by Louis Rene Beres
Again and again, Americans seek “progress” in politics — in vain. As we ought to have learned by now, elections can never save us; more precisely, no president or congress can halt the corrosive withering that so deeply afflicts these United States. No matter how well-intentioned and potentially capable — whether Democrat or Republican — a politics-based American “rescue program” can only tinker at the edges of what is important.
To be sure, we can always identify various increments of apparent progress, but nothing that could overcome this nation’s conspicuous indifference to history, reason, and law.
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Credo quia absurdum, warned the philosophers: “I believe because it is absurd.”
Today, though counterintuitive, a candidate’s revealed ignorance may actually bestow political advantage.
Lethal political derangements have been experienced before. Still, “We the people” have strayed dreadfully far from the ordinary rules of civil behavior. Without any clear or compelling reasons, we have abandoned the once-indispensable expectations of good citizenship.
As Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, anticipated, there is a steep price for splitting democracy from education.
Any society so cravenly willing to abjure its most primary obligations toward dignified learning — to what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson called “high thinking” — is one that ought not to expect to endure. What else should we seek from a society that elected Donald Trump, a president who read nothing and who affirmed with irrepressible pride: “I love the poorly educated?”
And Trump, who struggled to read even a small portion of the U.S. Constitution, might well be re-elected.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”
Resigned, at best, to a future of dreary work and protracted mediocrity, we Americans generally lurch from one forfeiture to the next. Cumulatively, the negative consequences could prove irremediable.
Early in the 20th century, Sigmund Freud explained his general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he objected (according to Bruno Bettelheim) to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its correspondingly crude commitment to raw and unvarnished materialism.
America, Freud summed up, was “lacking in soul.”
Our anti-intellectual American mindset treats formal education as an instrumental obligation (“one should get better educated in order to get a better paying job”); thus, an authentic American individual has become little more than a quaint artifact. Our societal “mass” — more refractory than ever to intellect and learning — displays no discernible intention of taking itself seriously. To the contrary, an embittered American “herd” now marches obligingly toward belligerent incivility.
We pay only lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution.
On the plus side, there is an antidote.
Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Arguably, we once even harbored a unique potential to nurture individuals, that is, to encourage Americans to become much more than a smugly inert mass. Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman described us as people animated by industry and “self-reliance.”
Our redemption as a nation and as a people can never be found among those who chant gibberish in banal political chorus. We surely don’t need more fevered politics in America. We do need a population that can acknowledge learning and thinking as deeply valuable human activities, ones necessary to sustain the country’s core democratic institutions.
This will not be easy. “Men fear thought more than anything else on earth,” warned Bertrand Russel, “more than ruin, more even than death.”
For the most part, we Americans now lack any more serious sources of national cohesion than celebrity sex scandals, sports team loyalties, and the always comforting distractions of war, terrorism, and genocide.
But, surely, there is more to this nation than mindless rallies, hyper-adrenalized commerce, and accumulating waves of degrading entertainment.
In the end, American politics — as in other nations’ politics — remains a reflective activity.
Elections are messy affairs — and America is better for them. We need to tell the truth about deportation.
To restore us to “high thinking” in America — to restore us to more responsible politics and better elections — “We the people” must look beyond the distraction of the moment, must aspire to and practice self-reliance, must stop — and actually think.
We must choose reason over anti-reason.
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 The Hill