Beyond Secondary Values: An Urgent Call for a New Architecture of International Law Commentary
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Beyond Secondary Values: An Urgent Call for a New Architecture of International Law

“Scholars build the structure of peace in the world.”

Babylonian Talmud, Order Zera’im, Tractate Berakoth IX

The irony is unparalleled. From the beginning, human beings have directed much greater attention to conspicuous consumption than to viable “architectures” of planetary survival. The errors of this inverted hierarchy are magnified by the growing urgency of nuclear war avoidance[1] and the foolhardiness of what is actually favored.[2] As a glaring example, more generous intellectual resources are being invested in self-driving cars and self-defiling politics than in world legal reform.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.Unless the world is somehow able to avoid a nuclear war, the most audacious high-technology advances will represent mere caricatures of human ambition. Among other specific deficits and derelictions, these advances would reveal humankind’s steadily-expanding incapacity to survive as a species.[3]

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the late 1960s, a small number of American universities set out to create “World Legal Order” studies programs. At that time, an especially promising program was begun at the Yale Law School and was subsequently “migrated” to Princeton University’s Department of Politics.[4] Sharing some of their most capable “futures” scholars, Princeton and Yale encouraged imaginative graduate students to fashion original designs for “alternative world futures.”[5] For such a challenging curriculum, pertinent global problems were summed up as war, population pressure, resource shortages and environmental decay. Today, of course, this last problem would likely be re-named “climate change.”

What next? Above all, capable scholars should quickly return to this neglected subject of academic inquiry. The first step in any such return should be a palpably heightened awareness of global fragility and a corresponding global imperative to counter associated problems with correlative intellectual efforts. Though there has never been a more critical global moment for the imaginative design of alternative world futures, there has also never been so little interest expressed in legal “architectural” processes.

The ironies are overwhelming. They are also prospectively lethal at multiple levels. In universities, these ironies are impossible to justify and difficult to overlook. As a species, should we really believe that shiny new technologies ought to preempt individual and collective survival? It’s a silly question.

Credo quia absurdum. Precisely what is happening in the United States and elsewhere? Plainly, America’s universities are starkly focused upon a singularly dominant ethos of careerism. The shortsightedness of this vocational focus is a headlong rush to assess schools and programs according to their “payback” prospects. In the United States, most alarmingly, these institutions are being measured by the “cost-effectiveness” of student tuition expenses. As for the “Western Canon” or “liberal arts” – literature, art. Music, philosophy – these once-central subjects of “mind” continue to drop off from the curriculum – incrementally, unobserved, shamelessly and at literally incalculable human costs.

What happens next? The relevant details are overlapping, intersecting, synergistic and daunting. Going forward, any coherent template for world legal order reform must now take assorted considerations of biology/pathology into account. This means a view dictated not only by traditional issues of war and peace, but also by still-latent disease pandemics that could threaten human civilization[6] in part or even in its totality. Though we have made obvious progress in science and technology as a species, we still remain jurisprudentially fragile and existentially vulnerable. Over time, especially if some more refractory virus spread should ever “synergize”[7] with acts of war or terror (especially nuclear and/or biological violence), entire human societies could be erased.

What happens then? This is not “merely” a difficult question. It actually defines the single most meaningful query for all of planet earth.

To begin, world leaders will need to plan rationally, systematically and self-consciously for nothing less than global survival. Ultimately,, this will mean an unprecedented willingness to realign narrow judgments of national self-interest with much wider interests of humankind as a whole.[8] While such a requirement would at first appear unrealistic, nothing could be less pragmatic for nation-states than choosing to remain on their present collision course.[9]

Left unchanged, or merely modified by variously token kinds of world legal reform, global politics and economics will experience ever-more frequent and catastrophic breakdowns. To argue otherwise, to call for any further hardening of world “tribal” conflict and arms racing, would be to reject everything we have already learned about civilization, science and species survival.

Fundamentally, it boils down to this: Unless we humans finally take tangible steps to implement an organic and cooperative planetary civilization – one based on the immutably fundamental truth of human “oneness”[10] there will be no civilization at all.[11] To credibly reject this conclusion would require certain plausible expectations of an already-ongoing evolution toward world conflict management. Right now, any such optimistic expectations would be conspicuously unfounded and intellectually out of the question.

There is more. The imperative nature of this sobering assessment is clarified by our species’ “advances” in creating mega-weapons and related infrastructures. Augmenting these fearful examples of “progress,” major states could then become increasingly committed to deterrent strategies of nuclear war fighting, cyber-warfare and/or “internet mercenaries.” To a considerable extent, the steady spread of internet warfare surrogates is now being undertaken on behalf of unshakably authoritarian regimes.

Regarding organic planetary civilization or “oneness,” we may finally learn from ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a Respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. All the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide a tangible background for the core drama of human salvation.

Only in its relationship to the universe itself could the world be considered as part rather than whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Presently, of course, the idea of human oneness should be justified and explained in more expressly secular terms of understanding.

So what next?

From the standpoint of law-based survival, we humans are still at the beginning. Until now, in such primal dilemmas, we have consistently managed to miss what is most important. Nonetheless, a central truth remains to be identified and underscored: There exists a latent but determinative “oneness” to world politics and world law. It is upon such overriding solidarity that any improved world legal order must ultimately be constructed.

This critical dimension of human identity can be encountered in certain vital but generally-ignored literatures, for example, among such philosophic giants as Sören Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung, Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, Miguel de Unamuno and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.[12] Its persistent rejection in “real life,” even in the world’s allegedly great universities,[13] reflects an elemental threat to every nation-state’s physical survival.

Antecedent questions will need to be raised. Why have we made ourselves (humans are not merely passive victims in these matters) existentially vulnerable? The correct answer must reveal a continuous worldwide willingness to seek personal identity in variegated memberships. To wit, we humans ordinarily fear solitude or “aloneness” more than anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death.[14] Amid the growing chaos that is already stampeding across whole continents, we still willingly abide primal loyalty to all dissembling claims of “tribe.” Significantly, this loyalty is the nucleus of all belligerent nationalism and consequent war.

Everywhere, individuals desperate “to belong” will more-or-less enthusiastically subordinate themselves to all-consuming expectations of nation, class or faith. More often than we might at first care to admit, such subordination will even carry with it an acceptance of “martyrdom.” Recalling the marooned English schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we may be reminded here that the veneer of human civilization is razor thin. Vastly impressive scientific and medical discoveries aside, whole swaths of humankind remain open to various forms of irrationality.[15]

Gripped by such retrograde hopes, an entire species could remain in irremediably grave peril. In the end, such atavistic hopes lie at the heart of war, terrorism and genocide.[16] Accordingly, we should now inquire: “Is this really the best we can do?”

By any reasonable definition, humans remain determinedly irrational as a species. But why? The best answer may lie in our shortsighted views of power-politics or political “realism.”[17] In the merciless light of history, these views are strange or even incomprehensible. Not until the twentieth century, after all, did international law[18] bother to criminalize aggressive war.[19]

Hope exists, we must still assume, but now it must sing softly, with circumspection, inconspicuously, sotto voce. Although counter-intuitive, the time for celebrating gleaming new information technologies is at least partially over. Not even artificial intelligence (AI) can save a species that has routinely declared war on “natural intelligence.”

To survive together on this imperiled planet, each of us must first seek to rediscover an individual life that is detached from lethally-patterned obligations “to belong.” Only after such an indispensable rediscovery could we hope to reconstruct world legal order on a sound and reasonable basis. This basis must be a foundation of willing global interdependence and recognizable human “oneness.”

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?”[20] This remains a profound and necessary query. The correct answer would accept that the suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone just by improving global economies, building larger missiles,[21] fashioning international treaties amid anarchy and chaos or replacing one sordid political regime with another. In the end, a properly functioning macrocosm (world legal order) requires a properly functioning microcosm (an individual human being).

Eventually, we could learn that our persistently 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 often been utterly beside the point. It won’t be nearly enough to ensure our survival if greater majorities of people can acquire glittering “personal devices” or can own cars that drive themselves. Prima facie, these are false and lazy goals, contrived objectives that inevitably miss the main point of any legal order: to remain alive.

Traditional “remedies” will prove insufficient because the planet as a whole would still remain on its lethal trajectory of belligerent nationalism and correlative military conflict.[22] Reminds French Jesuit thinker 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.”[23]

But how shall we best conceptualize new architectures of world legal order that are based upon genuinely cooperative visions? What are the recognizable “rules” for such an indispensable conceptualization? What precise kinds of thinking ought to be acknowledged and implemented?

To answer the last question first, purposeful thinking should be dialectical.[24]This means, among other things, accepting that there can never be any conclusively final or permanent visions or world legal order. International legal change should be continuous and dynamic; therefore, its heuristic models should be temporary or transient. This is not a sign of conceptual inadequacy, but just a sensible acknowledgment that proper “therapies” must follow proper “diagnoses.”

For better or worse, world legal order transformations (peace; justice; climate change) are inevitable. The scholars’ and policy makers’ task is not to seek unachievable transformations, but rather to enter into an inherently dynamic process with calculated deliberateness and intelligent (whether artificial or natural) design. In this connection, it will first need to be understood that there can be no objectively correct world order architectures, but that all such design visions – whatever their nuanced differences – should embrace enforceable international law.[25]

Though the challenges of world legal order design are generally inconspicuous, they are also overriding.[26] If basic planetary re-design challenges remain unmet, no other values could be satisfied. Metaphorically, world order design is a “net.” Only those scholars who cast with a coalescing view toward human “oneness”[27] should expect to “catch.”[28]

Architects are needed not only for homes and institutions, but also for the world legal system. By definition, these prospective designers of alternative world futures would not be pursuing narrowly pragmatic or vocational goals. Instead, they would be dedicating themselves to a far greater challenge. This is a struggle for global survival that is based on literally heroic and unceasing intellectual effort.

Knowing that this ultimate struggle will be one of “mind over mind” – that the “building materials” will be fellow human beings rather than lumber and concrete – these architects of world legal order could serve a purpose of incomparable importance. First, however, there would need to be antecedent changes of consciousness among global statespersons and public thinkers, changes that could dignify “deep thinkers” rather than vacant pundits or half-educated politicos.

Without an intellectually re-designed world legal future, there could be no improved individual human future. Unless we believe in extra-terrestrial rescue,[29] it will make precious little sense to seek personal wealth and privilege in a world that has already surrendered its most residual prospects for survival. For the love of reason, science and a law-based planetary life, could anything possibly be more obvious?



[2] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, See also, by Louis René Beres,

[3] “Man’s heart is in his weapons,” observes the Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, “in the arts of death, he outdoes Nature herself……”

[4] The present author, Louis René Beres, was an original member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project (WOMP. Core concern there was identifying suitable replacements of “Westphalian” international law, a “vigilante” system of jurisprudence. In essence, the Peace of Westphalia created the still-existing decentralized or self-help state system. 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, Taken together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[5] Early books in this genre by this author were: Louis René Beres and Harry R. Targ, Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (1974) and Louis René Beres and Harry R. Targ, Planning Alternative World Futures: Values, Methods and Models (1975). See also, by Professor Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975) and Louis René Beres, Nuclear Strategy and World Order: The United States Imperative (New York, 1982, World Order Models Project), 52 pp.

[6] Dostoyevsky comments on civilization: “What is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened…. Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” See: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground 108 (Andrew R. MacAndrew, trans., New American Library, 1961) (1862).

[7] Certain synergies could shed light upon an entire world system’s state of disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists call “entropic” conditions), and could be dependent upon each pertinent decision-maker’s own subjective metaphysics of time. For an early article by this author dealing with linkages obtaining between such a metaphysics and national decision-making, see: 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.

[8] These interests must include the accelerating destruction of biodiversity on Planet Earth, 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 catastrophes of the natural world and catastrophes of specifically human misunderstanding. In synergistic interactions, by definition, cumulative harms (the “whole”) is necessarily greater than the sum of component harms (the “parts”).

[9] The reader may be reminded here 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?”

[10] Under international law, the idea of this truth is contained, inter alia, within the core principle of jus cogens or peremptory norms. In the pertinent language of pertinent Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “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.”

[11] Earlier visions of world order reform were based more expressly on global structure; that is, replacing the balance of power or Westphalian anarchy with some form of world government. 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.) Albert Einstein held similar views. See, for example: Otto Nathan et al. eds., Einstein on Peace (New York: Schoken Books, 1960).

[12] The next generation of world order visionaries must also learn to build upon foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton, and especially on the more recent summarizing observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”

[13] In part, at least, this is because the “business” of universities has become vocational or professional training, not traditional education in history, science, literature and the arts. Accordingly, by this author, see Louis René Beres (Princeton):

[14] See, by this author, at Horasis: Louis René Beres, See also informed warnings by the US Surgeon General:

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

[16] Under international law, terrorist movements are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (sup 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King V. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

[17]For the political philosophy origins of realism, see especially comment of Thrasymachus in Bk. 1, Sec. 338 of Plato, The Republic: “Right is the interest of the stronger.”

[18] Under international law, the idea of a universal obligation to global solidarity is contained, inter alia, within the core principle of jus cogens or peremptory norms. In the language of pertinent Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “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.”

[19] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, sup (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[20] Continues Spengler: “`I believe,'” is the great word against metaphysical fear, and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'” See: The Decline of the West, his Chapter on “Pythagoras, Mohammed, Cromwell.”

[21] For early accounts by this author of expected 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).

[22] Regarding this trajectory, Niccolo Machiavelli combined Aristotle’s plan for a more scientific study of politics with various core assumptions about Realpolitik. His best known conclusion focuses on the eternally stark dilemma of practicing goodness in a world that is too often evil. “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything, must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.” See: The Prince, Chapter XV. Although this argument is intuitively compelling, there must also be a corresponding willingness to disavow “naive realism,” and recognize that, in the longer term, the only outcome of “eye for an eye” conceptions in world politics will be universal “blindness.”

[23] In a similar vein, see Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758), “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[24] Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of a necessary refinement in world order conceptualizations, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[25] International law is ultimately deducible from Natural Law. According to Blackstone, each state and nation is always expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone, one need only point out that Commentaries are the original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[26] Such importance stems from the absence of any “magic bullet” or otherwise contrived remedies. In ancient Greece, the playwright Euripides sometimes concluded his plays with a deus ex machina, a “god out of the machine.” Appearing, literally, above the action, in a sort of theatrical crane, the relevant god was seemingly able to solve all sorts of dreadful complications arising from the action, and thereby to supply a more-or-less satisfactory ending.

[27]The history of western philosophy and jurisprudence contains many illustrious advocates of cosmopolitanism or “oneness.” Most notable among them are Voltaire and Goethe. We need only recall Voltaire’s biting satire in the early chapters of Candide, and Goethe’s comment (oft-repeated) linking the contrived hatreds of belligerent nationalism to declining stages of human civilization. We may also note Samuel Johnson’s famously expressed conviction that patriotism “is the last refuge of a scoundrel;” William Lloyd Garrison’s observation that “We cannot acknowledge allegiance to any human government…Our country is the world, our countryman is all mankind;” and Thorsten Veblen (“The patriotic spirit is at cross-purposes with modern life.”) Of course, there are similar sentiments discoverable in Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human and in Fichte’s Die Grundzűge des gegenwartigen Zeitalters.” Finally, let us recall Santayana’s coalescing remark in Reason and Society: “A man’s feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.” The ultimate point of all these cosmopolitan remarks is that narrow-minded patriotism is inevitably “unpatriotic” in the sense that it is not in the genuine long-term interests of citizens or subjects.

[28] This metaphor is generally attributed to Novalis, the late 18th-century German poet and scholar. See, for example, introductory citation by Karl R. Popper, in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959). Ironically, perhaps, Novalis’ fellow German poet, Goethe, had declared, in his early Faust fragment (Urfaust): “All theory, dear friend, is grey. But the golden tree of life is green.” (Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grűn des Lebens goldner Baum.)

[29] This extra-terrestrial remedy of a god “out of a machine” was a favored theatrical device of Euripides. Born in Salamis around 485 B.C., this “father” of modem European drama would often conclude a play by bringing forth a sort of crane, which hoisted
the actor representing a god above all of the other actors. Such appearance solved endless complications and supplied a happy ending. It goes without saying that the real world is not the world of Euripides’ easy theatrical resolutions.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). He is the author of several early books on alternative world futures, including Reordering the Planet: Constructing Alternative World Futures (1975); Planning Alternative World Futures: Values, Methods and Models (1975); People, States and World Order (1981); Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); and Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975). Born in Zürich, Switzerland at the end of World War II, Professor Beres is the author of many books and articles on international relations and international law. His writings have appeared in Jurist; Horasis (Zürich); The New York Times; Yale Global Online; Harvard National Security Journal; World Politics (Princeton); The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; American Journal of International Law; International Security (Harvard); The Atlantic; The Hudson Review; Israel Defense; The War Room (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); Global-e (University of California); The Jerusalem Post; The Washington Post; The Hill; US News & World Report; The National Interest; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; BESA Perspectives (Israel); Air & Space Operations Review (USAF); and Oxford University Press. Professor Beres’ twelfth and newest book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) (2nd. ed., 2018)


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