Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 5, 2016
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

and we'll pay for it



Louis 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). This article originally appeared in The Daily Princetonian

The deeply anti-intellectual character of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has ample precedent in American history. What is most noteworthy about the Trump campaign’s open disregard for analysis and learning, therefore, is not that the candidate conspicuously knows nothing of any real importance (history, government, literature, the arts, etc.), but that he emphatically wants to know nothing. Why should he think differently? After all, when the Republican candidate routinely draws illogical conclusions and persistently offers nonsensical recommendations, there is nary a murmur of disapproval among his “base.”

For his loyal supporters, intellect is literally the enemy. For them, any tangible evidence of proper reasoning would represent only the unpatriotic pretensions of a contemptible national “elite.” In essence, as Mr. Trump apparently fully understands, there are just no ascertainable political benefits to making sense.

For candidate Donald Trump, the preferred path for this country’s foreign policy remains detached from even a scintilla of diplomatic wisdom or legal obligation. To wit, apropos of his Aug. 15 speech on this subject, U.S. foreign policy must allegedly involve “work[ing] with” Syria, Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah. That this openly-recommended cooperation should follow not from any systematic assessment of strategic or jurisprudential considerations but instead from an inexpertly cobbled-together amalgam of embarrassing banalities and empty witticisms is plainly irrelevant to this particular candidate’s calculations.

Significant, too, is that although Mr. Trump, in an obligatory throwaway line on Aug.15, had called Israel this country’s “greatest ally,” to actually follow his declared advice on collaborating with assorted enemy forces in the Middle East would only weaken the Jewish state. Israel, Mr. Trump ought to be reminded, is less than half the size of Lake Michigan. Israel, his followers should recall, is not apt to share any recognizable geo-strategic interests with jihadist terrorist enemies, Shiite Islamic regimes, or a Russia that is clearly oriented toward strengthening Syria and Iran.

There are certain intersecting legal matters. Faced with a presidential candidate whose very highest ideal of correct reasoning is the argumentum ad baculum — that is, an aggressive and presumptively illegitimate reliance upon threats and intimidation — the American electorate should finally understand that any willful or cultivated disregard for international law would prove harmful for the United States. Moreover, international law, Mr. Trump has yet to understand, is an integral part of the law of the United States. This vital incorporation, he should sometime learn, is codified in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”), and in several corresponding U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

It can also be extrapolated from basic writings of the Founding Fathers, who were, for the most part, authentically learned thinkers themselves, and who read difficult and pertinent writings by Hugo Grotius, Emer de Vattel, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Samuel von Pufendorf, and William Blackstone.

Has Donald Trump, a major party candidate for the American presidency, even heard of a single one of these intellectual forbears of the United States?

Does he even know, for instance, that Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England represent the jurisprudential beginnings of U.S. domestic law?

Virtually everyone already knows the regrettable answer to these easy questions, but only a tiny fraction of Americans are apt to find this response disturbing or perplexing. This is because the Trump candidacy’s unhidden disdain for intellect did not arise in some sort of historical or demographic vacuum. Rather, it was originally made possible by an underlying and antecedent cultural loathing of both true learning and dialectical reasoning. Even in our universities, where I taught international law for almost half a century (at Princeton and Purdue), the collective abandonment of intellect for commerce is accelerating.

The problem is not just about a still-growing preoccupation with money. Karl Jaspers, the influential German philosopher who tried to understand and explain what allowed Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, observed in his Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason, but for mystery — not for penetrating clear thought, but for the whisperings of the irrational.” It is largely this particular “something” that now permits a manifestly vacant presidential aspirant to become a seriously competitive candidate.

Naturally, we Americans are not going to recognize, change, or remove this “something” in time for the coming election. But we ought at least to understand, assisted, perhaps, by Jaspers’ distinctly prescient retrospective on Nazism, that Mr. Trump himself is not the real pathology. No, this often incoherent candidate is merely the most visible and dangerous symptom of a much more corrosive malignancy: a social and educational structure that openly frowns upon and consciously suppresses any difficult or independent individual thought.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump’s minions always insist upon chanting in chorus. “Trump, Trump, Trump — USA, USA, USA.” For all who have even a minimal acquaintance with modern history, of course, the dark tenor of such ritualistic chanting is all too familiar. Above all else, it is the indisputable hallmark of a desperately frightened and lonely people, one that absolutely craves membership in the “herd” (Friedrich Nietzsche), the “mass” (Carl Jung), the “horde” (Sigmund Freud), or the “crowd” (Søren Kierkegaard).

These destructive human collectivities all mean the same thing.

All now offer anxious American citizens a conveniently reassuring membership in something larger than themselves. With such membership, any residual voice of reason is quickly drowned out by the vast, almost primal, rhythmic repetitions.

There is more. Mr. Trump’s supporters seem to yearn not only for the warmth of “belonging,” but also for accessibly simplistic explanations. The reason behind this indisputably strong preference should be readily apparent. It is that complexity, by definition, is daunting, intimidating, or indecipherable, and must therefore require painfully serious thought.

The Founding Fathers of the United States did not generally believe in democracy. Most, in fact, agreed with Alexander Hamilton’s trenchant observation that the “people are a great beast.” Thomas Jefferson, arguably the most democratic of the Founders, expressly regarded “the people” as refuse from which a small number of prospectively gifted individuals could be culled once each year. Said Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia, contra mob rule, there should be instituted a plan of elementary schooling by which “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”

It would be a very great irony of the 2016 presidential election if “the people” were to choose that candidate who “loves the poorly educated” and who proudly seeks to preside over an obligingly docile American mob. To be sure, the last thing we need now is to elect a new president whose policies would intentionally confirm the Founding Fathers’ worst recorded fears about an American democracy.


Help Haiti
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
2016 Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 05-16st, (514) 844-2172
Montreal World Film Festival
Lynda Renée: Chroniques Québécois - Blog
Andrew Hlavacek - Arts & Culture Blog (Montreal)
© Roberto Romei Rotondo
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
2013 Montreal Chamber Music Festival
Photo by David Lieber:
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis