and we'll pay for it
DONALD'S TRUMP'S WALL AGAINST INTELLECT
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). This article originally appeared
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Donald Trump, a major party candidate for the American presidency,
even heard of a single one of these intellectual forbears of
the United States?
he even know, for instance, that Blackstone’s Commentaries
on the Laws of England represent the jurisprudential beginnings
of U.S. domestic law?
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.
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.
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.
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).
destructive human collectivities all mean the same thing.
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.
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.
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.”
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.