4 September 2019

Creating a Future: Nationalism, Patriotism and Global “Oneness”

By Prof. Louis René Beres

“What does not benefit the entire hive is no benefit to the bee.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sometimes, truth can be both counter-intuitive and bitterly ironic. Although Americans have long been instructed that patriotism is a proper sentiment of national superiority, of always “being the best,” such reasoning quickly dissolves in the face of cold logic. In the end, what we might ordinarily consider as decent patriotism can still undermine the nation’s core national interests.

Inevitably, if simply left in place, the cumulative global effect of any such considerations will prove injurious to all nations.

Perhaps even starkly injurious.

In the worst case, these injuries may extend to one form or another of catastrophic war.

These two questions arise:

(1) What correct policy inferences should be drawn by America’s leaders in Washington DC?

(2) What conspicuously valid conclusions should we expect will be reached?

To respond, it must first become increasingly obvious that so many apparent benefits of traditionally-defined patriotism are actually harmful and sorely unpatriotic. Because the combined result of individual nation-state judgments that conflate belligerent nationalism with patriotism weakens all nation-states, it is high time for the Trump White House to think more analytically about “America First.” The particular policy objectives coalescing around this falsifying mantra must become more serious than just eliciting mindless cheers at political “rallies.”

As a start, US President Trump and his senior national security counselors could be reminded purposefully that history is actually worth studying. Accordingly, they could learn, classical Greek and Macedonian war postures were self-consciously based upon sound intellectual and theoretical foundations.[1]

More succinctly, such ancient postures were founded upon determinedly calculable struggles of “mind over mind.” To be sure, whatever else their varying deficiencies, they were not crafted from the corrosively visceral chants of an unthinking “amen chorus,” what the Greeks themselves would have called the hoi polloi.

Over the years, though not always followed, such enviable “mind-over-mind” orientations have provided an overlooked but perpetually-prudent model of national security planning.[2] Nonetheless, across almost the entire globe, national military planning remains narrowly focused upon limited correlations of individual force structure and on elements of a wrongly-presumed national interest. This dissembling focus is especially obvious today in Washington DC, in both Congress and the White House, where insufficiently serious thought is being directed toward systematizing long-term American security obligations.

Significantly, before improved thought could reasonably be expected,[3] America’s national security policy planners would first need to become more attentive to variously complex policy intersections and interdependencies, including what are formally called “synergies.”[4] In any true synergistic interaction, the policy behaviors of rival states could produce outcomes that are tangibly “more” than the simple sum of their parts. A timely example here might be prospective US-North Korean policies of crisis escalation, policies in which one side or the other (or both) would mistake the other’s moves and where the result could be much worse than any simple arithmetic summation could have predicted.

Looking ahead to still-plausible crises between Washington and Pyongyang, each side (assuming basic and bilateral rationality) will be seeking to achieve “escalation dominance” and, simultaneously, to maintain national survival.[5]

If follows from all this, whatever one’s prior political inclinations or affiliations, that US President Trump’s “America First” foreign policies are inherently unpatriotic and destined to fail.[6]

And it is all unambiguous.

Years earlier, Sigmund Freud, while not directly concerned with the dynamics of world politics or international relations, examined similar issues at the microcosmic or “molecular” level, that is, at the critical level of individual human beings. Looking over such psychologically focused examinations, Freud’s rudimentary conceptual understanding – that unfettered “liberty” among individual human beings must invariably lead to uselessly antagonistic or “zero-sum” social conflicts – applies equally to nation-states. If left alone to pursue their collective lives “patriotically”- that is, within the anarchic global state-of-nature that seventeenth century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes had famously and accurately called a “war of all against all”[7] – the separate state actors would be forced to endure the conditions of permanent war.

Under no conceivable circumstances could such conditions prove tolerable.

Moreover, amid any such continuously ferocious global anarchy – a structure of disorder originally bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – there could never arise any meaningful forms of civilization.


Notwithstanding the bitterly anti-intellectual stance of the current American president, history and learning do have an indispensable place in the United States. Recalling Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (1651, chapter XIII), the life of any states attempting to chase after narrowly nationalistic/populist goals (what Donald Trump would today call “America First”) must be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”[8] Going forward, it is even plausible that the traditional anarchy in world politics dating back to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 has begun to morph into a more far-reaching and irremediable chaos.

In this connection, it is now even worth repeating, there would exist principal and palpable connections between traditional zero-sum notions of patriotism and what is now called “populism.”

But how do we actually fix a global system founded upon and sustained by such thoroughly erroneous notions of patriotism? How should well-intentioned states (including especially the United States) plan their successful escape from the global state of nature, an escape for which there can be absolutely no viable alternative? There exist really just two potentially coherent responses, and these responses need not be mutually exclusive.

The first and most frequently recommended reaction focuses on somehow changing a perpetually conflict-based mechanism of world politics. Even before the appearance of what was formally called “World Order Studies” back at Yale and Princeton in the 1960s,[9]philosophers from Dante and Immanuel Kant to H.G. Wells, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Sri Aurobindo had elaborated imaginatively on various configurations of world government.[10] Today, even if we can convincingly oppose any or all such configurations, the underlying imperative to think in more disciplined fashion about “reordering the planet” is still fully urgent.[11]

The second reasonable response must take analytic investigators back to the true origins of the problem, that is, to the universally conspicuous and undiminished imperfections of individual human beings. With this suitably intellectual posture, one that would correctly regard all world politics as epiphenomenal, or as mere manifestation of deeper causes, the scholar’s (and later policymaker’s) overriding emphasis must be upon “fixing people.”[12] To be sure, if the first reaction could be critiqued as “unrealistic” or “utopian,” the second would qualify even more plainly for such pejorative characterizations.

But how, precisely, to proceed?

Here, the most promising answers will require a consciously transformational focus upon the individual human being, on the pertinent microcosm and on his or her primary place in “global rescue” preparations. So long as it remains predicated upon fully erroneous definitions of patriotism, our nation-state system of world politics will be incapable of serving humankind’s most basic security and justice obligations. Earlier, German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had exclaimed prophetically in Zarathustra that the “state is the coldest of all cold monsters,”[13] a darkly accurate view later reinforced by Spanish thinker Jose Ortega y’ Gasset. Observed Ortega” “The state is the greatest danger.”[14]

But even the most refined prescriptions for improved global coordination or governance will require certain antecedent changes in individual human behavior. This is the case, moreover, in spite of the apparent improbability of any such “molecular” changes. In other words, much as we might still think such changes unlikely or even impossible, we have literally no alternative.

Quite literally, the present-day time-dishonored world system is destined to fail.[15]

In essence, it is most urgent that we learn to supplant the relentlessly belligerent aspects of patriotism with more gainful visions of cooperation, interdependence and “oneness.” Apropos of such an imperative learning, both scholars and policy makers would be well-advised to recall the special wisdom of Jesuit French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

Now, this incontestable warning in The Phenomenon of Man assumes especially powerful relevance regarding US President Donald Trump’s deeply injurious emphases on “America First.” By definition, these retrograde emphases are incompatible with any reasonably sought-after outcomes of world peace and justice. Instead, they point directly toward enlarging the prospects for both human insecurity and human degradation.

Though understood only by those still willing to undertake suitably disciplined thought, there exist many intimate connections between intra-national and inter-national power processes. Among other things, these links suggest that “fixing states” could represent the vital intermediary step between fixing individual human beings and fixing the wider world. Accordingly, in American universities, which are increasingly given over to implementing narrowly vocational forms of education, we need to bring-back and amplify “world order studies” as a designated field of respectable academic inquiry.[16]

For those prospective students determined to study business, computers or technology, it will be worth keeping in mind that there can be no meaningful achievements of individual wealth or success when the world as a whole tilts only toward more war, terror and genocide.

In general, before humanity can maximize rule-based and value-based forms of global cooperation, there will first have to take place certain distinctly primary human changes. Although it may be premature to identify a systematic and sequential inventory of such required changes, the needed process is by no means ambiguous. Wittingly, this process would reject the distracting delusions of a society given over to demeaning amusements and would accept instead a genuinely challenging set of intellectual imperatives. Ultimately, any suitably alternative forms of global cooperation will demand dialogue not only among fractious nation-states, but also among individual human beings.

Such forward-looking and dynamic thinking can bring us back gainfully to French Jesuit philosopher Teilhard, and to the primary importance of system: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others.” Complementary “lessons” can be found in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata; these lessons conveniently recollect what used to be called “cosmopolitanism” or a determined ideology of global integration :[17] “Then you should card it and comb it, and mingle it all/in one basket of love and unity,/Citizens, visitors, strangers, and sojourners – all the/entire, undivided community.”

In the end, any state’s true patriotic interests can be met solely by cultivating a greater and more unqualified loyalty to humankind in general. In the United States, this rationally redirected loyalty, which would be labeled as “unpatriotic” by most Americans, will require a prior and far more robust development of intellect or “mind.” Such a development, moreover, would be at definitional odds with any exaggerated expectations of current Trump-era “populism.”[18]

Nothing useful could be solved by adding more and more adrenalized encouragements of technology or entrepreneurship.

The overriding problem of “creating a future” in world politics will be solved by any new multiplication of “personal devices.”

Also, it won’t help individuals to “win” in any “shark tank” if the tank itself has already been drained.

Ultimately, we will all need to replace the recognizably false communion of nation-states – one now, like the High Lama’s prediction, that is close to collapsing – with a reassuringly new and authentic harmony. When such an ambitious replacement is at last successful, or at least discernibly underway, we could finally take seriously an earlier critical promise of Sigmund Freud. While Freud was not focused on world politics per se, he would surely still agree with the following proposition: A greatly expanded or fully supplanting power of global community can make sense only if there can first be rejected an inwardly-rotten “balance-of-power” dynamic, one that is mistakenly based on fear, trembling and a near-perpetual dread.

One last summary observation will be be offered here, one that points toward a key potential barrier to creating a more just and viable future, toward overcoming an impediment to all conceivably plausible forms of human transformation. The worrisome “fly in the ointment” here concerns the continuously problematic assumption of humanrationality. Even before Freud, and most markedly in Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, we may read with long-term benefit about human irrationality.

Much as we might try to deny it, irrationality – not rationality – has been the actual foundation of nation-state decision-making in world politics.

Though daunting and seemingly out of place, the literary/philosophic recognition of the “absurd” – Credo quia absurdum; “I believe because it is absurd” – must somehow be incorporated into all proposed nation-state programs for global reform. Without such an indispensable incorporation, every otherwise carefully worked-out prescription for global “civilization” could fail promptly and calamitously.

Current assertions of “America First” notwithstanding, traditionally combative expressions of nationalism can never be authentically patriotic. Even among the most evident antinomies of the world, any truly promising spirit of patriotism must first acknowledge (1) the core singularity or “oneness” of our species;[19] and (2) the corollary interdependence of all nation-states. In the end, inter alia, any serious and decent forms of patriotism must affirm that all human beings are enduringly and indissolubly interconnected.[20]

Bottom line for the United States: There can be no suitable “America First” posture that is detached from the calculable well-being of nation-states in general.

None at all.

To the American president and other world leaders, please take note: What cannot benefit the world system as a whole (the “hive”) can never benefit the individual nation-state (the “bee”).

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