INTELLECT AND POLITICS
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science
and International Law (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 was originally published
our dignity," observed Blaise Pascal back in the 17th century,
"consists in thought . . . Let us labor then to think well:
this is the foundation of morality." To be sure, this simple
truth is being neglected by more and more Americans in the openly
retrograde "Trump Era." The expected consequences
are easy to identify and certain to disappoint.
corrosive Trump presidency exhibits an almost visceral hatred
of serious thinking. At one level, this hatred is easy to understand:
Critical thought is the determined enemy of all anti-intellectual
regimes. It is also at variance with this president's unphilosophical
spirit, a shameless ethos of unreason, submission and indifference
to all basic ethical considerations.
by this crippling ethos, Mr. Trump's chanting followers not
only know nothing of "thinking well," they want to
know nothing about any such obligation.
the end, the anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-historical
Trump ideology will run against this country's most indispensable
democratic institutions. The Founding Fathers sought a republic
with coequal executive, legislative and judicial branches of
government, a republic that would make it especially difficult
for an aberrant president to replicate European monarchical
ambitions and powers.
however, the American peoples' stunning unfamiliarity with the
Federalist Papers and the Constitution makes it less certain
that an over-reaching president can be controlled by American
us be candid. Those Trump adherents who take such conspicuous
delight in chanting empty witticisms at rallies are not going
to waste time reading, thinking or learning. Moreover, in obeisance
to their revered commander-in-chief, these fine citizens will
never trouble themselves to study American legal documents or
even glance over the Constitution they so energetically "defend."
most basic problems are not about Donald Trump. Our national
dilemma goes far beyond this thoughtless president. Even if
there were a more literate occupant in the White House, absolutely
no government program of alleged progress could compensate for
this nation's deeply rooted antipathies to "thinking well."
else might be decided within our politics, we Americans will
continue to be carried forth not by any mind-based nobilities
of principle or purpose, but by an altogether predictable eruption
of personal and collective rancor.
of this was necessarily "meant to be." None of these
faults were written in the cards, the stars, or even in ourselves.
Sadly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could actually
have been different. We once harbored a preciously unique potential
to nurture ourselves as individuals, that is, to become much
more than a smugly inert (Nietzchean, Jungian, or Kierkegaardian)"herd."
Waldo Emerson optimistically described us as a people animated
by industry and "self-reliance."
urged a thoughtful combination of "high thinking and plain
living," but today's public citizen has little use for
the former and very proudly abjures the latter. The result is
an always-screaming society that confuses consumption with success
and obesity with satisfaction.
stubborn inclination to believe that a wider societal and personal
redemption must somehow lie in politics remains a potentially
fatal disorder. Our deeper civilizational problems must first
be solved as individuals.
let us never forget that we live in a world of proliferating
nuclear weapons and technologies. When such a portentous threat
is coupled with presidential celebrations of blind imitation
and herd-like submission, a fearful witches brew is in the making.
ought to bear in mind the still-sobering words of Swiss playwright
Friedrich Durrenmatt: "The worst does sometimes happen."
forward, our individual and collective dignity must reside in
intellect and thought.