Despite the fact that the past is gone and the future does not yet exist, human speculation is entirely based on assessments of the past that interject into conjectures regarding the future. As Leibniz wrote: “The present is saturated with the past and pregnant with the future.” In an age that is largely regarded as the end of America’s unipolar moment and the rise of everyone else, we should expect relative equilibrium between the world’s three major power centers, namely, the United States, Europe, and Asia. While the United States obviously holds the qualitative edge over the other two power centers, power is dispersing and fragmenting in an age where realpolitik is no longer a feasible course of action due to the strategic context dominated by “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) and globalization characterized by interconnection and interdependence.
Due to this strategic context, it is inevitable that others will rise and the United States will undergo what is known as “relative decline,” where the decline is the result of others catching up to American standards and thus their rise. While multipolarity in the past led to two major world wars between European powers, today’s multipolarity may lead to peace given the aforementioned strategic context. There is also the question of whether America’s militaristic and global hegemony will outlast China’s “dollar hegemony” and focus on territorial sovereignty aimed at Hong Kong and Taiwan. When one takes into account the story of the Persians, Romans, Arabs, and the British, global hegemony appears to be ephemeral.
Foucault, among others, espoused an “order of things” based on a natural order that is a reflection of the cosmos despite his postmodern preoccupation with power as well as sex as an instrument of power. Leibniz was one of the first philosophers in Renaissance Europe to espouse the idea of a “natural order.” Leibniz conveyed his sense of the natural order by stating: “Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another.” Thus, what governs this natural order is a set of laws, with the foremost law being the “Law of One,” and if one were to decipher these natural laws, one would gain access to the workings of the universe as well as an understanding of how the universe operates. Amidst these natural laws, the foremost law is the one which states that interconnection and interdependence are the basic characteristics of our economic, political, and social reality. Due to this type of reality, autarky is no longer an option for any nation or individual, and as a result commerce, sharing of information, as well as dialogue and the fostering of a shared meaning of existence between nations and individuals become the basic preoccupations of our current state of affairs.
The denial of this reality is essentially a denial of how the world works, and thus pitfalls to the perpetuation of life becoming a recurring theme in human life, with the coronavirus and its continuous spread in the United States being one pitfall in particular. It is worth mentioning that countries like the United States and Russia that are preoccupied with realpolitik have fared worse in the coronavirus pandemic than countries that are largely isolated and withdrawn from realpolitik but involved in cooperative mechanisms of cross-national organization. From a systemic level of analysis, we eventually zero-in on an analysis and observation of basic human nature. One begins to question whether economic cooperation, dialogue, and the search for a shared meaning of existence are the basic inclinations of man, or if man is fated to conflict and schadenfreude. At a systemic level, it is obvious that a basic quid pro quo regarding issues such as Taiwan and territorial sovereignty as well as the drawing out of economic spheres of influence will mitigate the potential for conflict. But the question is whether decision-makers are capable of such rationality. Today’s “Cold War” between America and China is guided more by schadenfreude than by legitimate economic and security concerns.
“Rationality” is thought to be the imposition of the “chaos theory” in order to remain on top, in addition to acclimation towards a “dog eat dog world,” Malthusian economics, “Social Darwinism,” and the zero-sum paradigm which will only backfire, as it did with the British in the 20th century. Why economic cooperation and peace have to be replaced with conflict and schadenfreude is ultimately a matter of choice, not necessity. Reality is a reflection of the workings of our minds, according to the precepts of Hegelian idealism, and as a result peace at home means ending the perpetuation of conflict and schadenfreude abroad. Due to Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been such enormous damage inflicted upon the credibility of policy shapers in the United States that calls to address real challenges such as Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea now fall upon deaf ears. To make matters worse, the decision by the Trump Administration to alienate the European Union by supporting “Brexit,” withdrawal from the Iran deal, allowing Chinese pollution to fester by withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the abrupt withdrawal from negotiations with North Korea due to John Bolton equates to an abdication from global moral leadership. Trans-Atlantic unity, Peace in the Middle East, Dialogue with China, and the issue of denuclearization and de-weaponization pertaining to Russia and North Korea were the sine qua non of the establishment of global order, and losing sight of these priorities will exacerbate anarchy, chaos, and the potential for war.
While Kenneth Waltz’s “Levels of Analysis” garnered immense focus on the nature of the international system as well as the characteristics of states as factors for conflict, it also prompted deliberation on the issue of human nature and how heavily this factor weighs into the equation of conflict and war. Waltz’s “Levels of Analysis” also gave credence to behavioral science as well as the cognitive behavioral theory behind behavioral economics and “neuroeconomics” that seeks to explain everything. Ultimately, the Hegelian “dialectic” leads to the exploration of the mind, given that the mind is the main tool in deciphering scientific ideas which in turn leads to the truth. What equates to the truth is ultimately aesthetics, given that a mathematical and quantitative explanation of existence does not suffice in explaining the expansiveness of the universe. As Leibniz said:
“We should like Nature to go no further; we should like it to be finite, like our mind; but this is to ignore the greatness and the majesty of the Author of things.”
Aesthetic evaluation is ultimately a matter of taste, and as Edmund Burke wrote, taste evolves with knowledge. Although it may seem irreconcilable at first, taste and reason are predicated upon the same principles. There are three principles pertaining to aesthetics and thus reason, according to the Ancient Greeks:
- Movement, particularly towards a destination or an end goal
- Balance between the material and the spiritual dimensions of man
Basic human activities such as economic agency, dialogue, and the search for meaning are ultimately aimed at immersion into aesthetics, whether intuitively or in an unconscious manner. There are some who decipher this aim, and there are some who are constantly in search of the aim. Nevertheless, an escape from a human condition fraught with conflict and schadenfreude will require immersion into art, beauty, nature, and thus aesthetics as the end of economic, political, and social activity. Whether “Bella Vita” is attainable in a global environment that is dictated by anarchy, chaos, conflict, and schadenfreude at the individual and systemic level is the most important question pertaining to the human odyssey.