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Yearnings For Immortality: World Politics, Realpolitik and Power Over Death

The Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David

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Abstract: “Individual man sees in his country,” says Heinrich von Treitschke in Lectures on Politics, “the realization of his earthly immortality.”[1] Though difficult to understand, Realpolitik[2] – an historical shorthand for traditional power politics – draws its most animating force from the microcosm. While inconspicuous, it is this individual human search for immortality that may ultimately drive international relations. Correspondingly, each state’s competitive struggle for the “death” of certain other states may represent a last-ditch defense against both collective and personal annihilation. Among other things, this obscure simultaneity suggests the most genuine rationale of Realpolitik is not (as is usually presumed) the acquisition of territory, wealth or “victory,” This authentic rationale is (however unwitting or “sub-conscious)” the avoidance of personal death. It is not an easy idea for scholars to conceptualize, but ignoring it could severely limit humankind’s remaining chances for survival.

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An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.”-Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (1993)

Introduction: World Politics as a Primal Struggle

It’s time for resolute candor. To begin, the simple fact of being born augurs badly for immortality. Nonetheless, in their unquenchable desperation to live perpetually, human societies and civilizations have often embraced a broad panoply of faiths that promise life everlasting. The quid pro quo for any such grand promise – and a quid pro quo that makes itself palpable – is some tangible form of “undying” loyalty.[3]

This is, after all, a conspicuously incomparable promise.

There is more. Various pertinent connections in these matters are intersecting and complex; they are not intended for any consideration by the intellectually faint-hearted. In the end, as diligent thinkers may learn from history, overriding human loyalty is easily transferred from Faith to the State, which then battles with other States in what is termed a “struggle for power,” but is actually (and more fundamentally) a metaphysical contest. Often, such competition represents a presumptively “final conflict” between Good and Evil.

The ultimate advantage to being on the side of “Good” in such a primal struggle is nothing less than eternal life.

By definition, of course, this is a compelling and incomparable promise. For proper assessment of any such rudimentary matters, history and philosophy represent an indispensable starting point. More precisely, there are good arguments here for erudition; most plainly, the world can never be saved or understood by technically-trained “experts.” About this core limitation, we may learn gratefully from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset: “The specialist ‘knows’ very well his own tiny corner of the universe; he is radically ignorant of all the rest.”[4]

In a later work, Man and Crisis (1958), Ortega observes something utterly fundamental and universally overlooked: “History is an illustrious war against death.” Still, though this comment is original and purposeful, and sets the stage for better understanding Realpolitik, it reveals only a partial piece of a far more problematic truth:  Power over death represents the greatest conceivable form of power here on earth;[5] but actually acquiring such power in world politics can “demand” the  killing of  “others.” [6]

Violence and the Sacred

To acquire a politically manageable “power over death,” individuals (microcosm) and states (macrocosm) must first make tangible preparations to bring fatality to identifiable “enemies.” At times, this belligerent thinking would involve variously seductive notions of “martyrdom.”  As we may learn from the evening news, these notions may call not “only” for war, but also for genocide.[7]

In both cases, the planned mass killing of other human beings is more-or-less comparable to religious sacrifice, a primal custom oriented toward the ritualistic deflection of death to “others.”[8]

There is more. Going forward, scholars and policy-makers must suitably re-examine vital underlying links between microcosm and macrocosm. Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote imaginatively of not being dead as the principal exemplar of all power. Confronted with what Canetti had called “terror at the fact of death,” humankind – both individually, and collectively – seeks one particular advantage above all others.

This evident advantage is “to remain standing” while others must prepare to “lie down.” In the end, it is those who can remain upright, however temporarily, who are meaningfully “victorious.”[9] It is these fortunate ones, after all, who have managed to “divert” death to less-fortunate “others.”

 By definition, of course, there can be no greater or more advantageous diversion.

               A key lesson obtains here for states as well as for individuals. For all “players,” microcosm and macrocosm, the situation of physical survival is the unambiguously central expression of all power. But as belligerent nationalism makes meaningful survival more and more problematic, Realpolitik or power politics effectively deprives states of their most genuine power lever.[10] Left unmodified, the “all against all” Westphalian Process[11] effectively creates or merely magnifies adversarial relations, and encourages state enemies to then enjoy “microcosmic” triumphs that will remain unrecognized or concealed. These triumphs are the deeply-satisfying human emotions experienced by persons when confronting powerless individuals who are preparing to “lie down.”[12]

Seeking Victory Over Death

In world politics, the ultimate acquisition of power is never really about land or treasure or conquest or some other reassuring evidence of primacy. It is, rather, a presumed victory over death, ultimately a personal triumph, one described by Heinrich von Treitschke that is closely linked to the always-special prerogatives of sovereignty.[13]

Relevant reasoning here is straightforward. When my state is powerful, goes the argument, so too am I. At some point, when this state seems ready to prevail indefinitely, I too am granted a personal life that is gloriously unending. Stated somewhat succinctly: An “immortal” state creates (as either its citizen or subject) the “immortal” person.

Such abstract ideas can be bewildering.  Still, to actually feel such conceptual reasoning at a palpable level, one could intentionally recall the staggering images of mid-1930s Nazi party rallies at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental film celebration of Der Fuhrer, The Triumph of the Will, says it all best. Reminding the German people of Hegel’s famous aphorism, the legendary film underscores that a nation-state can actually become the “march of God in the world.”

Today, in 2021, neither the United States nor its enemies can seemingly understand this primal linkage. As a result, all states continue to be driven by policies that bring them neither personal satisfaction nor institutional safety. To the contrary, all they can continue to expect in a chaos-leaning Realpolitik world is a perpetual global landscape of war, terrorism and genocide. In the best of all possible worlds, however, humankind – recalling the ancient creed of Epicurus that death fear is foolish and irrational- would consider the one indispensable query:

What is death? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is: you see it does not bite. The stuff of the body was bound to be parted from the airy element, either now or hereafter, as it existed apart from it before. Why then are you vexed if they are parted now? For if not parted now, they will be hereafter. Why so? That the revolution of the universe may be accomplished, for it has need of things present, things future,  and things past and done with.”[14]

There is more. All states fail to understand that death is generally identified by their enemies as a zero-sum event. Anything that is done to sustain one’s own national survival invariably represents, for these enemy states, an intolerable threat to their own “lives” and an insufferable diminution of power. Reciprocally, anything that is done to eliminate hated enemies must enhance their collective life and augment their collective power. Ideally, these strategies will fare best when “God is on our side.”[15]

 Because of the deeply intimate associations between collectivities/macrocosm (states) and (microcosm) individuals, the reciprocal life advantages of death and dying can be enjoyed doubly.

“Normally,” even if only at a subconscious level, the living person never really considers himself more powerful than at the moment when he faces a dying person. Here, as we may learn again from Elias Canetti, the living human being comes as close as he or she ever can to encountering genuine feelings of personal immortality. In roughly similar fashion, the “living” nation-state never really regards itself as more powerful than at that moment when it confronts the impending “death” of a despised enemy state. Only slightly less power-granting are those reassuring sentiments that arise from confrontation with a “dying” enemy state; that is, the sentiments experienced by a belligerent state that is seeking some tangible “victory” over an adversarial state.

 In both cases, personal and collective, convention, good taste and sometimes skilled statecraft require that zero-sum feelings about death and power be suppressed. Such polite feelings ought not to be flaunted; nonetheless, they remain prospectively vital and determinative.

Appearance and Reality

               Oddly, perhaps, in all world politics, power is so closely attached to the presumed conquest of death (national and personal) that core connections have been overlooked. As a result, students and practitioners of international relations continue to focus mainly on epiphenomena, on easily recognizable ideologies, identifiable territories, tangible implements of warfare (arms control and disarmament) and so on. The problem is not that these conspicuous factors are unimportant to power, but rather that they are of a manifestly secondary or reflected importance.

There is more. During a war, any war, the individual soldier, a person who ordinarily cannot experience satisfyingly tangible power during peacetime, is offered an utterly unique opportunity to remedy such absence. Inter alia, the pervasive presence of dead bodies in war cannot be minimized. Actually and incontestably, it is a central fact of belligerency. To wit, the soldier who is surrounded by corpses and knows that he is not yet one of them is “normally” imbued with an absolute radiance of invulnerability, of immortality, of monumental and perhaps incomparable power.

Reciprocally, and in like fashion, the state that commands its soldiers to kill and not to die, “feels” similarly great power at the removal of a collective adversary. This surviving state, like the surviving individual warrior, is transformed, indisputably and correspondingly, into a potentially primal source of everlasting life. Such abstract observations are hardly fashionable among general populations; they may even appear barbarous and uncivilized. Yet, for now at least, scholars should be seeking not to prescribe more appropriate behavior for states, but rather to accurately describe such behavior. This means looking behind the daily news.

Always, truth must be exculpatory. True observations may sometimes be indecipherable or objectionable; but they are no less true.

               In an apparent paradox, some of America’s non-state enemies also seek to “remain standing” vis-a-vis the United States, to seek power in the life-or-death struggle against a despised “other.” One must say “apparent paradox” here because some of America’s terrorist enemies seem not only unconcerned about being able to remain standing, but actually seek to die themselves. In these cases, it would appear, quite literally, that the perpetrators do “love death.”[16]

               What is most important to understand here is that “to die for the sake of God” in these calculations is actually to not die at all. For example, by “dying” in a divinely commanded act of killing presumed enemies the Jihadist terrorist really does seek to conquer death, which he fears with a special terror, by “living forever.” Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

Paradoxically, the “love of death” described by Jihadist terrorists is the ironic consequent of an all-consuming wish to avoid death. Since the death that this enemy “loves” is temporary and temporal, leading “in fact” to a permanent reprieve from any real death, accepting it as a tactical expedient becomes an easy matter. If, for any reason, the normally welcome death of an individual engaged in “holy war” were not expected to ensure an authentic life ever-after, its immense attractions would immediately be reversed.

America’s non-state terrorist enemies, in the fashion of its state enemies, also seek to “remain standing,” and to believe that this critical objective can be realized only when America –  the hated individual person in macrocosm – has already become the dead man lying down. Whenever the civilized and decent human being watching evening news about the latest suicide bombing asks incredulously, “Why do they inflict such horror?” there is an ascertainably correct answer: “They do this,” goes this reply, “out of an unhindered passion for the ultimate form of power; that is, to acquire power over death.”

The greater the number of enemy corpses, the more powerful terrorists will feel. Real power, understood as an irremediably zero-sum commodity, is always to gain in “aliveness” through inflicting death upon enemies.

Genocide and Power over Death

An enemy, whether state or non-state, cannot possibly kill as many foes as his primal passion for survival may demand. This means, among other intersecting considerations, that he may seek to induce or direct others to satisfy this particular passion. As a practical matter, this deflecting behavior points toward an undeniable impulse for genocide, an inclination that could be actualized, in the future, by adversarial resort to higher-order forms of terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear), and/or to crimes against humanity.[17]

The United States still has much to learn. But before its leaders can fully understand the true nature of enemy intentions and capabilities, they must first acknowledge the most primary connections between power and survival. Once it can be understood that enemy definitions of the former are contingent upon loss of the latter, these leaders will be positioned intellectually to take appropriate remedial action.

Always, the true goal of certain adversaries is as grotesque as it is unrecognized. This goal is to be left standing while assorted others are made to disappear. These relentless enemies must survive just so that their enemies do not. They cannot, by this zero-sum reasoning, survive together. So long as the enemy is “allowed” to exist, no matter how cooperative or congenial it has been, some states will not feel safe. They will not feel powerful. They will not feel power over death.

It is always a mistake to believe that Reason governs the world.[18] The true source of governance on this imperiled planet is power, and power is ultimately the conquest of personal death. This conquest, which displays a zero-sum quality among enemies, is not limited to conflicts in any one region. Rather, it is always a generic matter, a more or less universal effort that is made especially manifest between enemies. On this generic matter, one should consider the revealing remark of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in his Journal in 1966. Describing killing as a purposeful affirmation of one’s own survival, Ionesco observed:

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. My enemy’s death cannot be held against me, it is no longer a source of anguish, if I killed him with the approval of society; that is the purpose of war. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.[19]

There is more. While certain enemies accept the zero-sum linkages between power and survival, others do not. Although this may suggest that some states stand on an enviably higher moral plane than their enemies, it may also place the high-minded or virtuous state at a security disadvantage, one that will make it too difficult to “remain standing.” This disturbingly consequential asymmetry between state enemies may be addressed by reducing certain adversarial emphases on power-survival connections, and/or by increasing enemy emphases on power-survival connections.

 Questions must be asked. Must a state ultimately become barbarous in order to endure? Must it “learn” to identify true power with survival over others, a predatory species survival that cannot abide the survival of enemies?[20]

Prima facie, what is required is not a replication of enemy leadership crimes,[21] but policies that finally recognize death-avoidance as the essential starting point for national security and national defense. With such recognition, visceral hostility and existential threat[22] could be rejected altogether, and a new ethos – one based on firm commitments to “remain standing” at all costs[23] – could be implemented.[24]

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Reason versus anti-Reason

Basic changes are necessary. All humanity must finally rid itself of the retrograde notion that killing another person can somehow confer immunity from mortality. In Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “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 being killed.” What is being described here is still the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death. Americans and other residents of a deeply interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States or major world leader would attempt to understand these complex linkages.

At a minimum, all of our national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual and scientific[25] sorts of understanding.

               Always, our “just wars,”[26] counter-terrorism conflicts and anti-genocide programs must be fought or conducted as intricate contests of mind over mind, and not just as narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer an accessible “medicine” against all foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  Only with this difficult awareness can we humans relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”[27]

               More than ever before, history deserves an evident pride of place. The United States, America’s current leaders should recall, was founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. Nonetheless, this means something very different in 2021 than it did in 1787.

               What should this particular history signify for ongoing American foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon authentic learning, and not (recalling the Trump presidency) on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. In this connection, individual human death fear does have a place in a better understanding of America’s national security prospects. To the point, only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a broader global population will be able to embrace compassion, coexistence and empathy.

               In the end, a “triumph of death” in one form or another is both irresistible and inevitable; any attempts to avoid death by killing designated “despised others” must prove futile and inglorious. Going forward, it is high time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality. Instead of simply denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud labels “wish fulfillment” in The Future of an Illusion (1927), we must finally acknowledge the obvious, even viewing it as a long-overlooked blessing. Ultimately, with such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this endangered planet could begin to think more insightfully about their immutably common destiny.

The Planetary Survival Task

               This is a visionary and fanciful prescription, one rather unlikely to be grasped in time. But there is still a plausible way to begin. This way would require the leaders of all major states to recognize that they are not in any meaningful way “world powers” (all are equally “mortal;” none have any verifiable “power over death”) and that a coordinated retreat from Realpolitik or traditional geopolitical competition would now be self-interested.

               There are other considerations. The primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, but unprecedented human courage will also be needed. For the required national leadership initiatives, we could have no good reason to ever expect the arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king;[28] still, even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably prove themselves up to the extraordinary task at hand. For this to happen, enlightened citizens of all countries must first cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about world politics, and (per the specific insights of  twentieth-century  German thinker Karl Jaspers) do whatever possible to elevate empirical science and “mind” over blind faith and stultifying “mystery.”[29]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes philosopher George Santayana, “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; still, without really knowing it, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”

               The legacy of Westphalia (1648 treaty)[30] includes sacrilization of the state. Although we may discover such murderous sacrilization in the writings of Hegel, Fichte, von Treitschke and various others, there have also always been voices of a different sort. For Nietzsche, the state is “the coldest of all cold monsters.”  It is, he says in Zarathustra, “for the superfluous that the state was invented.” In a similar vein, we may consider the corroborating view of Jose Ortega y’Gasset in the Revolt of the Masses. Here, the Spanish philosopher identifies the state as “the greatest danger, always mustering its immense resources “to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it….”

In all global politics, it now warrants repeating, there can be no greater form of presumed power than power over death.

The “Sacred” State and Power over Death

               For the most part, it is not for us to choose when we should die.  Instead, as individual human beings, our words, our destinies, lie far beyond any considerations of conscious decision or individual selection. Still, and purposefully, we can choose to recognize our shared human fate and (especially) our derivative interdependence. This unbreakable intellectual recognition could carry with it significant global promise, a promise that would remain distressingly distant in any dissembling world of unrelieved belligerent nationalism

               Much as we might prefer to comfort ourselves with various qualitative presumptions of societal hierarchy and national differentiation – the stock in trade of Donald J. Trump’s administration – we humans are all pretty much the same.[31] Already, this incontestable sameness is plainly manifest to capable scientists and physicians. Our single most important human similarity, and the one least subject to any reasonable hint of counter-argument, is that we all die.

               It is from the universal terror of this common fate that Westphalian law invests nation-states with the singularly “sacred” attributes of sovereignty.

               And it is from the incontestable commonality of death that humankind can finally escape from the predatory embrace of power politics or Realpolitik in world politics.

               Ironically, whatever our more-or-less divergent views on what might actually happen to us after death, the basic mortality that we share could still represent the last best chance we have for viable global coexistence and governance. This is the case, however, only if we can first accomplish the astoundingly difficult leap from acknowledging a shared fate as mortal beings to “operationalizing” our species’ more expressly generalized feelings of empathy and cooperation.

               Across an entire planet, we can care for one another as humans, but only after we have first accepted that the judgment of aresolutely common fate will not be waived by any harms that we may choose to inflict upon “others,” that is, upon the “unworthy.” While markedly less than obvious, modern crimes of war, terror, and genocide are often “just” sanitized expressions of religious sacrifice. In the most starkly egregious instances, any corresponding violence could represent a consummate human hope of overcoming private mortality through the targeted mass killing or exclusion of certain specific “outsiders.”

               It’s a murderous calculus, and not a new thought. Consider psychologist Ernest Becker’s ironic paraphrase of Elias Canetti in Escape from Evil:  “…. each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”

There is a deeply insightful observation latent in this idea. It is the uniquely dangerous notion that killing can confer immunity from one’s own mortality. Similarly, in Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “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 being killed.” What is being described here is plainly the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death.

World Politics as Core Struggle of “Mind over Mind”

               Americans and various other residents of our interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States should attempt to understand such complex linkages. Here, America’s national policies must build incrementally upon more genuinely intellectual sorts of understanding.[32] Always, our “just wars,” counter-terrorism conflicts, and anti-genocide policies must be conducted as intricate contests of mind over mind, not just narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer accessible “medicine” against North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, and assorted other more-or-less foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  This “natural” condition of anarchy was already well known to the Founding Fathers of the United States (most of whom had read Locke, Rousseau, Grotius, Hobbes, Vattel and Blackstone[33]). Now, only this difficult awareness can relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”

               More than ever before, history deserves a reasonable pride of place. America was expressly founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. But this means something quite different in 2021 than it did in 1787.

               What should this particular history signify for Biden White House foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon some serious measures of authentic learning, not on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. For the foreseeable future, however, this is not really a plausible presupposition.[34]

               Human death fear has much to do with acquiring a better understanding of America’s current enemies, both national and sub-national (terrorist).  Reciprocally, only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a much broader global population will ever be able to embrace compassion and “rationally” reject collective violence. To be sure, this new American president should prepare to understand what this implies, both with pointedly specific reference to the United States and to this country’s various (and still increasing) state and sub-state adversaries.

               Always, the existence of system in the world is obvious, immutable and pertinent.[35]During the Trump era, “America First” meant America Alone and America Last. America could never have been truly “first” so long as (1) its president insisted upon achieving such exalted status at the grievous expense of so many others; and (2) while failing to understand that international law remains part of the law of the United States. To once again seek to secure ourselves by diminishing others would merely be a retrograde playbook for ever-recurrent instances of war, terror and genocide.

               In the end, for all of humankind, the “triumph of death” is inevitable. Always, attempts to avoid death by killing certain despised “others”[36] prove to be feeble, futile and inglorious. Going forward, it is time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality.

               Instead of denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud labeled “wish fulfillment” (see The Future of an Illusion, 1927), scholars must acknowledge the obvious, and do so as a long-overlooked blessing.  With such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this imperiled planet could finally begin to draw purposefully from their immutably common destiny – that is, from their plainly shared mortality. Among other things, this means using human beings  always-overriding “oneness”[37] as the intellectual basis for expanding empathy and for its corresponding pattern of worldwide integration.[38]

               To be sure, all this represents a visionary and fanciful prescription, one still unlikely to be grasped “in time.” But there does remain a practical way to begin. This way would require the leaders of major states to recognize that they can never in any meaningful way be “world powers” in a global “state of nature” (all actors here are equally “mortal;” none has any “power over death”) and that any coordinated retreat from Realpolitik would be self-interested and cumulatively indispensable.

Courage and Martin Heidegger’s “The They”

               It follows from all this that the primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, a disciplined matter of “mind,” but courage will also be needed, unprecedented courage. To meet required national leadership initiatives, we could have no defensible reason to expect the timely arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king,[39] but even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably be up to the herculean task, that is, to become extraordinary. For this to happen,  enlightened citizens of all countries would first have to cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about global survival, and do whatever deemed possible to elevate science over continuous blind faith and contrived “mystery.”[40]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes George Santayana, “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 knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”[41]

               Though few will actually understand, such a “raising” is necessarily antecedent to human survival in world politics, though only if it is linked purposefully and self-consciously to global integration.  “Is it an end that draws near,” inquired philosopher Karl Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The correct answer will depend, in large part, on what another major post-war philosopher had to say about the Jungian/Freudian “mass.”

                In his 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 Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard as well as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Kierkegaard) that can quickly suffocate vital intellectual growth.  For Heidegger’s “The They,” the crowning untruth lies in its acceptance of immortality at both institutional and personal levels, and its encouragement of the falsely seductive notion that personal power over death is associated with (or derivative from) the “sacredness” of nation-states.

Reinterpreting Hegel’s “March of God”

               In part, at least, the arena of world politics (the macrocosm) is endlessly violent because individual human beings (the microcosm) fear death. Though widely unacknowledged and patently ironic, the murderous connections here are both longstanding and difficult to dispute. Already, in the 19th century, Heinrich von Treitschke linked world politics and “earthly immortality.” And even before this author of Lectures on Politics, George F. Hegel identified the state in The Philosophy of Right as the “march of God in the world.”

               Could anything ever prove more important? Ultimately, states battle other states amid unreconstructed Westphalian anarchy not for any geopolitical primacy per se, but for individual and collective salvation. While the ironic result of such battles has always been death and mega death, not eternal or longer life, an overriding contra-mythology still endures. This is the manifestly lethal conviction that it is in war, and not in “perpetual peace,”[42] that humans are able to acquire power over death. Sometimes, this incomparable acquisition is intended to be direct – that is, an immediate consequence of killing on the side of God. More generally, however, such presumed power over death devolves indirectly to general populations, communities that are not involved in the actual business of killing.

               Bob Dylan could have qualified his famous lyrics. Even “bystanders” can have “God on their side.”

               None of this is meant to deny the at least partial validity of more traditionally accepted explanations of Realpolitik or power politics, namely, that these struggles are about tangible goods, geography and/or “national security.” These more conspicuous and common explanations are assuredly not “wrong.” They are, however, more-or-less trivial and epiphenomenal.

               In the main, such explanations are generally “correct,” but only as secondary reflections of what is most fundamentally important.[43] At this point, scholars and policy makers must search more diligently for the primary sources of such reflections. The task will be much harder, but the “payoff” will prove more serious and enduring.

               In William Goldings’ classic novel, Lord of the Flies, marooned boys make grotesquely ritualistic war upon one another because they have been thrust into a netherworld of fear and chaos, but only because this dissembling exile from “civilization” suddenly threatens them with personal death. Indeed, it is only after they have settled upon an amorphous but ubiquitous horror (“the beast”) that they decide to wage titanic struggle to survive, a struggle that bears uncanny resemblance to the “normal” dynamics of world politics.[44] In what amounts to yet another irony of inflicting death to bring freedom from death, the suffering boys are rescued by an English military ship, a naval vessel that will now transport them from their literally primal state of nature on the island to the more “civilized” state of nature in world politics.

               In essence, readers learn, the rancorous and barbarous conditions that obtained on the deserted island were actually just a microcosm of the wider system of international relations. But who can now rescue this wider system of Realpolitik from itself? Before we can meaningfully answer this core question, scholars and policy-makers will need to probe more closely behind the visible events the day, beyond mere reflection. Above all, this probe will have to be suitably theoretical.

                Theoretic generality is a trait of all serious scientific meaning, and scientific inquiry in such matters is indispensable.[45]

Overcoming a Primal Promiscuity

               In the beginning, in that primal promiscuity wherein the lethal swerve toward power politics first arose, forerunners of modern nation-states established a system of perpetual struggle and violent conflict that was destined to fail.  Easily captivated by this self-destroying system of international relations, states continue to allow the degrading spirit of Realpolitik to spread everywhere unchecked; it spreads like an ideological gangrene on the already-marred surface of the earth. Rejecting all pertinent standards of logic and correct reasoning, this false consciousness imposes no reasonable standards upon itself. It remains rife despite its incessant and unceasing rebuffs. Oddly, Realpolitik takes its long history of defeat as victory.

               Plainly, its enthusiastic historical proponents have never learned any deeper meanings from history.

               There is more. The majority of human beings remain unable to accept the biological truth of mortality.[46] Understood in terms of world politics, this suggests that state sovereignty will likely continue to be viewed by many as a suitable  or even indispensable antidote to personal death. Though such a view is inherently destructive, the connections are not yet widely apparent. And it remains a corrosive perspective that will not simply fade away on its own.

               It is high time for candor. Whatever a particular population’s in-principle preferences, the sheer fact of having been born augurs badly for any pleasing promises of immortality.[47] Nonetheless, the primal human inclination to deny such an unbearable truth will likely continue to generate the same terrors from which so very many seek refuge.

               The irony is staggering, but it is also incontestable.

               In its obvious desperation to live perpetually, humankind has embraced a cornucopia of faiths that offer life everlasting is exchange for unchallengeable loyalty. Such loyalty is then transferred from faith to State, which battles (or prepares to battle) with other states. Though historians, political scientists and pundits routinely describe such conflicts as a tangible struggle for secular influence (power politics), it is often something different altogether. This is a struggle between Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Decency and Indecency, even the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness.” In this last example, apocalyptic imagery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is invoked not because any or all of a combatant state’s rationale is necessarily religious, but because such imagery best portrays the enormity of ideological attachments.

               In the United States, ideas of prevailing apocalyptic contest obtained widely during the 1950s Eisenhower years, and later during the Reagan Administration.[48] More recently, Donald Trump’s core message of “American First” was not without underlying or implicit references to righteous struggles in world politics with
“God on our Side.” For several million Trump supporters, their leader’s slogan of “America First” was essentially an eschatological code term, one used to signal impending End Times.

               “Death,” says Norbert Elias, “is the absolute end of the person. So the greater resistance to its demythologization perhaps corresponds to the greater magnitude of danger experienced.”[49] Now, major state sin world politics must strive more vigorously to reduce the magnitude and likelihood of anticipated existential danger. In this connection, they must remain wary of planting new false hopes that offer only illusions of personal survival through perpetual international war or war-planning.

The Growing Imperatives of “Planetization”

               The world is still full of noise and gratuitous rancor; still, it remains possible to listen for real “music.” But for this to happen, leaders, citizens and subjects will first have to detach themselves from variously mythical promises of power over death. In the most promising of all possible worlds, the underlying human death fear could itself be made to disappear,[50] but this relieving prospect seems blatantly unreal. It follows conspicuously that more “gentle” foundations will be required for world politics –foundations other than the conflictual dynamics of Realpolitik. Happily, such foundations have already been identified and crystallized in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s fruitful concept of “Planetization.”[51]

               What does this really mean? At its core, planetization is not just one step further along the incremental continuum of authority from “civilization.” Rather, it represents the very opposite of civilization.[52] Looking ahead, moreover, a meaningful emphasis on global “oneness” or planetization represents humankind’s only real hope for survival. Both scholars and statesmen must expressly affirm that such survival is first and foremost an intellectual obligation, one that can be satisfied not by pre-scientific hopes for nation-state “victories” amid Realpolitik, but by concrete steps toward worldwide cooperation.

               It is finally time for candor. We humans are all mortal; we must all die. The point of any derivative global survival is not to deny such an obviously  common fate, but to draw most productively upon its importance for planet-wide reconciliations.[53] Above all, what we need now most on this grievously imperiled planet is not a continuously mistaken focus on simplistic reflections of reality or epiphenomena[54]  (think here of America’s obsessive daily focus on transient political personalities and superficial news makers), but durable archetypes of global restructuring.[55]

               A fanciful objective? Undoubtedly. Still, it represents a less fanciful goal that continuing to seek safety in the corrosive dynamics of Realpolitik or “Westphalian” international relations.

               There remains one last clarification. “Individual man sees in his country,” observed Heinrich von Treitschke, “the realization of his earthly immortality.” (emphasis added). By this observation (actually, a qualification or limitation) suggests something “less” (and hence more plausible) than the classic after-worldly meaning of immortality[56] (i.e., power over death). Here, Treitschke is likely suggesting that something akin to eternal fame, not any tangible life everlasting, can best represent this animating dynamic of world politics. Though there can exist no scientifically valid ways of rank-ordering the two contending meanings of immortality over both time and space, there can also be little doubt that power over death must generally bestow greater satisfactions than any purported power over reputation.

               In the end, political searches for collective immortality may signify compelling personal yearnings to avoid death. Though such fervid hopes can be nurtured only by assorted convictions of faith, not of science, the history of humankind reveals no evidence that Reason can reliably trump anti-Reason. Even in our glittering age of advanced technology, various conspicuous claims of non-rational belief continue to drive both states and sub-states (terror organizations) toward an explosively violent geopolitics. Always most evident in such fearful struggles are perpetrators’ associations of sacredness with armed force, associations meant to ensure that war and terror can serve the highest imaginable forms of human power.

               These usually favored forms concern power over death.


[1] Logic here correlates “immortality” of the macrocosm (the state) to immortality of the microcosm (the individual human citizen or subject).  Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his classic Philosophy of Right (1820), the state represents “the march of God in the world.” Ipso facto, all such “correlations” are contrary to any verifiable logic or science.

[2] The classic statement of Realpolitik in western philosophy is the cynical comment of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic: “Justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” (See Plato, The Republic, 29, Benjamin Jowett, tr., World Publishing Company, 1946.) See also: Cicero’s oft-quoted query: “For what can be done against force without force?” Marcus Tullus Cicero, Cicero’s Letters to his Friends, 78 (D.R. Shackleton Baily tr., Scholars Press, 1988). Inter alia, the following essay seeks to clarify that although Cicero’s query makes perfect “common sense,” it is also superficial. In essence, therefore, this query is both obvious (rhetorical) and incomplete.

[3]Everywhere on earth, it is always “the one true faith.”

[4] See Ortega’s modern classic, The Revolt of the Masses (1930).

[5]In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality is of “transcendent importance.”  Seehis Religion in the Making, 1927.

[6] While this connection is most obvious in matters concerning Jihadist terrorism, it is also found in certain more orthodox mass casualty behaviors of international war. See, on Jihadist terror and power over death, by this author: Louis René Beresfile:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Sacred%20Violence%20Religion%20and%20Terrorism.pdf

 and Louis René Beres, file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Religious%20Extremism%20and%20International%20Legal%20Norms%20Perfidy%20Preem.pdf

[7] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277. Although the criminalizing aspect of inter­national law that proscribes genocidal conduct may derive from a source other than the Gen­ocide Convention (i.e. it may emerge from customary international law and be included in different international conventions), such conduct is dearly a crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, it becomes an inter­national crime whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto ius gentium. See M.C. Bassiouni, International Criminal Law: A Draft International Criminal Code 30‑44 (1980). See also Bassiouni, “The Penal Characteristics of Conventional International Criminal Law,” 15 Case W. Res. J. Int’l 27‑37 (1983).

[8] Still the best scholarly clarification of these connections are René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1977) and René Girard, The Scapegoat (1986).

[9]See, by this author, Louis René Beres:  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/03/08/iraq-afghanistan-and-the-end-of-winning-wars

[10] On the various meanings of Realpolitik, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984).

[11] See # 1, supra. This references a continuing process of threat, counter-threat and war.

[12] This brings to mind the 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”?

[13] See Louis René Beres, “Self-Determination, International Law and Survival on Planet Earth,” Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 11, No.1., pp. 1-26.

[14] See Epicurus, The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (Whitney H. Oates et al., 1940), p. 282.

[15]Through the ages, and with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved, but only at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in ca. 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with religious war and disease plague.  Already in the sixteenth century, he had understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” outcome exceeds the calculable sum of all constituent “parts.”

[16] See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Martyrdom and International Law,” Jurist, September 10, 2018; and Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.

[17] For definition of Crimes Against Humanity, see: Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Powers and Charter of the International Military Tribunal, done at London, August 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279 (entered into force, August 8, 1945).

[18]See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[19] This comment from Ionesco’s Journal appeared in British Magazine Encounter (May 1966). See also: Eugene Ionesco, Fragments of a Journal (Grove Press, 1968). Elsewhere, says Ionesco, “People kill and are killed in order to prove to themselves that life exists.” See the distinguished dramatist’s only novel, The Hermit 102 (1973).

[20] Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[21] Under international law, which is also law of the United States, responsibility of national leaders for international crimes is not limited by official position or by requirement of direct personal actions.  On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb) 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1, 71 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp. 1949); see: Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L.REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO.L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907) 10 (1970).  The direct individual responsibility of leaders for genocide and genocide-like crimes is unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the Act of State defense.  See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Strat.  1544, E.A.S.  No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S.  279, Art. 7.  Under traditional international law, violations were the responsibility of the state, as a corporate actor, and not of the individual human decision-makers in government and in the military.

[22] On the prospective lawfulness of such threats, including nuclear threats and even actual nuclear engagement, see: “Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion, 1996, I.C.J., 226 (Opinion of 8 July 1996). The key conclusion of this Opinion is as follows: “…in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[23]International law is part of US domestic law. In the precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[24]The precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[25] Says Jose Ortega y’ Gassett about science (Man and Crisis, 1958): “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…. The latter is not possible without the former.”

[26] See especially Hugo Grotius (The Law of War and Peace, 1625); Christian Wolff, The Law of Nations Treated According to the Scientific Method (1749) and Samuel Pufendorf, The Whole Duty of Man, According to the Law of Nature (1735). Worth noting here is that though the Founding Fathers of the United States were well familiar with Grotius, Wolff and Pufendorf, these names would go wholly unrecognized today by the US Congress.

[27] Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating and enduring vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” during chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,” it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[28] See by this author, at Oxford University Press, Louis René Beres:  https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[29] See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[30] The condition of anarchy, which has its codified origins at the Peace of Westphalia,stands in marked contrast to the jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[31] We may also think here of an applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[32] Useful hereare the more deeply philosophical insights of 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. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

[33] According to Blackstone, echoing Vattel, each state and nation is expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone, one need only point out that Commentaries are the original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[34] Anti-intellectualism has always been a large part of American political life. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145. See also the authoritative volume by Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (1959).

[35] In the precise words of philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature….”

[36] Such attempts may be more appealing during times of disease pandemic, when the “benefits” of scapegoating are especially palpable. During the medieval Black Death, for example, it was common to blame the Jews as well poisoners. In the twentieth century, Third Reich propaganda was often deliberately propped up on the foundations of such previously orchestrated irrationality.

[37] Concerning such commonality or “oneness,” we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says 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 fully

justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[38] There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the best treatment of these thinkers and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s the City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a grand visionary himself, one with whom I had the personal honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

[39] See, by this author, at Oxford University Press:  Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[40] “There is something inside all of us,” writes philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational.” (See Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 1952). Today, in the United States, the “mysteries” of Q Anon should come readily to mind.

[41] See George Santayana, The Life of Reason or the Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Religion 260 (1905).

[42] See Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace; examined in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973), University of Denver.

[43] This brings us back, again, to Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic.

[44] Over fifty years of teaching Political Science at Princeton and Purdue, I chose Lord of the Flies as a teaching text for introductory International Relations courses. It “worked” well.

[45] “Theory is a net,” says the German poet Novalis in a quotation embraced by Karl Popper (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1968) “only those who cast, can catch.”

[46] This “truth” is perhaps best explained by the philosopher George Santayana in his Reason in Religion (1905).

[47] In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes all such promises as “wish fulfillment.”

[48] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987).

[49] See Norbert Elias, The Loneliness of the Dying 44 (1985).

[50] Fear of death, we have already seen in world politics, not only degrades normal life, it creates vast fields of premature corpses.

[51] See Chardin’s the Phenomenon of Man, 1955.

[52] In his Notes from Underground (1862): Dostoyevsky reminds us about civilization: “All it does, I’d say, is develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development man will yet learn how to better enjoy bloodshed.”

[53] Although he doesn’t ever approach these issues from the standpoint of international relations or international law, the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno best explains the most imaginative and profound connections between the ineradicable universality of death and what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.” When I was still a “working professor” at Purdue University, I always advised my best students that Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (1921) was the single most important book I had ever read. I continue to stand by this far-reaching assessment.

[54] The classic source of elucidating such a mistaken focus is, of course, Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic, an allegory wherein human beings never see reality, but only vague “shadows” of reality. See by author Louis René Beres at Horasis (Zurich): https://horasis.org/looking-beyond-shadows-death-time-and-immortality/

[55] On the meaning of such useful frames of reference, see: Elemire Zolla, Archetypes: The Persistence of Unifying Patterns (1981).

[56] Friedrich Nietzsche warns famously of “the after worldly” in Zarathustra. (ca. 1885).

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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International Law

What Is a Sovereign State?

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Against the backdrop of the rapid collapse of the US-led world order, the question of which states will survive in the new world is becoming increasingly relevant. It is no coincidence that the President of Russia regularly addresses this problem. In one of his recent speeches at the forum of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, Vladimir Putin defined “genuine sovereignty” as the main condition for the success of the countries of the world in the new era. 

At first glance, it may seem that we are talking about the obvious — over the past 100 years, the formal sovereignty of dozens of countries has become commonplace. However, in reality, the problem is much deeper — it is not at all evident that formally-recognised statehood indicates the viability of a state as a social organisation. 

That is why we now associate the survival of a state with its ability to independently determine its development and foreign policy behaviour. There are almost 200 sovereign countries in the world, including large, medium and small ones — but not all can be considered truly sovereign; fewer than half, in fact. This is not surprising — the entire international order after the Second World War was focused on somehow solving the problem of an ever-increasing number of formal sovereign jurisdictions. This is really a problem, because only a limited number of states have the resources to ensure a relatively independent existence. The rest had to rely on special connections with more powerful players from the start. Here there is no need to talk about complete sovereignty.

The last century was marked by three waves of emergence of states whose ability to survive independently in a chaotic system was unproven. The first set of these includes the countries that became the product of the collapse of European empires as a result of the First World War. At that time, practically all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the former possessions of the Austrian, German and Russian empires in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, arose. The only exception was Iran, which has maintained its tradition of statehood for centuries. The small new countries of Eastern Europe existed in an incomprehensible status for two decades and, after the Second World War, actually lost their sovereignty in favour of one of the superpowers — mainly the USSR.

The second wave of sovereignty is associated with the collapse of the world colonial empires, whose metropolises are located in Western Europe. The collapse of the British, Belgian, Dutch, Portuguese and French empires led to the emergence of dozens of new jurisdictions in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, most of which immediately came under the decisive influence of their former colonial masters. Only a few powers in Asia and a few in Africa were able to achieve true independence. India, Vietnam or Egypt owe this to their demographics — a large population made it possible to create military and economic resources for independent behaviour.

And, finally, the third round of fragmentation into small formally sovereign units is associated with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Then 14 new countries of the so-called post-Soviet space appeared at once, and Moscow’s satellites did not restore their sovereignty, but simply came under the patronage of the winners — the United States and the large countries of Western Europe. Among the countries that emerged after the collapse of the USSR, only a few still look like they are capable of independent development. Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan have unique resources — population and natural wealth — the rest cannot boast of this, and their sovereign future is in question. In some cases (Georgia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) their geopolitical position contributes to the gradual strengthening of their sovereignty. These republics behave adequately to the power composition of Eurasia because they know how to look at the map. Although in the case of Georgia, the development of this skill does not take place without the help of Russia.

As a result of these waves of sovereignisation, more and more countries have emerged in the world whose power capabilities do not allow them to be considered fully autonomous units. This means that their own contribution to global stability is minimal, if anything. However, the endowment of small and medium-sized countries with formal rights within the framework of the UN system invented by the West after the Second World War required somehow the solving of the problem of managing these rights from outside.

For several decades, the consequences of the participation in world politics of many sovereign states which are incapable of independence have been mitigated through the institutions of the Liberal International Order. This gave small and medium-sized countries the opportunity to develop within a certain system of rules and norms determined by the West, led by the United States. Scores of countries throughout the world were actually deprived of sovereignty with respect to their domestic and foreign policies. In some cases, as, for example, in the system of agreements between the European Union and groups of developing countries, the renunciation of full sovereignty was fixed in the form of obligations in exchange for access to the resource development offered by Europe. All this, however, required the West to actually share a part, albeit a small one, of the development resources that the global market economy created.

The process of depriving many countries of real sovereignty gained particular intensity after 1991, when even the elementary system of checks and balances that existed during the Cold War was destroyed. It is not surprising that it was during this historical period, the discussion about the withering away of “Westphalian sovereignty” actively began in the context of the strengthening of international institutions. In fact, these institutions were controlled, directly or indirectly, by the victorious countries in the Cold War, who themselves were in no hurry to give up their sovereignty.

However, be that as it may, even if the deprivation of sovereignty by many countries did not receive formal implementation at the level of international law, they themselves were quite ready for this, in fact, glad about quite specific benefits. Moreover, many countries from among the last “wave” of sovereignisation even associated their plans for solving the main tasks of development with the loss of independence. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, we can find a whole group of countries for which the renunciation of sovereignty has already turned out to be practically the official “key” to a brighter future within the Liberal world order. It even went so far as to introduce such a task, in a veiled form, into the national Constitutions. In other cases, such as Kazakhstan, the transfer of some sovereign rights to partners in the West is seen as a way to protect themselves from the US and allies using local corruption and social stratification as a tool to influence the ruling regimes. There were countries which were suppliers of labour, other countries were gas stations, still other countries were granaries, other countries were military bases, and so on. The partial renunciation of sovereignty in favour of the West, in addition, is considered by individual regimes as a kind of ideal “guarantee” that the bigger neighbours — Russia or China — could more insistently indicate to their small neighbours their place in the geopolitical position.

However, this international order proved to be short-lived. First, because the largest of the countries outside the narrow community of the West — China, India and Russia — were not ready for their own desovereignisation. For them, following the proposed path would be disastrous for internal reasons and, accordingly, irrational from the point of view of the state’s survival. Therefore, such powers sooner or later had to create direct or indirect opposition to the West. Second, and more importantly, the world’s leading countries themselves have run out of resources that could be exchanged for the sovereignty of small and medium-sized countries. As a result, the US and Western Europe are increasingly forced to resort to extremely repressive measures — sanctions and special trade regimes — in order to ensure that their desires are met. The most striking example here is last year’s initiative of the European Union to make the ability of external partners to trade with its states dependent on the fulfilment of EU requirements in terms of climate change.

Finally, in the international community, a fairly significant group of states has emerged that feel so confident in their abilities that they can challenge the West’s monopoly in world affairs. This behaviour became evident in the US attempts to isolate Russia after the crisis around Ukraine turned into a military-political matter. And we are not talking only about such powers as Iran or Pakistan, whose interaction with the Liberal World Order has always been strained. In recent months, more and more middle-sized developing countries have shown that they are not going to follow the instructions of the US and its allies in politics and economic relations.

The result is the collapse of the system of limited sovereignties and, as a result, the “freezing” of many countries that are internally weak and incapable of independent development. Several dozen modern states are currently approaching a choice between gaining real sovereignty or losing it within the existing territorial limits. In fact, there is an alternative to such a gloomy choice — it is the formation of foreign policy and development policy based not on the institutional features of the outgoing world order, but on an objective assessment of one’s geopolitical position and place in the regional power composition. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine now when this or that great power will seek to deprive its neighbours of formal sovereignty — this is extremely costly in all respects. There is no doubt that not everyone is given the right choice, but only it, most likely, can become the basis for survival amid modern conditions.

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International Law

An interview with Joel Angel Bravo Anduaga: Are international organizations still relevant?

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With recent developments in the international arena, and ghost conflicts from the past exacerbating contemporary global issues, it is inevitable to question what is happening with international organizations in different regions across the globe. Joel Bravo shares his insights about the importance of international organizations nowadays. Mr. Bravo is an international affairs practitioner with more than twenty years of experience managing design and implementation of strategies aimed at institutional strengthening and governance. Joel is a former electoral adviser for the United Nations to Ivory Coast (West Africa) and Timor-Leste (South-East Asia), respectively. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Processes and Political Institutions at the University Adolfo Ibañez in Chile and a Professor at the Tecnologico de Monterrey University in Mexico. His ample experience in the field of international affairs as well as his theoretical and practical knowledge and expertise in international organizations, is crucial to help us understand the current state, challenges, and opportunities organizations faced by ongoing international conflicts.  

What is the current role of international organizations?

For starters, Joel Bravo made it clear that is very important to take into account the period we talk about when explaining the role of international organizations because different periods in time have called for different roles. There must be a differentiation between what these organizations should do and what they can do. There are two levels of analysis towards them. First, the operational level which entails the everyday actions. Second, what the mass media portrays the actions of the organizations to be. There is a lot of speculation in the media about whether the United Nations (UN) works or if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has a fair agenda, however in the operational sense they still work every day. Hence, the true answer lies within the background and the essence of each organization; circumstances and the purpose of each one are key.

From your personal experience in the peace missions of the Ivory Coast and Timor-Leste, what is your opinion about the influence of international organizations when it comes to conflict resolution?

To begin with, Mr. Bravo explained that the interests of world powers and regional powers are crucial factors. In both cases mentioned, it logically depended on the context of the countries directly involved and the external countries as well. So, it is a mix of variables that must be considered to see what the influence of an international organization in these situations truly is. Meanwhile, in Ivory Coast, at some point, the peace mission led to elections after a certain time; the peace operation from the Security Council was one of accompaniment. In contrast, the mandate that was held in the different missions in East Timor gave the United Nations more power, not only to organize the elections from a logistical and operational point of view, but also to make political decisions.

How do international organizations influence the exercise of democracy?

Joel Bravo shared that sometimes democracy can be seen simply as a concept and other times as a system or a way of living; it stretches and lengthens according to conditions and needs. Elections are a clear example of this. In the case of Ivory Coast, the efforts to hold elections started in 2005 and did not happen until 2010 because there were no appropriate internal or external conditions. On the other hand, in East Timor in 1999, when the referendum was held and then the presidential elections occurred, it was because there were conditions to do so. Additionally, it is crucial to understand what as well the underlying interest of each international organization is: to hold elections first, and then pacify the country, or pacify the country first then hold elections. Thus, the process of adaption also proves to be a strong challenge. Many factors must be taken into consideration to have a successful democracy in practice and not only in theory, understanding democracy in a broad sense and not simply from the electoral perspective.

Do you consider that international organizations are essential so that the citizens of a country can fully exercise their rights and freedoms? Why?

Initially, Mr. Bravo began explaining the difference between international organizations being essential or necessary. He claims they are not essential but rather necessary, because in many cases there have been accusations of international organizations working in favor of specific interests and being co-opted by world powers. Nonetheless, specifically for the citizens, with the idea of liberal democracy in mind, non-democratic countries would definitely need more the support of international organizations. Yet here we come to a paradox, because if a country is not democratic, thinking for example of North Korea, it is not going to allow an organization to carry out supervision, both in internal and external matters. Then, yes, the presence would probably become essential, but it is not decisive. On the other hand, these matters should be dealt with carefully because, sometimes, the media places excessive responsibility on international organizations. It is true that they help countries, and provide validation, but, at the end of the day, they are still constrained by the context and environment of each case.

Are international organizations accountable?

All organizations, or at least the most important and most robust have internal instruments, instances of accountability, of transparency; to a certain extent they self-monitor. Nevertheless, for example, security organizations such as NATO, due to their nature it is difficult for there to be proper transparency because it would be a matter of national security for the members and the region. It depends on the organization, there are some that can be more controlled. There are some that are highly questioned, for instance, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, both which possess control mechanisms, but the question is who determines those mechanisms. Before the West was the main axis for how accountability is and is delivered; it was not questioned because there was no counterpart. China and Russia are now acting as a counterpart and there is a questioning of that order.

What impossibilities can international organizations have that do not allow them to operate as they are expected to do so in theory?

First of all, the nature of each organization is key. Nation-States are the first and focal factor. Anyhow, any international organization also considers at least two other variables, two other types of actors: economic interests represented by the companies that do lobbying and organized civil society; both of which influence decision-making and public opinion, more so in this age of social networks and cyberspace. The word international is now set too short, it would be better to called them world organizations, global organizations or regional organizations but speaking in terms of international continues to think of the Nation-State as the center, constraining its potential.

With new international conflicts developing, how does the role of international organizations change? Are they still relevant?

From a traditional point of view, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict logically has relevance, and it has been proven that international organizations sometimes fall short. Thinking, for example, of the United Nations, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which to a certain extent could not have prevented the conflict but do have a leading role. On the contrary, if these new conflicts are unknow territory, for example, what happens in the cyberspace, then international organizations are falling behind. Current conditions are shaping up to a hyper-specialization of international organizations. They are becoming increasingly technical, focusing on what needs fixing and working to agree on very specific issues. For these reasons, international organizations are in a process of adaptation. It would seem like it is still slow due to bureaucratic processes, but their relevance is still present.

What is the future of international organizations?

Mr. Bravo answered that there will be a greater presence of regionalization in international organizations that goes hand in hand with specialization. This occurs for example with NATO: in its name it continues to apparently be regional, but it is expanding.  Also, the creation of new organizations is happening, like AUKUS, which on the one hand seems to be new, but it is a continuation of political dialogue mechanisms that were already established and that are now becoming more structured. Whilst the power structure is not perceived clearer, a global restructuring of international organizations cannot be mentioned. However, what can be mentioned is a sense of greater conformation, reactivation, and strengthening of the schemes. There is a cohabitation to a certain extent of the old, traditional organizations that come from the second post-war period that have been adapting, with the new problems and the new-old problems that evolved. Especially technology, social networks and the internet have a lot to do with these transformations.

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The Noble Nobel

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One of the most coveted awards in human history, the Nobel Prize was created by the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, inventor of the “dynamite”. These are essentially personal awards from his private estate but has since evolved into something much larger. All the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Sweden except for the Peace Prize given in Norway. Alfred Nobel flourished during the Industrial Revolution, when the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway were still together, amassing his fortune making military weapons. Some argue that these prizes were posthumously conceived to improve his reputation.

Nobel Prizes are awarded in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, and the most coveted, the Peace Prize. In his will, Alfred Nobel characterized the Peace Prize to be given “to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses”.

More than a century later, has the Nobel Peace Prize lost its luster?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, a five-member committee appointed by the Parliament of Norway chooses the recipient. Interestingly, despite being appointed by Parliament, the committee is a private body tasked with awarding a private prize. Unless the Committee becomes inclusive, it will lose its moral authority in an increasingly divided world.

Russian journalist, Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov, drew international headlines after auctioning off the Nobel Peace Prize he had won last year for a record $103.5 million to aid Ukrainian refugees.

In doing so, he showed a level of responsibility and moral leadership that has unfortunately been lacking in the institution of the Nobel Prize itself.  This auction presents a moment to reflect on the future of the prestigious award.

Since its inception, nearly every winner of the Nobel Prize for Science has been a “white” man – as almost no scientist that were female or of any other ethnicity were deemed worthy enough to win this illustrious award. Not only this, but only four of the 200 winners in the history of the Nobel Prize for Physics have been women. The committee’s nomination and selection processes are reflected by the institution’s lack of diversity, tainting the reputation of a prize intended to celebrate humanity. This matters especially today because moral leadership is needed more than ever.

In these testing times, when the global powers are wrestling against the climate crisis, terrorism, population growth, food insecurity, refugee crisis, religious violence, Islamophobia, racism, and conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war and its repercussions on world peace, the Nobel committee must demonstrate moral leadership. And it can only do so by redressing its centuries’ old gender and racial disparities against nominees.

The Nobel Prize committee has been on shaky ground in recent times. In matters of war and peace, the stakes are higher. In retrospect, the last two times it selected a head of state were a disaster. In 2009, the committee selected then-President Barrack Obama at the beginning of his presidency. The award was given in the hope that President Obama might change the direction of his country after he had campaigned for the office in part of his opposition to previous heavy-handed military interventions in the Middle East – notably in Iraq. This anti-war sentiment was what the Nobel committee likely honed in on when selecting him for the award.

Yet, President Obama authorized a military surge in Afghanistan and the invasion of Libya. The botched Libya invasion did remove Muammar Gaddafi, but it also helped destabilize the Sahel region, instigating a state of instability and chaos that is still with us today.

The Nobel Committee was on firmer ground when it chose Muratov along with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Ressa is considered a brave journalist, but many in the Philippines will say otherwise and even wonder if the award was given erroneously.

Furthermore, in the case of Muratov, it is worth asking if the undisclosed bidder for his Nobel Peace Prize – was, in fact, the Norwegian government. What we know for sure is that Norway recently handed 4 million Euros worth of seized Russian media assets to Muratov.

Cordell Hull, who secured the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations, was the same person who turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust by redirecting their ships to the infamous concentration camps. On 5 June 1939, he returned a ship carrying 937 passengers. Over a quarter of them ended up dying in the Holocaust.

There have been some glaring omissions as well. At least one is worth noting. Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most significant persons of our time. Even today he is a byword for peace activism. Yet even he failed to win the Nobel Peace Prize, despite being shortlisted five times. In 2006. the former director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said the most significant omission in the prize’s history was never awarding the peace prize to the Indian political activist Mahatma Gandhi. However, the committee’s Euro-centric inclinations kept him from receiving the prize.

The sad reality appears to be that the Nobel Peace Prize committee blurs the lines between being an independent institution guided by clear moral principles and one that is a realpolitik instrument of Norwegian foreign policy. It was only in 2017 that the committee prevented current members of the Norwegian parliament from serving on the committee. However, the membership of the committee is currently selected by Norway’s Parliament and perhaps not surprisingly includes four politicians. Two of whom are former government ministers.

With Russia invading Ukraine, China making its own bold land grab in the South China Sea, disinformation on the rise, and many democracies in OECD countries facing a populist if not putschist threat, clear moral leadership on the international stage is needed more than ever.

The Nobel Prize Committee, in this context should take several reforms designed to make the organization more representative.

Firstly, the organization should clearly establish itself as a civil society organization – not an arm of Norwegian foreign policy. The presence of former or current politicians on the committee should be limited if not removed entirely. More civil society leaders like human rights experts would go a long way here.

Second, the committee lacks diversity considering it is composed of entirely of people from white, Christian backgrounds and, of course, Norwegian. Why aren’t representatives of Norway’s immigrant communities or even the ethnic Sami people a key feature of its famed instrument of soft power?

Thirdly, the committee should not be afraid to revoke the Nobel Prizes given to individuals who later betray its principles.

Again, these are extraordinary times, and the Nobel Committee is an important institution whose peace prize is closely followed globally. With Western institutions under pressure, the Nobel Peace Prize is an entity worth saving. The choice is Norway’s.

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