Prof. Louis Rene Beres
“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.”-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
Human “oneness” represents an incontestable truth. It is axiomatic. At the same time, all derivative imperatives of universal cooperation remain subordinate to belligerent nationalism.
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Why? The contradictions are glaring. Everywhere, including the United States, national governance continues to rest on conspicuously “false” ideals of “everyone for himself.”
In such determinative matters, nothing truly fundamental ever seems to change.
What next? The negative outcomes of these contradictions are stark and unambiguous. For the most part, they suggest endless spasms of war, terrorism, and genocide. It follows, among other things, that without a more willing rejection of “everyone for himself” philosophies, the American nation and many others will be left increasingly fragile. Already, roiled by needlessly rancorous national behaviors, we can expect only further increments of unsustainable decline.
There are also pertinent specifics. It’s not just about general or overarching conditions. Credible national expectations exist not only in the tangible matters of weapons and infrastructure, but also in variously underlying national security doctrines.
Core issues here are not really complicated. In these unprecedented nuclear times – times that are sui generis by any plausible definition – zero-sum orientations to national security are more-or-less destined to fail. In the final analysis, recalling French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, this intolerable “destiny” exists because such consistently shortsighted orientations are “false and against nature.”
History can be instructive. By definition, former US President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” misfired on all cylinders. Trump’s conflict-directed orientation, driven by gratuitous rancor and a narrowly bitter acrimony, portended more than “just” incessant geopolitical loss. It also signified a doctrine-based incapacity to protect the United States from catastrophic wars. In a worst-case but still easily-imagined scenario, such wars could quickly become nuclear.
A once-distant prospect is being rendered less unimaginable because of Russia’s escalating aggressions against Ukraine.
To progress beyond the self-reinforcing debilities of “America First,” America’s national security problems should be assessed in proper analytic context. From the mid-seventeenth century to the current moment – that is, during the continuously corrosive historical period that dates back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – our inherently adversarial “state system” has produced neither peace or justice. Prima facie, there is nothing on any foreseeable horizon that points promisingly to national or world system transformations.
Even now, we cling desperately to the “unspeakable lies” of politics.
Exactly where does the persistently fragmented world political system “stand?” To begin, global anarchy is not about to disappear or give way to more rational configurations of cooperative security. This evident lack of world-system governance can never become a propitious context for civilizational atonement, advancement, or human survival. Though generally unacknowledged, Realpolitik or power politics has always proven its own insubstantiality.
As a single state in world politics – and as a “powerful” player among almost 200 unequal nation-states – the US is not immune from planet-wide responsibilities. This sober conclusion about global peace and justice is largely unassailable. It remains just as applicable to the “great powers” as to presumptively less powerful actors. Indeed, regarding future US foreign policy obligations, nothing could be more readily apparent or ominously prophetic.
There is more. At the beginning of his time in office, former President Donald Trump’s “everyone for himself” view of the world was revealed by his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. Expressed in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece dated June 3, 2017, General McMaster declared: “President Trump has a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a `global community,’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” For additional emphasis, the cliché-captivated general added naively: “Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.”
But exactly what was being “embraced?” It all sounded reasonable, of course, but it also made no intellectual or historical sense. Even under a more stable and less dissembling American president, Trump’s supposedly
“realistic” view of the world now remains significantly unmodified. Responding to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the United States has thrust itself into an ever-expanding nuclear arms race without any theory-based conception of a successful “endgame.” Though Vladimir Putin’s crimes ought certainly not go unpunished, the result of accelerating tit-for-tat operations in both Moscow and Washington can only be further military escalations and (ultimately) uncontrollable world system breakdowns.
Real history, as we may learn from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, is the “sum total of individual souls seeking some form of redemption.” Recognizable expressions of any broader human search for security can be detected in the self-centric legal ideals of sovereignty and self-determination. The oft celebrated “self” in these ideals, however, refers to entire peoples, and not to individual human beings. This self-actualization references perpetually conflicting states, collectivities that are preparing not for coexistence, but for recurrent war and genocide.
If real history continues to be ignored, the lamentable result can only be yet another measureless orgy of mass killing, one dutifully sanitized (per earlier simplifying determinations of retired US General H.R. McMaster) as “realistic.”
For Americans, it’s finally time to think seriously. Immediately, world-system context must be more fully understood and intelligently acknowledged. Always-primal human beings, divided into thousands of hostile “tribes” (almost two hundred of which are called “states”) still find it temptingly correct to slay “others.”
What about “empathy?” Normally, amid such self-destroying human populations, this capacity is reserved for some of those within one’s own “tribe.” Moreover, this reservation holds true whether relevant tribal loyalties are based on geography, nationality, ideology or religious faith.
It follows, inter alia, that any deliberate expansion of empathy to include “outsiders” represents a distinctly necessary condition of global progress, and that without such an expansion our species will remain fiercely dedicated to policies of nationalistic predation.How shall we best proceed? What should be done in the extant American union to encourage expanding empathy and more caring feelings between “tribes”? Reciprocally, we should inquire further: How can we improve the state of our world to best ensure a more viable fate for the beleaguered American commonwealth?
For the United States, these are difficult intellectual questions, challenging queries that will demand conclusive victories of “mind over mind,” not just ones of “mind over matter.”
At some point, the essential expansion of empathy for the many could become dreadful, improving human community, but only at the expense of private sanity. And this could quickly prove to be an intolerable expense. We humans, after all, were “designed” with very particular boundaries of permissible feeling. Were it otherwise, a more extended range of compassion toward others could bring about total emotional collapse and derivatively collective disintegrations.
Always, humankind must confront a strange and self-contradictory kind of understanding. This potent confrontation suggests that a widening circle of human compassion represents both an indispensable prerequisite to civilizational survival and an inevitable source of private anguish.
There is more. Sometimes, truth can emerge only through paradox. According to certain ancient Jewish traditions, the world rests upon thirty-six just men – the Lamed-Vov. For them, the overall spectacle of the world is grievously combative and endlessly insufferable.
But is there anything useful to be learned from this parable about the state of a nation and the state of the world?
What if these two conditions are intersecting or even synergistic? In the latter case, a specific subset of the former, the “whole” of any outcome is actually greater than the sum of its “parts.”
There are many conceivable meanings to this elucidating Jewish tradition, but one is expressly relevant to struggles between “America First” and “World Civilization.” A whole world of just men and women is plainly impossible. Ordinary individuals could never bear to suffer the boundless torments of other human beings beyond a narrow circle of identifiable kin. It is precisely for them, the legend continues, that God created the Lamed-Vov.
What are the core lessons here? Empathy on a grander scale, however necessary in principle, must also include a prescription for individual despair. What happens then? How shall humankind reconcile two utterly indispensable but mutually destructive obligations?
It’s a fundamental question that can no longer be ignored.
To arrive at a meaningful answer, greater analytic specificity will be needed. What happens next regarding the increasingly fragile American union? What exactly should be done? How shall interacting nations deal with a requirement for global civilization that is both essential and unbearable?
Once made aware that empathy for the many is a precondition of any more decent world civilization, what can best create such necessary human feeling without occasioning intolerable pain?
For certain, clarifying answers to such a starkly complex question can never be found amid the “unspeakable lies” of political oratory. They can be discovered only in the resolute detachment of individual human beings from their crudely competitive “tribes.” Recalling French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, any more perfect society, whether national or international, must stem from a carefully-calculated replacement of civilization with “planetization.” Furthermore, any such redemptive replacement would need to be premised upon an inextinguishable global solidarity, that is, on a carefully designated order of planetary “oneness.”
Going forward, individual flesh and blood human beings and not their cumulative nation-states, should become the primary focus of national and global reform. Without such a rudimentary transformational focus, there could be no long term human future for planet earth. In turn, this vitally gainful replacement would depend upon certain prior affirmations of self, most urgently regarding steadily expanding acceptance of a universal sacredness.
There is more, Such short-sighted American policies as former US President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” should never disregard the human rights of persons who live in other countries. In more precisely legal terms, the former president’s blatantly neglected human rights imperative was not just a matter of volitional cooperation or acceptable choice. It represented an integral requirement of a US domestic law, one that had already long-incorporated variously binding norms of international law.
For those casual doubters of “incorporation” who remain politically committed to contrived bifurcations of US law and international law, they can learn what is necessary by examining Article 6 of the US Constitution. This “Supremacy Clause” mandates adaptations of authoritative treaty law. These obligatory adaptations are plain and unambiguous.
Overall, Americans should finally understand that the state of their domestic union can never be any better than the state of their wider world. To act pragmatically upon this core understanding, an American president must first wittingly range far beyond any traditionally “realistic” orientations to world politics. To competent logicians and scientists, these simplifying orientations are obviously fallacious. More specifically, as easily determinable errors of logical reasoning, they represent evident examples of an argumentum ad bacculum.
“America First” was a colossal mistake, one that continues to disadvantage the United States. The state of the American union should never have been fashioned or articulated apart from much broader considerations of planetary security and survival. These considerations, in turn, have been drawn from the authoritative law of nations (international law) into US law. In the revealing words of William Blackstone, whose Commentaries on the Law of England reflect the most basic foundations of US jurisprudence: “Each state is expected, perpetually, to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”
There could never be a more reasonable or decent expectation.
Louis Rene Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published in 2016. His other writings have been published in Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; Oxford University Press; The Jerusalem Post; Infinity Journal; BESA Perspectives; US News & World Report; The Hill; and The Atlantic.
This article was first published in Modern Diplomacy