“Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation….-Jose Ortega y’Gasset, Man and Crisis (1958)
Reason, anti-Reason and Mortality
The distracting whispers must be rejected. To survive long-term, especially during times of growing biological peril, Americans will have to disavow the always-dissembling voices of anti-reason. Such imperative disavowal will have to (1) be emphatic, and (2) coincide with a reaffirmed national commitment to scientific logic and human empathy. Failing this primary obligation, Americans will likely have to harden themselves to previously unimaginable forms of derangement and suffering.
Still, it’s not really a bewildering obligation. Looking back at the refractory Trump Era, we should already be well-familiar with the blatantly lethal obfuscations of shallow rhetoric and deliberate mystification. Even for a nation not generally accustomed to any serious considerations of “high thinking” (a phrase favored by 19th century American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson), there can be no defensible excuse for having tolerated (much less supported) violent insurrection against the United States.
What next? Informed retrospectives must begin at the beginning. The beginning here is unambiguous. In the final analysis, we humans are all fundamentally the same.
Whatever the viscerally pleasing and differentiating nuances of nationality, religion and culture, and whatever else we might choose to display as signs of some promisingly ennobling individualization, we are all ultimately creatures of biology. And more than any other discernible biological commonality, we are all mortal. But is this common mortality a positive quality? Should we necessarily take this ubiquitous commonality as “a good thing?”
Whatever the answer, the pertinent commonality is fixed and immutable. Inter alia, it has not generally been interpreted as a welcome source of potential human cooperation. On the contrary, wherever mortality has been conceptualized as a zero-sum quality (my life requires someone else’s death), it has spawned variously primal justifications for war, terrorism and genocide. If after all it can be presumed that “God is on our side,” what could possibly stand in the way of “our” victory and “my” redemption?
Significantly, the zero-sum assumption is “net negative.” It remains narrowly ideological or theological, and is not in any fashion scientifically derived. In principle, therefore, once it can be understood that a shared mortality is universal and intellectually unchallengeable, all nations could begin to base their survival options on presumptions of organic “oneness” or “human interconnectedness.” Among other things, such basing could be founded upon certain newly expanded and often intersecting opportunities for empathy, scientific investigation and war avoidance.
Plausible Options and Preferred Outcomes
For the most part, currently available options and outcomes are markedly unhidden. Wherever one looks on this imperiled planet, it’s all pretty much the same. Day to day, year to year, we all witness a recurring saga of conspicuous human indifference, a never-ending story of momentary triumph, harm, pain, poverty, a timeless tale of living and dying.
Recalling William Golding’s shipwrecked schoolboys in Lord of the Flies, we may infer that behind this fragile veneer lurks occasional human heroism but also a refractory barbarism. The distressing “civilizational” litany of wars, terror attacks, genocides shows no persuasive signs of letting up. Dostoyevsky’s dark view of civilization has become more and more difficult to reject or to counter.
Let us be candid. By any reasonable historical and scientific measures, we humans too often scandalize what we create, even our own personal “being.” From the intersecting standpoints of national and civilizational survival, a very simple and direct query can no longer be avoided: “Could matters possibly get any worse?”
There is more. Frequently, as in the case of still-exploding Covid19 deaths in the United States, evident wrongdoings do not rise to any identifiably de jure thresholds of pertinent crime. Still, the de facto results of previous presidential mismanagement remain manifestly negative or catastrophic. More precisely, in a great many “plague”-related fatalities, these results have proven willfully murderous and perhaps even genocidal.
How shall this determined epidemic of anti-Reason be expected to end? As a long-retired university professor, I am correctly obliged here to be analytic. Human beings, after all, have lived for about eight hundred lifetimes, most of which have been spent in caves. It should come as no surprise that for most of the almost eight billion people now on earth, hunger, poverty, violence, and cruelty remain an absolutely “natural” state of affairs. Moreover, in an incomparably devastating irony, a huge portion of humankind’s precious but dwindling resources remain earmarked for the infliction of deliberate harms.
Unsurprisingly, we humans may continue to expect plutocracy, exploitation and apocalyptic war.
During the malignant Trump Era in the United States, such perverse priorities became cause for variously ecstatic celebrations of personal and collective ignorance. These infinitely lethal behaviors did not simply disappear along with the barbarous Trump presidency. Arguably, even now, the dissembling voices of anti-science and anti-reason are growing louder by the day. At this point, some of the dominant American conspiracy theories defy not only tangible evidence, but also elementary logic.
The Historic War Against “Mind”
“Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1934 Germany. “I love the poorly educated,” volunteered presidential candidate Donald J. Trump back in 2016. The basically authoritarian sentiments here have distressingly much in common. In both cases, the expressed sentiments reflect a society that prefers easy mystification to any challenging analytic calculations.
“The crowd is untruth,” summed up Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in the 19th century. Such succinct prescience can also be discovered in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” Sigmund Freud’s “horde,” and Carl G. Jung’s “mass.” In essence, these terms mean the very same thing. They are collective incarnations of anti-thought.
Even now, most notably in the still Trump-defiled United States, science yields to certain daily deceptions; imaginary enemies are more-or-less continuously being contrived by the science-loathing “crowd.” Accordingly, certain core questions should no longer be casually sidestepped or politely avoided. To wit: How much treasure, how much science, how much human labor and planning. how many centuries of learning will now continue to be ransacked in order to prevent or undermine American democracy, racial justice and international peace? Will Americans continue to seek national security through a delusionary “balance-of-power” paradigm, an imagined symmetry that has never worked since its formal modern inception in the seventeenth century, and can never conceivably work in the future.
How can we still fail to understand that though the metaphor of equilibrium is captivating and reassuring (older Americans can think here of the Vietnam War “dominos” analogy), this prescribed arrangement for managing global power is merely a formula for continuous despair?
Frightened by the ineradicable face of personal mortality, how much longer, all must wonder, can we pretend that zero-sum definitions of conflict represent a realistic path to immortality? In this connection, “immortality” is indisputably the lexically correct term. After all, the ultimate expectation of every “sacred” instance of war, terrorism and genocide is plain, It is “power over death.”
To be sure, we don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. But we should want to know why we have progressed so little as a species and as a nation – at least from the critical standpoints of Empathy, Science and Coexistence – and what each individual still has to gain from continuing to push on personally.
Quo Vadis: What Next?
On some core matters, very little has changed. In world politics, the corpse has always been “in fashion.” Today, a mere score of years after the close of a century that can reasonably be called the Age of Atrocity, whole nations of corpses could quickly become the rage. Indeed, with the dreadful confluence of plague, war and inequality, it is already happening.
What happens next?
Bob Dylan once sang, “the executioner’s face is well-hidden.” As for the proverbial “good people,” their predictably ritual silence remains vital to all that would madden and torment. Here in the United States, millions of docile citizens continued not only to abide a president who defiled virtually everything for which his country stands, but actually remain in his “camp” after a Trump-generated insurrection. Again, this was a president who violated national and international law, who proclaimed that “the Moon is part of Mars” and who read absolutely nothing, nothing at all.
What sort of Republic is this?
Plus ca change…. Nothing primal really changes. The dinosaurs ruled this once beautiful planet for millions of years, far longer than the brief tenure of our own despoiling species. Long gone, they have left us only their crushed bones as mementoes.
What artifacts shall we dare leave behind?
A related question can no longer be suppressed: Have we no historical memory? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage and Rome, ground to dust, and burned into oblivion. Is this what it’s ultimately all for? Do we humans remain alive merely to become captives of an habitually corrupted knowledge and a deservedly terminal despair?
Hope should remain; of this most Americans are certain. But today’s calls for rebirth must sing softly, sotto voce, muted, and in a dolorous undertone. Now, finally, we must learn to understand that the visible Earth is made of ashes and that ashes can signify warnings that are momentous. Through the obscure depths of history, we must struggle valiantly to make out the phantoms of once great ships of state, and to learn that the often-unanticipated disasters that sent them down were ultimately ouraffair.
There is more. Americans must strive to study history, but not in the “normal” atmospheres of contrived heroism and pretended national greatness. Prima facie, Trump Era gibberish has no place in a functioning democracy.
To grasp true lessons of history and long life, we must come to despise any such sullied ways of interpreting the world. The worst barbarians, we should already know after Trump, are not outside the gates. As in ancient Rome, many are sequestered deep withinthe city, often as exemplars of wealth, privilege and alleged “good fortune.” These barbarians include not only sinister fomenters of large scale international violence, but also legions of ordinary citizens, “good people” who nonetheless revile any too-intellectually demanding obligations of Reason and Science.
America and the “Mass Man”
The core danger lies in “mass.” The “mass man,” we learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, “has no use for reason. He learns only in his own flesh.” This person could also be labeled as “Herd Man” (Nietzsche); “Crowd Man” (Kierkegaard) or “Horde Man” (Freud). All are comparably characterized by a willful abandonment of critical judgment and independent thought.
Ipso facto, former President Donald J. Trump was the undisputed champion of Ortega’s “mass man.” Perhaps he was even its quintessentially inglorious incarnation.
In the end, the problem we humans have felt so acutely, the problem of identifying meaning and security on an increasingly endangered planet, is a problem we can never fully solve. Nonetheless, we do want to go on, to hang on by our fingernails if necessary, to feel, to learn, to help, to love and to grasp life amid all of its unstoppable flirtations with lifelessness. A nation, we must reason, like an individual, should not be forced to die indefinitely. Even at twilight, worn and almost defeated, and on a planet about to rendezvous with new forms of disease, war, terrorism and genocide, each nation’s “life” must be meaningfully affirmed.
Any such proper affirmations must be offered in the clarifying accents of Reason and Science.
Though Donald J. Trump is no longer in the White House, his egregious assaults on science and reason remain palpable and destructive. Accordingly, millions of his determinedly anti-intellectual followers remain committed to variously preposterous conspiratorial explanations of complex problems. These problems include microbial assault (viral pandemic), personal weapon confiscations and election outcomes.
At the same time, we Americans know only too well that Science can be adapted to the most appalling ends and that even when joined together with Reason, it must prove inadequate for ensuring a dignified general survival. Now, finally more aware that our civilization displays the same potential fragility as an individual life, a deeply etched pattern of Empathy will also be required. At the end of his extraordinary life, Albert Einstein reminded presciently: “Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity.”
In the best of all possible worlds, such a residual pattern could still be drawn purposefully from humankind’s immutable commonality of death – that is, from our conspicuous universal mortality – but this is not yet the best of all possible worlds. Even though death is never more glaringly ubiquitous than during a time of “plague,” the ongoing reaction of national governments to planet-wide viral threat remains narrowly nationalistic and cumulatively self-defeating. To actually get beyond such grievous civilizational limitations would now demand a herculean “work of imagination,” not just a more-or-less competent “science of observation.”
On the special requirements of Empathy, Americans should recall that oftentimes in history grievously evil goals have called openly for “moral” behaviors. National Socialism’s sinister appeal to German youth in the 1930s and 1940s was expressly grounded in “moral obligations” of “racial hygiene” and “anti-Bolshevism.” These alleged obligations were seductively “packaged” together with boisterously stirring claims of “historic national destiny.”
During the Trump Era in the United States, an era of tragic farce, this moral appeal of immorality – a de facto ethical inversion – openly undermined this nation’s Constitution-based legal order. Whether this paradoxical appeal will continue to foster such dire inversions in the years ahead remains to be seen. But it should already be taken as a portentous warning of what may still lie ahead, and not merely as regrettable fait accompli.
An Invariant Truth
Certain tentative conclusions will have to be drawn. Truth is always exculpatory. Whatever the differences in any detailed particulars, America’s survival must begin with the microcosm. This means a beginning with the individual human being who is already able to see beyond the endless banalities and empty witticisms of American politics and who can also finally muster the requisite personal “will” to call pertinent things by their correct names.
There is more. Any such beginning would have to originate in those still-tangible spaces that are already oriented toward serious considerations of learning or “Mind.” As a retired university professor who spent more than a half century in exactly such rare spaces, I believe that even the most uncomfortable expectations about American democratic requirements can hold viable sway or perhaps even prevail. In the Ptolemaic paradigm, just as in the Bible, the human microcosm was originally assigned an enviably central position in the universe. Ironically, however, this usefully favored position was diminished by the scientific advancements of Copernicus.
What this all means for American survival is essentially the following: Science, when viewed as a work of imagination, must join forces with Reason and Empathy to ward off future national descents into political incoherence. In “operationalizing” this imperative conceptual alignment, the thought-based American citizen – the mass-defying “microcosm” – must be placed at democracy’s center-stage and assume a tangible share of meaningful civic responsibility. By definition, of course, proper democratic governance is always about Science, Reason and Empathy, but it also requires ever-witting and wittingly-informed citizen participation.
 In the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically, in his celebrated 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 René Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.
 Throughout history, geopolitical processes have often been associated withovercoming human mortality. In 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 Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of geopolitics, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end unto itself, drew originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy – that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of tangible legal regulation in their interactions.
 On “oneness,” we may learn from Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “”You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of this species singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE, and with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality.” By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the medieval notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single community. Here, below the level of God and his presumed heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was considered as one living “body.” This is because all the world had seemingly been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide the necessary background for the primal drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was this world to be correctly considered as a part rather than whole. Clarifies Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be justified in more conspicuously secular terms of scientific understanding.
 See, by this author, Louis René Beres (Zurich): https://horasis.org/an-ironic-juxtaposition-global-security-and-human-mortality/
 Regarding Donald Trump’s most egregious violations of national and international law – i.e., violations of Nuremberg-category obligations concerning genocide prevention- see, by former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz: https://www.yahoo.com/news/nuremberg-prosecutor-warning-trump-war-090342221.html
 Laments Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Notes from Underground: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations.” “Civilization,” adds Lewis Mumford, “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.” Still the best syntheses of contemporary creative outlines for a world civilization are W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1967) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).
 In law, the crime of genocide requires “intent to destroy,” an element that is presumably absent in pertinent Trump-inflicted harms. Nonetheless, as in the parable of a frog killed by the thoughtless games of frivolous young boys, the American victims of Trump’s blatant disregard are just as dead as they would have been from some more consciously injurious presidential intent, that is, from an authentic mens rea.
 This brings to mind the famous closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?
 Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were also interested in the “unscientific” but still insightful idea of a “soul.” Both psychologists/philosophers thought of soul (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For them, it referenced 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 various express references to “soul.” He was already disgusted by a civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (i.e., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that this crude American commitment to shallow optimism and material accomplishment would sometime occasion sweeping psychological misery.
 Concerns for international peace must inevitably be linked to concerns about “just wars.” Such wars, wrote Hugo Grotius in The Law of War and Peace (1625) must arise “from our love of the innocent.” Now, however, it is plain, even by definition, that a nuclear war could never be “just” and that certain earlier legal distinctions (e.g., just war vs. unjust war) must be re-evaluated and re-assessed. In the final analysis, moreover, to successfully prevent a nuclear war, it will be necessary to resist any world system declension toward further expressions of belligerent nationalism.
 Reference here is to the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, and ushered in the modern state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.
On the concept of global power management, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973).
 “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another,” warns playwright Samuel Beckett in Endgame, “of seeking justification always on the same plane?”
 Under authoritative international law, terrorist movements are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King v. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).
See, for example, by this author, Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2019/07/louis-beres-counter-terrorism/
 Though never understood by former US president Donald Trump, international law is largelya 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).
“Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight,” asks Honore de Balzac, “withered hearts, or empty skulls?”
 Today such learning must factor in the conceivable prospect of a nuclear war. For assessments of the probable consequences of a nuclear war by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
 Simultaneously, we cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible costs of “dehumanization.” As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” (Translated here by Professor Beres, the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.”)
 Sigmund Freud remained always pessimistic about the United States, a nation he felt was “lacking in soul” and therefore a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.
 Modern philosophy’s origins of the term “will” lie in writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and even more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe also represented a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).
 A pessimistic note on this point can be found in the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant’s worrisome observation: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.” This is my own translation from the original German: “Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert warden.” See: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, xi (Henry Handy, ed., 1991) quoting Immanuel Kant’s Idee Zu Einer Allgemeinen Geschichte in Weltburgerlicher Absicht (1784).