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Following The “Magicians”: Origins of America’s Political Defilement

Karl Jaspers

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“The masses have followed the magicians again and again…Socrates and Plato were the first to take up the struggle against them in a clear awareness of what was at stake.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952)

It’s glaringly ironic. Since Plato first characterized visible political activity as mere reflection or “shadow,” scholars have had a favorable starting point for serious intellectual understanding.[1] Nonetheless, purposeful thought[2] on the nature of politics has remained the province of just a tiny handful of specialists. Complex and bewildering, such thought can never become appropriate for “mass” consumption.

               But it does still warrant a more prominent place in shaping national policies.

               On such arcane matters, there are gravely pertinent details. In the United States, recalling Plato, Americans will finally need to acknowledge core differences between “truth and shadow.” Oddly, what has mattered most to this country about politics are outcomes that “the people” themselves might never even recognize.

               How can this be?

               In general, few people are capable of acknowledging what they really want. Though millions of Americans can readily appreciate that they value assorted religious attachments and affiliations, few could then connect these preferential ties to palpable promises of one utterly supreme form of power. These promises concern the incomparable bestowal of immortality, the credible granting of power over death.

               Individuum est ineffable, reminds the poet-philosopher Goethe, author of Faust: “The individual cannot be grasped.”

               Within an American society unaccustomed to bothering with history, law or erudition (Donald Trump assured his servile followers that “attitude is more important than preparation”),[3] there is not much cause to expect many knowledge-based political inquiries. Still, whatever the anti-intellectual baggage of an American mass[4] that continuously disregards all discernible considerations of “mind,” lucid explanations of American politics will now require examinations conducted at a conceptual level.

               There is more. Three specific concepts will need to be highlighted. Intersecting and subtle, these concepts are death, time and immortality. Prima facie, discovery of pertinent meanings here can never be a task for the intellectually faint-hearted. To wit, this will not be a task for those who would choose yet again to “follow the magicians.”

                At the outset of any serious political inquiry, relevant phenomena must be examined at this conceptuallevel. Concepts represent the “building blocks” of any comprehensive theory, and theory (well fashioned) represents the beginning of any science. Science, in turn, identifies an optimal method of reaching conclusions, one involving the stipulation, examination and subsequent confirmation or disconfirmation of alternative hypotheses.

               This is what serious inquiry is necessarily all about. Indeed, when taken together, these recommended operations provide the textbook definition of science. Always, to sincerely believe in science is to reject “the magicians.”

               A “next question” dawns. How shall Americans proceed if their national and sub-national governance is to be meaningfully improved, especially in a world political system of belligerent nationalism now being shaped  by corrosive acrimony and nuclear weapons?[5] What can the three concepts of death, time and immortality teach us about America’s political landscape, both present and future?[6] How shall this nation ever be able to advance beyond the childlike prescriptions and gratuitous rancor of domestic politics, an advance (let us be candid) that has now become indispensable to actual survival?

               To answer thoughtfully, and not as marginally literate partisans of some presumptively precious political cause or personality, analysts must begin with the individual human being, with the microcosm. In this commencement, though disregarded and de facto invisible, power over death represents the ultimate reward for dutiful political compliance. Though spoken sotto voce (only in furtive whispers), there can be no greater power to confer in any political sphere than this tacit promise of immortality.

Personal Faith and the “Hunger of Immortality[7]

               “I believe,” says Oswald Spengler in his 20th century classic, The Decline of the West” (1918-1923), “is the one great word against metaphysical fear.” In this inherently abstract connection, we may learn from Emmanuel Levinas something of head spinning import: “It is through death,” says the modern philosopher,  “that there is time….”[8] It follows, among other things, that any nation that can seemingly enhance the promise of personal immortality among its people can thereby heighten the promises of time.[9]

               These are multiple and mutually reinforcing promises.

               Could there possibly be any more enviable forms of power?

               What can such dense abstraction have to do with American politics in particular? These are not easy concepts to understand, especially in the context of America’s defiling preoccupation with dissembling personalities, multiplying superficialities and relentlessly escalating rancor.  Still, no society so willing to compromise truth on behalf of  doctrinal “anti-reason”[10] can reasonably expect to endure, let alone progress.

                These are not easy concepts to unravel or interpret. And yet they are more plainly explanatory of this nation’s dynamic existential problems than are the commonly ritualistic recitations of public political personalities. If chronology is in fact contingent upon death – in essence, because human mortality puts an irreversible “stop” to each individual’s personal time[11] – an antecedent question must also be posed: How does one gain tangible power over death,[12] and what does any such gain have to do with the fate of a particular state or nation?

               It is with precisely this near-preposterous question in hand that genuinely promising political inquiries should now be launched.

               What next? Before venturing a proper answer to any such many-sided question, analysts and thinkers must first distinguish between actual or tangible power and the personal expectation that such power lies in variously decipherable ties to God.  Naturally, though not in any way a matter of science, we humans have always sought reassuring links to the divine. In identifying humankind’s purported ties here to the sacred –  ties that are expectedly prior to relevant acquisitions of power over death – the most evident and “time-tested” path involves faith.

                It is hardly a coincidence that every one of the world’s major religions offers its adherents variously alluring and more-or-less comparable promises of immortality.

               There is more. Such powerful assurances come with assorted contingencies, some of which would prove far more difficult to satisfy than others. Nonetheless, in the main, whatever the specific contingencies or nuances of differentiation involved, it is a bargain being offered to individuals who usually hope most fervidly not to die. Seemingly, it is a gainful pact, one whereby the faithful adherents of any pertinent religion (1) commit wholly to the affirmation of all true piety (“I believe),”[13] and (2) prioritize this sacred affirmation above all others.

Immortality and Martyrdom

               Additional particularities will need to be noted. On occasion, the doctrinal priority “I believe” can demand a faith-confirming end to an individual believer’s physical life on earth, that is, an act of martyrdom.  At other times, assorted high-minded doctrines of charity, caring and compassion notwithstanding, this priority can require the torture and/or killing of designated “unbelievers,” “heathen,” “apostates,” etc., to safeguard “the one true faith.”[14]

               Whatever special circumstances of “sacrifice” may be involved[15] – and they need not be mutually exclusive – Reason must give way to Unreason. Ironically, as we have already seen, such grotesque surrender is no less likely in the Age of Science than it was in any earlier Age of Belief.[16] Regarding this worrisome allegation, the daily news offers endlessly corroborative “evidence” ex hypothesi.

               There are several core truths being revealed here. Any cumulative hopes for an individual rising “above mortality” can have critical consequences for the macrocosm, for war and peace on Planet Earth.[17]  In the nineteenth century, at his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined in his Philosophy of Right (1820) that the state represents “the march of God in the world.”

                Inter alia, these widely-cited views in political science and philosophy tie loyalty to the state (usually unquestioned loyalty) with the promise of power over death. By definition, this must always be a monumental promise, one generally recognized only in the Platonic “shadows” of political activity. Plainly, whenever the historian looks beyond the distracting shadows of true images, he discovers no plausible evidence of any such promise ever having been kept.

               There is more. This is an extraordinary and always-unfulfilled promise, but one that still remains incomparable.[18] During his rabidly incoherent tenure as US president,[19] Donald J. Trump’s openly pernicious brand of belligerent nationalism[20] (“America First”[21]) offered “patriotic” adherents this dangerously seductive promise. In the end, because it was founded upon a fusion of stark ignorance with doctrinal anti-reason, “America First” brought with it a vision of time that hastened death rather than help “overcome” it.[22]

               Additional nuances now warrant competent examination. In all related matters, faith and science intersect with coinciding considerations of law.[23] The fearful “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation of ideology from simple principle of action to sacred end in itself, drew germinal strength from the doctrine of sovereignty.[24] First conceived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a juridical principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent far-reaching metamorphoses, whence it then became the justifying legal rationale for international anarchy (known also by political philosophers as the global “state of nature.)”

Sovereignty and Power Over Death

               To understand all such complex intersections, we must first understand “sovereignty.” Established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty quickly came to be regarded as the supreme human political power, absolute and above all other forms of law.[25] In the oft-recited and oft-studied words of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: “Where there is no common Power, there is no law.”

               As to any correspondences withtime, which is how we have come to consider such complex issues in the first place, Hobbes explains why this “no law” condition should be called “war,” even when there exists no actual “fighting.”  More precisely, because  “war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of Time….,[26] scholars and policy-makers will need to broaden their most fundamental ideas of “war.” Though this would first appear to be an esoteric requirement, one without any discernible links to real world policy-making, exactly the opposite is true.

               There is still more. When it is understood in terms of modern international relations, the doctrine of sovereignty encourages the refractory notion that states  (a) lie above and beyond any legal regulation in their interactions with each other, and (b) act rationally whenever they seek tangible benefits at the expense of other states or the global system as a whole.[27] Still, following the time of conspicuous Trump derangements,[28] this doctrine threatened a wholesale collapse of civilizational cooperation and world order, a dis-establishment spawned  ultimately by the “timeless” human wish for immortality, and by variously misconceived human associations of “wish fulfillment”[29] with “everyone for himself” foreign policies.

Time and the Hobbesian “State of War”

               Without suitable changes in the Hobbesian “tract of time,” the global State of War nurtured by refractory ideas about absolute sovereignty[30] points not only to perpetual/immutable human mortality, but also toward death on literally unprecedented levels. One such notion is climate change denial, a stubbornly-preferred posture of anti-reason expressed most insidiously by earlier Trump-world derangements of science and law. Left unaffected by more proper considerations of scientific analysis and refined intellect, climate change denial could produce even another mass extinction on Planet Earth.[31] At that point, time will have lost all of its once-residual meanings, and death will inherit absolutely all that still is.

               Considered by itself, immortality remains an unworthy and unseemly human goal, both because it is scientific nonsense[32] (“An immortal person  is a contradiction in  terms”[33]) and because it fosters such endlessly injurious human behaviors as war, terrorism, genocide and “martyrdom.”[34] The dignified task, therefore, is not to try to remove the individual human hope to somehow soar above death (that is, to achieve some tangible sort of immortality),[35] but to “de-link” this futile and vainglorious search from grievously destructive human behaviors.[36]

               But how best to proceed with such a multi-faceted task? This is not an easy question, and one that can never be answered in terms of shadows or Platonic reflections of reality. There are available here no science-based guidelines. And even if there were such availability, this is not just another ordinary problem that can yield ipso facto to rationality-based solutions. On the contrary, and infinitely-distressing, the wish to immortality is so deeply compelling and universal that it can never be dispelled by logical argument.

               Never.

A Perilous Political Lure: “Whisperings of the Irrational”

               Aware of this dilemma, philosopher Karl Jaspers writes in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” Always, and understandably, the  most seductive of these irrational whisperings are those that offer to confer a selective power over death.[37] But it is in the express criteria of any such “selection” that ostentatiously far-reaching evils can be born.

               In essence, this is because the promised power over death requires the “sacrifice” of certain despised “others.”

               For science, death is inevitably a function of biology. Moreover, because it “presents” together with decomposition and decay – and even calls for some human comprehension of nothingness within a so-called flow of time – there exist no conspicuously plausible ways of replacing mystery with rationality. By its very nature, which inevitably brings forth inconsolable fears and paralyzing anxieties, death will never submit to even the most refined sorts of intellectual management.

               Never.

               It’s simply not that sort of “nemesis.”

               Nonetheless, at least in principle, some measure of existential relief can be discovered in transience, that is, in the unassailable awareness that nothing is forever and that everything is impermanent. What is required at this stage is the conceptual reciprocal of any imagined human decomposition or disintegration. This would mean deliberately cultivating the imagery of expanded human significance that stems from life’s limited duration. In scientific  terms, one might usefully describe this quality as life’s “scarcity value.”[38]

               Though seemingly paradoxical, any such gainful mental cultivation may effectively represent the optimal human strategy of achieving “immortality” or of “not dying.”

               How did we ever arrive at such a complex and intellectually-challenging conclusion?  We began with the view that daily news reports and “assessments” are just changing reflections or shadows of much deeper human activities. In order to deal more satisfactorily with the incessant horrors of any national politics – e.g., the endlessly lethal derangements of Trump-era American policies – we will first have to understand the verifiably true sources of all such reflections.[39]

               Again, these particular underpinnings of daily news events are rooted in certain conceptual intersections of death, time and immortality. It is only with a more determined understanding of these many-sided intersections that America and Americans can reasonably hope “not to die.”

The Barbarism of Specialization

In the end, American politics – like politics everywhere – must remain a shadowy second-order activity, a distorting reflection of what is truly important. For now, in the United States, such politics continues to thrive upon a vast personal emptiness, on an collective infirmity that represents the disfiguring reciprocal of personal fulfillment. “Conscious of his emptiness,” warned the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), “man (human) tries to make a faith for himself (or herself) in the political realm. In Vain.”

“In vain.”

                In even an authentic American democracy, only a few could ever hope to redeem themselves and the wider nation, but these self-effacing souls would generally remain silent, hidden in more-or-less “deep cover,” often even from themselves. In a democracy where education is increasingly oriented toward narrowly vocational forms of career preparation, an orientation toward “barbaric specialization,” these residual few can plausibly expect to be “suffocated” by the many. Any such “asphyxiation,” in absolutely any of its conceivable particularities, would represent an especially bad way to “die.”[40]

               Donald J. Trump did not emerge on the American political scene ex nihilo, out of nothing. His incoherent, corrupt and disjointed presidency was the direct result of a society that had long since abandoned any serious thought. When such a society no longer asked the “big philosophical questions” – for example, “What is the “good” in government and politics”? or “How do I lead a good life as person and citizen”? or “How can I best nurture the well-being of other human beings”? – the hideous outcome was inevitable.

               It was an outcome that we are currently living through in the United States, and yet it is also one that might sometime earlier have had to be “died through.”

               Going forward, what Americans ought to fear most of all is this continuously self-defiling outcome of “shadows” or reflected truth, not any particular electoral result. To be certain, at this vital turning point, nothing could be more urgently important for the United States than to rid itself of the still-intersecting pathologies of Covid19 and Donald Trump’s now growing movement against Constitutional democracy. These evident afflictions are mutually reinforcing and potentially synergistic. But even the much needed eradications would only be transient. More fundamentally, recalling philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset timeless warning about the “barbarism of specialization,” this country must first resurrect an earlier ethos of education, one in which learning can benefit the whole human being, not just his or her work-related corner of the universe.

               Also necessary will be  the long-deferred obligation to acknowledge the fundamental interrelatedness of all peoples and (correspondingly) the binding universality of international law.[41] To survive as a nation and as individuals, more Americans will need to become seriously educated, not as well-trained cogs in a vast industrial machine, but as genuinely empathetic and caring citizens. “Everyone is the other, and no one is just himself,” cautions Martin Heidegger in Being and Time (1932), but this elementary lesson, once discoverable in myriad sacred texts, is not easily operationalized.

                Indeed, it is in this single monumental failure of “operationalization” that human civilization has most conspicuously failed.

               In Trump-era American governance, the former president’s core message was never about the co-responsibility of every human being for his or her fellows, but rather about “winners,” “losers” and a presumptively rational citizen obligation to “Make America Great.” In this twisted Trumpian context, “greatness” assumed a Darwinian or zero-sum condition, not one wherein each individual could finally favor harmonious cooperation over belligerent competition.[42] The very last thing any sane person would ever seek in this abysmally crude condition is immortality.

               How shall we change all this, or, recalling Plato’s wisdom in The Republic, how shall we”learn to make the souls of the citizens better?” This is not a question that anyone can answer in any elucidating detail. Still, it is a question that ought to be placed before the imperiled American polity before the next election, before it is once again too late.[43]

               American democracy faces multiple hazards, including Ortega y’Gasset “barbarism of specialization.” To be rescued in time, each such hazard will have to be tackled carefully, by itself but also in coordinated tandem with variously other identifiable perils. Overall, the task will be daunting and overwhelming, but the alternative is simply no longer tolerable.

               Donald Trump’s electoral removal from office was a sine qua non for all still-applicable remedies, but even such an indispensable removal could target only a symptom of America’s “true” national pathology. By itself, saving the United States from Donald Trump was surely required, but it still left unchanged the country’s most deeply underlying “disease.” In the end, because Americans will finally need to bring a less “specialized” form of learning to their citizenship responsibilities, the nation will have to figure out various practical ways of restoring educational “wholeness.”

               Can this sort of rational calculation reasonably be expected? Maybe not. Perhaps, like the timeless message of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this warning may “have come too soon.” If such a premature warning turns out to be the case, however, there may be no “later.”

What is “Drawing Near”?

               “Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951) “or a beginning.” The meaningful answer, which lies far beyond any measuring hands of clocks,[44] is by no means self-evident. Determining this answer is now a fundamental expectation of American political destiny.

               Nothing could be more important.

               Soon, as we have just seen, Americans will need to get solidly beyond the demeaning banalities of partisan politics, beyond the distracting and potentially murderous “shadows” of what is genuinely important. Immutably, but also invisibly, most human residents of planet earth continue to regard “power over death” as the highest conceivable form of power. And yet it will likely remain unclear how such ultimate power can be linked purposefully to America’s politics, even to its Realpolitik-directed foreign policies.

Meaning and Belonging

               There is more. To look suitably beyond “shadows,” Americans must also discover that there are two other principal animating forces of their political realm. These forces concern Meaning and Belonging. They represent other true images of American politics – images additional to immortality or “power over death” – that can also bestow tangible feelings of personal self-worth.

               In essence, such images coalesce around activities that can confer pleasing human emotions of “time well spent” and/or group membership. The overriding problem, of course, is that such activities are not always benign. They can sometimes include war, terrorism and genocide.

               In his modern classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls (in German) das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon certain earlier seminal insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) that can all-too-quickly suffocate intellectual growth. For Heidegger’s ubiquitous “The They,” the crowning human untruth lies in “herd” acceptance of immortality at both institutional and personal levels, and in herd encouragement of the notion that personal power over death is sometimes derivative (recall earlier Hegel and Treitschke) from membership in nation-states.

               History reveals, prima facie, that this can frequently become an insidious notion.

               Any reassuring notions about a potential for personal immortality are themselves contingent upon the specific nation-state’s “sacredness.” Here, only membership in a presumptively “sacred” group can serve to confer life-everlasting. This connection is now markedly evident amid America’s rancorous “identity” politics.

               “In the end,” says Goethe, “we are creatures of our own making.” But to best ensure that such “creatures” are dignified, decent and meaningfully cooperative with one another, all societies must first be able to distinguish true human feelings and expectations from distorting reflections or “shadows.” Here in the United States, where a nation’s most basic tonality has already become dissonance, one conclusion is unassailable: Americans should finally acknowledge the existential risks of “following the magicians,” and firmly detach themselves from always-grave distortions of political reality.

                It’s a tall order, to be sure, but one that can’t reasonably be disregarded. The next time the United States chooses to “follow the magicians” could represent more than just another regrettable political error.  Prima facie, such an unforgivable mistake could prove to be existential and irremediable.


[1] Such “epiphenomenal” understanding was central to Plato’s The Republic. In his still-famous parable of the cave, the early Greek philosopher clarifies distinctions between “truth and shadow.” See, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/09/08/truth-and-shadow-to-understan See also, at Oxford University Press, Louis René Beres:  https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[2] In the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked 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 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

[3] This absurd assurance resembled the official Joseph Goebbels Third Reich party line that “Germany needs leaders with instinct, not intellect.” Said Goebbels at a Nuremberg party rally in 1934: “Intellect rots the brain.” Declared US presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, at several of his own Republican party rallies: “I love the poorly educated.” Later, Trump claimed that Covid19 “will disappear on its own,” ingestion of household disinfectants can help protect Americans from the Covid19 virus, that the 18th century American revolutionary army “quickly took control of all United States airports,” and that we should consider using nuclear weapons against hurricanes.

[4] The “mass-man,” we learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.”

[5] See recently, by this author, Louis René Beres:  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2021/10/24/to-prevent-a-nuclear-war-americas-overriding-policy-imperative/

[6] A common aspect to these three core concepts is the inherently vague idea of “soul.” Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in an ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by express references to “soul.” He was plainly disgusted by a civilization so tangibly unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., an awareness of intellect and literature); Freud even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably occasion sweeping psychological misery. Judging, among other things, by the extent of America’s expanding opiate crisis, this prediction was well on-the-mark.

[7] This succinct phrase, the “hunger of immortality,” is central to Miguel de Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (1921). During my more than fifty years as a Purdue University professor, I often identified this seminal work as the single most important book I had ever read. Interestingly, it was another great Spanish existentialist, Jose Ortega y’Gasset, who comes in as a close second.

[8] See Emmanuel Levinas, “Time Considered on the Basis of Death” (1976). In another essay, Levinas says: “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” Though seemingly an obvious assertion, it also runs counter to promises of the world’s principal religions, and therefore to the most common catch-phrases of US domestic politics.

[9] For an early examination of time’s impact on foreign policy decision-making, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[10] For the best available assessment of this concept, see: Karl Jaspers, Reason and anti-Reason in our Time (1952). The German philosopher clarifies the “fog of the irrational” that bedeviled Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and later the United States during the Trump years. In a distillation of his conspicuously grand thought, Jaspers proclaimed: “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 logical argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….” Today, in the United States, one should think immediately of QAnon conspiracy thinking.

[11] The charming idea that time can somehow “have a stop” is raised by Indiana writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in Slaughterhouse Five (1969).

[12] Interestingly, observes Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958): “History is an illustrious war against death.” 

[13] Famously, says Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, “‘I believe’ is the one great word (sic.) against metaphysical fear.” Such “fear” is essentially a euphemistic or sanitizing reference to death.

[14] But killing need not always be linked to promises of power over death. Sometimes, per Eugene Ionesco, “People kill and are killed in order to prove to themselves that life exists.” See the Romanian playwright’s only novel, The Hermit, 102 (1973).

[15] Already aware that blind fanaticism is the ultimate scourge of all decent politics, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard recognized that there are too many individuals, not too few, who take it as their sacred duty to sacrifice others on the blood-stained altars of personal immortality.

[16] See, for example, by this author:  Louis René Beres, https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1053-Terrorism-as-Power-over-Death-Beres-final.pdf

[17] Here it ought also to be kept in mind that the incremental destruction of biodiversity on Planet Earth is producing a continuous natural climate catastrophe, one that naturalist David Attenborough suggests will likely end in another mass extinction. This means, inter alia, more-or-less predictable synergies between growing catastrophes of the natural world and catastrophes of specifically human misunderstanding. In synergistic interactions, by definition, the cumulative harm (the “whole”) is greater than the sum of component sufferings (the “parts”).

[18] Still, we must consider the contra view of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses (1932). Here, Ortega identifies the state not as a convenient source of immortality, but as the very opposite. For him, the state is “the greatest danger,” mustering its immense and irresistible resources “to crush beneath it any creative minority that disturbs it….” Earlier, in his chapter “On the New Idol” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote similarly: “State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters…All-too-many are born – for the superfluous the state was invented.” Later, in the same chapter: “A hellish artifice was invented there (the state), a horse of death…Indeed, a dying for many was invented there; verily, a great service to all preachers of death!”

[19] The Trump White House consistently sought to persuade Americans by way of deliberate simplifications and falsifications. See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation in On Certainty:  “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

[20] The belligerent nationalismof former US president Donald Trump stands in marked contrast to authoritative legal assumptions concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential assumptions concern a presumptively common legal struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[21] See, for example, by this author, at JURIST, Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-first-2/; and https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2019/06/louis-beres-america-first/

[22] In philosophic terms, this idea of “overcoming” is distinctly “Nietzschean.”

[23] Though still not widely understood, especially by former US president Trump, international law isa part of US law.  In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The more specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”  For pertinent earlier decisions by Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[24] See, on this doctrine, by this author: Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984).

[25] We may recall here Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Augustine: “St. Augustine says: `There is no law unless it be just.’ So the validity of law depends upon its justice. But in human affairs, a thing is said to be just when it accords aright with the rule of reason; and as we have already seen, the first rule of reason is the Natural Law. Thus, all humanly enacted laws are in accord with reason to the extent that they derive from the Natural Law. And if a human law is at variance in any particular with the Natural Law, it is no longer legal, but rather a corruption of law.” See: SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 1a, 2ae, 95, 2; cited by A.P. d’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPPHY (1951), pp. 42-43.

[26] Thomas Hobbes argues convincingly that the international state of nature is “less intolerable” than that condition among individuals in nature because, only in the latter, the “weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” With the spread of nuclear weapons, this difference is plainly disappearing. Interestingly, perhaps, in the pre-nuclear age, Samuel Pufendorf, like Hobbes, was persuaded that the state of nations “…lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10, No.3., 1972-73, p. 65.)

[27] In studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have now taken on very specific meanings. More precisely, a state or sub-state actor is presumed to be determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[28]One such derangement was Trump’s willful movement away from cooperative world politics to an exaggerated “everyone for himself” ethos. Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man (1955): “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[29] A term made famous by Sigmund Freud in both The Interpretation of Dreams and The Future of an Illusion.

[30] In this connection, notes Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.) Interestingly, Albert Einstein held very similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: Schoken Books, 1960).

[31] See, in this regard, recent BBC film productions on Nature by Richard Attenborough.

[32] Having been born augurs badly for immortality. In their desperation to live perpetually, human societies and civilizations have always embraced a broad panoply of faiths that promise life everlasting in exchange for “undying” loyalty. In the end, such loyalty is transferred from the Faith to the State, which then battles with other States in what is generally taken to be a “struggle for power” but which is often, in reality, a perceived Final Conflict between “Us” and “Them,” between Good and Evil. The advantage to being on the side of “Good” in any such contest is nothing less than the promise of eternal life.

[33] See Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (1993); originally in French as Dieu, la mort et le temps (1993).

[34] Paradoxically, the terrorist martyr kills himself or herself not in deliberate search of death, but rather to avoid death. In other words, this “martyr” kills himself or herself in order not to die.

[35] The philosopher George Santayana reveals: “In endowing us with memory, nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation. The truth of mortality…. The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; yet, without our knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.” (See: George Santayana, REASON IN RELIGION, 260 (1982). This Dover edition is an unabridged republication of Volume III of THE LIFE OF REASON, published originally by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905.

[36] How does killing in war and terrorism hold out a promise of immortality? According to Eugene Ionesco, “I must kill my visible enemy, the one who is determined to take my life, to prevent him from killing me. Killing gives me a feeling of relief, because I am dimly aware that in killing him, I have killed death. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.” This comment from Ionesco’s JOURNAL appeared in the British magazine, ENCOUNTER, May 1966. See also: Eugene Ionesco, FRAGMENTS OF A JOURNAL (Grove Press, 1968).

[37] The idea of death as a zero-sum commodity is captured playfully by Ernest Becker’s paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises it head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.” (See Ernest Becker, ESCAPE FROM EVIL 2 (1975).  Similarly, according to Otto Rank: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed.” (See: Otto Rank, WILL THERAPY AND REALITY  130 (Knopf, 1945) (1936).

[38] This term is drawn here from a lesser-known 1913 essay by Sigmund Freud “On Transience.”

[39]In the language of formal philosophy, this brings to mind Plato’s doctrine of Forms. As explained in dialogues Philebus, Phaedo and Republic, the Forms are always immaterial, uniform and immutable. To be useful to humankind, by definition, they must express not the concrete or physical events of any specific moment in time, but rather an idea that necessarily soars above all such tangible particularities.

[40] In more expressly concrete terms, average American life-expectancy, unenviable for several decades, has now fallen behind most of the advanced industrial world. While Trump boasted of a wall to keep out Mexicans and assorted “others,” more and more Americans were planning to cross in the other direction.

[41] Apropos of this universality, international law is generally part of the law of the United States. These legal systems are always interpenetrating. Declared Mr. Justice Gray, in delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)). The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[42] Here it could be helpful to recall the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[43] “Sometimes,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

[44] Chronology is not the same thing as temporality. To acknowledge a useful metaphysics of time, one that can assist us in a better understanding of world and national politics, we may recall William Faulkner’s novel view in The Sound and the Fury that “clocks slay time…time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Real time, the celebrated American author is telling us, eludes any measurement by clocks. Real time, in essence, is always “felt time,” an inner stream of duration It is precisely this durée that is suggested by Plato’s clarifying cave analogy.

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 American Initiative for a “Better World” and its difference with the Chinese Belt and Road

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During their summit held at the end of July 2021 in the city of “Cornwall” in Britain, the leaders of the countries (the Group of Seven major economic leaders “G7” led by Washington) have been announced the launch of an ambitious global initiative called “Rebuilding a Better World”. It is internationally, known as:

Build Back Better World (B3W)

  The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative aims to (meet the massive financing requirements for infrastructure needs). The most important differences and distinguishes between (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road and the American initiative to build a better world), are highlighted, through:

1) The intense Chinese interest in doing (development initiatives that are not politically conditional, unlike the American tool that sets political goals and conditions as a condition for the work of projects or the provision of loans, as well as China’s interest in infrastructure and community projects), and this is the most obvious and famous reason for the “Belt and Road” initiative, whereas the maps showed China’s roads, railways, and pipelines networks extending with partner countries, in addition to cooperation in (the field of digital technologies, educational and social institutions, and security services), which creates a network of relations that will continue in the future, in contrast to the US case or initiative.

  2) We find that while (the leaders of the seven major economic countries neglected to develop long-term strategic plans in their initiative for a better world to serve poor and developing peoples), the vision of the “Belt and Road” has been more clearly manifested through the spread of many other developmental initiatives and the other extensions with it, which include the “Silk Road” for its projects, such as: (The Health Silk Road Initiative to combat “Covid-19”, and the launch of the “Digital Silk” initiative, known as (Information Silk Road).

 3) At a time when Washington and its allies ignored the interests of developing countries, China has contributed to (leading the global development initiatives, especially the Healthy Silk Road to help countries affected by the spread of the pandemic), an initiative mentioned for the first time in the (White Book of Chinese Policy in  2015), Chinese President “Xi Jinping” announced officially the “Health Silk Road” that was presented in a 2016 speech delivered by the Chinese President in Uzbekistan, as well as the new road and the most recent Chinese initiative, known as the “Polar Silk Road”, which also known as the “Ice Silk Road”, which stretches across the “North Pole”, it was first highlighted in 2018.

 4) In the belief of China to lead global development efforts, in contrast to ignoring the “Better World Initiative”, it was represented in China’s leadership in the field of “climate and environmental governance”, so the Chinese government initiated the launch of the “Green Silk Road Fund”, which was established by Chinese investors to promote (Chinese projects that take into account environmental standards), and the latest and most advanced here is the Chinese announcement of the “Space Silk Road”, which is the development of the Chinese “Beidou” system for artificial intelligence technology, and others.

5) Here, we find that at a time when China’s desire to support and modernize all African and poor countries is increasing, the American initiative, which is alleged to be an alternative to the Chinese plan, has come to China’s interest in projects (the Chinese satellite navigation system), and it is scheduled to be used and developed China as an alternative to GPS services.

 6) The American President “Joe Biden” adopted the “Building Better for the World” project, stressing that its mainly focus on the (climate, health, digital sector, and combating social inequality), because the “Belt and Road” initiative – as stated by assistants to US President “Biden” – has transformed from a series of unauthorized projects connected to infrastructure, a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, and the initiative supported China with raw materials, trade links, and geopolitical influence, so the “White House” wants to engage in projects with greater environmental and labor standards than those funded by China, and with complete transparency regarding financial terms. Perhaps that point raised by Washington towards China comes without (the United States of America presenting concrete evidence of the validity of those accusations to China, as well as Washington’s failure to penetrate deep into the African continent compared to the Chinese side).

 7) American reports accuse Beijing of being (the reason for the decline of its influence on the African continent, and the United States faces many obstacles and challenges to regain its influence again in Latin American countries, which considers China as a trading partner and an important and vital investor in the African and Latin region).  For example, bilateral trade between Brazil – the largest economy in South America, and China increased from $2 billion in 2000 to $100 billion in 2020.  Perhaps this in itself (supports China’s credibility with its development projects to serve African and developing peoples, in contrast to African and Latin rejection, for example, of American influence and penetration in their countries).

8) The most important analytical thing for me is that the relationship of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” with African countries supports “the call of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” towards a multilateral and multipolar world”. Therefore, we find that (China’s agreement with these African countries came in their support for multipolarity in the world, which the United States rejects), while African countries and the developing world mainly welcome the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which meets the needs of economic development in their countries, which the alleged American initiative will be unable to meet.

 9) It also represents the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road (a prelude to the China-Pacific cooperation road to link China and Latin America more closely, through the 21st century Maritime Silk Road from China to Latin America, which the United States strongly opposed, which reduces travel time between them, it works on developing infrastructure and connectivity, and investing in port works and ocean corridors between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Which (made the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider cooperation with Beijing a huge investment opportunity and a support for economic and social development plans, as well as an improvement in the region’s competitiveness).

 10) It is worth noting that what distinguishes (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road from the American Better World Initiative, is its “sweeping popularity globally”), especially if we know that more than 100 countries have joined the Beijing initiative, which made it stronger politically and diplomatically. China signed cooperation documents on Belt and Road construction with 171 countries and regions around the world, and the trade value between China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to about 1.35 trillion dollars in 2020, accounting for 29.1 percent of the total value of China’s foreign trade which (the United States of America will be unable to provide in light of the current economic crisis, unlike China). The investment cooperation between them amounted to about $17.7 billion, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that the companies of the “Belt and Road” countries have established 4,294 institutions in China, with an investment value of $8.27 billion.

 11) and even came (confessions by well-known American bodies of China’s developmental role in confronting the United States of America), for example, a report by the “American Council on Foreign Relations” confirmed that: “Since the launch of the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, Chinese banks and companies have funded and the construction of power stations, railways, highways, and ports, as well as communications infrastructure, fiber-optic cables and smart cities around the world, and if the initiative continues to implement its plans, China will be able to stimulate global economic growth, and meet the needs of developing countries for the long term”.  This is an American testimony and a clear acknowledgment of the strength of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and its development projects around the world.

12) It remains to be noted here that (the American attempts to put forward alternative development initiatives for the Chinese Belt and Road is a kind of American political competition with China, so the question here is: Why did the United States not provide real development projects over the past long years), so we understand that the Belt Initiative  The road is the largest infrastructure program in the world, and indeed it has become an economic and political challenge for Washington.  Experts believe that the preoccupation of the United States with its financial and economic crises has contributed greatly to giving China the opportunity to extend its economic and development influence among the countries of the world. The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative comes among other US initiatives to try to confront and confront China, such as the Ocos Defense Security Agreement with Britain and Australia, as well as the first meeting of the “Quad Quartet” with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia. The “Biden administration” is also seeking to hold bilateral talks with countries in order to promote the American initiative, and recently talks were held with Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), especially since India has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative due to border disputes with China.  Therefore, we understand (the targeting of the United States of America to countries with conflict with China to attract them to its alternative initiative, in contrast to the openness of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to the whole world).

    Accordingly, we arrive at an important analysis that says that the term “rebuilding better in the American sense” ignores and neglects development initiatives to serve the people, a better world, which is (an American political initiative rather than a development one such as the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative). Here it becomes clear to us that the American initiative for a better world appears to be (influenced by the slogans and policies of both US President “Joe Biden” and British Prime Minister “Boris Johnson”), Rebuilding Better is the slogan of the American campaign, but without setting specific agreed plans or a timetable for everyone.

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Russia and the United States Mapping Out Cooperation in Information Security

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Authors: Elena Zinovieva and Alexander Zinchenko*

The first committee of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution on international information security sponsored by Russia and the United States by consensus. The document has a record number of co-sponsors, with 107 countries putting their name to the document, although it is Russia and the United States that promote the document as its main sponsors. While the draft resolution still needs to go through a vote at the UN General Assembly this December, we can assume the vote will go more as less the same way it did in the committee.

The very fact that Russia and the United States came up with a joint draft resolution is a significant step forward in the bilateral cooperation in the field of international information security, especially given the fact that the United Nations hosted two competing platforms operating between 2019 and 2021, the Open‑Ended Working Group (the OEWG) established at Russia’s initiative and the Group of Governmental Experts (the GGE) led by the United States.

The joint draft resolution and a step towards an institutionalization of the dialogue came as a result of the agreements reached at the summit between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Joe Biden of the United States on June 16, 2021. Four rounds of expert consultations have already taken place under the auspices of the security councils of the two countries, says Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States.

Besides, the Russian diplomat pointed to the successes in suppressing hacker activity and combating the criminal use of ICTs. The fight against cybercrime is one the main concerns voiced by the U.S. in this area, especially after the high-profile ransomware attacks on the energy and food industries in 2021. Subsequent dialogue led to a restoration of interaction in this area, which is occurring within the framework of the 1999 bilateral agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, a document that allows the parties to exchange information on cybercriminals in pretrial detention, including in matters when it comes to collecting evidence of the person’s guilt. Cooperation between the two countries has involved the United States transferring materials for the legal suppression of the activities of such international cybergroups as Evil Corp, TrickBot and REvil. In turn, Russia has informed the American colleagues that Moscow has managed to thwart the activities of a criminal group using the Dyre/TrickBot malware and prosecute those responsible.

Additionally, there has now been greater interaction between Russian and U.S. centers for responding to computer incidents, the Federal Security Service’s National Computer Incident Response and Coordination Center (the NCIRCC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s US–CERT. However, the sides still harbor their concerns, pointing to the fact that there is room for cooperation to be fostered and enhanced. For example, most attacks on Russian infrastructure in 2020, the NCIRCC suggests, were carried out from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. By the same token, the Western media continues to level mostly unsubstantiated accusations against Russia for its supposed involvement in cyberattacks, while cyber defence activities have become overly politicized.

Meaningful interaction, once it produces positive results, facilitates an atmosphere of trust between the parties, opening the door for closer cooperation to establish a universal international regime for information security, including with respect to the issues that are more global and complex in their scope. Russia’s agenda in bilateral negotiations is not limited to combating cybercrime—Sergey Ryabkov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stressed—as it includes a broad range of issues relating to international information security, including military and political use of ICT, which is the major threat to international stability today. Moreover, since 1998, Russia has been calling for a global regulation of international interaction in information security and for rules to be formulated under the auspices of the United Nations to guide responsible behaviour of states in this area.

The dialogue and the joint work in this area have been reflected in the draft resolution, and it takes Russia’s priorities into account. Specifically, the document sets out the important principles and rules of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space, which Russia has been advocating for since 1998: encouraging the use of ICTs for peaceful purposes, preventing conflicts arising in its use, preventing the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. The document places a particular emphasis on the importance of preventing cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure.

The draft resolution also welcomes the 2021 report adopted by the Open‑Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, making special note of how important the renewed group’s proceedings will be for 2021–2025. At the same time, the resolution suggests that the OEWG’s activities may well result in a binding UN document on international information security to be adopted.

It would seem the United States and Russia have sent a positive signal to the international community, recognizing the threats to international information security and acknowledging the importance of norms to be devised that would guide responsible behaviour of states in the information space. These norms would underpin the international regime for information security, as is envisioned by the Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on International Information Security adopted by the Russian President on April 12, 2021. The document aims to strengthen peace and international security, which are increasingly dependent on the advances in information and communications technologies. “The international community has proven in practice that it is capable of negotiating and working out acceptable solutions when it comes to resolving fundamental issues of national and international security,” noted Andrey Belousov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

First published in our partner RIAC

*Alexander Zinchenko, Ph.D. in History, Lead Expert at the Centre for International Information Security, Science and Technology Policy at MGIMO University

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How the Republican Party Has Tightened U.S.-Taiwan Ties

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Taiwan, also known as the sovereign Republican of China (ROC), set up in the aftermath of the revolution in 1911 in China. The U.S. government recognized the ROC as the legal government of China till the end of 1978 and has thereafter maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with the island after its official recognition of People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legal government of China in 1979. Even though the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is deemed as “unofficial” by the U.S. Department of State, official contacts between the two governments based on the Taiwan Relations Act have never ceased, the most important of which includes U.S.-Taiwan arms sales. The “strategic ambiguity” embedded in the three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiqués in 1972, 1979 and 1982 allows the U.S. to maintain its involvement in the regional security of Taiwan Strait under a statutory framework despite PRC’s countless opposition.

America’s long-standing commitment to Taiwan and involvement in the region is not only bound by the jurisdiction of the Taiwan Relation Act, but has created “historical and ideological connections”. The support for Taiwan, especially when in the face of an increasingly aggressive China, is usually bipartisan in the U.S., but the Republican party seems to be more provocative when it comes to defending Taiwan from the threat of mainland China. Historically, Republican politicians usually stroke first to take a pro-Taiwan stance when disputes across the Taiwan Strait arose. Meanwhile, the ongoing “asymmetric polarization” in the U.S. – the Republican Party is turning conservative more than the Democratic Party turning liberal – is influencing Washington’s policies involving the Taiwan Strait. In 2020, conservative Republican senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) and Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act respectively, both of which aimed at defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s oppression and even invasion. As Republicans are rapidly turning more conservative, is it likely that the U.S.-Taiwan relations will enter a honeymoon phase? And how that would affect U.S.-Taiwan arms sales?

Historical links between U.S. Republican Party and Taiwan

  1. 1949 – 1971: The China Lobby

Throughout the history U.S.-Taiwan relations, there have been multiple times when conservative Republican officials and public figures have worked at the forefront of campaigning for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties, often along with anti-PRC policies.The Republican Party’s intimacy with Taiwan dates back to 1949 when the Chinese Civil War ended. The defeat of Chiang Kai-shek split U.S. policymakers on the issue of whether to defend Taiwan if Communists from China initiated an attack. Democratic Secretary of State Dean Acheson was prone to abandon the island while Republican Senators Robert Taft and William Knowland, together with former Republican President Hoover adamantly demanded that America should protect Taiwan.

In the 1950s, the China Lobby, a broad network of people who shared the common goal of support Chiang Kai-shek’s recovery of mainland China from Mao Zedong-led communism, represented the apex of Taiwan’s success in America. It involved both Nationalist Chinese officials and right-wing American politicians who were mostly Republican politicians, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Jesse Helms, Senator Bob Dole, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher. Although not every supporter of Chiang actually cared about Taiwan issues since many of them simply took advantage of it to advance their own political agendas, the China Lobby, supported by the Republican Party, was capable of arguing for their cause aggressively and intimidating dissidents.

2.2 1971-1991: The Sino-US Normalization – Inner Conflicts among Republicans

Republican President Nixon won bipartisan support for his trip to China in 1972, which marked the end of U.S. efforts to isolate People’s Republic of China. Praises for Nixon’s China initiative came not only from leading congressional Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, but liberal communist James Reston. However, domestic controversy and criticism also arose and mostly came from conservative Republicans who complained that the preliminary rapprochement undermines America’s longtime ally – Taiwan. As the conclusion of Nixon’s visit to China, the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique (1972)” was issued, which incurred opposition and even wrath of Nixon’s conservative Republican supporters who were upset by the gradual reduction in U.S. forces in Taiwan as implied by the communique.

A decade later, Republican President Ronald Reagan issued the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on Arms Sales” – also known as 1982 Communique – which clarified that the U.S. intended to gradually decrease its arms sales to Taiwan, but Reagan’s secret Memorandum on the 1982 Communique specified that the reduction in U.S. sales of arms to Taiwan was “conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC differences”. As a matter of fact, not only did the Reagan administration have Republicans in Congress reassured through his written clarification that the communique would not disadvantage Taiwan, but he continued to work to assuage potential criticism from the pro-Taiwan Republicans by selling twelve C-130H military transport aircraft to Taiwan in 1984.

2.3 1992-2016: The Gradual Revival of Republican-Taiwan Ties

In 1992, an agreement was reached by PRC and ROC governments in the name of “1992 Consensus” in which the commitment of “one China, respective interpretations” was shared and seen as the foundation of the rapprochement between the two sides of Taiwan Strait ever since. Douglas H. Paal, the Director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) between 2002 and 2006, buttressed the 1992 Consensus by emphasizing its critical importance to maintaining cross-strait peace in 2012, days before the presidential election of Taiwan. However, the former Republican Senator Frank H. Murkowski supported Tsai Ing-wen’s challenge to the 1992 Consensus – “Taiwan consensus”, and claimed that Tsai’ proposal “represents the will of the Taiwan people”.

Two years after the proposal of 1992 Consensus, the Clinton administration sought to upgrade the U.S.-Taiwan relations but still restricted high-level Taiwanese government officials’ access to U.S. visas. In the same year, Republicans swept the mid-term elections, which led to a growing movement in the Congress that favored closer relations with Taiwan. In 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House as well as the conservative Republican representative of Georgia stated that president of ROC should not only be able to visit the United States, but ROC itself deserved a seat in the United Nations.

The majority of House Republicans’ support for Clinton Administration’s efforts into bringing China into WTO was surprising, but harsh criticism against China also came from Republican politicians and public figures such as Representative Chris Smith, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, and 1992 Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, most of whom were allies of conservative forces that held anti-PRC and pro-sentiment.

2.4 2017 – present: Increasingly Conservative Republicans and Closer U.S.-Taiwan Ties

After winning the 2016 U.S. president election, the Republican president-elect Donald Trump had a 10-minute conversation with the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, an unprecedented move for a soon-to-be U.S. president and Taiwan’s top leader. This led many people to label Trump as a pro-Taiwan president and some even speculate his intention to support the independence of Taiwan.

The conservative Republican president’s policies toward Taiwan were as bold and aggressive as his domestic policies. Even though some may claim Trump’s attitude was “neither new nor Taiwan-specific”, it cannot be denied that his leadership, directly or indirectly, accelerated Republican Party’s right-leaning dash and that came with more pro-Taiwan policies that got under Beijing’ nerve. In 2018, Trump “gladly signed” the Taiwan Travel Act that encourages all levels of U.S. government officials to travel to Taiwan and high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the U.S.. The bill was introduced by the Republican representative Steven Chabot and won bipartisan support before being signed into law by Trump. In 2020, the Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) to ensure America’s obligations of defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s invasion. In the same year, the Republican Senator Ted Cruz recognized Taiwan’s National Day and introduced Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act.

The conservative Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also known for his staunch support for Taiwan. During the final days of Trump’s presidency, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was lifting restrictions on U.S.-Taiwan relations by allowing U.S. government contacts with Taiwan despite an increasing risk of invoking Beijing to trigger a new cross-strait crisis. Even in the post-Trump era, Republicans does not seem to put a stop to their pro-Taiwan cause. In April 2021, the Republican Representative John Curtis introduced the “Taiwan International Solidary Act” to condemn China’s overreach of the sovereignty of Taiwan – a year after he authored the “Taipei Act” to strengthen Taiwan’s international diplomatic recognition and had it passed by bipartisan support. The ongoing partisan divide has yet to show a sign of deceleration after Trump left the office. Based on the redder Republican Party’s historical favor toward Taiwan, it is likely that there will be more Republicans initiating anti-PRC and pro-Taiwan policies, including increasing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Asymmetric Polarization in the U.S.

As early as in the 1990s, themes of polarization, division, and fragmentation started to be discussed by media and political commentators of American politics. The editor of the Columbia Journalism Review declared the conservative politician Patrick Buchanan’s speech at the Republican convention in 1992 a “culture war” and asserted “There is increasing polarization in American society over race, religion, family life, sex education and other social issues”. Similar perceptions include “the sharpening cultural polarization of U.S. society after the mid-1970” and the two dividing values camps in America – the “culturally orthodox” and the “culturally progress”. As shown in Figure 1, Republican legislators have been turning more conservative and Democratic legislators more liberal, which makes the Senate and House more divided than ever since the end of the first World War.

Figure 1: Increasing Polarization in Congress 1870-2010 based on DW-NOMINATE Index

Each point represents the discrepancy between two parties’ mean DW-NOMINATE scores. Higher values along the y-axis indicate stronger political polarization. (source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

The Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., with their ongoing conflicts commonly acknowledged, are not simply mirror images of each other. A wealth of studies find that the two parties are not moving away from the center at equal speeds. Scholars such as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson point out that the phenomenon “asymmetric polarization” – Republicans have marched much further right than Democrats have moved left – is what has escalated partisan conflicts, which is also demonstrated by Figure 2. Nolan McCarty, the professor of Politics and Publica Affair of Princeton University, asserts that the polarization is “a Republican-led phenomenon where very conservative Republicans have replaced moderate Republicans and Southern Democrat”. The disproportionate share of rising polarization is thereby greatly explained by Republican party’s march toward the ideological extreme.

Figure 2: Asymmetric Polarization based on DW-NOMINATE Scores

(source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

Correlations between U.S. Asymmetric Polarization and US-Taiwan Relations and Arms Sales

Compared to 1991 when it had more than 20 countries as suppliers of arms, Taiwan only has the U.S. as its supplier nowadays. America, however, remains Taiwan’s sole and largest supplier of arms by taking advantaging of the strategic ambiguity of the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique of 1982 and the Taiwan Relations Act. More importantly, keeping arms sales to Taiwan can be used as political leverage by the U.S. for the U.S.-RPC relations. The U.S. military sales agreements with Taiwan amounted to $9 billion and delivers totaled $12.3 billion between 1991 and 1998. During the Bush and Obama Administration, U.S.-Taiwan arms sales were oftentimes delayed or cancelled due to concerns over relations with the RPC or U.S. domestic political disputes in Taiwan. However, to counter the cross-Strait military imbalance, the arms sales to Taiwan during the Trump Administration exceeded any previous administrations over the last four decades, including seven packages of arms sales in 2017, C-130 and F-16 fighter parts and accessories in 2018 and 2019. As shown by Figure 3, the overall volume of U.S.-Taiwan arms sales experiences an increase between 1981 and 2010 despite some fluctuations.

 Figure 3: U.S. Government Arms Deliveries to Taiwan 1981 – 2010 ($billion, values not adjusted for inflation)

The scatterplot is composed by the author of this article (source: Arms Control Association, n.d.)

For years, Republicans constantly praise the common value shared by the U.S. and Taiwan and never attempt to hide their stance on defending Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act should China violate the peaceful status quo across the strait. The U.S. support for Taiwan is oftentimes dominated by Republicans who tend to convert their anti-CCP ideology to pro-Taiwan policies. Those prominent Republican politicians include Senator Marco Rubio, Senator John McCain, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Republicans’ pro-Taiwan impression culminated when Donald Trump, the Republican then-President-elect, had a phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the first official U.S.-Taiwan conversation since 1979. Throughout history, most prominent pro-Taiwan Republican politicians have shown a higher level of conservatism than their colleagues based on DW-NOMINATE ideology scores, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Frank H. Murkowski, and Senator John Curtis, whom of which have made great contributions to tightening the relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. According to those Republicans, Taiwan is a loyal friend of the United States who deserves their strong support which includes the timely sale of defensive arms.

With Republicans’ accelerating right-leaning dashing, the anti-China sentiment has been rising and a large portion of it has been translated into pro-Taiwan actions. The Trump Administration’s hardline reprimand of CCP has starkly juxtaposed Taipei and Beijing in the current international political environment. This has enhanced the image of Taiwan as “a tiny democratic ally threatened by a totalitarian neighbor”, which has given Republicans more legitimacy to take aggressive actions to defend democracy of Taiwan by means of promoting more arms sales to the island.

However, is the asymmetric polarization the only reason behind the increasing U.S.-Taiwan arms sales? Even the polarization of Republicans seems to proceed at a faster pace, Democrats’ process of radicalization is tagging along. The boundary between liberal and left had almost vanished by the end of the 1980s, and the self-identifying radicals started to be replaced by leftists relabeled as “progressive”. The progressive movement of Democrats has been accelerated by “neoliberal globalism” and the “Cyber Left” – an amalgamation of hundreds of thousands of online organizations, blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups. A study of Brookings finds that the ratio of progressive non-incumbent House winners to total democratic candidates was as high as 41% in 2018, a huge increase compared to 26% in 2016 and 17% in 2014. There is a chance that Democrats could also show stronger support for Taiwan to help the island stand up to the presence of increasingly aggressive China, which is also consistent with their emphasis on a harmonious global community and “social responsibility”. It is true that notable Democrats such as Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Ted Kennedy or Speaker Nancy Pelosi do have been open about their appeal for Taiwan’s rightful place on the global stage and have never been shy about celebrating Taiwan’s democracy. Whereas, it is also progressive Democrats’ pro-globalization stance that makes them tend to downplay anti-Communism ideology and thus provide insufficient legislative support for Taiwan. Therefore, military support for Taiwan is still and will be dominated by the conservative Republicans who uphold anti-Communism ideology and value a strong military power to increase security and peace.

Conclusion

The history has proven the Republicans’ overall pro-Taiwan stance from the perspective of ideological similarity, strategic purposes and common values. The increasingly right-leaning Republicans’ support for Taiwan is not only confined to the legislative branch, but has permeated the executive branch. Being regarded as the most pro-Taiwan president in the US history, Donald Trump lifted U.S.-Taiwan arms sales “to the next level” by not only upgrading the quality of arms, but significantly changing the frequency and procedure of sales.

Biden’s ambition to reunite the U.S. is not likely to happen on a short notice given the highly divided American society in terms of income inequality, identity politics, race divergence and so on. The ongoing asymmetric polarization is only going to get worse before it gets better, and that would lead more conservative Republicans, instead of moderate ones, to take power in the foreseeable future. Against the backdrop of deteriorating U.S.-PRC relations, hawkish policies for China will become the mainstream among Republicans. That may not necessarily increase the arms sales to Taiwan under the Biden Administration, but the partisan divide in the current American political environment has made and will make pro-Taiwan policies one of the few agendas that can reach a bipartisan agreement. Therefore, that would neither leave sufficient scope for the Biden administration to adjust its Taiwan policy nor make its China policy too different than his predecessor despites his eager to fix the relations with the second largest economy.

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