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Vol. 22, No. 3, 2023
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king charles III's coronation
(part I)



Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Law (Purdue University). He has written twelve books and several hundred scholarly articles and monographs. He also lectures widely on matters of terrorism, strategy and international law. As an expert on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, he is closely involved with Israeli security issues at the highest levels. He was Chair of "Project Daniel," a group advising Israel's Prime Minister on existential nuclear questions. This article was first published in Jewish Business News.


It’s an uncommon association, but certain connections have been suggested between sovereignty (the highest form of earthly authority) and offerings of immortality. For the most part, at the level of philosophical investigation, such connections have not always been subtle. Observes G F Hegel (1820) in The Philosophy of Right: “The state is the march of God in the world.” And from Heinrich von Treitschke’s 1897 Lecture on Politics: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”

There is some nuance here. Von Treitschke’s statement suggests something “less” than the classic after-worldly meaning of immortality. He is likely suggesting, after all, that something akin to eternal fame and not “life everlasting,” best represents this generally invisible dynamic of world politics. Though there can exist no scientifically valid ways of rank-ordering two contending meanings of immortality over time and space, there can be little doubt that any presumptive power over death must bestow greater satisfactions than any purported power over personal reputation.


To be sure. there are variously assorted details. Though difficult to understand, Realpolitik – an historical shorthand for traditional power politics – draws its animating force from the microcosm, from the individual. While inconspicuous, it is this personal human search for immortality or “staying alive” that may ultimately drive not only domestic kingships but also comprehensive international relations.

In any final reckoning, each state’s competitive struggle for the “death” of other designable states may represent a last-ditch defense against both collective and personal annihilation. Among other things, this obscure simultaneity suggests that the most genuine rationale of Realpolitik is not really the acquisition of territory, wealth or “victory.” However unwitting or “sub-conscious,” it is the avoidance of personal death.

This is not an easy idea for scholars and policy-makers to conceptualize, but ignoring it could severely limit humankind’s rapidly disappearing chances for survival. Some preliminary understandings can be drawn from King Charles’ III recent coronation. It is the sovereign state, blessed by God’s vicars here on earth (in this case, the Archbishop of Canterbury) that holds the key to life everlasting.

These ideas are not easily understood by a country’s “mass” or by career politicians. To begin, searches for collective immortality based on sovereignty may signify core yearnings to avoid personal death. Though such fervid hopes can be nurtured only by assorted convictions of faith, not science, the history of humankind reveals no evidence that Reason could ever trump anti-Reason. Even in our glittering age of advanced technology and “AI,” conspicuous claims of non-rational belief continue to drive states and sub-states toward an explosively violent geopolitics. Lamentably, any corollary associations of sacredness with national armed force would further ensure that war, terror or genocide serve the highest imaginable forms of human power.


But how should these very complicated connections be better understood? Why ought anyone acknowledge that a world politics based upon sovereignty offers a plausible path to personal immortality? What are the most revealing connecting factors? About the recent coronation in London, wouldn’t we all be better off just asking the usual prosaic questions about King Charles, Camilla, William, Harry, etc.?

With pride of place, history should be our starting point. In his still-illuminating classic, Man and Crisis (1958), 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset comments thoughtfully and prophetically: “History is an illustrious war against death.” Though this comment is captivating and sets the stage for our own present queries about sovereignty and immortality, it still represents only a partial piece of a much wider truth: Ultimately, power over death always represents the greatest conceivable form of power here on earth; but acquiring such power in world politics can sometimes “demand” the killing of assorted “others.”

Inter alia, as more-or-less derivative from sovereign authority, there is war, terrorism and genocide.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.” Sovereignty offers a direct link to immortality (collective and personal), but the palpable rewards of power over death are too-frequently tied to engineered violence and armed force. Often it’s a Faustian bargain.

There is more. To acquire a politically manageable “power over death,” individuals (microcosm) and states (macrocosm) must first make tangible preparations to bring irreversible fatality to purported “enemies.” At times, such viscerally belligerent thinking could involve seductive notions of “martyrdom.” Significantly, as we may learn from the evening news, especially in the Middle East, these notions may call not “only” for war, but also for terror and genocide. In all cases, the planned mass killing of other human beings is more-or-less comparable to religious sacrifice, a primal ritual oriented toward the intentional deflection of death to “others.”

There are additional details. Scholars and policy-makers should continuously re-examine vital underlying links between microcosm and macrocosm. In this regard, Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote boldly of not being dead as the principal exemplar of ascertainable power. Confronted with what Canetti called “terror at the fact of death,” humankind – both individually, and collectively – always seeks one particular advantage above all others. This evident advantage is “to remain standing” while others prepare to “lie down.”

In the end, it is only those who can remain upright, however temporarily, who are “victorious.” It is these fortunate ones, after all, who have keenly managed to “divert” death to “others.” By definition, there can be no greater or more advantageous diversion. A key lesson obtains here for states as well as individuals. For all “players,” microcosm and macrocosm, the situation of physical survival is the manifestly central expression of all human power. But as sovereignty-centered belligerent nationalism makes meaningful survival more problematic, Realpolitik or power politics inevitably deprives states of their most genuine power lever. Left unmodified, the “all against all” Westphalian process effectively creates or merely magnifies adversarial relations, and encourages state enemies to enjoy “microcosmic” triumphs that will remain concealed. These triumphs are the deeply-satisfying human emotions experienced by persons when confronting powerless individuals who are preparing to “lie down.”


In world politics, the ultimate acquisition of power is never really about land or treasure or conquest or some other reassuring evidence of primacy. It is, rather, a presumed victory over death, ultimately a personal triumph, one described by Heinrich von Treitschke and G F Hegel as closely linked to the unique prerogatives of sovereignty.

The relevant reasoning here is straightforward. When my state is powerful, goes the core argument, so too am I. At some point, when this state seems ready to prevail indefinitely, I too am granted a personal life that is gloriously unending. Stated somewhat succinctly: An “immortal” state creates (as its citizen or subject) the “immortal” person.

These abstract ideas can be bewildering. Still, to actually feel such conceptual reasoning at a palpable level, one could intentionally recall the staggering images of mid-1930s Nazi party rallies at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental film celebration of Der Fuhrer, The Triumph of the Will, says it all best. Reminding the German people of Hegel’s famous aphorism, the legendary film underscores that a nation-state can actually become the “march of God in the world.”

Today, in 2023, all states continue to be driven by policies that generally bring them neither personal satisfaction nor institutional safety. To the contrary, all they can continue to expect in a chaos-leaning Realpolitik world is a perpetual global landscape of war, terrorism and genocide. In the best of all possible worlds, however, humankind – recalling the ancient creed of Epicurus that death fear is foolish and irrational- would consider one indispensable query:

What is death? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is: you see it does not bite. The stuff of the body was bound to be parted from the airy element, either now or hereafter, as it existed apart from it before. Why then are you vexed if they are parted now? For if not parted now, they will be hereafter. Why so? That the revolution of the universe may be accomplished, for it has need of things present, things future, and things past and done with.”

States seemingly fail to understand that death is “normally” identified by their enemies as a zero-sum event. Anything that is done to sustain one’s own national survival invariably represents, for these enemy states, an intolerable threat to their own “lives” and a diminution of their own power over death. Reciprocally, anything that is done to effectively eliminate hated enemies must expectedly enhance their collective life and augment their collective power. Ideally, these strategies fare best whenever God is “on our side.”

There is still more. Because of the deeply intimate associations between collectivities/macrocosm (states) and (microcosm) individuals, the reciprocal life advantages of death and dying can be enjoyed doubly.

“Normally,” even if only at a subconscious level, the living person never really considers himself more powerful than at that very moment when he faces the dying person. Here, as we may learn again from Elias Canetti, the living human being comes as close as he or she can to encountering genuine feelings of personal immortality. In roughly similar fashion, the “living” nation-state never really regards itself as more powerful than at that moment when it confronts the apparently impending “death” of a despised enemy state. Only slightly less power-granting are those reassuring sentiments that arise from confrontation with a “dying” enemy state; that is, the same sentiments experienced by a belligerent state that seeks some tangible “victory” over another.

In both cases, personal and collective, convention, good taste and sometimes skilled statecraft require that zero-sum feelings about death and power be suppressed. Such polite feelings ought not to be flaunted; nonetheless, they do remain prospectively vital and determinative.


Oddly, perhaps, in all world politics, power is so closely attached to the presumed conquest of death (national and personal) that core connections have been overlooked. As a result, students and practitioners of international relations continue to focus mainly on epiphenomena, on easily recognizable ideologies, identifiable territories, tangible implements of warfare (arms control and disarmament) and so on. The problem is not that these factors are unimportant to power, but that they are actually of a manifestly secondary or reflected importance.

During a war, any war, the individual soldier, a person who ordinarily cannot experience satisfyingly tangible power during peacetime, is offered an utterly unique opportunity to remedy such absence. Inter alia, the pervasive presence of dead bodies in war cannot be minimized. Actually and incontestably, it is a central fact of belligerency. To wit, the soldier who is surrounded by corpses and knows that he is not yet one of them is “normally” imbued with an absolute radiance of invulnerability, of immortality, of monumental and perhaps incomparable power.

The adversarial state that commands its soldiers to kill and not to die, “feels” similarly great power at the removal of a collective adversary. This surviving state, like the surviving individual warrior, is transformed, indisputably and correspondingly, into a potentially primal source of everlasting life. Such abstract observations are hardly fashionable among general populations or political leaders; to the half-educated, they may even appear barbarous and uncivilized. Yet, for now at least, scholars should be seeking not to prescribe more appropriate behavior for sovereign states, but to accurately describe such behavior. Among other obligations, this means looking behind the daily news.

There is more. Always, truth must be exculpatory. True observations may sometimes be indecipherable or objectionable; but they are no less true. What is most important to understand is that to die for the sake of God is actually to not die at all. For example, by “dying” in a divinely commanded act of killing presumed enemies the Jihadist terrorist really does seek to conquer death, which he fears with a special terror, by “living forever.”

Ultimately, the “love of death” proclaimed by Jihadist terrorists is the ironic consequent of an all-consuming wish to avoid death. Since the death that this enemy “loves” is temporary and temporal, leading “in fact” to a permanent reprieve from any real death, accepting it as a tactical expedient becomes an easy matter. If, for any reason, the normally welcome death of an individual engaged in “holy war” were not expected to ensure an authentic life ever-after, its immense attractions would be reversed.The greater the number of enemy corpses, the more powerful terrorists will feel. Real power, understood as an irremediably zero-sum commodity, is always to gain in “aliveness” through inflicting death upon enemies.


An enemy, whether state or non-state, cannot possibly kill as many foes as his primal passion for survival may demand. This means, among other intersecting considerations, that he may seek to induce or direct others to satisfy this particular passion. As a practical matter, this deflecting behavior points toward an undeniable impulse for genocide, an inclination that could be actualized, in the future, by adversarial resort to higher-order forms of terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear), and/or to “crimes against humanity.”

The sovereign still has much to learn. But before leaders can fully understand the true nature of enemy intentions and capabilities, they must first acknowledge the most primary connections between power and survival. Once it can be understood that enemy definitions of the former are contingent upon loss of the latter, these leaders will be positioned intellectually to take appropriate remedial action.

The true goal of certain adversaries is as grotesque as it is unrecognized. This goal is to be left standing while assorted others are made to disappear. These relentless enemies must survive just so that their enemies do not. They cannot, by this zero-sum reasoning, survive together. So long as the enemy is “allowed” to exist, no matter how cooperative or congenial it has been, some states will not feel safe. They will not feel powerful. They will not feel power over death.

It is always a mistake to believe that Reason governs the world. The true source of governance on this imperiled planet is power, and power is ultimately the conquest of personal death. This conquest, which displays a zero-sum quality among enemies, is not limited to conflicts in any one region. It is always a generic matter, a more or less universal effort that is made especially manifest between enemies. On this generic matter, one should consider the revealing remark of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in his Journal in 1966. Describing killing as a purposeful affirmation of one’s own survival, Ionesco observed:

I must kill my visible enemy, the one who is determined to take my life, to prevent him from killing me. Killing gives me a feeling of relief, because I am dimly aware that in killing him, I have killed death. My enemy’s death cannot be held against me, it is no longer a source of anguish, if I killed him with the approval of society; that is the purpose of war. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.

While certain enemies accept zero-sum linkages between power and survival, others do not. Though this may suggest that some states stand on an enviably higher moral plane than their enemies, it may also place the high-minded or virtuous state at a security disadvantage, one that will make it too difficult to “remain standing.” This consequential asymmetry between state enemies may be addressed by reducing certain adversarial emphases on power-survival connections and/or by increasing enemy emphases on power-survival connections.

Difficult questions will have to be asked. Must a state ultimately become barbarous in order to endure? Must it “learn” to identify true power with survival over others, a predatory posture that cannot abide the survival of certain enemies? What is required is not a replication of enemy leadership crimes, but policies that recognize personal death-avoidance as the essential starting point for national security. With such recognition, protracted hostility and existential threat could be rejected in their entirety and a new ethos – one based on a firm commitment to “remain standing” at all costs – could finally be implemented.


Core changes will be necessary. All sovereigns must rid themselves of the retrograde notion that killing others can confer immunity from personal mortality. In his Will Therapy and Truth and Reality (1936), psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the Other. Through the death of the Other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of being killed.”

What is being described here remains the greatest form of power anywhere: power over death. Americans and other residents of a deeply interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States or major world leader would meaningfully attempt to understand these complex linkages. At a minimum, this means that all of our national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual and scientific sorts of understanding.

There is more. Our “just wars,” counter-terrorism conflicts and anti-genocide programs, must be conducted as intricate contests of mind over mind. These contests are never just narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer an accessible “medicine” against adversaries in the global “state of nature.” Only by this difficult awareness can we ever relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”

More than ever before, history deserves pride of place. The United States was founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. This means something very different in 2023 than it did in 1787.

What should this particular history now signify for American foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon authentic learning, not flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. In this connection, individual human death fear has much to do with a better understanding of America’s national security options.


by Louis René Beres:
Glorifying Riches
Unspeakable Lies
An Unphilosophical Spirit
America Around the World
Behind All Speeches Are Unspeakable Lies
The Worst Does Sometimes Happen
Martyrdom & Hunger for Immortality
The Trump Presidency: An Informed Perspective
Looking Beyond the News
Politics, Law and Triumph of Chaos
An Illustrious War Against Death
Insurrection and the American Horde
Post Mortem: Trump Presidency
Presidential Crimes and Pardons
Pandemic as Opportunity
Understanding a Lethal American Presidency
A Nation's Bitter Despair
The President as Monster
Lessons from Covid-19
The Overriding Threat: Trump, the Mass & Nuclear War
Fragmentation or Unity
A More Thoughtful Nuclear Policy
Are Terrorists Abnormal?
War, Politics and the Planet Earth
Intellect & Politics: Trumpian Opposites
Emptiness & Consciousness: Unseen Limits of American Mind
Trump and the Destruction of the American Mind
Empathy & Intelligence
The Crowd Is Untruth
In Praise of Folly: Trump Presidency
Repairing the World at Its Source
Emptiness and Consciousness
Nuclear Deterrence Conflict
Trump's Anti-Intellectualism
Lawless Retreat
Trump - Triumph of Anti-Reason
In the Absence of Wise Councel
Futile Goal of Winning Wars
Money & Politics: A Look Behind the News
Trump's War Against the Intellect
America Becomes What Its Founding Fathers Feared
Victory as Vanishing Point in the Age of Terror
Against a Nuclear-Free World
The Politics of Pre-emption
Crowds, Belonging and Victory Over Death
The Tip of the Jihadist Iceberg
Fixing the World
When Science May Not Be Enough
Facing future Wars
America's Senseless Wars
Is There a Genocide Gene?
Slow Death of America
To Fix a Broken Planet
Our Fractured Union
Affirming Life in the Age of Atrocity
War, Truth and the Shadows of Meaning
Occupy Wall Street
What Is Important?
Social Network Anxiety
Disappearance of the Philosopher Kings


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