Getting Beyond Belligerent Nationalism: A Global Survival Imperative
Louis René Beres
"What does not benefit the entire hive is no benefit to the bee."
-- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
From the “beginning,” since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,[i] world politics have been shaped by belligerent nationalism.[ii] Sovereignty-centered, by definition, such zero-sum politics spawned, inter alia, two world wars, incessant terrorism and repeated genocides. Over time, especially as the refined technologies of global destruction become more conspicuously widespread, this seventeenth-century system of corrosive competition can be expected to fail, again and again, interminably, without remorse and without surcease.
Plausibly, it could never support human survival.
More precisely, if left unchanged, this everyone-for-himself system will occasion species-wide catastrophes, some of them unprecedented. Then, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of a sea, entire states and populations could be crushed or erased.[iii] At best, perhaps, this all-too-imaginable outcome could arrive more slowly, in less overwhelming increments.
But, essentially, the final result would remain the same.
What next? What should we do now? This is not merely a starkly difficult question. It is also the single most bewildering and meaningful query currently worth positing.
At the outset, world leaders will need to plan rationally, self-consciously and (above all) collaboratively for global survival. More than anything else, this would signify a refreshingly new willingness to realign traditionally narrow judgments of national self-interest with the much wider interests of humankind. Although meeting this complex requirement will at first appear unrealistic,[iv] nothing could be less pragmatic than staying stubbornly on our present collision course.[v]
There is more. In brief, if left unchanged or merely "modified" by usual kinds of token reform, world politics will experience more frequent and eventually irreversible breakdowns. To argue otherwise, or even more foolishly, to call for a further hardening of world tribal conflict - the delusionary clarion call coming from Donald Trump's "America First" - would be to reject everything we ought already to have learned about civilization, science and species adaptability.
Fundamentally, it's not complicated. Unless we should finally take certain tangible steps to implement a genuinely organic and cooperative planetary civilization - one based on the primary truth of human "oneness" - there will be no civilization at all. To credibly reject this sober conclusion would require reasonable expectations of an already-ongoing evolution toward worldwide peace and denuclearization. Right now, prima facie, any such patently optimistic expectations would be out of the question.
There is more. The imperative nature of this worrisome assessment is clarified by our species' manifest advances in creating mega-weapons and infrastructures. Augmenting these fearful examples of "progress," major states are becoming increasingly committed to assorted deterrent strategies of nuclear war fighting,[vi] cyber-warfare and/or "internet mercenaries." To a considerable extent, the steady spread of internet warfare surrogates is being undertaken on behalf of assorted authoritarian regimes or similarly insipid movements.
Let us be candid. Conceptually, we are still at the beginning. Consistently, until now, in all such expressly primal matters, we humans have somehow managed to miss what is most important. Nonetheless, the central unassailable truth is this: There is a latent but determinative "oneness" to all world politics.
There is still more. This critical dimension of human identity can be encountered in certain vital (but generally-ignored) literatures, and 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. Its persistent rejection in "real life," even by the world's allegedly great universities, reflects an elemental threat to literally every nation-state's recognizable survival.
Antecedent questions should now be brought to the fore. Why have we made ourselves existentially vulnerable? The only genuinely compelling and lucid answer should reflect a continuously undiminished willingness to seek personal identity in membership. Significantly, though rarely if ever mentioned, we humans fear solitude or "aloneness" more than absolutely anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death.[vii] Accordingly, amid a growing chaos that is already stampeding across whole continents, we humans willingly abide a fully primal loyalty to membership claims of "tribe."
Always, everywhere, individuals desperate "to belong" will enthusiastically subordinate themselves to the most utterly far-reaching expectations of nation, class or faith.
There is more. More commonly than we might first care to admit, such subordination carries with it an overriding acceptance of "martyrdom." Recalling the marooned English schoolboys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, we should be reminded among other things that the veneer of human civilization is both porous and razor thin. To wit, vastly impressive scientific and medical discoveries aside, whole swaths of humankind still remain fiercely dedicated to ancient and atavistic practices of "sacrifice."
“The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
In the end, such twisted dedication lies at the very heart of war, terrorism and genocide.
Always, it seems, we remain determinedly irrational as a species. Why? The best or most generous answer lies in shortsighted human views of "realism."
Hope exists, we must naturally assume, but now it must sing more softly, with circumspection, inconspicuously, perhaps almost sotto voce. Although counter-intuitive, especially in the Trump-era United States, the time for celebrating science, modernization and gleaming new information technologies is at least partially over. To survive, together, on this imperiled planet (and together is the only meaningful path to survival) all of us must sincerely seek to rediscover an individual life that is detached from long-patterned obligations "to belong." Indeed, it is only after such a crucial rediscovery that we could ever hope to reconstruct world politics on a sound and viable basis.
There absolutely must be a firmer and more willing embrace of global interdependence and human "oneness."
Such ideas are not novel. In his landmark work, The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler had inquired: "Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?" This remains a profound and indispensable query. Further, the necessary answer could finally accept that the most suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economies, building larger and larger missiles, abrogating international treaties, replacing one sordid regime with another, or even "spreading democracy."
Most importantly, in time, we might eventually learn that a persistently tribal Planet Earth lacks a tolerable future not because we humans have been too slow to learn what has already been taught, but because what has been taught has too often been beside the point. To ensure, it won't be enough to assure survival if even great majorities of people can acquire shiny new "personal devices," grow retail sales or own cars that drive themselves. Once again, these are false and prospectively injurious goals that fully miss the main point.
Entirely and dangerously.
Such traditional "remedies" would prove insufficient because the planet as a whole would still remain on its unswervingly lethal trajectory of belligerent nationalism and tribal conflict. 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." Today, the quintessential codification of this lethal falsity is Trump’s "America First,” an obscurant ideology that includes both climate change denial and presidential advisor Stephen Miller’s unhidden championing of strident white nationalism.
In the end, we will need to take far more seriously that global survival requires a prompt escape from the irremediably contentious spirit of competitive tribes and a closely corresponding acceptance of human "oneness." For the moment, of course, the odds of actually meeting such a sorely difficult requirement will seem precariously low, but the evident risks are still well worth taking. After all, what cannot benefit the world system as a whole (the "hive") can never benefit the individual nation-state (the "bee").
Like it or not, the American "bee" – together with all others - must learn to live cooperatively, within the "hive." To ritualistically suggest otherwise, as does US President Donald Trump, would be nothing less than to willfully surrender all residual human advantages of intellect, analysis and reason. Following any such still-preventable surrender, America and all other state members of our integrated global system will have done nothing less than reinvigorate the dissembling forces of an uncontrollable “tribal” chaos.
At such a particularly galvanizing moment of proliferating nuclear weapons and infrastructures, any such reinvigoration could prove unbearable.
[i] This landmark treaty ended the Thirty Years’ War, the last of the major religious wars sparked by the Reformation.
[ii] In principle, of course, the terms “belligerent” and “nationalism” need not necessarily be conjoined (that is, the latter could conceivably be displayed without the former), but nationalism has always been bitterly belligerent in history, or in fact.
[iii] One may think here 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."
[iv] "The visionary," says the Italian film director Federico Fellini, "is the only realist."
[v] The reader may be usefully 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?"
[vi] The most evident example of this dangerous posture is Pakistan (vis-à-vis India). Neither nuclear weapons state is a party to the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT. See also, by this author: https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1318&context=auilr
[vii] Arguably, however, these fears may not be mutually exclusive, and “aloneness” may be taken as an unwelcome reminder of human mortality.