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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.

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The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world

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In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.

The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.

The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.

Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.

Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.

The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.

With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.

The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji [1997], who was born when Algeria was a French territory):

Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12

If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.

About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.

Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.

The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.

The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.

IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.

E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.

Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.

The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.

The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.

In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.

Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.

The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.

Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.

Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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