Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) discusses human rights and the future of international law…
“Civilization is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”
Lewis Mumford, In the Name of Sanity (1954)
Biological Sameness and Species Unification
The unity and interdependence of humankind is not subject to reasonable challenge. Beginning with our biological sameness, species’ commonality includes a broad variety of human needs and expectations. In the end, it is our immutable mortality that most plainly makes us all one. At the same time, it is our common search for power over death that gives rise to war, terrorism and genocide.
These are complex issues, ones not ordinarily explored in magazines, newspapers, social media or universities. Indeed, nothing is now more conspicuous than the incapacity of the traditional world legal processes to ensure even rudimentary species survival. No other plausible conclusion can be drawn from the relentless barbarism of belligerent nationalism or Realpolitik.
In primal matters of biology—in matters of being human—we are all essentially the same. But that vital sameness is not exclusively biological. Prima facie, it also carries over to humankind’s multiple and intersecting needs as communities, nations and planet. If it could be better understood, we would all stand an improved chance of creating dignified legal futures.
Legal Meanings and Expectations
Where do we actually stand on global legal reform and transformation? Virtually all nation-states, including the major world powers, remain oriented toward the diametric opposite of planet-wide solidarity. Significantly, this ill-fated orientation has no basis in codified or customary international law.
There is more. These are not mere matters of common sense. In 1758, in The Law of Nations, Swiss legal scholar Emmerich de Vattel affirmed the primacy of human community and interdependence. Observed the classical jurist: “Nations….are bound mutually to advance human society…The first general law…is that each nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”
Vattel’s visionary ideals have never held any discernible sway in global politics (they have always been regarded as fanciful or utopian), but today, especially after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, they have been pushed still further beyond the pale.
Some core questions are no longer asked. To wit: Why should any powerful country seek geopolitical advantage without expecting any net benefit? Left unmodified, the most palpable effect of these traditional orientations will be a more rapidly accelerating global tribalism. To the extent that the corollary effects of false communion could sometime ignite a nuclear conflict, these effects (whether sudden or incremental) could propel our legally disordered planet toward irreversible chaos.
Ultimately, if we humans are going to survive as a species, historical truth must prevail over political manipulation. An unavoidable conclusion here is that any continuance of national safety and prosperity must always be linked with its wider global impact. Accordingly, it is foolish to suppose that this nation—or, indeed, any nation—could expect law-based security at the expense of other belligerent nations.
“Oneness” and Species Vulnerability
The bottom line of global oneness is clear. We (individuals and nations) are all in the soup together. The Covid pandemic, of course, has been universal. It ought to provide impetus not only for mitigating a particular disease pathology but also for institutionalizing much wider patterns of global legal cooperation.
The evidence is unambiguous. By its very nature, any celebration of belligerent nationalism is crude and injurious to law. The only sensible posture for the United States and the wider world must now be some plausible variation of a single planetary future. Such an improved vision might not be all that difficult to operationalize if there were first some antecedent political will. This vision is supported not only by millennia of international law but also by historical evidence, accumulated science and formal logic.
The most basic idea behind a gainful human oneness is discoverable in the words of 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,” summarizes the French Jesuit scientist and philosopher, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
The key message here is simple, straightforward and illogical to contest. This message communicates, among other things, that no single country’s individual success can ever be achieved as a zero-sum matter. We should learn from the same message that no narrowly national success is sustainable if the world must thereby expect failure.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers: “I believe because it is absurd.” In principle, at least, pandemic can help to bring discrepant civilizational matters into focus. No conceivable re-configuration of Planet Earth can prove gainful if the human legions who comprise it remain morally, spiritually, economically and intellectually segmented.
The prescient philosophers are correct. For the world as a whole, chaos and anarchy are never the genuinely underlying disease. That more determinative pathology remains rooted in certain great and powerful states that fail to acknowledge human interrelatedness. Significantly, this unforgivable incapacity to acknowledge our species’ biological oneness has already become an existential problem.
The Promise of Planetization and Cosmopolis
What should we now expect concerning law-based world community or planetization? Left fractured and unimproved, world politics will only further encourage an already basic human deficit. This deficit is the incapacity of individual citizens and their respective states to discover authentic self-worth as individuals. Such an enduring liability was prominently foreseen in the eighteenth century by America’s then-leading person of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Today, unsurprisingly, the still-vital insights of Emerson’s American Transcendentalism remain recognizable to only a tiny minority of citizens. How could it be different? In the present-day United States, almost no one reads serious books of literature, science or philosophy. This observation is offered here not in any offhanded or gratuitously mean-spirited fashion, but merely as a simple fact of American life, one famously commented upon during the first third of the nineteenth century by French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville. This same observation led the founding fathers of the United States to rail against mass in the new nation’s formal governance.
In essence, the United States was never even imagined as a democracy. Back in the 18th century, creating a republic was revolutionary enough.
Looking ahead, our relevant focus should be on world law and getting beyond geopolitical state-centrism. From pandemic control to nuclear war avoidance, belligerent nationalism remains both indecent and misconceived. Russia’s ongoing crimes against Ukraine are an unambiguous case in point.
Left to fester on its own intrinsic demerits, this atavistic mantra would do little more than harden the hearts of America’s most recalcitrant state enemies. What we need now, as Americans, as citizens of other countries, or simply as worried inhabitants of an imperiled planet is a marked broadening of support for global oneness. However implausible and visionary, such a broadening ultimately represents a sine qua non of species survival. What we require is cosmopolis.
From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the last of the religious wars sparked by the Reformation, international relations and international law have been shaped by an ever-changing but perpetually unstable balance of power. Hope still exists, more or less, but today it must sing softly, in an embarrassed undertone, sotto voce. Although counter-intuitive, the time for any visceral celebrations of militant nationalism and military technology is at least partially over.
What is to be done? Macrocosm follows microcosm. To survive on a fragmented planet, all of us, together, must seek to rediscover a consciously individual life, one that is wittingly detached from pre-patterned kinds of nationalistic conformance. There should be no further tolerance of any falsely imagined tribal happiness. United States legal obligations to peace and justice in the short term require policies that respond purposefully to Russian aggression and related crimes, but even the most successful of these policies would still ignore a more overriding human obligation. To use a popular metaphor, these policies could only “kick the can” of global civilization or “cosmopolis” further “down the road.”
Then we could finally learn that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing global economics, by building larger missiles or by traditionally realistic definitions of national security. Nonetheless, the blatant insufficiencies of “Westphalian” international law need not call ipso facto for world government. As an immediately obvious weakness of any such call, we need only consider the problem of institutionalized reconciliations with corrosive adversaries, e.g. Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
In the end, whatever happens in the crumbling world of politics, sovereignty and nationality, truth must remain exculpatory. In a uniquely promising paradox, this pandemic can help us see a much larger truth than the ones we have wrongly cultivated for centuries. This broadly relevant legal truth is that world citizens must become more explicitly conscious of human unity and relatedness. Such a substantially heightened consciousness is not a luxury we can simply choose to accept or reject.
Its selection is indispensable. Such selection represents a firm prerequisite of national and species survival. “Civilization,” offers Lewis Mumford In the Name of Sanity (1954), “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.” Visionary prophets of world integration and human oneness ought to no longer be dismissed out of hand as foolishly utopian. Now, more than ever, they define the invariant wellsprings of human survival.
There is more. What we must ultimately accomplish is not only the survival of Homo sapiens as a species, but also humanitas, each person’s dignity as an individual. The world system’s continuing reliance on belligerent nationalism or geopolitics suggests the possibility of coinciding extinctions.
Macrocosm follows microcosm. All things human must be seen in their totality. By itself, the corona virus pandemic has been uniformly harmful. At the same time, and because it has represented a lethal threat to the world as a whole, it could have been viewed as a potentially life-affirming human unifier.
Until today, that was an opportunity overlooked and ignored.
“In the end,” Goethe reminds us, “we are creatures of our own making.” Every national society, the United States in particular, will need to embrace leaders who can finally understand the steeply complex meanings of human interdependence. In this auspicious embrace, all will need to understand the differences between a “freedom” that is uniformly beneficial and one that selectively disregards the needs of billions.
What we most desperately require are not refractory affirmations of homicidal indifference, but a renewed awareness that true knowledge represents more than affectation or contrivance. Going forward, public policy should follow disciplined logic and rigorous theorizing. Anything else would represent an inexcusable wizardry and lead us even further astray from residually unifying world order opportunities.
The prescribed task before us is complex, daunting, many-sided and bewildering; still, there are no sane and defensible alternatives. Whatever policy particulars we might ultimately adopt as a nation, America’s initial focus must remain steadfast on calculated considerations of human interrelatedness and human mind. The seat-of-the-pants Trump paradigm of bitter rancor and endless conflict drove us still further from species survival, humanitas and lawful behavior. That paradigm, especially its overtly-aggressive emphases on Realpolitik or power politics, was a dissembling blueprint for national and systemic fragmentation.
Certain disciplined conclusions should readily present themselves. The anarchic or Westphalian world legal order in which humankind has endured for centuries is no longer tolerable. Trapped in the crosscurrents of nuclear proliferation and belligerent geopolitics, this crumbling global architecture is destined for incremental dissolution or catastrophic collapse. Understood as a matter of law, either outcome must be prevented by suitable intellectual effort. In the final analysis, this means fashioning capable designs of more promising world legal futures. To be sure, world unity and cosmopolis represent the only realistic hope for law-based global survival.
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books, monographs, and scholarly articles dealing with world politics and international law. In Israel, he was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon, 2003). In recent years, he has published in the Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); Yale Global Online; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; JURIST; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The Atlantic; Israel Defense; The New York Times; The Jerusalem Post; International Security (Harvard); World Politics (Princeton); Modern Diplomacy; Horasis (Zurich); The War Room (US Army War College); Modern Diplomacy; Small Wars Journal; Air and Space Operations Review (USAF); Modern War Institute (West Point); and Oxford University Press. His twelfth book, published in 2016 (2nd ed., 2018) by Rowman & Littlefield, is titled: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy. A monograph on this subject was published with U.S. General (USA/ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey at Tel Aviv University in December 2016. Some of Professor Beres’ earlier writings on US nuclear decision-making were co-authored with US General John T. Chain (USAF/ret.) and US Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney (USN/ret). General Chain was CINCSAC, Commander-in-Chief, US Strategic Air Command. Admiral Edney served as SACLANT, Supreme NATO Allied Commander, Atlantic. Professor Louis René Beres was an original member of the Institute for World Order’s World Order Models Project at Princeton and Yale in the late 1960s.
Suggested citation: Louis René Beres, World Unity and “Cosmopolis”: Law-Based Opportunities for Survival, JURIST – Academic Commentary, August 2, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/08/Louis-Beres-international-law-cosmopolis/.
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