FIXING THE WORLD
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).
do our national leaders take time to look meaningfully behind
the news. As we now see with considerable clarity, watching
the spasms of growing sectarian violence in Iraq, the results
can be grievously unfortunate, or even genuinely catastrophic.
foreign policies ignore certain vital factors. For example,
our American national leaders have meticulously examined the
presumed facts surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia and
the Ukraine, and Israel and the Palestinians, but, just as assiduously,
have avoided any deeper considerations of particular kinds of
must now therefore inquire: How shall we effectively improve
our chances for surviving and prospering on this endangered
is not a narrow partisan query. The answers should be determined
entirely by intellectual effort, not political party or ideology.
and more, reason discovers itself blocked by a thick “fog
of the irrational,” by something inside of us, heavy and
dangerous, that yearns not for truth, but rather for dark mystery
and immortality. Presciently, German historian Heinrich von
Treitschke, cited his compatriot philosopher Johann Gottlieb
Fichte, in his posthumously published lectures (Politics 1896):
“Individual man sees in his own country, the realization
of his earthly immortality.”
has really changed.
negotiating the treacherous landscapes of world politics, even
in Iraq, generality trumps particulars.
garner attention, current news organizations choose to focus
on tantalizing specifics, e.g., Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan
etc. What finally matters most, however, is something more complex:
a cultivated capacity for the systematic identification of recurring
policy issues and problems.
the flesh-and-blood facts concerning war, revolution, riots,
despotism, terrorism, and genocide are more captivating to citizens
than abstract theories. But the real point of locating specific
facts must be a tangible improvement of the human condition.
In turn, any civilizational betterment must be contingent on
even deeper forms of general human awareness.
by exploring the individual cases in world politics (e.g., Iraq)
as intersecting parts of a much larger class of cases, can our
leaders ever hope to learn something predictive. While seemingly
counter-intuitive, it is only by deliberately seeking general
explanations that we can ever hope to ‘fix’ the
blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” lamented the Irish poet,
William Butler Yeats, and “everywhere the ceremony of
innocence is drowned.” Today’s global harms and
instabilities, whether still simmering, or already explosive,
are best understood as symptoms of a more generalized worldwide
fragility. It is, therefore, unhelpful to our leaders for these
symptoms ever to be regarded as merely isolated, discrete, or
prospective answer concerns the seemingly irremediable incapacity
of human beings to find any real meaning and identity within
themselves. Typically, in world politics, it is always something
other than one’s own Self (the state, the movement, the
class, the faith, etc.) that is held sacred. As a result, our
species remains stubbornly determined to demarcate preferentially
between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and then, always,
to sustain a rigidly segmented universe.
such a fractionated world, ‘non-members’ (refugees,
aliens, infidels, apostates etc.) are designated as subordinate
and inferior. This fatal designation is the very same lethal
inclination that occasioned both world wars and the Holocaust,
among other atrocities.
the beginning, some kind of “tribal” conflict has
driven world affairs. Without a clear and persisting sense of
an outsider, of an enemy, of a suitably loathsome ‘other,’
whole societies would have felt insufferably lost in the world.
Drawing self-worth from membership in the state or the faith
or the race (Nietzsche’s “herd”; Freud’s
“horde”), people could not hope to satisfy even
the most elementary requirements of world peace.
progress in technical and scientific realms has no discernible
counterpart in cooperative human relations. We can manufacture
advanced jet aircraft and send astronauts into space, but before
we are allowed to board commercial airline flights, we must
first take off our shoes.
have we managed to blithely scandalize our own creation? Much
as we still like to cast ourselves as a ‘higher’
species, the veneer of human society remains razor thin. Terrorism
and war are only superficially about politics, diplomacy, or
ideology; the most sought after power is always power over death.
key questions about Iraq have absolutely nothing to do with
counter-insurgency or American “boots on the ground.”
Until the underlying axes of conflict are understood, all of
our current and future war policies will remain utterly beside
the point. Indeed, if this had been recognized earlier, few
if any American lives would have been wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
seemingly nonsensical, we must all first learn to pay more attention
to our personal feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness and
desperation. While these feelings still remain unacknowledged
as hidden elements of a wider world politics, they are in fact
determinative for international relations.
enough, we Americans still don’t really understand that
national and international life must ultimately be about the
individual. In essence, the time for ‘modernization,’
‘globalization,’ ‘artificial intelligence,’
and even ‘new information methodologies’ is almost
over. To survive together, the fragmented residents of this
planet must learn to discover an authentic and meaningfully
durable human existence, detached from traditional distinctions.
is only in the vital expressions of a thoroughly re-awakened
human spirit that we can learn to recognize what is important
for national survival. Beware, “The man who laughs,”
warned the poet Bertolt Brecht, “has simply not yet heard
the horrible news.”
Iraq and Afghanistan, the enduring barbarisms of life on earth
can never be undone by improving global economies, building
larger missiles, fashioning new international treaties, spreading
democracy, or even by supporting ‘democratic’ revolutions.
Inevitably, humankind still lacks a tolerable future, not because
we have been too slow to truly learn, but because we have failed
to learn what is truly important.
improve our future foreign policies, to avoid our recurring
global misfortunes, we must learn to look behind the news. In
so doing, we could acknowledge that the vital root explanations
for war, riots, revolution, despotism, terrorism and genocide
are never discoverable in visible political institutions or
ideologies. Instead, these explanations lie in the timeless
personal needs of individuals.