Getting Beyond Power Politics: Narratives For A Trust-Centered World Order

By Louis René Beres, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Purdue University

January 24, 2021

“You are a citizen of the universe.”



In the final analysis, humankind can survive on this imperiled planet only by embracing more visionary (1) ways of thinking (2). Among these new ways, which are indispensable, an overriding theme must concern balance-of-power politics (3). Still an unstable bedrock of contemporary international relations, the flawed ethos of a naively belligerent world politics (4), Realpolitik is increasingly unsuited for global survival (5). Soon, somehow, it must be replaced by a more patently durable, just and trust-based “template” for cosmopolis.

Most urgently, we will require an organically integrated global community of humankind.

There are many pertinent details. Today, any such template must take multiple considerations of biology into careful account. This means a view dictated not by only the usual core issues of war and peace, but also by assorted disease pandemics that may threaten human civilizations and populations – much as did medieval plague. Though, as a species, we have made obvious and commendable progress in science and technology, we remain enormously fragile and existentially vulnerable. Over time, especially if a more refractory virus spread should happen to coincide with catastrophic acts of war or terror (especially nuclear and/or biological war),  entire societies could essentially be erased (6).

What next? This is not merely a difficult question; it defines the single most bewildering and meaningful query for all of planet earth. To begin, world leaders will need to plan rationally, systematically  and self-consciously for nothing less consequential than global survival. Ultimately, inter alia, this will mean a willingness to realign traditionally narrow judgments of national self-interest with the much wider interests of humankind in toto (7). Although such a staggering requirement will at first appear unrealistic (8), nothing could actually be less pragmatic for nation-states than choosing to remain on the present collision course (9).

Left unchanged, or merely modified by variously token kinds of world order reform (10), global politics and economics will experience more frequent breakdowns. To argue otherwise, or even more foolhardy, to call for further hardening of world tribal conflict –  as was the enduringly lamentable call of Donald Trump’s “America First” –  would be to reject everything we have already learned about civilization, science and species survival.

Absolutely everything.

Fundamentally, it all boils down to this: Unless we finally take tangible steps to implement an organic and cooperative planetary civilization – one based on the irremediably central truth of human “oneness” -there will be no civilization at all (11). To credibly reject this conclusion would first require certain plausible expectations of an already-ongoing evolution toward worldwide peace and denuclearization. Right now, any such optimistic expectations would be starkly unfounded and simply out of the question.

The imperative nature of this assessment is clarified by our species’ manifest advances in creating mega-weapons and infrastructures (12). Augmenting these fearful examples of “progress,” certain major states could become increasingly committed to deterrent strategies of nuclear war fighting (13), cyber-warfare and/or “internet mercenaries.” To a considerable extent, the steady spread of internet warfare surrogates is being undertaken on behalf of authoritarian regimes.

What next?

About such rudimentary matters, let us be candid.  We humans are still at the beginning. Until now, in such utterly primal  circles, we have consistently managed to miss what is most important. Nonetheless, a central truth remains to be identified and continuously underscored: Always, there exists a latent but determinative “oneness” to  world politics. Always, it is upon such overriding solidarity that any improved world order must be constructed.

There is more. This critical dimension of  human identity can be encountered in certain vital but generally-ignored literatures,  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 (14). Its persistent rejection in “real life,” even in the world’s allegedly great universities (15), reflects a literally elemental threat to every single nation-state’s physical survival.

Antecedent questions should now arise. Why have we made ourselves (humans are not merely passive victims in these matters) so existentially vulnerable? The correct answer must reveal a continuous worldwide willingness to seek personal identity in variegated memberships. Significantly, we humans ordinarily fear solitude or “aloneness” more than anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death (16). Amid the palpably growing chaos that is already stampeding across whole continents, we still willingly abide a primal loyalty to dissembling claims of  “tribe.”

Always, everywhere, individuals desperate “to belong” will more-or-less enthusiastically subordinate themselves to some all-consuming 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 here that the veneer of human civilization is razor thin. Vastly impressive scientific and medical discoveries aside, whole swaths of humankind remain fiercely dedicated to various ancient practices of “sacrifice.” (17)

With such utterly retrograde hopes, an entire species must remain in conspicuously grave peril. More precisely, in the end, such atavistic hopes lie at the heart of both war and terrorism (18). Is this really the  best we can do?

By any reasonable definition, humans remain determinedly irrational as a species. Why? The best answer  lies in our shortsighted views  of power-politics or  political “realism.” (19) In the merciless light of history, these views are strange or incomprehensible. Not until the twentieth century, after all, did international law (20) even bother to criminalize aggressive war (21).

There is more. Hope exists, 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 gleaming new information technologies per se is at least partially over.  To survive together on this imperiled planet, each of us must first sincerely seek to rediscover an individual life that is detached from patterned obligations “to belong.” It is only after such rediscovery that we could finally hope to reconstruct world order on a reasonably sound basis. Inter alia, this will have to be a foundation of willing global interdependence and recognizable human “oneness.” (22)

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?” (23) This remains a profound and indispensable query. The necessary answer  would accept that the suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone simply by improving global economies, building larger and larger missiles (24), fashioning or abrogating international treaties, replacing one sordid regime with another or by “spreading democracy.”

Most importantly, we might eventually learn that this 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 too often been beside the point. It won’t be enough to assure our survival if great majorities of people can somehow acquire shiny new “personal devices,” or even own cars that can drive themselves. These are false and lazy goals, mainly contrived objectives that inevitably miss the main point: That point is merely to remain alive.

There is more. Traditional “remedies” will  be insufficient because the planet as a whole would remain on its lethal trajectory of belligerent nationalism (25) and tribal conflict (26). To wit, 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.” (27)

But how to actually conceptualize alternative systems of world order that are based upon aptly cooperative visions? What are the recognizable “rules” for such conceptualizations? (28) What kinds of thinking ought to be acknowledged and implemented? (29)

To answer the last question first, pertinent thinking here must be expressly dialectical. (30) This means, among other things, accepting that there can never be any conclusively final or permanent visions. World system change is continuous and dynamic, and heuristic models must therefore be temporary or transient. This is not a regrettable sign of inadequacy, but only an acknowledgment that proper “therapies” must follow correct “diagnoses.”

“What is, is.”

World order change is inevitable and unstoppable. The scholars’ and policy makers’ task is not to seek unachievable transformations, but to enter into this dynamic process with calculated deliberateness and intelligent design. In this connection, it will need to be understood there can be no objectively appropriate or optimal world order design visions.


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

Also, any such hierarchy must generally remain a subjective judgment. There can be no objective reasons to prefer one specific value or configuration of values to another. The only plausible exception to this judgment is the primal value of physical survival.


Once equipped with an explicit set of ranked world order values, the scholars and policy-makers will need to link these values to those factors that are expected to sustain or maximize them. These presumed linkages are known to science as hypotheses. In these tentative explanations, values will 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 orders. These “informed hunches” are necessary to guide the search for analytic order among so many overlapping and discrepant facts. Without suitable hypotheses, there can obtain no reliable ways of determining which discrete facts are relevant and which are irrelevant.


Models of alternative world order must follow hypotheses. These models are determined by antecedent hypotheses. Indeed, these analyst-constructed visions are offered for the sole purpose of examining pertinent hypotheses. Without them, there could be no satisfactory way of knowing if any particular hypothesis or set of hypotheses has genuine promise.

They represent yet another example of why the adequacy of any particular world order design process is contingent upon prior methodological or philosophy of science decisions.

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


Once  relevant models have been stipulated and investigated,  scholars and policy makers must decide whether or not to recommend them. Always, this final critical decision must be informed by the twin criteria of desirability and feasibility. Before any alternative system of world order could be judged acceptable, it would have to appear suitably attractive in terms of the selected values (“suitability” being a necessarily subjective judgment) and reasonably capable of some  actual implementation (“reasonably” here being a similarly subjective determination).

There is more. Feasibility issues are tied closely to desirability matters. They are interdependent or intersecting criteria of acceptability. Depending upon the extent of agreement on what might actually constitute a desirable world order alternative, the feasibility of a considered alternative could vary from one assessment to another. This is not to suggest, however, that widespread agreement would ipso facto signify feasibility. Any remaining differences concerning strategies of implementation could still render a particular recommendation unattainable.

“You are a citizen of the universe,” observes Epictetus, underscoring the core obligation of thinking holistically, of understanding and acknowledging the immutable oneness of human life on Planet Earth. Reciprocally, it is the individual human being writ large that must ultimately define this “universe.” Each man and woman  is, in effect, a microcosm, a little world, and each must be nurtured not only for its own sake, but also for much wider planetary consequences (31).

“God loves from Whole to Part,” says Alexander Pope, “but human soul Must rise from Individual to the Whole.” (32) In the end, even in purely secular-scientific  terms, any trust-based system of world order  must be “human-centered.” By grasping this critical wisdom, scholars and policy-makers could finally craft a viable path beyond Realpolitik or balance-of-power politics.

From the start, this path would be configured toward expanding global coexistence. It would not represent just one more grievously fractured road to civilizational oblivion. Though patently visionary, it is the only path worth taking. The stakes could not be higher.


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’ recent writings have been published at Horasis (Zurich) and also in Jurist; Modern Diplomacy; Global-e (University of California); Yale Global Online; Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); US News & World Report; International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The Jerusalem Post; The National Interest; Oxford University Press; The Brown Journal of World Affairs; Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College; Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); BESA Perspectives (Israel); INSS Strategic Assessment (Israel); Israel Defense (Israel); World Politics (Princeton) and International Security (Harvard)..  His twelfth book, Israel’s Nuclear Strategy: Surviving amid Chaos, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016 (2nd. ed., 2018).



1 Observes Italian film director Federico Fellini, “The visionary is the only realist.”

2 In the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically  (Pensées): “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

3 The concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is an analytic variant – has never been more than facile metaphor. It has never had anything to do with any calculable condition of equilibrium. As such a balance is always a matter of individual and subjective perceptions, adversary states may never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, as each side must perpetually fear that it will be “left behind,” the search for balance produces only continually wider circles of insecurity and disequilibrium. 

4 The international law origins of this ethos remain  a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system of jurisprudence. 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, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

5 An earlier book by this author deals with these issues from an expressly American point of view. See: Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington Books, 1984).

6 One may think here of the prescient warning by the High Lama in James Hilton’s classic  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.”

7 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”).

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

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

10 The term world order reform has its contemporary origins in a scholarly movement begun at the Yale Law School in the mid-and late 1960s, and then “adopted” at the Politics Department at Princeton University in 1967-68. The present author was an early member of the Princeton-based World Order Models Project, and wrote several early books in this original scholarly genre.

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 “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…..”

13 An 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:

14 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.”

15 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):

16 See, by this author, at Horasis: Louis René Beres,

17  See, on these practices,, René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1972).

18 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. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King v. Marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615)(“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).

19For 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.”

20 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.”

21 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, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

22 The best studies of this foundation are still W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1963) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

23 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.”

24 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).

25 “It must not be forgotten,” writes French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

26 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.”

27 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.”

28For early insights into such indispensable “rules,” by this author, see: Louis René Beres at Policy Sciences (1973):  See also, by Professor Beres, “Reordering the Planet: The Four Phases of World Order Design,” in Louis René Beres and Harry R. Targ, Planning Alternative World Futures: Values, Methods and Models (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975), pp. 50-59.

29 A long-studied passage in Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning explains that earlier scholastics were like spiders, weaving webs out of their own heads without any consideration of surrounding facts. While these webs were inherently admirable on account of their workmanship and “fineness of thread,” they were nonetheless lacking in any true explanatory substance. (I, iv., 5). Presently, in explaining the requirements of world order reform, it is important to construct dialectical arguments upon well-reasoned analytic foundations, and not on any diaphanous constructions of modern-day scholastics.

30 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.

31 The history of western philosophy and jurisprudence contains many illustrious advocates of cosmopolitanism or “oneness.” Most notable among these names 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 are 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,” at least in the sense that  it is not in the genuine long-term interests of citizens or subjects.

32 In medieval western civilization, the world was conceived as a hierarchical order, extending from lowest to highest, and the earthly divisions of authority (always artificial or contrived) were reunited at the level of God. Below this divine stratum, the realm of humanity was to be considered as one, as all the world had been created solely for the purpose of backdrop for humankind’s salvation. Only in its relation to the universe itself was the world to be considered as part rather than whole. In the clarifying words of Dante’s De Monarchia(1312-1313): “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and with reference to another whole, it is a part. Fir it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, as is manifest without argument.” To sum up the background of this “oneness” assumption (not an hypothesis), the conceptualized medieval universe was tidy, ordered and neatly arranged. Imagined in metaphoric fashion as an immense cathedral, it was so simply conceived that it was frequently represented in art by great painted clocks . At its center lay the earth, at once a mere part of God’s larger creation, but at the same time a single unified whole unto itself. For this fascinating history, literary as well as philosophic, see Anatole France, The Garden of Epicurus (1923).