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Donald Trump, Insurrection and the American “Horde”

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“The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930

Though officially a pathology of the past, the toxic effects of Donald Trump’s grim presidency will resonate for years. To explain this lamentable durability, history deserves pride of place. But how, precisely, should we proceed with such necessary background?

               In logical sequence, clarifying queries are now in order.[1] First off:

               What were the discernible origins of this American declension, a barbarous retrogression capped by attempted insurrection; a fall so steep it was long unimaginable in the United States?

               This is a complex and disconcerting query, one Americans ought not sweep casually under the rug. Donald Trump’s grotesque authoritarianism did not arise mysteriously, spontaneously, out of nowhere, without history, ex nihilo. On the contrary, it was the  evident and even predictable result of a society too-frequently bereft of reason-based decision-making. In essence, the thoroughly beaten-down America that suffered a presidentially-incited insurrection on January 6, 2021 was a nation afflicted.

                Even now, even after suffering Mr. Trump’s most sorely palpable and continuously lethal derelictions, America remains, as a society, widely averse to serious learning or intellectual obligation.  Unsurprisingly, it is a “horde”[2] directed nation, one susceptible to utterly deranged conspiracy theories and vulnerable to assorted violence-oriented antipathies of the “mass.”

Conceptual Background of the Trump Horror

               “The mass,” said 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Embracing Trump, and in a plausibly fatal deference to Ortega’s “crushing” force, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only agreed to wallow lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a glaringly naked emperor, he/she also accepted a shallow national ethos of personal intellectual surrender.

                Queries continue. How shall such incomprehensible behaviors be explained most sensibly and gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. Under Donald Trump, America was no longer a society sincerely wanting to value knowledge, education or learning. For four dissembling years, led by a retrograde man of commerce who never read books – indeed, who very proudly and conspicuously read nothing  – America became a quintessential “know nothing” country. This meant, inter alia,  a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns intellect and truth.[3]

               For variously intersecting reasons, the docile Trump minions had sought desperately to keep themselves “anesthetized.” This sordid search outlasted the Trump presidency. It continues to this day.

               There is more. In their active form of complicity with individual and collective self-destruction, surrendering Americans were not passive victims. Rather, they insistently held themselves captive by harboring a lengthening string of false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of multi-sided problems.[4]

               There were generic antecedents. In  her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt already highlighted the “manifest shallowness” of historical evil-doers. In so doing, she hypothesized that the most critically underlying causes of pertinent harms were neither evil motives nor common stupidity. Instead, she concluded, controversially but convincingly, that the root problem is a literal thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes any unsuspecting  individual subject to the presumed “wisdom” of clichés, stock phrases and narrowly contrived codes of political expression.

               Who are these individuals? There are, of course, many who will be “susceptible.” Always. This does notmean only those men or women who lack a decently respectable formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trump’s fragmenting America, just as it was earlier, in the Third Reich,  well-educated and affluent persons joined forces with ritualistic gun worshippers and vulgar street fighters. The unseemly alliance had a purpose. It was created as a tactical measure, to meet certain overlapping objectives.

               In the end, as we may learn from  both history and logic, each faction would suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.

               Both sides, therefore, were destined to “lose.”[5]

               In the future, a similar sort of loss could be existential and irremediable.

               In the future, it could include a nuclear war.[6]

The Literal Absence of Thought

               For Hannah Arendt, the core problem was always a tangible absence of thinking. In her own learned and lucid assessment, menacing evil is not necessarily calculable according to some specific purpose or ideology. For the philosopher, it is deceptively commonplace and plausibly predictable. Evil, as we may learn from Arendt, is “banal.”

               There is more. Fundamentally, the “mass  man”  or “mass woman” (a Jungian term[7] that closely resembles Hannah Arendt’s evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and who chants whatever the articulated gibberish of the particular horde, prefers whatever is easiest to memorize. This means favoring a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of logic or science. Living in a commerce-driven society that has been drifting ever further from any still-residual “life of the mind,” this susceptible American became the perfect “recruit” for Trumpian dissemblance or conversion.

               There is more. It was in stubborn defiance of meaningful thought that such persons mounted their twisted attack on the Capitol of the United States. The ironies are unassailable;  they are also worrisome in the longer term.

               This “obedient” citizen, often like his unregenerate representatives in the Congress, has no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. And why should he/she? Der Fuhrer, the nation was promised, would do each person’s “thinking” for him.[8]

               Could anything have been more “convenient?”

               With Arendt and Jung, the core culprit of anti-Reason is fully unmasked. This “banal” malefactor is the once-still-individual human being who ceases to be an individual, the one who wittingly becomes the reliable enemy of intellect and the correlative ally of thoughtlessness. Following such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason here in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and seeming political survival of  former American President Donald J. Trump.

               Most ominously in all of this American decline is that  Reason remains widely out of fashion. No matter how compelling and expansive the evidence of Trump’s myriad derelictions became, millions of dedicated or “base” adherents stayed steadfastly loyal to Der Fűhrer. Faith, not facts, are what matter most to these willfully self-destructive Trump adherents. For them, the familiar Third Reich phrase “I believe” is all that counts. For these dutiful hordes, “I think” remains wholly unknown or distinctly subordinate.

               Back in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, chief architect of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and a future American president, exclaimed with an unhesitating erudition: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” US President Donald Trump, “learning only in his own flesh,” swore an oath of “eternal support” for such an insufferable tyranny. Earlier, he had returned from his June 12, 2018 Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un  declaring that the calculable risks of a bilateral nuclear war had now been removed. This was because he and Kim had fallen “in love.” Later, on a different subject, Trump offered his own personal assessments of assorted drug efficacies against the Corona virus.

               These assessments were de facto instances of crimes against humanity.[9]

               Simultaneously, Trump responded to authoritative science-based prescriptions – the ones to which Americans actually ought to have been listening all along – with glib dismissals, capricious denials or a recognizably open unconcern.

               For the United States, Trump’s stream-of-consciousness excursions into gibberish and incoherence represented far more than just a national embarrassment. At a time of palpable biological “plague,” such presidential declensions became insistently and immediately life-threatening. In law,[10] they came very close to becoming genocide-like crimes.[11]

                In essence, America’s political processes and institutions were pitifully inadequate in dealing with this former president’s most chaotic instincts. Still, till the end, a large portion of this afflicted nation continued to display near-infinite forbearance for Trump’s  inane and potentially tragic commentaries. This forbearance endured even after the Trump-inspired assault on America’s Capitol. The resultant withering of a declining nation’s heart and mind pointed unerringly to existential threats. While various mega-death scenarios of relentless pandemic were the most plainly far reaching and immediately credible hazards, the more “normal” dangers of war[12] and terrorism had not simultaneously disappeared. Today, these dangers persist. They are more urgent than ever before.

               Now, in the United States, a new president is left to pick up the pieces, a task including repairs to a Trump-fractured corpus of foreign and strategic policies.

An Unphilosophic Spirit

               America’s most insidious enemy during the suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize and uncover. This foe is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.[13] Then facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law,[14] sizable elements of “We the People” felt at their best when they could chant anesthetizing Trump-inspired gibberish in mesmerizing chorus.  “We’re number one; we’re number one,“these Americans shouted out reflexively, even as their country’s capacity to project global power withered minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor had come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most grievously downtrodden nations on earth.

               “USA; USA” – the amplified cry of a people who confused gibberish with true patriotism.

               Most alarmingly, among manifold catastrophic American declensions, the Trump-wounded American nation allowed itself to be led by a visibly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was “naked” from the start and who finally managed to bring the United States to fearful levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, but this relentless plague became infinitely more injurious under President Donald J. Trump’s unsteady dictatorial hand.

               Nonetheless, even now, the champions of anti-Reason in America still rise to defend their Fuhrer,[15] sometimes on the basis of vague and easily-discredited conspiracy theories. Trump did  not create this growing plague, we are reminded by these champions. He was, rather, just another victim of unavoidable biological circumstance. So why keep “picking on” this innocent and brilliant man (“a very stable genius”)? Instead, let us stand loyally by his enduringly sagacious counsel.

                Sound familiar?

               Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties and explanations stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump was not responsible for the original biological menace of  “plague,” he still willingly weakened the American nation’s most utterly indispensable medical and scientific defenses.[16] It is worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense must always entail far more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures.[17]

               Looking ahead, for example, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous “Space Force.”[18]

                Earlier, Thomas Jefferson, Chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, observed the imperative congruence of viable national democracy with wisdom, learning and virtue. Today, however, many still revere a former president whose proud refrain  during the 2016 election process was “I love the poorly educated.” Among other humiliating derelictions, this perverse refrain represented a palpable echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ 1935 Nuremberg rally comment: “Intellect rots the brain.”

A National Antipathy to Serious Thought

                Americans remain polarized not only by race, ethnicity and class, but also by inclination or disinclination to serious thought. For most of this dreary and unhappy country, any inclination toward a “life of the mind” is still anathema. In irrefutable evidence of this preference, trivial or debasing entertainments remain America’s only expected compensation for enduring a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion, ill-protected health and premature death. This sizable portion of the populace, kept “safely” distant from authentic personal growth by almost every imaginable engineered obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations. For the most part, these are revealed in abundantly silly slogans, promises of status-bearing affiliations, or other manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era political chicanery. 

               Even at this “post Trump” eleventh hour, Americans must learn to understand that no nation can be “first”[19] that does not first hold each individual “soul”[20] sacred. At one time in our collective history, shortly after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment actually earned high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive personal power and raw commerce, but as the proud owners of a unique and personal Self.

                Alas, today this Self  “lives” together with increasingly unbearable material and  biological ties.  Whether individual Americans would prefer to become more secular or more reverent, to grant government more authority over their lives, or less, a willing submission to multitudes remains this nation’s most unifying national “religion.” Regarding the pied piper in the Trump White House, many Americans came to accept even the most patently preposterous presidential claims of enhanced national security.

               This from a president who was himself the conspicuously servile marionette of his Russian counterpart.

               This from an American president who came to resemble The Manchurian Candidate on stilts and steroids.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher: “I believe because it is absurd.”[21]

                Upon returning to Washington DC after the June 2018 Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”[22] Prima facie, it was a ridiculous assertion, one so blatantly foolish that it ought to have raised incontestable “red flags” wherever there still remained some residual scintilla of human Reason.

               Immediately.

               But it’s not just America that remains subject to dictates of anti-Reason. Unseemly crowd-like sentiments like those of the Trump-era have a long and diversified planetary history. We are, to be fair, hardly the first people to surrender to crowds. The contemporary crowd-man or woman is, in fact, a primitive and universal being, one who has lazily “slipped back,” in the words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.”

               This grotesque stage is not bare like the stages of a farce by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. On the contrary, this stage is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations.[23] What else ought to have been expected of societies governed by the “horde,” the “crowd,” the “mass?”

               Indiscriminately, the mass defiles all that is most gracious and promising in any society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, observed portentously back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”

                To this point, even after the world-defiling Trump-horror, Americans have successfully maintained their core political freedom from traditional forms of political tyranny and oppression. Nonetheless, we have already come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart even the most well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have cravenly surrendered their indispensable liberty to become authentic persons. By openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a stubbornly anti-intellectual nation confused wealth with success. Blurting out rhythmic chants of allegedly patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanished into meaninglessness, Americans followed pandemic disease toward a potentially irremediable despair.   

               Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable cause lying behind such feverishly synchronized delirium. In part, at least, Trump- orchestrated babble sought to protect Americans  from a terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it proved a contrived and lethal remedy . In the end, it offered just another Final Solution.[24]

The Indispensable “Single One”[25]

               With all of our declensions, there remain certain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. Still, the fearlessly resolute individual who would actively seek to escape from the steadily-poisoning “crowd,” the One who opts heroically for disciplined individual thought over effortless conformance, must feel quite deeply alone. “The most radical division,” asserted José 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 1965, the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked each One to inquire:

               “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

               Why were these same questions so casually pushed aside by servile American supporters of a rancorous president who opposed “emancipation” in any conceivable form?

                Always, there are lessons to  be learned. It is time for camouflage and concealment in the pitiful American crowd to yield to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Individuals who would dare to read books for more than some transient entertainment, persons who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the imprisoning crowd (for “emancipation”), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities,[26] in corporate boardrooms or almost anywhere (there are some exceptions still) on radio, television or in the movies. Always, their critical inner strength lies not in pompous oratory, catchy crowd phrases, or observably ostentatious accumulations of personal wealth (“Trump. Trump, Trump“),  but in the considerably more ample powers of genuineness, thought and Reason.

               There is much yet to learn. Even today, hardly a glimmer of intellectual originality animates America’s public discussions of politics and economics. Even now, even after America’s largely self-deceiving citizenry had lost all residual sense of intellectual awe in the world, this national public not only avoids authenticity, it positively loathes it. Indeed, in a nation that has lost all recognizable regard for the Western literary canon, our American crowdsgenerally seek aid, comfort and fraternity in a very strange place.

               It is in a conveniently shared public illiteracy.

               Inter alia, the classical division of American society into Few and Mass represents a useful separation of those who are imitators from those who could still initiate real understanding. “The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Very recently, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallowed reflexively in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a demonstrably naked emperor, he or she also applauded a shallow national ethos of personal and collective surrender.  

               “America First,” yes, we were. But only in Covid-19 mortality.[27]

               By definition, the Horde, or Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members can make the very difficult transformation. To begin, those who are already Few must announce and maintain their determined stance, not abstractly, but in tangible reference to dissembling public policies. “One must become accustomed to living on mountains,” says Nietzsche, “to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.”

               It was Nietzsche, too, who warned presciently in Zarathustra: “Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Aware that they may still comprise a vital barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few  must always knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, this should remind us all of something very important. It is that individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal – a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicting delusion – is the only honest and purposeful American option  

                 In their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life drew feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Mass. This Mass depended for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and on the continuing servitude of  independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, “We the people,” frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, were already being passively converted into fuel for the omnivorously murderous machine of Trumpian “democracy.”

               This was a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry were still generally permitted to speak and interact freely, but which was also a determinedly anti-intellectual plutocracy.

Reason and Anti-Reason

               In the early 1950s, Karl Jaspers, well familiar with the seminal earlier writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sought to explain what a dissembling “Crowd” had  brought to his native Germany and to Germany’s captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time  in 1952, the distinguished thinker explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among the many who keenly prefer “the fog of the irrational.” Jaspers’ earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to explaining Donald Trump’s America:

Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition.[28]

               Here, in essence, Jaspers underscored the “fraudulent freedom of obedience” in any society that might seemingly will itself to be a democracy, but is actually just an oblique celebration of tyranny, the arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such hideous celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also “set the stage” for what Americans experienced so painfully during “Trump Time.” To some extent, at least, for America to be fully freed from the false promise of obedience will demand that the whole society be placed in status nascens, that is, as if newly born.

,              When, in 1633, Galileo Galilei kneeled before the Inquisitorial Tribunal of Rome and was forced to renounce the compelling science of Copernicus, he revealed the terrifying vulnerability of  Reason to assorted mortal seductions of anti-Reason. This storied renunciation is not “just” history. For Americans, it is also a warning of where such seductions could bring us in the future (a future already imperiled by both epidemic disease and nuclear war) and what must be done to forestall such endings.

               Like Max Ernst’s “Horde” or Soren Kierkegaard’s “Crowd,” the Mass is “untruth.” Before this can be expected to change  in America, Americans will need more attention to spare for intellect and reasoning. After Trump, there can remain no conceivable excuse for learning by ceaseless imitation or instinct, that is, by relying upon the visceral resources of our “own flesh.”

               For Americans to finally accept the manifold responsibilities of serious thought is anterior to any serious enhancements of citizenship. An American is what he or she wills himself/herself to be.[29] Always, this core goal must be to resemble Kierkegaard’s “Single One.” We ought never will ourselves to once again become captive in the Danish philosopher’s “primeval forest of evasion,” that is, to lose ourselves in the Crowd.

               Next time, for the United States, and even without evident insurrection, any corresponding national costs could prove terminal.

————–


[1] “Man cannot receive an answer,” warns Paul Tillich (The Courage to Be, 1952) “to a question he has not asked.”

[2] Max Ernst’s The Horde is essentially an avant-garde artist’s rendering of Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s “mass man.” There is, however, nothing surreal about Trump-era declensions. Horde was already a term used by Sigmund Freud, likely an adaptation from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd.” Conceptually, “horde,” “herd” and “mass” are all similar to Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd,” which the Danish philosopher famously summarized (Point of View: “That Individual”) as “untruth.”

[3] In this regard, one may consider the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: “Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.” More than anything else, Donald Trump was quintessentially a “man of the  marketplace.”

[4] One may usefully be reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[5] Said Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934: “”Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state.” Later, in 2019, Donald Trump echoed this dreadful sentiment: “I have the support of the street, of the police, of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.” In a similar vein, during a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump told a wildly cheering crowd that he’d “like to punch the protestors in the face.” “I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they’re in a place like this, they’d be carried out on a stretcher,” Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: I’d like to punch him in the face.”

[6]See: https://www.yahoo.com/news/doomsday-clock-set-100-seconds-152553567.html In the worst case scenario, such a war could coincide with disease pandemic, a fusion with incalculable synergistic effects. By definition, these are effects wherein the catastrophic “whole” would actually be greater than the sum of its “parts.”

[7] See pertinent writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, especially The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[8] A recent example is flag-waving Trump supporters holding signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for “tyrannical” closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.

[9] De facto, rather than de jure, because of the likely absence of mens rea, or “criminal intent.” Nonetheless, from the standpoint of the many American victims of Trump’s “medical advice,” they remained just as dead as if there had been malicious intent.

[10] Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration never understood that international law is part of the law of the United States. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[11] Professor Beres is the author of several  major books and many law journal articles on genocide-like crimes. See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in  M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal Law: Crimes (New York, Transnational Publishers, 1986), pp. 271-279.

[12] Under international law, the question of whether or not a formal “state of war” exists between states is generally ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war obtains only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, declarations of war may be tantamount to admissions of international criminality, because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law, and it could therefore represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to formal and prior declarations of belligerency. It follows that a state of war may now exist without any formal declarations, but only if there exists an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself  “at war.”

[13]  Apropos of truth in Plato’s The Republic: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

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

[15] See, by this author, at JURIST: Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall.  On the mutual reinforcements of the “crowd” and crowd leader (Fuehrer), see Kierkegaard’s lucidly summarizing statement: “In the outside world, the crowd is busy making a noise. The one makes a noise because he heads the crowd, the many because they are members of the crowd.” See the philosopher’s: Point of View: “That Individual.”

[16] “This virus is going to disappear,” said Trump unambiguously, on February 27th, 2020.

[17] On this matter, of course, one ought also note this president’s ill-considered withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.

[18] The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald J. Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it was allegedly intended to bolster this country’s overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, Space Force’s actual effects will  likely be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error committed in this creation was conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in multiple forms of  international war. At a unique time when the United States faces a new and unpredictable set of dangers from worldwide disease pandemic, shifting large sums of money needed for public health to a space-centered arena of future international conflict represents sorely mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, America’s leaders may have  to appreciate the fundamentally deficient intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making.

[19] This former president’s self-serving  refrain of “America First” ignored an overarching empirical truth: America is “first” in Covid-19 deaths, but not in any other tangibly enviable standard of civilizational quality or improvement. Always, we have the biggest bombs and missiles, but little else to show for even the most basic expectations of human empathy and compassion. For this president and his retrograde followers, caring about others remains a sign of “weakness.”To wit, in the former president’s most evident and egregious example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection was described as “political correctness.”

[20] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either one in any ordinary religious sense. For both psychologists, 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 disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the anti-intellectual American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to crudely material accomplishment would occasion sweeping psychological misery. Looking around this unhappy country in 2021, it would be difficult to argue that Freud was mistaken on this point.

[21] See Tertullian,  De carni Christe.

[22] The worst expression of such incoherent presidential  reassurance would likely be a nuclear war.  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).

[23] Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” (See Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, 108 (Andrew R. Mac Andrew, tr., New American Library, 1961 (1862).

[24] As a Europe-born Holocaust refugee, I fully recognize and  appreciate the special sensitivity of this term. Still, it is important to understand that there was nothing uniquely or inherently monstrous about the German people or German nation in the 1930s, and that present-day Americans could sometime fall into line with even the most utterly barbarous national policies.

[25] See Soren Kierkegaard, Point of View: “That Individual.”

[26] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Daily Princetonian: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[27] “America First” ought to have had an especially disturbing resonance for the United States in historic-legal terms. American law was largely founded upon the learned jurisprudence of Sir William Blackstone, which acknowledged, inter alia, the ubiquitous obligation of states to help one another. According to Blackstone, each state is always expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone for current US national security policies, one need only point out that Commentaries were an original and core foundation of the laws of the United States. This fact remained unknown to former US President Donald Trump and his visibly less than learned counselors.. Trump’s force-based (argumentum ad bacculum) policies of “America First” represented the diametric opposite of what Blackstone would have had urged or could ever have even expected.

[28] See Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (supra).

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

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.

Americas

Witnessing Social Racism And Domestic Terrorism In Democratic America

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With just less than two weeks away from President-elect taking the office, the United States of America witnessed the worst of the worst it could ever do, since its discovery. Anti-democracy moves and violence is what American leadership stood against around the world and in particular in recent times since the Arab Spring, but the same ‘Mini Arab Spring’ was faced by America itself. The brave soldiers of America who took arms and enjoyed Saddam’s palace could not protect its own legislative branch, details about which make the very beginning of the American Constitution. The savior of democracy is struggling democracy at home as white supremacists and Trump supporter militias stormed at the US Capitol. Before having a critical outlook through the lens of Johan Galtung’s triangle of violence, it is potent to dig into what exactly is causing this situation in America. This started as protests at the National Mall which soon after Trump’s incitement turned into riots at the Capitol Building by masses without masks, painted with Republican colors and wrapped in MAGA merchandise. This storm over Congress seats came after months long instigation of Donald Trump’s claims about rigging in elections and his refusal to accept the results and especially when on Wednesday the Congressmen gathered to count the electoral votes and officially declared Biden as the next President of America. Amidst this siege over Capitol, arrests and vandalism of state property; Joe Biden was officially validated as the 46th President of the United States of America.

Apart from what became highlight of that week about Capitol Hill being invaded by pro-Trump supporters, critically analyzing the situation, it is evident enough that MAGA riots and Black Life Matters riots were quite evidently, differently handled by the state forces. This discrepancy in response to BLM can be better explained through Galtung’s 3 sides of violence. Galtung’s triangle shapes around three joints of connections: direct, cultural and structural violence, while the former has its roots in the latter two. Structural violence is defined as the unequal access and advantages to one racial, political, ethnic or religious group than the other in social and political orientations of systems that govern the state. Structural violence or social racism is evident in the varying responses that despite warnings about possible attacks during the electoral vote counts, Police did not seek advance help to prevent it, rather National Guard was deployed an hour after the protestors had already breached the first barricade. While in the case of BLM, the aggression of the Police and National Guard was evident in their gestures. While the anti-racism protests in June last year faced militarized response, none was done with anti-democratic riots.

While social racism is evident in America, it is yet to be witnessed what is to come next. Speaker of the House of Senate, Nancy Pelosi has already indicated removing President Trump from his office through the 25th Constitutional Amendment. Along with this, Joe Biden’s remarks about the situation also have long-term repercussions as well as expectations. Repercussions might come in terms of him calling the protestors as “domestic terrorists”. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as: “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” America, since more than 2 decades is already fighting its war against terrorism in various segments of the world, the use of this word at home, although might bring support for Biden’s sympathies for BLM and democracy, yet it might have long-term impacts. Mentioning of expectations, Americans at home and abroad, both desire to see actual reforms followed by on ground implementations to counter structural violence. Along with this, Biden shall have to re-construct the de-constructed notion that political violence and threat to democracy is far away from America and is for third world countries. The states upon which America used to show serious concern and used to send arms for their national interests are showing their worry over the situation in America which is even termed as ‘coup’. Having pin-pointed all this, Biden’s era needs a lot of reconstruction before it opts to enter any third world country or show its presence in any new Spring for democracy outside America.

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Americas

Joe Biden and his first contradictory foreign policy moves

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Those who thought that the elderly American President, formerly Barack Obama’s vice-President, would step into the international limelight as the wise and moderate statesman he had been during the election campaign have had to revise their judgement.

Just a few weeks after taking office, Joe Biden abruptly brought the United States back onto the Middle East stage with a dual political-military move that has aroused considerable perplexity and protest in the United States and abroad.

As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby pointed out, the first surprise move decided directly by the President was to order an aerial bombardment against two bases of militiamen believed to be close to Hezbollah and Iran, located in Syria near the border with Iraq.

Between 22 and 27 people, whether militiamen or civilians, are reported to have died in the attack, which took place during the night of February 25.

The order to strike the pro-Iranian militias was motivated by Biden’s need to react to an attack in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, at the beginning of February against a U.S. army logistics base, which resulted in the death of a Filipino employee of the base.

Commenting on the incident, Pentagon spokesman Kirby said: “The airstrikes have destroyed warehouses and buildings used on the border by pro-Iranian militias Kathaib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al Shuhaba and have conveyed the unambiguous message that President Biden will always act to protect American personnel. At the same time, the action is intended to deliberately pursue the goal of de-escalating tension in both eastern Syria and Iraq’.

Apart from the fact that it sounds ambiguous to justify a surprise attack on the territory of a (still) sovereign State like Syria with the need to “reduce tension” in the region, President Biden’s initiative has aroused not a few perplexities also in the United States, in addition to the obvious protests of the government in Damascus.

While many Republican Senators and Congressmen have approved of Biden’s actions because, as Republican Senator Pat Toomey has argued, “Biden has the right to respond with weapons to the recent attacks supported by Iran against American interests”, members of his own party have not hidden their criticism and perplexity because allegedly the President did not respect the exclusive prerogatives of Congress in terms of “war actions”.

Democratic Senator Tim Kane was very harsh and explicit: “an offensive military action without Congressional approval is unconstitutional”.

His colleague from the same party, Chris Murphy, told CNN that “military attacks require Congressional authorization. We must require that this Administration adheres to the same behavioural standards we have required from previous Administrations…

We require that there be always legal justification for every American military initiative, especially in a theatre like Syria, where Congress has not authorised any military initiative”.

With a view to underlining the inconsistency of the White House’s justification that the attacks were to ‘reduce tension’ in the region, Democratic Congressman Ro Khana publicly stepped up criticism by saying, “We need to get out of the Middle East. I spoke out against Trump’s endless war and I will not shut up now that we have a Democratic President”.

As we can see, the criticism levelled at President Biden has been harsh and very explicit, thus marking the premature end of the ‘honeymoon’ between the Presidency and Congress that, in the U.S. tradition, marks the first hundred days of each new Administration.

President Biden’s military show of strength appears to be marked not only by the doubts over constitutionality raised by leading members of his own party, but also by the contradictory nature of the motivations and justifications.

According to the White House, in view of reducing tension in Syria, bombers need to be sent, without prejudice to the need to “convey a threatening signal” to Iran, at the very moment when the President himself is declaring he wants to reopen the “nuclear deal” with Iran, i.e.  the dialogue on the nuclear issue abruptly interrupted by his predecessor.

In short, the new President’s opening moves in the Middle East region do not seem to differ too much from those of his predecessors who, like him, thought that military action – even bloody and brutal – could always be considered a useful option as a substitute for diplomacy.

This military action, however, seems scarcely justifiable in its motivations if it is true that President Biden intends to reduce the tension in relations with Iran, which have become increasingly tense due to initiatives such as those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who at the beginning of last year ordered the assassination of the highest-ranking member of the Iranian military hierarchy, Qassem Suleimani, who was shot by a drone near Baghdad.

President Biden’s other move that, in a delicate and sensitive theatre such as the Near East, appears at least untimely, was to authorise CIA to declassify the report on the assassination of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, killed in 2018 on the premises of the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

The CIA report bluntly accuses Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of ordering the murder of the dissident journalist. Its publication, authorised by President Biden, has sparked a storm of controversy inside and outside the United States, thus seriously calling into question the strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which over the years has been painstakingly built with the dual aim of counterbalancing Iran’s presence and influence in the Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, as well as controlling the extremist impulses of rich and dangerous regional partners such as Qatar.

Prince Bin Salman, now firmly established as sole heir to the Saudi throne, is a compulsory counterpart of the United States.

In vain (and recklessly), President Biden has publicly declared his preference for a direct dialogue with King Salman.

The 85-year-old King, however, is not only in poor health conditions, but has also clearly told the Americans that he has the utmost confidence in “his sole and legitimate heir” to whom he has already actually delegated the management of the Kingdom’s affairs.

President Biden’s Administration, and its new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have never made a secret of preferring another Crown Prince as a potential counterpart, namely Mohammed Bin Nayef, who is very close to CIA thanks to the good offices of the former Chief of the Saudi intelligence services, Saad Al Jabry. Nevertheless, in the complicated world of the Saudi Court, things do not always proceed in the simple and straightforward way preferred by the Americans.

Mohammed Bin Najef is currently in prison on corruption charges and is therefore definitely out of the race for the throne, while his CIA liaison, Al Jabry, has self-exiled to Canada to escape the ‘persecution’ he believes has been orchestrated by the Saudi courtiers.

If the United States wants to keep on playing a role in the Middle East and possibly exercising a stabilising function in a region which was greatly destabilised by George W. Bush’s unfortunate Iraqi adventure, which effectively handed Iraq over to the Shi’ites close to their Iranian “brothers” and gave Iran the keys to control the Persian Gulf, the President and his Secretary of State will have to rely on a good dose of political realism, leaving out of the dialogue with Saudi Arabia the ethical considerations which, although justified, do not seem appropriate, also because America has never seemed to have had many scruples when it comes to physically eliminating its ‘adversaries’ with very hasty methods, be they an Iranian general, two dozen unidentified Syrian militiamen or their relatives.

In short, the early stages of Biden’s Presidency do not look very promising. Allies and adversaries alike are waiting for the United States to get back on the field in the most sensitive areas with pragmatism and realism, two factors that seem rather lacking in Joe Biden’s preliminary foreign policy moves.

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Americas

Biden’s Syria strikes don’t make him a centrist Democrat – they make him a neocon

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Biden’s Syria strikes last week left many of his supporters, including me, surprised.

The Syria strikes don’t make Biden the centrist Democrat that we knew we were getting – they make him a neocon. 22 Syrians died as a result, as the US forces aimed at Iran-backed militias in Syria in an attempt to take down adversaries – not to disturb an imminent attack on civilians or to stop genocide, for example.

My own initial analysis of Biden’s foreign policy outlook pinned him as a classical Democrat, but his first moves put him further and well beyond the center to the right than what generally defines a classical foreign policy Democrat. 

Humanitarian reasons as a justification for the use of force is what separates hawkish centrist Democrats from the neocons on the right. And that’s not a small difference. For neocons, spreading democracy and regime change suffices. But that’s not the case for Democrats. The Biden Administration knows this very well. That’s why what counts as “humanitarian” in Syria is key for the Biden Administration and that’s why “humanitarian” is getting a very ugly, tortured reading in the first State Department statements. This week the State Department’s Spokesperson Ned Price tweeted that the State Department commemorates the one year anniversary of the death of 33 Turkish soldiers who “lost their lives protecting innocent Syrian civilians in Idlib from the brutality of the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers”.

As a quick refresher, Turkey entered Kurdish northern Syria after Donald Trump gave Turkish leader Erdogan the green light to settle his score with the Kurds who were bravely fighting ISIS in Syria as American allies. That was back in late 2019. Then Erdogan overplayed his hand by entering a completely new Syrian province with no Kurds in order to expand Turkish presence in Syria. At the time, Erdogan turned to his party with the words: “we are now the hosts here”, indicating that Erdogan thought that he was running the show in the newly invaded Syrian province. Russian President Vladimir Putin then taught Erdogan a lesson by striking the Turkish base and killing 33 Turkish soldiers in a preview of what was in store for Turkey if Erdogan forgot who actually calls the shots in Syria. At no point in time, were the Turkish soldiers on a humanitarian mission, as represented by the US. Turkey clearly invaded Kurdish Syria to displace and settle score with the Kurds, flattening and erasing whole villages, and then continued south into uncharted, not Kurdish territories before it got a slap on the wrist by Putin. Erdogan then had to go to Moscow to give explanations and bow to Putin in an attempt to patch things up.

This is why the State Department’s reading of what happened is truly troubling. The State Department not only closed its eyes to Turkish human rights violations but now even tries to represent and commemorate them as humanitarian and good. That is ugly and dangerous. And it’s a blatant lie.

The Biden Administration’s first moves show that Biden is mostly likely forgetting who elected him and why. This is not what the progressive left that put him in office signed up for. One month in is too soon to be already disappointing fans and supporters.

The Biden Administration’s foreign policies will be similar to Trump’s policies but what’s more dangerous is that they will be couched in hypocritical, polished human rights and humanitarian rhetoric lauding big human rights abusers as well-intentioned humanitarians. I don’t know who I prefer then – the straight-forward Trump with whom what you get is what you see in foreign policy and who was easy to criticize because he stated his intentions clearly, or the professionally seasoned and refined Biden who is much better at dressing his true policies in hypocritical narratives that serve as a smokescreen for the slowly crystallizing idea that in foreign policy, Biden is just a more polished Trump.

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