Love, Suffering, Pity, and Death: The Tragic Sense of World Politics Commentary
Love, Suffering, Pity, and Death: The Tragic Sense of World Politics

“The most tragic thing in the world and in life, readers and brothers of mine, is love. Love is the child of illusion and the parent of disillusion; love is consolation in desolation; it is the sole medicine against death, for love is death’s brother.”

Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life

Looking Beneath: World Politics, Tragedy and “Power over Death”

On the surface,[1] world politics is largely about war,[2] terrorism, genocide[3] and genocide-like crimes.[4] Below the surface, however, this most expansive arena of human struggle is about individual human beings who comprise nation-states and assorted sub-state organizations. It is about the microcosm,[5] about Miguel de Unamuno’s “man of flesh and bone,” about the Basque philosopher’s “man of love, suffering, pity and death.” In the final analysis, as we can learn from Unamuno, world politics should be understood as the cumulative expression of “flesh and bone.”

There is more. World politics is about power. Ultimately, “the man of flesh and bone” – regardless of age, gender, nationality, ethnicity or religion – seeks one form of power above all others. Whether witting or unwitting, this goal is power over death. The true “tragedy” of this faith-based search is not that the “hunger for immortality” lies beyond any tangible satisfaction[6] (that conclusion is perfectly obvious and indisputable), but that it ignores a unique potential to widen into empathy for all other human beings.

Why is ignoring this remarkable potential “tragic” ipso facto? The answer is both simple and complex. In essence, it is because such visceral indifference renders impossible any necessary withdrawals from war, terror and genocide. More precisely, these withdrawals are not merely necessary, they are indispensable to human survival.

There is more. Logic and science notwithstanding, the search for power over death is plainly universal. In the final analysis, this search represents the most critically animating force of world politics. The search, which can lead either to great virtue or unparalleled evil, is generally well-hidden in daily news headlines. For example, in Hamas terror-violence against Israeli noncombatants, an obsessive desire for “martyrdom” creates evil beyond measure. Still, at least in other places, the search for power over death can contribute to a clarifying awareness of our common human fate and a correlative awareness of “cosmopolis” or human “oneness.”

“I believe,” warns Oswald Spengler in his 20th century classic, The Decline of the West” (1918-1923), “is the one great word (sic.) against metaphysical fear.” Though among the most important intellectual observations of all time, the primal linkages between world politics and power over death still remain generally unrecognized.[7] To be sure, by definition, such rarefied theorizing is intended for the “Few,” not for the “Many.”[8]

In all likelihood, humankind will continue to focus on the symptoms of aggression, mass killing and genocide rather than on their causes. The plausible result of such a secondary focus (more international criminality) is predictable. But will it also be avoidable?

What remedies remain available? Whatever they may be, they should first be uncovered at the conceptual or theoretical level, and not at the superficial level of pundits and politicos. More specifically, three basic concepts will need to be highlighted in all of their presumptively complicated interactions. These primal concepts are death, time and immortality.

There is more. These bewildering concepts represent the “building blocks” of any useful theory. Any such generalized explanations represent the foundations of a necessary science. In turn, science could identify variously optimal methods of reaching useful conclusions about aggression, genocide and global survival. Such methods would involve the stipulation, examination and subsequent confirmation or disconfirmation of alternative hypotheses. Taken together, these interrelated operations provide the orthodox or classical definition of “scientific method.”

A “next question” dawns. How shall humankind proceed if its national and sub-national governance is to be rescued and improved in a world political system of unceasing acrimony, belligerent nationalism and nuclear weapons?[9] What can the three concepts of death, time and immortality teach us about the world system’s sovereignty-centered landscape, both present and future?[10] How shall this continuously self-defiling planet allow itself to advance beyond the childlike explanations and gratuitous rancor of traditional geopolitics, an advance that is manifestly indispensable to physical survival?

To answer thoughtfully, analysts should start with the individual human being, with the microcosm in all of its common and universalized expressions. Though disregarded and invisible, power over death presents the ultimate reward for dutiful social and political compliance. Generally, though uttered sotto voce, only in whispers, there can be no greater power to confer anywhere on earth. Prima facie, power over death offers the unmatchable promise of immortality.

 Faith, “Metaphysical Fear” and the “Hunger of Immortality[11]

We may learn something of head-spinning import from Emmanuel Levinas: “It is through death,” says the philosopher, “that there is time….”[12] It follows, among other things, that any nation that can allegedly enhance the promise of personal immortality could also heighten the vague promises of time.[13]

Could there possibly be any more enviable forms of power?

But before providing answers, there are more basic questions. To begin, what can such a dense abstraction have to do with US domestic politics? These are not easy concepts to understand, especially in the context of America’s continuously misguided preoccupation with dissembling personalities and correlative rancor. Significantly, no society so willing to compromise truth on the altar of “anti-reason”[14] should reasonably expect to endure.

These are not easy concepts or ideas to unravel. Nonetheless, they are more tangibly explanatory of any nation’s existential problems than the ritualistic recitations of most political personalities. If chronology is in fact contingent upon death – in brief, because human mortality puts an irreversible “stop” to each individual’s time[15] – an antecedent question must be posed: How does one gain tangible power over death,[16] and what does any such gain have to do with the fate of a particular state or nation?

Now, it is with this opaque question in hand that core theoretical inquiries should be launched.

What next? Before venturing a proper answer to such a many-sided question, we must first distinguish between actual power and the personal feeling or expectation that such power lies in certain decipherable ties to God. Unsurprisingly, we humans have always sought reassuring links to the divine. In identifying humankind’s pertinent ties – ties that are necessarily prior to acquiring power over death – the most evident and “time-tested” path involves religious faith.

It is hardly a coincidence that every one of the world’s major religions offers adherents alluring and more-or-less comparable promises of immortality.

Though structured upon anti-reason, such assurances are powerful, and come with assorted contingencies, some of which would prove more difficult to satisfy than others. In the main, however, whatever the specific contingencies or nuances of differentiation involved, a bargain is being offered to those individuals who hope most fervidly not to die. “Normally,” it is a gainful pact, one whereby the faithful adherent commits to the affirmation of all true piety (“I believe)”[17] and prioritizes this “sacred” affirmation above all others.

Immortality and Martyrdom

Though Miguel de Unamuno sees an incomparable potential for redemption in the: hunger of immortality, there is an extraordinary peril associated with this primal hunger. This peril is the present day scourge of religion-based terrorism desperately seeking “martyrdom.”[18] In such cases, the hunger for power over death leads directly to more death, not to any welcome forms of interpersonal or international harmony.

Related particularities should be noted. On occasion, the doctrinal priority “I believe” can demand a faith-confirming end to an individual believer’s physical life on earth, that is, an act of martyrdom. At other times, assorted high-minded doctrines of charity, caring and compassion notwithstanding, this priority can require the torture and/or killing of designated “unbelievers,” “heathen,” “apostates.” The intention of this lethal requirement is to safeguard “the one true faith.”[19] We see this presently in the ritualistic violence of jihadist terrorism.

Whatever special circumstances of “sacrifice” may be involved[20] – and they need not be mutually exclusive – reason gives way to anti-reason. Such a grotesque surrender is no less likely in the Age of Science than it was in an earlier Age of Belief.[21] Regarding this worrisome allegation, the daily news offers us all endlessly corroborative “evidence” ex hypothesi.

Several core truths are revealed by these clarifications. Any cumulative hopes for an individual rising “above mortality” can have critical consequences for the macrocosm, for war and peace on planet earth.[22] In the nineteenth century, at his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”[23] Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined in his Philosophy of Right (1820) that the state represents “the march of God in the world.”

These widely-cited views in political science and philosophy tie loyalty to the state (usually unquestioned loyalty) with the promise of power over death. By definition, this must always be a monumental promise, one generally recognized only in the Platonic “shadows” of political activity.[24] Plainly, whenever the historian looks beyond the distracting shadows of true images, he discovers no plausible evidence of any such promise having been kept. Still, that discovery need not be unwelcome. “It is in his failure,” says Soren Kierkegaard, “that the believer finds his triumph.”

These are complicated interconnections. Immortality represents an unfulfillable promise, of course, but one that will nonetheless remain both extraordinary and incomparable.[25] During his incoherent tenure as US president,[26] Donald J. Trump’s openly pernicious brand of belligerent nationalism[27] (“America First”[28]) offered its believing adherents a dangerously seductive promise. In the end, because it was founded upon a fusion of stark ignorance with doctrinal anti-reason, “America First” accepted a vision of time that could only enlarge the force-multiplying spheres of violent death in world politics.[29]

Additional nuances warrant competent intellectual examination. In related matters, faith and science intersect with variously coinciding considerations of law.[30] The fearful “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation of ideology from a simple principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its germinal strength from the doctrine of sovereignty.[31] Conceived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a juridical principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent several far-reaching metamorphoses, whence it also became the justifying legal rationale for international anarchy and war. More formally, this structural decentralization was identified by classical political philosophers as the “state of nature.”

Sovereignty and “Metaphysical Fear”

To understand such complex intersections, we must first understand “sovereignty.” Established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty quickly came to be regarded as the supreme human political power, absolute and above all other forms of law.[32] In the oft-recited and oft-studied words of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: “Where there is no common Power, there is no law.”

As to any correspondences with time, which is how we have come to consider such complex issues in the first place, Hobbes explains why this “no law” condition should be called “war,” even when there exists no actual “fighting.” More precisely, because “war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of Time….,[33] scholars and policy-makers will need to broaden their most fundamental ideas of “war.” Though this would first appear to be an esoteric requirement, and one without any discernible links to real world policy-making, exactly the opposite is true.

When it is understood in terms of modern world politics, the doctrine of sovereignty encourages the refractory notion that states (a) lie above and beyond any legal regulation in their interactions with each other, and (b) act rationally whenever they seek tangible benefits at the expense of other states or of the global system as a whole.[34] Following the time of insufferable Trump derangements,[35] this doctrine threatened a wholesale collapse of civilizational cooperation and world order.[36] This dis-establishment was spawned by the “timeless” human wish for immortality and by variously misconceived human associations of personal “wish fulfillment”[37] with “everyone for himself” foreign policies. “O my soul,” warned Pindar, “do not aspire to immortal life but exhaust the limits of the possible.”[38]

Time and “State of War” in World Politics

Without suitable changes in the Hobbesian “tract of time,” the global State of War nurtured by certain ideas about absolute sovereignty[39] points not only to an immutable human mortality, but also toward death on unprecedented levels. One such refractory idea is climate change denial, a currently preferred posture of anti-reason expressed earlier by Trump-world derangements of science and law. Left unaffected by proper considerations of scientific analysis and refined intellect, climate change denial could ultimately produce another mass extinction on planet earth. At that point, time will have lost all its once residual meanings, and death will inherit absolutely all that still is.

This “inheritance” will be irreversible.

Considered by itself, immortality remains an unworthy and unseemly human goal, both because it is scientific nonsense[40] (“an immortal person is a contradiction in terms”[41]) and because it fosters endlessly injurious human behaviors such as war, terrorism, genocide and “martyrdom.”[42] The only dignified task, therefore, is not to remove individual human hope to soar above death (that is, to achieve some tangible sort of immortality),[43] but to “de-link” this futile and vainglorious search from destructive human behaviors.[44]

How best to proceed with such a multi-faceted and unsatisfying task? This is not an easy question, and one that can never be answered in terms of Platonic shadows or reflections. Here, there are available no science-based guidelines. Even if there were such availability, this is not just another ordinary problem that can yield to reason-based solutions. On the contrary, the infinitely-distressing wish to immortality is so deeply compelling and geographically universal that it can never be dispelled by logical argument. What unreason could never accomplish, remarks Friedrich Nietzsche prophetically, can never be accomplished by reason.[45]


Metaphysical Fear and “Whisperings of the Irrational”

Aware of this lethal dilemma, philosopher Karl Jaspers writes in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….” Understandably, the most seductive of these irrational whisperings are those that can offer to confer a selective power over death.[46] But it is from the irrational criteria of such “selection” that far-reaching evils can quickly or incrementally be born. This is because the promised power over death demands the “sacrifice” of certain despised “others.”

For science, of course, death is merely a function or outcome of biology. Moreover, because it “presents” together with physical decomposition and decay – and because it calls for human comprehension of “nothingness” within a flow of time – there can be identified no plausible ways of replacing mystery with rationality. By its very nature, which inevitably brings forth inconsolable fears and paralyzing anxieties, death will never submit to even the most refined sorts of human “management.”

Nonetheless, at least in principle, some measure of existential relief can be discovered in transience, that is, in the understandable awareness that nothing is forever and that everything is impermanent. What will be required at this stage is the conceptual reciprocal of any imagined human decomposition. This would mean cultivating the imagery of expanded human significance that inevitably stems from life’s finite duration. In scientific terms, one might best describe this particular quality of life as a “scarcity value.”[47]

Though seemingly paradoxical, any such gainful “cultivation” could represent the optimal human strategy of achieving “immortality.”

How can humankind arrive at such an intellectually-challenging conclusion? We began with the view that daily news reports and assessments are just changing reflections or shadows of deeper human engagements. To deal satisfactorily with the recurrent horrors of any single nation’s politics, we would first have to understand the verifiably true sources of such reflections.[48]

There is more. These underpinnings of daily news events are rooted in conceptual intersections of death, time and immortality. It is only with a more determined understanding of these intersections that America and Americans could hope “not to die.” Naturally, no such hope could ever be reasonable in a literal or scientific sense. Instead, it would need to be drawn from the primal and determinative sentiment of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West: “I believe.”

The Barbarism of Specialization

In the end, world politics must always remain a second-order activity, a distorted and distorting reflection of what is actually important. For now, such politics continues to thrive upon a vast personal emptiness, on a collective infirmity that represents the disfiguring reciprocal of personal fulfillment. “Conscious of his emptiness,” warned the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), “man (human) tries to make a faith for himself (or herself) in the political realm. In Vain.”

“In vain.”

In even an authentic American democracy, only a few could hope to redeem themselves and the wider nation, but these self-effacing souls would generally remain silent, hidden, in more-or-less “deep cover.” In a declining democracy where education is increasingly oriented toward narrow forms of career preparation, an orientation toward “barbaric specialization,” these precious few can expect to be “suffocated” by the “many.” To be sure, any such “asphyxiation,” in any of its conceivable particularities, would represent a very bad way to “die.”

Traditionally, tyrants do not emerge on the political scene ex nihilo, out of nothing. Regarding such emergence, history deserves pride of place. Incoherent, corrupt and murderous leaders are usually the result of a society that has long since abandoned serious thought. When such a society no longer asks the “big philosophical questions” – for example, “What is the “good” in government and politics”? or “How do I lead a virtuous life as a person and citizen”? or “How can I best nurture the well-being of other human beings”? – a hideous outcome becomes unstoppable.

What is to be done? Prima facie, humankind will need to acknowledge the fundamental interrelatedness of all peoples and (correspondingly) the binding universality of authoritative international law.[49] To survive as an organically-structured planet of interrelated individuals, many more persons will need to become seriously educated, not as well-trained cogs in some vast industrial machine but as empathetic and caring citizens. “Everyone is the other, and no one is just himself,” cautions Martin Heidegger in Being and Time (1932), but this elementary lesson (once discoverable in myriad sacred texts) is not easily operationalized. Indeed, it is in this single monumental failure of “operationalization” that human civilization has most consequentially failed.

In the United States. especially during its Trump-twisted context, “greatness” was assumed to be a Darwinian or zero-sum condition, not one wherein each individual could reasonably favor harmonious cooperation over belligerent competition.[50] How shall we finally change all this, or, recalling Plato’s wisdom in The Republic, how shall we “learn to make the souls of the citizens better?” This is not a question that anyone can answer in elucidating detail. Still, it is a question that ought to be placed immediately before principal decision-makers on our imperiled planet.[51]

Can any sort of rational calculation plausibly be expected? More than likely, recalling the timeless message of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this expectation may “have come too soon.” Significantly, if such a premature warning turns out to be the case, there could be no “later.”

What is “Drawing Near”?

“Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951) “or a beginning.” A meaningful answer, one which lies far beyond any measuring hands of watches or clocks,[52] is by no means self-evident. Yet, determining this answer has now become a sine qua non of global political destiny. Nothing could prove more important.

Soon, humankind will need to get solidly beyond the demeaning banalities of geopolitics, beyond the distracting and potentially murderous “shadows” of what is truly important. Immutably, but also invisibly, most human residents of planet earth will continue to regard “power over death” as the highest conceivable form of power. It will remain unclear, however, just how such ultimate forms of power can be linked to America’s domestic politics and to its continuously zero-sum foreign policies.

Meaning and Belonging

There is more. To look suitably beyond “shadows,” humankind must first discover two other principal animating forces of the political realm. These interrelated and interdependent forces concern meaning and belonging. They represent other true images of American politics – images additional to ones of immortality or “power over death” – that can bestow variously tangible feelings of personal self-worth. Such images coalesce around those activities that can confer pleasing human emotions of “time well spent” in group membership. The overriding problem is that such activities are not always benign, and can include war, terrorism and genocide.

In his modern classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls (in German) das Mann, or “The They.” Drawing fruitfully upon certain earlier seminal insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) that can all-too-quickly suffocate private intellectual growth. For Heidegger’s ubiquitous “The They,” the crowning human untruth lies in “herd” acceptance of immortality at both institutional and personal levels and in herd encouragement of the notion that personal power over death is sometimes derivative (recall Hegel and Treitschke) from membership in nation-states.

History reveals, that this can become an insidious notion.

Any reassuring hopes about potential for personal immortality are themselves contingent upon a specific nation-state’s or insurgent group’s alleged “sacredness.” Here, membership in a presumptively “sacred” group can serve to confer life-everlasting. In The Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler underscores the ultimate form of power in world politics – power over death. Such power, long associated with belligerent international relations, could be indispensable to the conquest of “metaphysical fear.” Though not readily apparent, what we are witnessing daily in world politics – e.g., Iran-backed jihadist terror groups – is at least partially epiphenomenal. It is a reflection of more primal human fears, hopes and expectations.

Before world politics can be rescued from Nuremberg-level crimes, scholars and policy-makers will require a more conceptual understanding of the lethal intersections involved. These intersections represent very complex and hard to fathom fusions of mass murder, belligerent nationalism and “metaphysical fear.” It follows, among other things, that egregious national crimes should finally be understood at more challenging intellectual levels, not merely debated in banal, superficial or public-relations terms.

In such daunting matters, suitable foreign policies should consciously flow from aptly subtle explorations in psychology, history and political science. In these urgent matters, the largely anecdotal commentaries of pundits and politicos could remain what they have generally been in world affairs; that is, a dissembling chorus of superficial or incoherent “insights.” In the end, to function productively, the tragic sense of world politics can only be countered by re-directing the hunger of immortality (the search for power over death) from war, terrorism (e.g., jihadist “martyrdom”) and genocide to newly promising visions[53] of human “oneness.” To summarize 20th century Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, it is only by acknowledging that all people share a perplexing coexistence of love, suffering, pity and death that any generalized species-wide caring could ever arise.


Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of twelve major books and several hundred journal articles dealing with international relations and international law. Some of his publications have appeared in The Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); The Atlantic; US News & World Report; The National Interest; e-Global (University of California, Santa Barbara); Yale Global Online; Modern Diplomacy; World Politics (Princeton); The Brown Journal of World Affairs; The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The New York Times; The Hudson Review; American Political Science Review; American Journal of International Law; JURIST; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Defense Opinion; Air and Space Operations Review (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (West Point); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); INSS (Tel Aviv); Horasis (Zurich); Oxford Annual Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press). Professor Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland at the end of World War II.

[1] See by this writer at Horasis (Zurich), Louis René Beres: Such human emotions include individual (hence existential) fears and expectations.

[2] On war under international law, see especially: RESOLUTION ON THE DEFINITION OF AGGRESSION, Dec. 14, 1974, U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 U.N. GAOR, Supp. (No. 31) 142, U.N. Doc. A/9631, 1975, reprinted in 13 I.L.M. 710, 1974; and CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, Art. 51. Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945, 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, Bevans 1153, 1976, Y.B.U.N. 1043.

[3] See:

For Nuremberg-category crimes, see AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS POWERS AND CHARTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL. Done at London, August 8, 1945. Entered into force, August 8, 1945. For the United States, Sept. 10, 1945. 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279. The principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal were affirmed by the U.N. General Assembly as AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED BY THE CHARTER OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL. Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, Dec. 11, 1946. U.N.G.A. Res. 95 (I), U.N. Doc. A/236 (1946), at 1144. This AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED BY THE CHARTER OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL (1946) was followed by General Assembly Resolution 177 (II), adopted November 21, 1947, directing the U.N. International Law Commission to “(a) Formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal, and (b) Prepare a draft code of offenses against the peace and security of mankind….” (See U.N. Doc. A/519, p. 112). The principles formulated are known as the PRINCIPLES OF INTERNATIONAL LAW RECOGNIZED IN THE CHARTER AND JUDGMENT OF THE NUREMBERG TRIBUNAL. Report of the International Law Commission, 2nd session, 1950, U.N. G.A.O.R. 5th session, Supp. No. 12, A/1316, p. 11.

[4] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277. Although the criminalizing aspect of inter­national law that proscribes genocide‑like conduct may derive from a source other than the Gen­ocide Convention (i.e. it may emerge from customary international law and be included in different international conventions), such conduct is dearly a crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, it becomes an inter­national crime whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto ius gentium.

[5]Pertinent sentiments can be found in the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s remark: “Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built.” This is the present author’s own translation from the original German: “Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert warden.” See: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, xi (Henry Handy, ed., 1991) quoting Immanuel Kant’s Idee Zu Einer Allgemeinen Geschichte In Weltburgerlicher Absicht (1784).

[6] See Emmanuel Levinas, “Being Toward Death as the Origin of Time” (1976); cited in the philosopher’s God. Death and Time (2000).

[7] This is presently very ironic in view of Hamas terror-violence against Israelis, a murderous behavior more strongly related to “martyrdom” than to national self-determination.

[8] This useful bifurcation is best known to political philosophers in terms of the work of another Spanish thinker, Jose Ortega y’Gasset, especially his The Revolt of the Masses (1932).

[9] See, by this author, Louis René Beres:

[10] A common aspect to these three core concepts is the inherently vague idea of “soul.” Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in an ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by express references to “soul.” He was plainly disgusted by a civilization so tangibly unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., an awareness of intellect and literature); Freud even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[11] This succinct phrase, the “hunger of immortality,” is central to Miguel de Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (1921). During my more than fifty years as a Purdue University professor, I often identified this seminal work as the single most important book I had ever read. Interestingly, it was another great Spanish existentialist, Jose Ortega y’Gasset, who came in as a close second.

[12] See Emmanuel Levinas, “Time Considered on the Basis of Death” (1976). In another essay, Levinas says: “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” Though seemingly an obvious assertion, it also runs counter to promises of the world’s principal religions, and therefore to the most common catch-phrases of US domestic politics.

[13] For an early examination of time’s impact on foreign policy decision-making, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[14] For the best available assessment of this concept, see: Karl Jaspers, Reason and anti-Reason in our Time (1952). The German philosopher clarifies the “fog of the irrational” that bedeviled Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and later the United States during the Trump years. In a distillation of his conspicuously grand thought, Jaspers proclaimed: “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no logical argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….” Today, in the United States, one should think for example of Q Anon conspiracy thinking

[15] The charming idea that time can somehow “have a stop” is raised by Indiana writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in Slaughterhouse Five (1969).

[16] Observes Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958): “History is an illustrious war against death.” Perhaps a more suitable word here than “illustrious” (though Ortega surely used that word with considerable irony) would be “tragic.”

[17] Such belief, for Oswald Spengler, is essentially a euphemistic or sanitizing reference to warding off death.

[18] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at Case Western Journal of International Law:

[19] But killing need not always be linked to promises of power over death. Sometimes, per Eugene Ionesco, “People kill and are killed in order to prove to themselves that life exists.” See the Romanian playwright’s only novel, The Hermit, 102 (1973).

[20] Already aware that blind fanaticism is the ultimate scourge of all decent politics, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard recognized that there are too many individuals, not too few, who take it as their sacred duty to sacrifice others on the blood-stained altars of personal immortality

[21] See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres,

[22] Here it ought also to be kept in mind that the incremental destruction of biodiversity on Planet Earth is producing a continuous natural climate catastrophe, one that naturalist David Attenborough suggests will likely end in another mass extinction. This means, inter alia, more-or-less predictable synergies between growing catastrophes of the natural world and catastrophes of specifically human misunderstanding. In synergistic interactions, by definition, the cumulative harm (the “whole”) is greater than the sum of component sufferings (the “parts”).

[23] By using the modifier “earthly,” von Treitschke may be suggesting that this particular realization of immortality falls short of an authentic power over death, that it represents more a triumph of personal fame or recognition than a true life everlasting.

[24] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zürich):

[25] Still, we must consider the contra view of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses (1932). Here, Ortega identifies the state not as a convenient source of immortality, but as the very opposite. For him, the state is “the greatest danger,” mustering its immense and irresistible resources “to crush beneath it any creative minority that disturbs it….” Earlier, in his chapter “On the New Idol” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote similarly: “State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters…All-too-many are born – for the superfluous the state was invented.” Later, in the same chapter: “A hellish artifice was invented there (the state), a horse of death…Indeed, a dying for many was invented there; verily, a great service to all preachers of death!”

[26] The Trump White House consistently sought to persuade Americans by way of deliberate simplifications and falsifications. See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation in On Certainty: “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

[27] The belligerent nationalism of former US president Donald Trump stands in marked contrast to authoritative legal assumptions concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential assumptions concern a presumptively common legal struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[28] See, for example, by this author, at JURIST, Louis René Beres,; and

[29] To wit, the current Russian aggression against Ukraine and the accelerated North Korean process of nuclearization.

[30] Though still not widely understood, international law is a part of US law. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)). The more specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.” For pertinent earlier decisions by Justice John Marshall, see: The Antelope, 23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 66, 120 (1825); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815); Rose v. Himely, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 241, 277 (1808) and Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804).

[31] See, on this doctrine, by this author: Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984). By definition, the doctrine of sovereignty is at cross-purposes with humankind’s most overriding goal. “The ultimate aim of history and philosophy,” we learn from Karl Jaspers’ Truth and Symbol (1959) (Von Der Wahrheit), “is the unity of mankind.”

[32] We may recall here Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Augustine: “St. Augustine says: `There is no law unless it be just.’ So the validity of law depends upon its justice. But in human affairs, a thing is said to be just when it accords aright with the rule of reason; and as we have already seen, the first rule of reason is the Natural Law. Thus, all humanly enacted laws are in accord with reason to the extent that they derive from the Natural Law. And if a human law is at variance in any particular with the Natural Law, it is no longer legal, but rather a corruption of law.” See: SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 1a, 2ae, 95, 2; cited by A.P. d’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPPHY (1951), pp. 42-43.

[33] Thomas Hobbes argues convincingly that the international state of nature is “less intolerable” than that condition among individuals in nature because, only in the latter, the “weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” With the spread of nuclear weapons, this difference is plainly disappearing. Interestingly, perhaps, in the pre-nuclear age, Samuel Pufendorf, like Hobbes, was persuaded that the state of nations “…lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” Similarly, Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” (See: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10, No.3., 1972-73, p. 65.)

[34] In studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have now taken on very specific meanings. More precisely, a state or sub-state actor is presumed to be determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[35]One such derangement was Trump’s willful movement away from cooperative world politics to an exaggerated “everyone for himself” ethos. Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man (1955): “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.”

[36] Following Nuremberg, responsibility of leaders for pertinent crimes is never limited by official position or requirement of direct personal actions. On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb) 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1, 71 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp. 1949); see: Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L.REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO.L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907) 10 (1970). The direct individual responsibility of leaders for aggression, genocide and genocide-like crimes is unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the Act of State defense. See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Strat. 1544, E.A.S. No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, Art. 7. Under traditional international law, violations were the responsibility of the state, as a corporate actor, and not of individual human decision-makers in government or the military.

[37] A term made famous by Sigmund Freud in both The Interpretation of Dreams and The Future of an Illusion.

[38] Pythian, iii.

[39] In this connection, notes Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.) Interestingly, Albert Einstein held very similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: 1960).

[40] Having been born augurs badly for immortality. In their desperation to live perpetually, human societies and civilizations have always embraced a broad panoply of faiths that promise life everlasting in exchange for “undying” loyalty. In the end, such loyalty is transferred from the Faith to the State, which then battles with other States in what is generally taken to be a “struggle for power” but which is often, in reality, a perceived Final Conflict between “Us” and “Them,” between Good and Evil. The advantage to being on the side of “Good” in any such contest is nothing less than the promise of eternal life.

[41] See Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (1993); originally in French as Dieu, la mort et le temps (1993).

[42] Paradoxically, the terrorist martyr kills himself or herself not in deliberate search of death, but rather to avoid death. In other words, this “martyr” kills himself or herself in order not to die.

[43] The philosopher George Santayana reveals: “In endowing us with memory, nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation. The truth of mortality…. The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; yet, without our knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.” (See: George Santayana, REASON IN RELIGION, 260 (1982). This Dover edition is an unabridged republication of Volume III of THE LIFE OF REASON, published originally by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905.

[44] How does killing in war and terrorism hold out a promise of immortality? According to Eugene Ionesco, “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. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.” This comment from Ionesco’s JOURNAL appeared in the British magazine, ENCOUNTER, May 1966. See also: Eugene Ionesco, FRAGMENTS OF A JOURNAL (Grove Press, 1968).

[45] More precisely, queries Nietzsche in Zarathustra: “What the mob once learned to believe without reasons, who could overthrow with reasons?”

[46] The idea of death as a zero-sum commodity is captured playfully by Ernest Becker’s paraphrase of Elias Canetti: “Each organism raises it head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.” (See Ernest Becker, ESCAPE FROM EVIL 2 (1975). Similarly, according to Otto Rank: “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 dying, of being killed.” (See: Otto Rank, WILL THERAPY AND REALITY 130 (Knopf, 1945) (1936).

[47] This term is drawn here from a lesser-known 1913 essay by Sigmund Freud “On Transience.”

[48]In the language of formal philosophy, this brings to mind Plato’s doctrine of Forms. As explained in dialogues Philebus, Phaedo and Republic, the Forms are always immaterial, uniform and immutable. To be useful to humankind, by definition, they must express not the concrete or physical events of any specific moment in time, but rather an idea that necessarily soars above all such tangible particularities.

[49] Again, apropos of this universality, international law is generally part of the law of the United States. Stated differently, these seemingly discrete legal systems are actually interpenetrating.

[50] Here it could be helpful to recall the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “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.”

[51] “Sometimes,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

[52] Chronology is not the same as temporality. To acknowledge a useful metaphysics of time, one that can assist us in a better understanding of world and national politics, we may recall William Faulkner’s novel view in The Sound and the Fury that “clocks slay time…time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Real time, the celebrated American author is telling us, eludes any measurement by clocks. Real time, in essence, is always “felt time,” an inner stream of duration Moreover, it is precisely this durée that is suggested by Plato’s cave analogy.

[53] “The visionary,” says Italian film director Federico Fellini, “is the only realist.”


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