“Truth cannot appear naked before the people.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, On Man’s Need of Metaphysics[1]

If America’s core problems could be reduced to their barest essentials, they would coalesce around issues of mind. What this implies, especially in the “Trump Era,” is the secondary or reflective nature of all politics. More precisely, it suggests that fixing American society calls for more than repairing or changing presidents.  Rather, any such fixing must be a matter of seeking truth dispassionately by intellectual or analytic means.

Always, it is a requirement for serious and capable thinking, optimally via well-established and appropriate methods of science.

For the moment, of course, Americans are most focused on elections. Still, whatever the outcome, the country’s most deeply underlying debilities will remain more-or-less unchanged. To be sure, there may be certain palpable improvements at one life-level or another, but these improvements will almost certainly be distressingly partial and transient. Before this can change, much more will be needed than any such quadrennial change of personalities.

Somehow, the United States must be willing to restore suitable intellectual standards of policy assessment to their proper and indispensable place.

Though counterintuitive, this unvarnished expectation is not far-fetched. Ipso facto, for Americans to continue to select reflexive obedience over critical analytic thought would represent the literal opposite of what Thomas  Jefferson and other Founders had in mind for the New Republic. More to the point, any such selection would present a potentially lethal “insult” to a steadily weakening United States.[2] Eventually or suddenly, by hard-to-see increments or as a dramatic bolt-from-the-blue, such an insult could include a full-blown nuclear war.

“The worst,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt (as if we should really need such an obvious reminder) “does sometimes happen.”

There is more. Even in the conspicuously unraveling Trump years,  truth is exculpatory. In this connection. real American renewal can never emerge from endlessly barren presidential promises or from embarrassingly empty presidential witticisms.

What does America really seek? In the final analysis, every society represents the sum total of its individual “souls” seeking some sort or other of redemption. Under no foreseeable circumstances can these individuals be “mended” by governments that willfully eschew science and the humanities and regularly undermine the rudimentary protocols of citizen integrity.[3]

It’s not all that dense or mysterious.  We Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly false, so disturbingly rancorous, that even our all-too-abundant melancholy lacks credibility. Steeped in the assorted misfortunes of ritualistic national conformance, we the people have shown infinite forbearance for imitation and falsehood, but none for the overriding challenges of cooperation and coexistence.

With no apparent calculations, our lonely American mass hides from its most prospectively lethal characteristic.[4] This trait is the country’s uncontested preference for believing over thinking.[5]

There is more. We the people ought not express any surprise at the measureless breadth of our collective failures. For many years, the tangible requirements of wealth and “success” have become the unsteady foundation of America’s economy and polity. In essence, American well-being and “democracy” sprang from a debilitating posture of engineered consumption. We are what we buy.   End of story.

It follows, among other things, that today’s American political scandals are largely the product of a society where anti-intellectual and unheroic lives are “measured out,” dolefully, not by any rational accretions of mind or spirit, but without cheer, anaesthetized, without any discernible general satisfaction.

It’s not dense or mysterious. What most meaningfully animates American politics today is not any commendable interest in purpose or progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal failure or (far worse) insignificance. To be properly analytic, such insignificance could be experienced individually, alone, or collectively, as a nation. Either way, it must concern deeply-felt human anxieties about not being “wanted at all.”[6]

For us, candor is indispensable. Incessantly ground down by the babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated by intellectual insight. Just now, we are learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to variously dissembling intrusions by a head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[7] who reads nothing at all, and yearns openly not to serve his country,[8] but himself.

Let us remain candid. This is a president who wants to be an “emperor.” Plainly and desperately.

Truth is exculpatory.  In these fragmenting and deeply-polarized United States, a  willing-to-think individual is little more than a quaint artifact of some previous or previously-imagined history. More refractory than ever to refined intellect and learning, our mass society sustains absolutely no decipherable intentions of taking itself seriously.

Not at all.

For Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, things in America could not possibly be better. Manipulating those too-ample parts of an American society that yearn to believe rather than think, a sweeping Putin victory in “Cold War II” is all but inevitable.[9] Though counter-historical, such a fearful triumph could end up being celebrated at the Trump White House as well as at the Kremlin.

Credo quia absurdum, announced the ancient philosophers.

“I believe because it is absurd.”

There is more. It is possible for the American people to be lonely in the world or lonely for the world, and our unchallenged mindset of “mass” has brought forth both. Before a better America could ever be born from any such bifurcated loneliness, a willing “gravedigger” would have to wield the civilizational forceps. But where shall we find such a person or persons?

What next for the increasingly imperiled Republic?  Consider that we the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but a self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast machine.We witness, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure, of reward and possibly of any hope itself. How long can this be expected to go on?

There are additional questions. What can be done now to escape the pendulum of our own mad clockwork? We pay lip service to the high ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution, but almost no one cares about these musty old documents.  Invoked only for ostentation, the doctrinal foundations of the United States are today the province of a handful of people. Nothing more.

Presently, we the people lack any genuine sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties, and the comforting brotherhoods of war.[10] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, two-thirds of those released return promptly to violent crime and mayhem. Increasingly, at the same time, “senior” and recognizable white collar criminals look forward to presidential pardons.

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have marked a different trajectory. Once we had unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than a mere crowd.[11] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not by paralysis, fear and trembling.

Bottom lines? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped almost exclusively by demeaning patterns of visceral conformance. Amusing ourselves to death, our voyeuristic society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally be able to inquire:  Isn’t there something more to this yelling country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce?

If there is something more fulsome, where can it be discovered?

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” intoned the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis created by a generally stupefying “education,” by far-reaching patterns of utter tastelessness and by a pervasively rancorous culture of gratuitous obscenity.

Though not generally understood, credulity is America’s very worst enemy. Our unchanging inclination to believe that societal redemption lies in politics (especially the presidency) has already become a potentially fatal disorder. Social and economic issues do need to be addressed by government, but our deeper problems must still be solved by individuals and as individuals.[12]

 For the moment, this key requirement is not even faintly appreciated.

While allegedly a democracy, only a rare few can actually redeem America, and these quiet souls remain hidden, even from themselves. You will never see them engaged in the frenetic and agitated self-advertisements of presidential politics. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we inhabit our pre-packaged ideologies by rote, without mind, and without virtue.[13]

A starkly diseased civilization compromises with its afflictions. To restore us to long-term societal health and prosperity in America, we the peoplemust first look far beyond a futile faith in politics. Only when such a desperately required swerve of consciousness can becomes a compelling and irreversible gesture – that is, only when we can restore a meaningful, central and deserved faith in ourselves as individual thinkers – can we the people hope to fix a land in crisis.

To start the process, we can at least acknowledge the limitations of a democracy now based insecurely upon multiplying geostrategic fallacies and utterly inane slogans.[14]

Most emphatically, we must insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a mindful and virtuous[15] citizenry. This insistence will not succeed overnight, but the time to finally begin is now.

—————-


[1] Arthur Schopenhauer warned, in his “On Man’s Need of Metaphysics” about “…the great majority of men who are not capable of thinking, but only of believing, who are not accessible to reasons,  but only to authority.”

[2]On this growing threat of nuclear war, by Professor Beres, see:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear/  See also https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/  For early authoritative accounts, by the author, of expected consequences of a nuclear attack, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986).

[3] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[4] “The mass-man has no attention  to spare for reasoning;” warns Jose Ortega y’Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1930, “he learns only in his own flesh.”

[5] Apropos of this preference, see Oswald Spengler: “I believe is the one great word against metaphysical fear” (The Decline of the West, 1918). Here, Spengler underscores humankind’s utterly primal search for an ultimate victory over death.

[6] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[7] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[8] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own populate before his country.”

[9]Regarding the effects of Cold War II on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see:  https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf

[10] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[11] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[12] See, by Professor Beres, at The Daily Princetonian:  https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[13] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[14] The worst of these limitations concerns the growing risks of a nuclear war occasioned by an American unprepared president. In this regard, we may recall the words of “beat poet” Lawrence Ferlinghetti back in 1958 (A Coney Island of the Mind): “In a surrealist year some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”

[15] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

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Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is the author of many books, monographs, and scholarly articles dealing with various legal and military aspects of  nuclear strategy. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon, 2003). Over the past years, he has published extensively on nuclear warfare issues in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Yale Global Online (Yale University); JURIST; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The Atlantic; The Washington Times; US News & World Report; Special Warfare (Pentagon); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); The New York Times; The Hill; The Jerusalem Post; and Oxford University Press. His twelfth book,  published in 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield, is titled: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy.   A monograph with U.S. General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey was published at Tel Aviv University in December 2016:  https://sectech.tau.ac.il/sites/sectech.tau.ac.il/files/PalmBeachBook.pdf  Professor Louis René Beres is also a regular contributor to Israel Defense (Tel-Aviv).