is best for the entire polity and its corresponding society.[2]

In the United State this rudimentary lesson has never been learned.[3]  Now, yet again, we seek some sort of idealized “change” in the upcoming presidential election. But sans a courageous and thinking electorate, this latest search will represent just another visceral exercise in misunderstanding and futility.[4] And all this despite a now primary obligation to rid the United States of a grimly corrosive and starkly injurious president.            

The lessons are plain. Left unmet, the conjoined obligations of  courage and intellect could signal not only extended disease pandemics, but also nuclear terrorism and/or nuclear war.[5] Like  any genuinely terminal disease, the only “cure” for such unprecedented political violence must lie in prevention.

Such grievously destructive prospects of terror-violence and war are not in any way inconceivable. Nor are they necessarily mutually exclusive, of each other or of any ongoing disease pandemic. In an absolutely worst case scenario, these sorts of extreme human aggressions would intersect with assorted biological aggressions and economic crises, perhaps to the point of becoming synergistic. By definition, in that hard-to-face kind of interaction, the “whole” of any insidious effects would exceed the arithmetic sum of its myriad “parts.”

There is even more here to consider. Still lacking both courage and intellectual commitment or mind, we the people of the United States ought not express surprise or incredulity at the  sheer breadth of our collective failures, staggering by any measure, whether  past, present or future. Over too many years, the casually seductive requirements of wealth and “success” were allowed to become the presumptive foundation of America’s economy and society. Although seemingly plausible pillars of national reassurance, these requirements have turned out to be very high-cost delusions.

In essence, over these many years, American well-being and “democracy” have sprung from a self-defeating posture of engineered consumption. In this wrongheaded derivation, our core marching instructions have remained clear:  “You are what you buy.” It follows from such persistent misdirection that the country’s ever-growing political scandals and failures are the predictable product of a society where anti-intellectual (Jaspers’ “anti-reason”) and unheroic lives are actively encouraged and even taken for granted. More insidiously, these dreadfully unambitious lives are measured not by any rational criteria of mind and spirit, but dolefully, mechanically, absent commendable purpose and without “collective will.”[6]

There is more. What most meaningfully animates American politics today  is not a valid interest in progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal defeat and private insignificance. Though most readily apparent at the presidential level, such insignificance can also be experienced collectively, by an entire nation. Either way, its precise locus of origin concerns certain deeply-felt human anxieties about not being valued; that is, about not being “wanted at all.”[7]

 For any national rescue to become serious, unblemished candor must first prevail. Now, ground down by the hammering babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated  by any elements of insight or courage. To wit, we are just now learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to dissembling increments of abrogation by an evidently impaired head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[8]  who proudly reads nothing at all, and who yearns openly not to serve his country,[9] but to expand its fractionation and be gratifyingly served by its suffocating citizens.

In brief, this president openly abhors genuinely challenging  thought and wants desperately to be an emperor. For the United States, it is a lethal and unforgivable combination.

There is more. To understand the full horrors of both the Corona virus and Trump presidency declensions, we must first look soberly behind the news. Accordingly, in these United States, a  willing-to-think individual is now little more than a quaint artifact of some previously-lived or previously-imagined history. At present, more refractory than ever to courage, intellect and learning, our American mass society displays  no decipherable intentions of  ever taking itself seriously.[10]

“Headpieces filled with straw…,” is the way poet T S Eliot would have characterized present-day American society. He would have observed, further, an embittered American herd marching insistently backward, cheerlessly, too often incoherent, and in dutiful but pitiful lockstep toward ever-greater levels of serious illness and unhappiness.

 What next for the imperiled American Republic? We the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but our self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythm of some vast machine. Before Cocvid-19, we witnessed, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure or reward , possibly even of any hope itself. Now the economy has been largely shut down, perhaps irremediably, and we the people are even forced to yearn for prior levels of hopelessness. The ironies here are staggering, and sorely discomfiting.

Could it possibly get any worse than this?[11]

Until now, we the people have lacked any dignifying sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties and the comforting but self-perpetuating brotherhoods of war.[12] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, increasingly infected by the Corona virus, two-thirds of those released will return promptly or slowly to crime and mayhem. At the same time, the most senior and recognizable white collar criminals – essentially, those who have transformed  personal cowardice into a religion – look forward to Trump presidential pardons.

They can do so with real confidence.

 Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd,” said the ancient philosophers. Why?

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once we displayed unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than just a “crowd.”[13] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not paralysis, fear and trembling.  Friedrich Nietzsche would have urged that Americans “learn to live upon mountains” (that is, to become willfully thinking individuals), but today an entire nation remains grudgingly content with the very tiniest of elevations. In Zarathustra, Nietzsche warned civilizations never to seek a “higher man” in the” market place,” but that is precisely where America discovered master-of-ceremonies Donald J. Trump.

He was, after all, seemingly very rich. How then could he possibly not be both smart and virtuous? As Reb Tevye famously remarks in Fiddler on the Roof, “If you’re rich they think you really know.”

Inexcusably, the true enemy faced by the United States is still We the People. Accordingly, as we may learn from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “The worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you will lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.” And so we remain today, poised fixedly against ourselves and our survival, in the midst of an unprecedented biological crisis nurtured by multiple US presidential policy forfeitures.

 Bottom line? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped by harshly demeaning patterns of cowardly conformance. Literally amusing ourselves to death with illiterate and cheap entertainments, our endangered society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally inquire:  Isn’t there more to this suffering country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce? However we might choose to answer, the actual options are plainly and increasingly limited.

There is more. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” observed the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis generally created by stupefying kinds of “education,”[14]  by far-reaching patterns of tastelessness and by a pervasive culture of unceasing rancor and gratuitous obscenity.

 In fact, only a rare “few” can ever redeem courage and intellect in America,[15] and these quiet souls typically remain hidden, even from themselves. You will not see them engaged in frenetic and agitated self-advertisement, whether to maintain control over a deeply-corrupted White House or to capture it for themselves in the next election. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a correct way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we the people insistently inhabit pre-packaged ideologies of anti-thinkers, that is, by rote, without mind and without integrity.[16]

Going forward, inter alia, we must  insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a newly courageous and virtuous[17] citizenry. In this immense task, very basic changes will first be needed at the individual human level.  Following the German Romantic poet Novalis’ idea that to become a human being is essentially an art (“Mensch werden ist eine Kinst“), the Swiss-German author/philosopher Hermann Hesse reminds us that every society is a reflection of unique individuals.[18] In this important regard, Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung goes even further, claiming, in The Undiscovered Self (1957), that every society represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”[19]

Looking to both  history and logic, it would be easy to conclude that this monumental task of intellectual and moral reconstruction lies beyond our normal human capacities. Nonetheless, to accede to such a relentlessly fatalistic conclusion would be tantamount to collective surrender. But this would be unconscionable. Far better for the citizens of a sorely imperiled United States to grasp for any residual sources of national and international unity, and exploit this universal font for national and international survival.

Today, of course, this universal and unifying source for an indispensable coming-together is the worldwide Corona virus and its palpably unspeakable harms. Sometimes, out of a commonly-faced horror, humankind can turn tragedy into gain, and build something unique, welcoming and durable. This is potentially just such an ironic but promising transformative moment, but only if it is first duly recognized and suitably exploited.


[1] To recall Karl Jaspers on opponents of Reason, such an unphilosophical spirit gives currency “to everything that is inimical and alien to truth. That is, it serves to sustain and magnify all “perversions of truth.”

[2] 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.”

[3] 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.

[4] German philosopher Karl Jaspers warns presciently in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “Conscious of his emptiness, a man tries to make a faith for himself in the political realm. In vain.”

[5] The ancient Greeks and Macedonians were fond of calling war a struggle of “mind over mind,” rather than one of “mind over matter.” To be sure, similar sentiments animated ancient Chinese

military strategist, Sun-Tzu, and much later, Prussian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz.

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).

[6] The origin of this term in modern philosophy lies in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, 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. 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).

[7] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[8] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[9] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[10] “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.”

[11] In this connection, cautions Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles art all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

[12] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[13] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[14] In an additional irony, these already unsatisfactory kinds of education will be supplanted by even more intrinsically worthless forms of learning. Most notable, in  this regard, is the almost wholesale shift to online education, a shift made necessary and more widespread by the ongoing disease pandemic, but unsatisfactory nonetheless.

[15] The term is drawn here from the Spanish existential Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, especially his classic The Revolt of the Masses (1930).

[16] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[17] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

[18] Says Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “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.”

[19] Carl G. Jung eagerly embraced the term “soul” following preference of  Sigmund Freud, his one-time mentor and colleague.

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

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

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Americas

American Democracy and “The Barbarism of Specialisation”

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

Americas

What does Kamala Harris bring to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign?

Mohammad Ali Zafar

Published

on

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/ flickr

Former vice president of the Obama administration, Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate. She is the first black woman ever to appear on a major party ticket. Kamala Harris, daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, has a lot to offer to Biden’s presidential campaign.

Biden was in search of a person who will take a strong stance against the Trump administration’s mishandling of coronavirus and will bring to the public’s attention how racial and economic issues intensified. The former attorney general of the state, Ms Harris’ selection reveals that she might use her skills as a former prosecutor to build a case against President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. However, her role will be multipronged —she will be outlining the policies of Joe Biden along with motivating people to vote.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, while understanding the opportunities presented by the domestic unrest, appears to use racial card by bringing in a woman of colour, at a time when Black Lives Matter movement sparked by George Floyd’s killing is still charged up. The movement gained fresh impetus when on Sunday, a Wisconsin police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black man. He was shot multiple times in the back as he entered the driver’s side door of an SUV, officials said. Such incidents further justify Biden’s smart move of picking Kamala Harris as his running mate at a time when racial tensions are peaking.

Her appointment reflects Biden’s strong advocation for the principles of justice and equality. A time when Americans are debating over racial discrimination, selection of a white candidate would not have favoured Biden, who has been criticizing Trump for his white supremacist remarks.

George Floyd’s killing opened the debate over the future of law enforcement in America and while understanding these concerns, Biden must’ve brought in Kamala Harris who has served at the prestigious position of attorney general in California. The move will also make it easier for Democrats to convince the black community that Harris will turn out to be their voice and ensure they are treated with honour and respect.

The addition of Harris will make her the fourth woman to win a majority party ticket in US History following Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton.

Biden had other options as well. The former US Ambassador Susan Rice, in particular, was a strong contender. But a few controversies must’ve prevented such a move. Ms Rice’s ‘misleading‘ televised remarks about the Attack on US outposts in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 had exposed her to severe criticism.

Recall the previous elections when Hillary Clinton was asked to clarify why she was indulged in exchanging unwarranted emails containing classified information. Henceforth, investigated by the FBI too. Biden appears to take no chances at all; he’s not providing Trump any space which he could use to spur dirt on him.

Harris is seen as a convincing choice as she is a moderate democrat along with a pragmatic lawmaker. Trump’s campaign will be focusing on portraying Biden as a tool of the radical left. However, after the addition of Kamala Harris, who is not an ideologue, Trump’s strategy has suffered a setback.

Kamala Harris brings charisma to the Biden’s election campaign. The energy that she holds has allowed her to earn more than 10 million individual voters. These numbers are far more than the votes won by other legislators Biden considered as running mates.

Democratic Party is eyeing 2024 and 2028 elections; for them, Biden will be 78 in November, and it is indicated that Biden might serve only single term so for this the democrats must bring in a new generation as Biden himself has signalled that he will act as a transitional figure in the party. Henceforth, the pick of Kamala Harris shows that after Biden, Harris will become the presumptive candidate for presidential elections in future.

Trump has labelled Kamala Harris “Nasty” and Madwoman’. Similar words were used during the 2016 elections against Hillary, but Trump needs to be even more cautious when remarking against the first black woman ever to appear on a majority ticket. This could prove to be a hurdle for Trump as his standing among suburban women is vital for his re-election. Any gender-based critique could complicate Trump’s campaign.

Harris’ views on foreign policy are important. Although Harris has limited experience in foreign policymaking, yet she made public her views about foreign issues after she announced her candidacy for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election.

Her foreign policy views over Afghanistan lie in line with Biden’s vision as both want the US Army to be back from the country. Hence the unending war of 18 years will see a possible withdrawal of US forces if Biden is elected as president. About US alliance, Harris has been keen to maintain the ‘liberal international order’ while bolstering the US position in solving coronavirus and climate change problems. Along with promoting democratic norms, her focus is to be a human right activist at the global stage, and she has also expressed concern over the plight of Uighur Muslims in China.

US relations with Saudi Arabia have been cordial, but while understanding the Biden-Harris foreign policy vision, both have been a critic of the autocratic regime of Saudi Arabia. In the Council on Foreign Relations questionnaire, she responded to a question, “US relations with the Saudi regime need to be reevaluated,” which depict that a reorientation in Saudi-US relations is plausible if Harris takes office as vice president.

In a nutshell, Harris is keen to end the Afghan war, re-enter nuclear deal with Iran and ensure compliance, restrict North Korea from advancing nuclear weapon programme and cooperating with China over climate change.

Americans have to decide that should Trump from the Republican Party retain the office or should Biden from the Democratic Party be given his first term as the President of the United States of America. As elections near, this debate will gain further ground in American politics, as to “What does Kamala Harris bring to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign?”

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending