is there a
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Professor of Political Science at Purdue
University. He is author of many books and articles dealing
with international politics. His columns have appeared in the
New York Times, Washington Post, The Jerusalem
Post and OUPblog
(Oxford University Press).
man becomes truly Man
only when in quest of
what is most exalted
“In the end,”
says Goethe, “we are creatures of our own making.”
Although offered as a sign of optimism, this insight seems to
highlight the underlying problem of human wrongdoing. After
all, in the long sweep of human history, nothing is more evident
and palpable than the unending litany of spectacular crimes.
Most spectacularly of all, these properly codified public wrongs
include genocide, terrorism, and crimes against humanity.
Nuremberg, after the Holocaust, one might have expected a far-reaching
change in human conduct, a welcome reduction of egregious harms
occasioned by both new knowledge and new law. Yet, let us look
around us at the present moment. The views are not encouraging.
Look at Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan, Uganda, and the Congo.
Let us try to figure out the presumptively democratic but also
riotous ethos sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East.
Not to be forgotten, there is present-day Iran. Today, its faith-based
leaders openly declare a determinedly genocidal intent against
Israel. Let us also consider Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Somalia,
and the former Yugoslavia.
and genocide are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes,
war is simply the optimal means by which an intended genocide
can be most efficiently carried out. How has an entire species,
miscarried from the start, scandalized its own creation? Are
we all potential murderers of those who live beside us?
about slavery? In every form and permutation, this “natural”
crime continues to grow, insidiously but without evident disguise,
in Mali and Mauritania, and in other more conspicuous places.
Shall we recall the murderous diamond mines of Sierra Leone
and Liberia? And let us not forget the ever-widening radius
of human child trafficking, an ancient and medieval practice,
now especially visible in Nigeria and Benin.
is civilization? These devastating crimes are still far-flung
and robust. Paradoxically, they are flourishing even now, in
the developed and thoroughly modern 21st century.
as long as we can identify the tangled skeins of world history,
the corpse has been in fashion. Today, on several continents,
whole nations of corpses are the rage. As for the international
community, it stands by as it has so often, incredulously, with
self-righteous indignation, sheepish, yet also arrogant, simultaneously
calculating and lamenting its own self-reinforcing impotence.
The answer has several intersecting levels, and several overlapping
layers of pertinent meaning. At one level, certainly the one
most familiar to political scientists and legal scholars, the
basic problem lies in the changing embrace of power politics.
Representing a transformation of traditional political realism,
the relentless deification of states has finally reduced billions
of prospective individuals to barely residual specks of significance.
such an world, wherein the self-determination of peoples is
a weighty value, sanguinary executions of the innocent must
always be expected and applauded. Moreover, such executions,
sometimes a thinly disguised or expressly secular form of religious
sacrifice, are heralded defiantly as sacred. To prevent terrorism,
genocide, and crimes against humanity, nation-states must first
be shorn of their presumed sacredness.
even this can happen, however, individuals must first be allowed
to discover alternative and equally attractive sources of belonging.
Somehow, humanity must finally conquer the continuing incapacity
of individual persons to draw true, vital, and existential meaning
from within themselves.
generally unseen, the core problem we face on earth is the universal
and omnivorous power of the herd in human affairs. This power
is based upon individual submission. Ultimately, the problem
of international criminality is always one of distraught and
unfulfilled individuals. Ever fearful of having to draw meaning
from their own inwardness, most human beings, like a moth to
a flame, will draw closer and closer to the nearest collectivity.
the gripping claims of the moment, the herd spawns contrived
hatreds of dissimilarity that can make even mass murder seem
warm, welcome, and reasonable. Fostering a persistent refrain
of us versus them, it encourages each submissive member to ceremoniously
celebrate the death of outsiders.
overriding task, then, must be to discover the way back to ourselves
as persons. Understood in terms of the contemporary prevention
of genocide, terrorism, and crimes against humanity, we are
thus commanded to look beyond ordinary politics, and toward
a determinedly worldwide actualization of authentic persons.
its source, the unrecognized but critical human task is to migrate
from the Kingdom of the Herd, to the Kingdom of the Self. In
succeeding with this very nuanced and unambiguously grand movement,
one must first want to live in the second kingdom. We must fix
the fragmented and fractionated world at its most elementary
individual source. Then, after so many millennia of brutishness
and exclusion, we could do whatever is needed to enable our
fellow human beings to find sufficient comfort and reassurance
outside the segregating and always-potentially murderous herd.