“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952)
How did America get to this fragile place?
Often, history deserves pride of place. For Americans, much remains to be learned from the rise of European Nazism in the 1930s. German Philosopher Karl Jaspers captures the essence of such prospective learning in his classic work, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): No nation can ever fix its core problems in the realm of politics.
There is more. Taken by themselves, no election outcomes, however well-intentioned or reliable, can compensate for a pervasively “unphilosophical spirit.”
Supporting evidence abounds. Even now, Americans generally fail to look meaningfully behind the news. What matters most is not whether Donald Trump will run again (he won’t), but identifying the retrograde forces that created such a dissembling presidency in the first place. This is not “just” a question of narrow historical interest. It must now be asked systematically and dialectically to avoid a second and more lethal American retreat into anti-Reason.
Donald J. Trump, though conspicuously law-ignoring and anti-science, was never America’s underlying problem. This “original” problem has always been something less tangible. It is a society and polity willing to abandon intellect and justice for imaginations of conspiracy and patriotism. Now, to prepare capably for an otherwise portentous future, Americans must look more closely at the broader society from which this president was drawn.
Ultimately, as we must learn, the problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of national consequence. It is that he or she wants to know very little. Until Americans can finally escape from such a limiting lack of vision, another Donald Trump (e.g. Ted Cruz; Ron DeSantis; Josh Hawley) will be pacing in “the wings.”
There is more. Americans generally exhibit expectations of human rationality, an always-problematic expectation that is bound to disappoint. After all, the “true world,” as we may learn from Albert Camus and certain other classical thinkers (e.g., Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard and Freud) is not predictably rational, and disorienting divergences between expectation and reality can often produce outcomes “worse” than simple irrationality.
They can produce “the absurd.”
In Albert Camus’ deft clarification (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942 (Fr.): “The absurd is born of this confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” Human need is effectively immutable. But human silence, an expression of absurdity, is a matter of volition.
A nation celebrating “common sense” over erudition
Elucidating explanations are inter-related. Americans have typically valued a “practical” education. It was not by mere happenstance that Donald J. Trump rose to power in a country so openly proud of its sweeping historical and cultural illiteracy. The fact that this president never read anything himself – literally, never, ever – was not generally taken as a liability. On the contrary, even today, mass publics in the United States reserve few intellectual expectations for America’s national leaders. Still worse, obvious intellectual debility is often enviable.
Prima facie, it is taken as a presidential asset.
Though grotesque and cumulatively lethal, the assertion is indisputable.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”
Next time, the “silence of the world” may not be “unreasonable.”
Once upon a time, when some still-calculable number of Americans sought to consider mind-challenging books and annoyingly complex ideas (these two activities are “force multiplying” and gainfully reciprocal), Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier philosophic plea for personal and social equilibrium (one trait shapes the other) has been too-casually cast aside. We ought also to be forewarned that any such sensible plea would be widely ridiculed.
Under the aegis of former US President Donald Trump, legions of citizens saw no problem with suffering an anti-education president. In part, such ominous indifference to intellect and science could be traced to this country’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic distractions, many of which currently center on sadism, torture and mass murder. Matters were not helped by Trump’s continuously open encouragements of corrosive public discourse, encouragements laced with incoherent argument, baseless rancor and a very dreary profanity.
Finally, it’s time for candor. Very early in his defiling presidency, Donald J. Trump promised, at one of his Goebbels-style “rallies,” to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. But even then, his unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over as minor or unimportant. Nonetheless, it did represent another humiliating symptom of a wider and more insidious national “pathology.”
The key question surfaces. What was this collective “disease,” one as virulent as Covid19? Above all, it was a presidential “victory” for “mass man.” “What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”
Friedrich Nietzsche already understood. He had reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.” Disregarding the millions who “with reasons” still refused to renounce his glaringly debased presidency, Trump never argued that American history should warrant serious study. Unsurprisingly, such study could have helped undo the lethal sovereignty of “mass man.”
Ironies abound. How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” today have ever paused to consider that the Founding Fathers never expected modern automatic weapons? How many adrenalized “patriots” can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons with rapid-fire capabilities, including many in the hands of citizens living in varying stages of derangement?
There is more. Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more plainly disingenuous than those putting unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries? Perhaps there is one. In the last year of his administration, Trump asserted at a Goebbels-style “rally” that, during the American Revolution, Washington ‘s army “took control of all national airports.” This was by the same president who had earlier urged use of American nuclear weapons against hurricanes.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”
What do Americans really know about their country’s cultural and intellectual beginnings? How many current citizens realize that their eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and a lineal philosophical descendant of both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” in Leviathan – a “state of war” or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the philosopher because therein “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
How man have even heard of Thomas Hobbes or John Locke?
Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might (wittingly or unwittingly) create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following any such creation, “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Ominously, for President Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent only a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in his disjointed Realpolitik view of the world, “might makes right” could have become a core part of “making America great again.”
Becoming a “crowd.”
This is not the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant in belligerent chorus. For one worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual chants of Joseph Goebbels heard at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – a lesson seemingly well learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become.
“Cobid19 will disappear by itself.” “Injections of household disinfectant should be considered as therapy.” At first, such phrases don’t seem to make any sense, but if a leader chants often enough against “crooked” opponents and “fixed” elections, fewer will expect to see any “crookedness” on the chanting side.
Such “logic” makes no evident sense. It is contrary to every recognizable standard of correct reasoning. Still, to the end, it continued to work well for former President Donald Trump.
“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.
“I love the poorly educated,” intoned Donald Trump.
Not much difference here. As malignant planners of very precisely calculated deceptions, both screamers were “on the same page.”
During his tenure, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of any painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged additional countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea). At a minimum, the former president’s misconceived encouragement had been spawned by his unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not automatically create credible deterrence. In the language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which this author has been quite intimate for over fifty years in Washington, Geneva and Jerusalem – the relevant fallacy has a suggestive name.
It is called the “porcupine theory.”
Here, violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, assuming that because porcupines (presumably) leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in world politics. One problem with such metaphoric thinking concerns prospects of inadvertent or accidental nuclear war. Another concerns an always-present risk of decisional irrationality.
The problem of simplifications
In the end, America’s presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of this country’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with embarrassing simplifications and stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention already represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.
Yet, it was not generally criticized.
Why not? Because it was fully consistent – without causing tangible electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect, law, and learning in any conceivable form At deeper levels, it was expressive of America’s more general celebration of low-level and degrading public entertainments. For this former president, there was more instructional value in Roseanne than in Shakespeare.
For millions of Trump’s fellow citizens, that demeaning preference was no cause for criticism.
Among many others, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his generation of American Transcendentalists would have winced. Our earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of meaningful accomplishment and at least some original thought.
In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences, a then-future American president composed more infinitely valuable prose than the country’s president with all modern conveniences could produce in several contiguous lifetimes. Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise in casino gambling or financial manipulations but with an elevating background in agriculture, architecture, science and philosophy.
“One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, it seems, America still stood for something more than buying, selling and an abundantly raw commerce. Years ago, America’s national debates did not center on killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style assault weapons. It may be that this country has never been ready to embrace Plato’s “Philosopher King,” but there were discernible times in America’s national past that its philosophical debates sounded more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.
Americans remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in a frenetic marketplace of goods screaming to be bought or sold, but for their historically auspicious presence in a mind-focused marketplace of ideas. For these increasingly-enviable presidents, it was more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than to show off shallow symbols of personal wealth. Donald Trump did not create “conspicuous consumption,” but neither did his electoral defeat put an end to such patterns.
The wider background
The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still cheerfully accepted as “progress” by millions – began with the intellectually unambitious American citizen, that is, with the insistently flawed “microcosm.” The American electorate can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its members. Now, by virtue of “synergy,” the whole of the American polity has become more despoiled than the aggregate sum of its “parts.”
Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy must come to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.” In today’s deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and/or “get ahead” – inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated society of cheap and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without a scintilla of courage or any hint of integrity, millions of “hollow men” (and women) remain chained to exhausting cycles of unsatisfying work.
Manifold ironies are wrapped together here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt by the very very rich as well as the very very poor. This reflects a paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege, one that is based upon entire lifetimes spent on empty personal goals and sterile forms of accumulation.
Given what most Americans are familiar with in their own daily lives, the country’s most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing, and not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty. Within this vast and predatory nether-world, huge segments of a nation’s unhappy population cheerlessly drown themselves in oceans of alcohol and drugs. Incrementally, this submersion, relentless and intractable, is becoming deep enough to swallow up entire centuries of national achievement and a once-sacred poetry.
At its core, America’s “opiate addiction problem” is not about drugs per se. It is about rampant individual unhappiness and irremediable social despair. Now, moreover, the tangible residue of this problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter will instruct as the squalid symbol of a larger social disintegration, of a society that is now expansively complicit in its own unheroic demise.
Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling so desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some still-recognizable membership in the leveling public mass. Earlier, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had foreseen and understood this omnivorous mass, long before the “rise” of social media.
“The crowd,” opined the prophetic 19th century thinker, “is untruth.”
Later, in the twentieth century, and in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset foresaw the perilous consequences of “mass,” a term resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”
Whether one speaks of a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing former president remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. While seeking such support, there was never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his so-called policies with any verifiable facts. In this pernicious presidency, hypocrisy was always unhidden and undisguised.
At the end of his criminalized presidency, Donald J. Trump called openly for armed insurrection against the United States. Nonetheless, rather than generate a reaction of nation-wide horror and disbelief, this once-incomprehensible call elicited far-reaching exclamations of support. When these many millions of Americans stood proudly against the US Constitution and against the rule of law – allegedly as “patriots”- the extant political system provided no viable mechanisms of remediation. Though flagrantly beyond the pale, such destabilizing citizen behavior is sometime apt to be repeated or even accelerated, especially as long as a major US political party (the party of President Donald Trump) chooses to remain a witting “co-conspirator.”
Looking ahead: “a world in stupor lies”
For the moment, at least, Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.” Disclaiming any residual interior life, “We the People” proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more easily grasped terms, even America’s vaunted “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.
The simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous solvent, a caustic solution dissolving almost everything of intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature, art and music has been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already, apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and utterly numbing vocations.
Soon, even if we should somehow manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted – the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.
. In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is what is most important. There can be a “better”American soul, and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more starkly prior obligation. This obligation references a national responsibility to overcome the always-staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”
In the end, the Donald Trump presidency was “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology, one that has yet to be conquered. In the United States, the most genuinely underlying disease remains a sweeping national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged, such reluctance could eventually transform the floundering nation into the lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.
The ill-founded Trump presidency did notend with a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” represents just a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless citizens begin to work much harder at halting American society’s steep indifference to intellect, reason and law, they will have to face precisely the ominous kinds of metamorphoses Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously termed a “sickness unto death.” For those Americans who can still understand more than the empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection, or “epiphenomenal”), but with a deliberate and purposeful fixing of private “selves.”
The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this unassailable reasoning is properly understood and accepted, a still-imperiled nation could better guard itself against another grievously unfit president. The next time we are faced with an aspiring American dictatorship of empty slogans and tawdry deeds, a barbarous insurrection might quickly become more significantly destructive.
Could there possibly be any more important sort of national awareness? Evidence abounds that millions of Americans remain comfortably submerged in a common and recalcitrant unconsciousness, a stultifying paralysis that may make plausible every kind of authoritarian rule. To suitably combat this expressly an-democratic and anti-American inclination, responsible citizens will need to do much more than simply prepare to vote. The “enemy,” as foreseen by philosopher Karl Jaspers, is never merely a particular political leader, however malignant and dishonest.
America’s true enemy is a pervasively “unphilosophical spirit,” one that desperately “wants to know nothing of truth.” There is no imaginable path to coexistence with such a primal adversary. We can’t live with such a perilous spirit indefinitely. To assume anything else means we are still asking the wrong questions.
Seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought…It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing additionally from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge. And early in the 20th century, Guillaume Apollinaire observed: “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See: “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917). See also, by this author, Louis René Beres
This writer, Louis René Beres, came to the United States as a post-Holocaust refugee from Switzerland, in April 1947. He arrived, together with his parents, on liberty ship SS Marine Falcon, sailing to New York City from the French port of Le Havre.
 Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions.
 During the “Trump Era,” such abandonment led to major crimes against international as well as national law. Concerning violations of Nuremberg-category rules, see (by former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz:) https://www.yahoo.com/news/nuremberg-prosecutor-warning-trump-war-090342221.html
 Recall, in this connection, Bertrand Russell’s timeless warning in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”
The mass man or woman is a primitive and universal being, one who has “slipped back,” in the words of 20th century Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y’ Gusset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This meaning of Ortega’s “mass man” is essentially the same as C. J. Jung’s “mass man” and Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd person.”
See also, by this author, Louis René Beres at Horasis (Zurich): https://horasis.org/imagining-sisyphus-happy-an-escape-from-trumpian-farce/
 On America’s long and injurious history of anti-intellectualism, see, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2021/05/02/a-time-for-candor-what-have-we-learned-from-the-pandemic/
This may be due in part to diminishing impacts of higher education. https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education
America’s Founding Fathers, however, were often genuine intellectuals, In the words of distinguished historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning who used their wide reading in history politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s magisterial Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Knopf, 1964), p. 145.
As literary genre, the “theatre of the absurd” is highlighted by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov and Jean Genet. One can discover pertinent intellectual roots in the earlier writings (and paintings) of Surrealism, Zurich Dada and – especially for Albert Camus – Franz Kafka. The core problem here is not that absurdity is per se murderous or problematic, but that it can produce such harms if first allowed to become “malignant.”
See Emerson’s classic essay, “Self Reliance” (1841).
See by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall/
See, by this author at Yale Global, on “Courage: A Reading List,” Louis René Beres: https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage
 The idea of Natural Law/Higher was integral to philosophies of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and therefore to the creation of US domestic law. Natural Law also figured importantly at the post-world War II Nuremberg Trials. In his opening statement to the International Military Tribunal, US Chief Prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson commented: “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” William Blackstone’s Commentaries, the starting point of all US law, recognize and reaffirm that all law “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….” See William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr (Boston; Beacon Press, 1962), Book IV, “Of Public Wrongs,” p. 62 (Chapter V., “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”) The first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries appeared in 1765, the fourth in 1769. An American edition of the full work was printed in Philadelphia in 1771-72
 Under authoritative international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states is too often ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal 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 can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, 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, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”
Says Soren Kierkegaard in “Point of View, `That Individual,’ “It is in every man’s power to become what he is, an individual. From becoming an individual, no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.” Later, the Danish philosopher adds: “The most ruinous evasion of all is to be hidden in the crowd in an attempt to escape God’s supervision of him as an individual….” Significantly, though religion-based on its face, this argument stands just as formidably on secular moral foundations.
For several years, Professor Beres was a regular contributor to BESA (Israel);Israel Defense (Tel Aviv) and Chair of “Project Daniel” (Jerusalem, PM Sharon): See, Louis René Beres, https://besacenter.org/author/louis-rene-beres/page/2/; https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/%D7%93%D7%A2%D7%95%D7%AA/3153; and http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm
 A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in easy private access to guns and in arming teachers to deter school shootings. It makes little sense to argue (as did Donald Trump) that a disturbed individual with access to firearms would best be deterred by a “loving teacher” with a concealed handgun. Also worth noting is that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a hallmark of a civilized society has been “the centralized force monopoly of the community,” not an “every man for himself” vigilante system favored by former US President Donald Trump.
 One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters, Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.
Recalling 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This complex insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
 Former President Trump never showed awareness that international law is an integral part of the law of the United States. Recalling the precise 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.'”).
See, by this author: Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/. Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, seeks to explain politics as an unstable realm of sense and matter, an arena formed and sustained by half-truths and distorted perceptions. In contrast to the stable realm of immaterial Forms, from which all genuine knowledge must be derived, the political realm is dominated by myriad uncertainties of the sensible world. At the basis of Plato’s political theory is a physical-mental analogy establishing a correlation between head, heart and abdomen and the human virtues of intelligence, courage and moderation.
See C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).
See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/
See by this author, Louis René Beres, at Princetonian (Princeton University) (2011): https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2011/09/embracing-cellular-angst
See, by this author, at Princetonian (Princeton University): Louis René Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness
 See by the poet W.H. Auden: “Defenseless under the night, a world in stupor lies.”
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.eurasiareview.com/19012019-trump-and-destruction-of-the-american-mind-oped/; reprinted from Yale Global Online (Yale University).
 However ironic, Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its seemingly corollary commitment to crude forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.
 Within this reflective activity, each citizen minimizes himself/herself into a quantité négligeable, an irrelevant being.
“The self is sacred,” opines Ralph Waldo Emerson in several of his most classic essays.
“Man cannot receive an answer,” warns philosopher Paul Tillich in Existence and the Christ (1951) “to a question he has not asked.”
While GOP Wants Change, the Democratic Donkey in Power Dig in Their Heels
“All the world’s a stage,” proclaimed the hero of a Shakespearean comedy. If we follow this metaphor, presidential elections in America are always a multi-act drama, often turning into a melodrama with elements of tragicomedy and even farce. Major and minor characters perform on the political stage, sudden plot twists are punctuated by various special effects, and culminate in a colorful extravaganza in November of each leap year.
The audience watching the play from inside the theater can only follow the actors’ performances, trying to keep up with the rapid unfolding of the plot’s intricacies, and wonder how the show will end. But unlike the conclusion of a Shakespearean comedy, much depends on the outcome of the US election. So, even if the opening of the show doesn’t herald a stunning display of stagecraft, the world’s attention will be focused on the American political scene in one way or another.
Two categories clearly stand out among audiences of this theater. The first can be conventionally described as political romantics. This group does not demand a reading from the actor, but a complete death in earnest. The romantics always talk about the “historic choice,” about the critical “bifurcation point” in the development of the US, and about the “fateful” significance of this electoral cycle both for America and for the rest of humanity.
Another category are the conventional skeptics. They assume that, for all its splendor and even pomp, the process will make little difference to the lives of Americans, let alone to all the other inhabitants of our planet. Mark Twain, who clearly belonged to the skeptical camp, is credited with perhaps the most emphatic credo of the latter: “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
These two categories are certainly present in Russia. Our romantics always hope that a change of team in the White House will open up new opportunities in relations between our two countries. Today, they assume that there can be no one worse for Russia than the incumbent US president. They remind us that, since Richard Nixon, it has always been easier for Moscow to deal with pragmatic Republicans than with ideological Democrats. They also pay tribute to Donald Trump, generously quoting his recent reassuring statements about Russia.
Skeptics, for their part, stress that American foreign policy has always been bipartisan and that there is a strong negative consensus against Russia in the American political establishment. They also often bring up Trump, but only as a clear illustration of the fact that even a US president who is generally favorable to Moscow is inevitably powerless in the face of the all-powerful ‘deep state’.
Probably both romantics and skeptics have their own truth. But if the skeptics are right in general, the romantics may be sometimes correct. Indeed, there is now a broad and enduring anti-Russian consensus in the US – broader and more enduring than even a similar anti-China consensus. The White House and Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department, the leading media and influential think tanks generally have, if not unified, then very close positions on Moscow, and these positions are unlikely to change even in the medium term.
Nevertheless, any new team in Washington has to distinguish itself from the old one and prove its undeniable superiority over its predecessors. This means new nuances in foreign policy. For example, the Republicans will not abandon military support for Kiev, but they will have to take into account that foreign aid programs have never been popular with voters, especially conservative ones.
It is therefore reasonable to expect that the Republicans will seek to tighten control over how US military and other aid to Ukraine is spent. We can also expect them to push for a “fairer” distribution of the burden of military support for Ukraine between Washington and its European allies.
Moreover, US approaches to Russia should be seen in the broader context of US foreign policy. For example, Democrats have traditionally been much more concerned than their Republican opponents about promoting liberal values around the world. This fixation wins Joe Biden points in predominantly liberal Europe, but creates problems with such important “illiberal” or “not quite liberal” US partners like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, or even India.
A Republican victory would be enthusiastically welcomed in these countries, but would pose a serious challenge to fragile transatlantic unity. These differences, though not radical, need to be taken into account by all international actors, including Russia.
As always, the Republican elephant in opposition today demands change, while the Democratic donkey in power wants things to hold firm. A victory for Biden in next November’s election would mean another four years of the status quo, unless the aging president is forced to leave office before January 2029. A victory for any Republican candidate would trigger a process of revision of policy, creating both new opportunities and new challenges for America and the rest of the world.
From our partner RIAC
US-China: Creeping Escalation
The deterioration of US-China relations has long been a generally recognised trend. Contradictions on specific issues, such as human rights, have been accumulating since the boom in trade between the two countries in the 1990s and 2000s. During the presidency of Barack Obama, the outlook for bilateral ties gradually began to darken against the backdrop of the US pivot to Asia, the situation in the South China Sea, and several incidents in the digital environment. Donald Trump took an even tougher line toward Beijing, directly voicing Washington’s entire list of claims against China.
The high-tech sector has become a key front for containing China. The general line of Washington is to limit the access of Chinese companies to the technologies of the United States and its allies. Such technologies can solve dual-use problems and lead to the subsequent modernisation of the PRC in both the military and civilian sectors. President Joe Biden has continued the prior administration’s protectionist course, which confirms the absence of critical inter-party differences on the issue of relations with China. Another indicator of China’s containment in the field of high technologies is President Biden’s new Executive Order “On Addressing United States Investments in Certain National Security Technologies and Products in Countries of Concern.”
The new Executive Order introduces a National Emergency due to the fact that individual countries use access to US civilian technology to develop their military-industrial complex. In the annex to the Order, China is named as such a country, as well as the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The very concept of the National Emergency concept has its own specifics. More than four dozen states of emergency are simultaneously in effect in the United States with regards to various foreign policy issues. The president imposes them on the basis of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (IEEPA), which gives the US Commander-in-Chief the ability to use economic sanctions to counter existing threats. That is, a state of emergency is introduced on a selective issue, and serves as the basis to exercise individual powers.
The Executive Order implies at least two innovations. First, the Administration, represented by the State and Commerce Departments, must create a list of foreign persons who are individuals or legal entities from a particular Country of Concern. In this case, from China. Such persons must be connected in one way or another with high-tech transactions mentioned in the Order. In other words, we are talking about creating another list, which, most likely, will name large Chinese technology and industrial companies and, possibly, their leaders or individual employees. Second, US citizens will be required to notify the authorities of certain transactions with these individuals. In addition, a number of other transactions will be prohibited. The list of such transactions must also be determined by the Administration and periodically subject to revision.
The new legal mechanism gives the Administration wide room to limit Chinese companies’ access to US high-tech firms. The flexibility of the mechanism will be determined by the ability to revise the categories of transactions, technologies and foreign entities that are subject to restrictions. At the same time, the mechanism is likely to provide more opportunities, in comparison with the norms that already exist.
Among the previously-imposed restrictions, one can note the prohibition of Americans from buying or selling securities of “Chinese military companies”. The ban was introduced by Donald Trump in November 2020. Biden modified it somewhat, but without major changes. The appendix named the largest Chinese companies in the field of telecommunications, aircraft manufacturing, electronics, etc. Even earlier, in May 2019, Donald Trump declared a National Emergency due to threats to the US telecommunications sector (Executive Order 13873).
The Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and a number of its subsidiaries were included in the Entity List of the US Department of Commerce — it was forbidden to supply certain goods in the field of electronics, including manufactured outside the USA using American technology. In addition, a number of Chinese companies have been placed on the Military End User List (MEU-List). These companies are prohibited from supplying certain items on the US Department of Commerce’s Commerce Control List.
Such restrictions have a negative background: separate legal mechanisms for sanctions against Chinese persons in connection with the situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), etc. In addition, members of Congress periodically propose sanctions bills against China in connection with a variety of reasons, starting from the already familiar topics of human rights and ending with sanctions for possible cooperation with Russia. During the presidency of Joe Biden, none of these projects became law, which does not exclude the adoption of those and other bills in the future.
However, the intensity of US sanctions against China is incomparable to the volume of US restrictions on Russia. So, for example, the number of Chinese persons under blocking US financial sanctions can be measured in the dozens, while the number of Russians already exceeds 1,700. This does not include those persons in respect of whom the so-called “Rule of 50%” is in force, extending blocking sanctions to subsidiaries and controlled enterprises. The same can be said about export controls.
Restrictions against Huawei, the creation of a list of Chinese military companies, and the replenishment of the list of military end users by Chinese enterprises create a media response. But compared to the restrictions against Russia, the sanctions against China are still negligible. It is forbidden to supply almost all dual-use goods, hundreds of industrial goods and “luxury goods” to Russia, including consumer electronics and appliances. Large-scale restrictions on Russian imports and transport sanctions complete the picture. In addition, the United States has managed to build an impressive coalition of sanctions allies against Russia, while it is much more difficult to create such a coalition against China.
However, there is no guarantee that Beijing will not face a similar scenario in the future. Back in 2016, publications cautioning about possible US sanctions against China presented an unlikely scenario. However, the situation in the early 2020s is already significantly different from that reality. The United States and China assume the irreversibility of confrontation, but for their own reasons, they delay its escalation. This does not mean that sooner or later there will not be a landslide fall in relations. Predicting exactly the timing and scale of such a fall is as difficult as was predicting a crisis in relations between Russia and the West. In the meantime, there is a gradual accumulation of restrictive measures, one of which was Biden’s new Executive Order. The creeping nature of the escalation gives Beijing time to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
From our partner RIAC
Quad foreign ministers meet in New York for the third time
Quad foreign ministers met in New York for the second time this year and the seventh time since 2019. The four-nation grouping’s ambit of cooperation has clearly expanded and diversified over the years. What were the key talking points this time? I analyse.
The foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the United States – four key maritime democracies in the Indo-Pacific – met on the sidelines of the 78th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on September 22. This was their seventh meeting since 2019 and the second of 2023. Notably, exactly four years ago, this four-nation Quad was raised to the foreign ministers’ level amid a UNGA session. Earlier in 2023, the ministers met in March on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial in New Delhi and in May, this year, the Quad leaders’ summit was hosted by Japan on the sidelines of the G7 summit. Having met twice in 2022 as well, the ministers congregated six times in person and virtually once so far.
The previous ministerial in New Delhi saw the four-nation grouping making a reference to an extra-regional geopolitical issue for the first time – Ukraine – and also the initiation of a new Working Group mechanism on counter-terrorism, a key agenda item for India and the United States, among other themes of discussion. Following the seventh meeting, India’s foreign minister Dr S. Jaishankar tweeted, “Always value our collective contribution to doing global good”, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that the grouping is “vital to our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and together we reaffirmed our commitment to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”.
Diversifying ambit of cooperation
The ministers have clearly doubled down on the commitments taken during their previous deliberations, particularly to improve capacity-building for regional players. The joint statement that followed the meeting read, “The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness is supporting regional partners combat illicit maritime activities and respond to climate-related and humanitarian events.” Similarly, the Working Group on maritime security promised “practical and positive outcomes” for the region. Prior to the recent ministerial, the Working Group on counter-terrorism conducted a Consequence Management Exercise that “explored the capabilities and support Quad countries could offer regional partners in response to a terrorist attack”, the joint readout mentions.
Later this year, the U.S. island state of Hawaii will host the Counter-terrorism Working Group’s meeting and tabletop exercise, which will focus on countering the use of emerging technologies for terrorist activities, while the Working Group on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) will be convened in Australia’s Brisbane for its second tabletop exercise. Earlier in August, this year, all four Quad navies participated in Exercise Malabar for the fourth consecutive year, off Sydney, the first hosted by Australia. However, as in previous meetings, the ministers didn’t specifically mention Russia or China with regard to the situations in Ukraine and maritime east Asia respectively.
On the Ukraine question, the ministers expressed their “deep concern”, taking note of its “terrible and tragic humanitarian consequences” and called for “comprehensive, just, and lasting peace”. In a veiled reference to Russia, the ministers rebuffed the “use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons”, underscoring the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, and called for the resumption of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows for the export of food grains and fertilizers from Ukraine to world markets via a maritime humanitarian corridor, amid the ongoing conflict with Russia.
Similarly, in another veiled reference to continuing Chinese belligerence and lawfare in maritime east Asia, the ministers stressed upon the need to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to maintain “freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with UNCLOS”, reiterating their “strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion”, including with respect to maritime claims in the South and East China Seas. Going further ahead, the ministers expressed their concern on “the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore exploitation activities”. The joint readout also had mentions of North Korea and Myanmar.
The evident and the inferred
Today, almost all the areas of cooperation of Quad countries happen to be the areas of strategic competition with China, the rapid rise of which necessitated the coming together of the four nations, even though this is not openly acknowledged. In this new great game unfolding in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S.-led Quad is trying to balance China’s overwhelming initiatives to capture the support of smaller and middle powers in the region and around the world. Placid initiatives such as the Open Radio Access Network, the private sector-led Investors Network, Cybersecurity Partnership, Cable Connectivity Partnership and the Pandemic Preparedness Exercises should be read in this context.
With the rise of Quad in parallel with the rise of China and other minilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific such as the AUKUS (a grouping of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), the existing regional framework based on the slow-moving, consensus-based Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was put to test. However, allaying all doubts, Quad deliberations at both the ministerial and summit levels continued to extend their support to ASEAN’s centrality in the region and also for the ASEAN-led regional architecture that also includes the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Despite somewhat differing regional outlooks, the Quad likes to see itself as “complementary” to the ASEAN, rather than an “alternative” to its pan-regional influence.
India, the only non-ally of the U.S. in the Quad, will host the fourth in-person Quad leaders’ summit in 2024. The Asian giant is often dubbed as the weakest link in the grouping, owing to its friendly ties with Russia, but other members intent to keep India’s bilateral equations with other countries away from the interior dynamics of the grouping, signalling an acknowledgement of India’s growing geopolitical heft in the region and beyond. This seems to be subtly reflected in the stance taken by individual Quad members in the recent India-Canada diplomatic row, in which they made sure not to provoke New Delhi or to touch upon sensitive areas, even though a fellow Western partner is involved on the other side.
|Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting||Month & Year||Venue|
|First||September 2019||New York|
|Fifth||September 2022||New York|
|Sixth||March 2023||New Delhi|
|Seventh||September 2023||New York|
NB:- All three Quad ministerials in New York were held on the sidelines of the respective annual sessions of the UN General Assembly i.e., the first, the fifth, and the seventh meetings.
On the multilateral front, the four ministers reaffirmed their support for the UN, the need to uphold “mutually determined rules, norms, and standards, and to deepen Quad’s cooperation in the international system, and also batted for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including the expansion of permanent and non-permanent seats in the Security Council. While China and Russia, two powerful permanent members of the Security Council, continue to denounce the Quad as an “exclusionary bloc”, the Quad ministers and leaders tend to tone down any security role for the grouping.
However, a recent comment made by Vice Admiral Karl Thomas of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet during this year’s Exercise Malabar is noteworthy. He said the war games were “not pointed toward any one country”, rather it would improve the ability of the four forces to work with each other and “the deterrence that our four nations provide as we operate together as a Quad is a foundation for all the other nations operating in this region”. Even in the absence of a security treaty, in a way he hinted at the grouping’s desire to cherish its collective strength across all fronts and to check on hegemonic tendencies that may manifest in the region from time to time.
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