Civilization and Human ‘Oneness’ — Templates for a Viable System of International Law Commentary
14398 / Pixabay
Civilization and Human ‘Oneness’ — Templates for a Viable System of International Law

“God loves from Whole to Part, but human soul Must rise from Individual to the Whole.”

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Though poorly understood, humankind can survive on this planet only by embracing viable systems of international law. More than anything else, these world-centered legal systems must be founded upon axiomatic principles of human “oneness.” In essence, macrocosm (world legal system) must follow microcosm (human species commonality). Among other things, the connections involved in this redemptive embrace would be both primary and indissoluble.

There are many perplexing details, but only one overriding justification: Any such international law transformation represents a sine qua non for human species survival. This indispensable embrace ought never to be summarily dismissed as “unrealistic.” Here on earth, macrocosm and microcosm can survive only in tandem, together.

What should be the animating goal? For capable scholars and policy-makers, this objective should be an incremental but foreseeable end to balance-of-power world politics. [1] While popular among politicians and prophets, including in the United States, any continuously corrosive postures of belligerent nationalism would imperil us all. By ignoring the determinative primacy of human “oneness,” such refractory postures could leave little reason for long-term civilizational hopes. [2]

It’s high time for a more genuine and history-based “realism.” It’s high time to acknowledge that the overwhelming geopolitical issues of human survival are not remediable by politicians, by their “advisors” or by the “mass” of ordinary citizens. Whether in democracies or dictatorships, “mass” always suffocates intellect. [3]  Though mass deserves to be treated as a quantité négligeable, it has nonetheless made itself into the pernicious destroyer of civilizations.

To proceed meaningfully despite mass, the tangible particulars of international law reform must first be recognized as overlapping and potentially synergistic. [4] But what, more precisely, should capable legal thinkers and scientists intend to “design”? Without a far-reaching vision and jurisprudential “blueprint,” no plan could conceivably halt or even slow down our species-wide race to oblivion.

Some investigational clarity is already evident. To wit, certain jurists and philosophers already understand that we require operationally plausible visions of “cosmopolis,” that is, images of an organically integrated community of humankind. Though seemingly utopian, nothing could be less pragmatic than clinging stubbornly to the failed principles of a “balance-of-power” world legal order. Ultimately, to fashion a viable system of international law, there would first need to take place an expanded willingness to realign narrowly national judgments of self-interest with the interests of humankind as a whole. [5]

There is more. In these unique inquiries, history will deserve an authentic pride of place. Our current system of world law has its origins at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, [6] the treaty that put an end to the Thirty Years War. [7] Left unchanged, or merely modified by variously token kinds of world legal reform, this flawed system will experience recurring catastrophic breakdowns. To argue otherwise, especially in our incoherent nuclear age, [8] would be to reject everything we have already learned about civilization, law, science and species survival. [9] By definition, therefore, “to argue otherwise” would be to commit an incomparable and potentially irremediable error.

Fundamentally, the task boils down to this: Unless we humans finally take vision-based steps to implement an organic and cooperative planetary civilization – a law-based civilization based on the central truth of human “oneness” –  there will be no civilization at all. To reject this conclusion would require a supportable faith in “Westphalian” international law. At present, of course, no such faith could be expected.

There is more. The obligatory nature of this challenging conclusion is underscored by our species’ conspicuous “advances” in creating mega-weapons and corresponding infrastructures. Augmenting these advances, certain “powerful” states could sometime commit themselves to various deterrent strategies of nuclear war fighting and cyber-warfare. Already, the spread of internet warfare surrogates is being supported by both democratic and authoritarian regimes. What ought we then to expect regarding international law improvements? [10]

It’s time for candor.  We humans are at an end, but also at a beginning. [11] Until now, trapped in the primal circularities of presumed national interest, we consistently manage to miss what is most important. Nonetheless, a promisingly central truth remains: (1) There is always a latent but determinative oneness to world politics; and (2) The costs of rejecting such oneness could quickly become irreversibly existential.

Though bewildering, these are all matters of intellect or “mind.” Such critical dimensions of human security and survival can be encountered in vital but generally-ignored literatures, most notably among such philosophic giants as Sören Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Karl Jaspers, Max Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl G. Jung, Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, Emmanuel Levinas, Miguel de Unamuno and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. [12] Accordingly, the persistent rejection of global oneness in everyday life, even in the world’s allegedly great universities, represents an elemental threat to every single nation-state’s collective survival.

Variously antecedent questions should now be elicited. Why have we made ourselves, microcosm and macrocosm (humans are never passive victims in such matters) existentially vulnerable? The correct answer would reveal a continuous and worldwide drive to seek personal identity in membership.

We human beings often fear solitude or “aloneness” more than anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death. Amid the palpably growing chaos that is again stampeding across whole continents, we still wittingly celebrate an unswerving loyalty to “tribe.” Ironically, of course, a net effect of such universal “patriotism” is universally enlarged human suffering.

Always, everywhere, individuals desperate “to belong” will more-or-less enthusiastically subordinate themselves to the presumptive expectations of nation, class or faith. And more often than we might at first care to admit, such subordination carries with it an acceptance of “martyrdom.” Recalling the marooned English schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we may be reminded that the veneer of our legal civilization is razor thin.

Impressive scientific and medical discoveries aside, whole swaths of humankind still remain effectively dedicated to war-related practices of “sacrifice.” In this connection, especially amid jihadists, terrorism itself has essentially become an expression of religious sacrifice. Facing such retrograde adversaries, literally billions remain outside the essential protections of international law.

There are further details to examine. We humans remain determinedly irrational as a species? Why? The best answer lies in our shortsighted views of power-politics or political “realism.”  In the merciless light of verifiable history, these views are actually strange and incomprehensible. Not until the twentieth century, after all, did international law even bother to criminalize aggressive war.

Hope exists, so we must assume, but now it must sing more softly, with circumspection, inconspicuously, almost sotto voce.  Although counter-intuitive, the time for celebrating science, modernization and even gleaming new artificial intelligence technologies (AI) is at least partially over.  To survive together on this bitterly self-defiling planet, each of us must sincerely seek to rediscover an individual life that is detached from tormenting obligations “to belong.” Only after such a primal rediscovery could we (microcosm and macrocosm) hope to reconstruct world legal order on a sound and durable basis.

In his landmark work, The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler inquired: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” This remains a profound and necessary query. The correct answer must accept, inter alia, that the suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economies, building larger missiles, fashioning or abrogating international treaties, replacing one sordid regime with another or even by “spreading democracy.”

Most importantly, we must eventually learn that our ritualistically tribal planet lacks a tolerable future not because we humans have been too slow to learn what has been taught, but because what has been taught has too often been beside the point. Species survival can’t be enhanced even if great majorities of people manage to acquire shiny new “personal devices” or own cars that can drive themselves. These are pitifully false and lazy goals, contrived objectives that inevitably miss the one true point; that is, to remain alive in a dignified and law-supported civilization.

There is more. Traditional legal “remedies” would prove insufficient because the planet as a whole would remain on its unimaginative trajectory of belligerent nationalism and tribal conflict. Reminds French Jesuit thinker 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.”

Still, the bewildering and intersecting questions continue to accumulate. How shall we best conceptualize alternative systems of international law based upon more stable and cooperative visions? What are the recognizable “rules” for such challenging conceptualizations? What kinds of scientific and jurisprudential thinking ought to be implemented? What should be the place of natural law or higher law in our planning? [13]

To answer meaningfully, relevant thinking will have to be very expressly dialectical. This signifies, among other things, accepting that there can never be any conclusively final or permanent vision of unifying international law. World system change is continuous and dynamic; heuristic models, on the other hand, must be temporary or transient. This is not in any way a sign of intellectual inadequacy, but merely an acknowledgment that advantageous legal “therapies” must follow correct legal “diagnoses.”

Genuine world legal changes are anything but inevitable. The scholars’ and policy makers’ task is not to seek unachievable transformations, but to enter into a dynamic process with calculated deliberateness and intelligent design. It will need to be understood at the outset that there can be no objectively gainful or optimal systems of international law. Relevant judgments will depend upon the antecedent values of the “designers” and on the correlative ways in which these values could be integrated one with the other.


A viable world legal alternative could be deemed desirable only from the standpoint of certain already-expressed values. In principle, at least, one scholar’s legal utopia could be another’s dystopia. Even if everyone involved could initially agree on the representative values of an improved world legal order (e.g., peace; social justice; pandemic disease management; economic well-being; climate change control, etc.), there would still be widespread disagreement concerning the favored rank-ordering of these values.

Any such hierarchic ordering must remain a subjective judgment. There can be no objective reasons to prefer any one specific value or configuration of values to another. This is not necessarily a negative for science-based inquiries of international law. Science, as a particular method of reaching conclusions, is concerned here not with individual human preferences, but with hypotheses, models, theories and variously alternative modes of inference (i.e., induction and deduction). [14]


Once equipped with an explicit set of ranked world order values, legal scholars and policy-makers would need to link these values to factors that are expected to sustain or maximize them. Such presumptive linkages are known to science as hypotheses. In these hypotheses, values would serve as the “dependent variables” or subjects to be explained.

Science has well-founded rules. Hypotheses are essential to any science-base inquiry, including the design of alternative world legal orders. These “informed hunches” or tentative explanations are necessary to guide the search for analytic order among overlapping and discrepant facts. Without suitable hypotheses, there could exist no reliable ways of determining which facts are relevant and which are irrelevant. Without suitable hypotheses, there could be no science-based investigations of international law.


In their sequence of function, models of alternative world legal order must follow hypotheses. Expressed differently, these models are determined by antecedent hypotheses. Such analyst-constructed visions are offered for the sole purpose of examining interesting hypotheses. Without them, there could be no satisfactory way of knowing if any particular hypothesis or set of hypotheses had explanatory and predictive promise. These models represent another example of why the adequacy of any particular world legal order design process is contingent upon prior methodological or philosophy of science understandings.

In any world legal order design process, the models should derive from hypotheses. These models provide the analytic context within which any proper investigation must proceed. Exactly which models of world legal order are actually placed under consideration would depend on the already-selected hypothesis or hypotheses. This, in turn, could be more or less complex, and would depend upon the investigators own informed sense of what is calculably most important.


Once heuristic international law models have been stipulated and investigated, legal scholars and policy makers could decide whether or not to recommend them. Always, this final critical decision should be informed by the twin criteria of desirability and feasibility. Before any alternative system of world legal order could be judged sufficiently viable, it would have to appear suitable in terms of the selected values (“suitability” being a subjective judgment) and reasonably capable of actual implementation (“reasonably” being a similarly subjective determination).

But there is still more to clarify. Feasibility issues are inextricably tied to desirability issues. They represent interdependent or intersecting criteria of acceptability. Depending on the extent of agreement regarding what might constitute a desirable international law alternative, the feasibility of a considered legal system alternative could vary from one assessment to another. This is not to suggest that widespread agreement would ipso facto signify feasibility. Any remaining differences concerning strategies of implementation could still render a particular jurisprudential recommendation infeasible or unattainable.

“You are a citizen of the universe,” observed the ancient philosopher Epictetus, underscoring the obligation to think holistically, to understand and acknowledge the immutable “oneness” of human life on Planet Earth. [15] Reciprocally, it is the individual human being writ large that must ultimately define this “universe.” Each man and woman is a “little world,” a microcosm, and each such individual must be nurtured not only for his or her private sake, but also for their much wider planetary consequences.

“God loves from Whole to Part,” says Alexander Pope, “but human soul Must rise from Individual to the Whole.” In the end, even in secular-scientific terms, any improved system of world legal order must be “human-centered.” By grasping this critical wisdom, legal scholars [16] and policy-makers could finally craft a viable survival path beyond balance-of-power world politics. This will not happen simply because it is necessary. History renders such a warning clear and unassailable.

What law-oriented path should we seek? Above all, it should be configured toward expanding global “oneness” and coexistence. Above all, it ought not represent just another grievously fractured road to civilizational oblivion. [17] Though this recommendation might seem ostentatiously naïve or unrealistic, nothing could prove less realistic for human survival than staying the course of belligerent nationalism and power politics. This could never be more than a retrograde course. As a unifying species, our only residual hope lies in an improved system of international law that is based upon science, imagination, empathy and courage.

As a professor, I taught international law for more than fifty years at Princeton, Purdue, the University of Illinois and Simon Fraser University (Canada). Over that half-century, it became obvious to me that my students were easily able to separate their own private academic and career goals from the larger issues of planetary survival. Always, they remained ready to distance their own personal interests in wealth and security from the plausible fate of the planet as a whole. For one reason or another, these students rarely understood that before they could make any meaningful progress as individual “parts” of a coherent and interdependent “whole,” their imperiled planet would first have to be made “whole” itself.

As a professor, I know it is now time for a summing up: Without an improved system of international law, there will be no viable paths to individual or collective security. In principle, at least, to identify such a critical system, initial steps should be taken in universities, what Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno called “temples of intellect.” [18] Ironically, however, the academic study of international law has never been as peripheral or marginalized as it is today. [19] Instead of functioning as a “temple of intellect,” universities now generally serve as witting adjuncts to assorted corporate and commercial interests. This increasingly crude subordination of intellect and dignity to raw commerce is prospectively lethal, not just for the United States, but for an entire planet that so desperately needs “legal healing.”

There can be no acceptable alternative to ending such subordination. In this matter, microcosm and macrocosm would be interwoven. Only if the individual can change, we may learn from Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, [20] could we reasonably expect life-saving transformations. Reciprocally, only by acknowledging and acting upon the civilizational principle of human “oneness” could individuals reasonably expect a planet freer from war, terrorism and genocide.


[1] Aside from an all-destructive nuclear war, a sudden end would be inconceivable.

[2] The reader may be usefully reminded of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett’s observation in Endgame: “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”

[3] See by this author at Yale Global: Louis René Beres,  See also Louis René Beres, at US News & World Report:

[4] In synergistic intersections, the “whole” is greater than the sum of its “parts.”

[5] For an early book on such willingness, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (University of Denver, 1975).

[6] See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two treaties comprise the “Peace of Westphalia.”

[7] Though few Americans seem to understand, international law is a part of US domestic law. In precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[8] Significantly, under extant international law, no state is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons. Moreover, in certain distinctly residual circumstances, even an actual resort to such weapons could conceivably be lawful. On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice at The Hague handed down its Advisory Opinion on “The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons.” The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[9] We may think of the prescient warning by the High Lama in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon: “The storm…this storm that you talk of. It will be such a one, my son, as the world has not seen before. There will be no safety by arms, no help from authority, no answer in science. It will rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and all human things are leveled in a vast chaos…The Dark Ages that are to come will cover the whole world is a single pall; there will be neither escape nor sanctuary.”

[10] International law is not entirely codified or treaty-based. It also includes certain norms of a customary nature. Article 38(1)(b) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice describes international custom as “evidence of a general practice accepted as law.”  59 Stat.  1031, T.S. No. 993 (June 6, 1945).  The norms of customary international law bind all states irrespective of whether a state has ratified the pertinent codifying instrument or convention.  International law compartmentalizes apparently identical rights and obligations arising both out of customary law and treaty law.  “Even if two norms belonging to two sources of international law appear identical in content, and even if the states in question are bound by these rules both on the level of treaty-law and on that of customary international law, these norms retain a separate existence.”  See Military and Paramilitary Activities (Nicaragua v. U.S.), 1986 I.C.J. Rep.  14, para. 178 (June 27).

[11] “Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”  inquires Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951).

[12] See by this writer at Yale Global: Louis René Beres,

[13] Under international law, the idea of a natural law or higher law was drawn originally from the ancient Greeks and ancient Hebrews and is contained, inter alia, within the principle of jus cogens or “peremptory” norms. According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[14] Strictly speaking, induction and deduction are not really alternative modes of inference, but rather two sides of the same inferential process.

[15] A tangible expression of “oneness” between states lies in the common fight against crime, and has given rise to the core principle of universal jurisdiction. It is mentioned in the Corpus Juris Civilis; Grotius, THE LAW OF WAR AND PEACE (1625), Bk. II, Ch. 20; and also in Emmerich Vattel, LE DROIT DES GENS, Bk. I, Ch. 19 (1758). The specific case for universal jurisdiction, which is strengthened whenever extradition is difficult or impossible to obtain, is also built into the four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, which unambiguously impose upon the High Contracting Parties the obligation to punish certain grave breaches of their rules, regardless of where the infraction was committed or the ascertainable nationality of the alleged criminals. Today, in 2024, the principle of universal jurisdiction is central to the ICC warrant issued for Vladimir Putin’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Prima facie, the Russian president’s transfer of Ukrainian children to Russian territory represents an authentically genocidal crime.

[16] Rabbi Eleazar quoted Rabbi Hanina, who said: “Scholars build the structure of peace in the world.” See: The Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera’im, Tractate Berakoth, IX.

[17] For informed accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, 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). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[18] See Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life (1921). See also, by Professor Louis René Beres at JURIST:

[19] This observation underscores, inter alia, that the world has largely forgotten the peremptory judgments at Nuremberg. See, accordingly, 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.

[20] See Carl G. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self (1957). In essence, Jung’s argument is the same as in Alexander Pope’s epigraph to this article, taken from an Essay on Man (1733).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is Professor Emeritus of International Law at Purdue.  Born in Zürich, Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many major books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature and philosophy. Professor Beres’ writings have been published in many leading law journals and at Horasis (Zürich); JURIST; Yale Global Online; Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School);  US News & World Report; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times; The Jerusalem Post; The National Interest; Oxford University Press; The American Political Science Review; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Defense Opinion; The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); BESA Perspectives (Israel); INSS Strategic Assessment (Israel); Air and Space Operations Review (USAF); Israel Defense (Israel); The Hill; World Politics (Princeton) Virginia Journal of International Law; and International Security (Harvard).  His twelfth book, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016 (2nd. ed., 2018). 

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.