Realpolitik as a Form of Madness
In a serious discussion of a controversial subject it is often advisable to begin with definitions of terms in order to avoid controversies rooted in misunderstandings. But trying to define value-laden terms often aggravates these very controversies. So it is with ‘madness.’
Initially, ‘madness’ was the layperson’s term for ‘insanity.’ But then ‘insanity,’ because of its pejorative connotation was replaced by ‘mental illness’. Thomas Szasz attempted to expel this euphemism for ‘insanity’ from medical vocabulary by entitling a book of his ‘The Myth of Mental Illness.’ To be sure, the book dealt specifically with hysteria, which Szasz portrays as a form of communication rather than an illness. But a similar practice pervades other wide areas of discourse where evaluation of human behaviour is involved. There is a tendency among people of liberal or humanitarian persuasion to expunge pejorative connotations from practically every evaluation of human behaviour. There are not retarded children, only ‘exceptional’ ones; no delinquents, only ‘deviants’; no primitive cultures, only pre-industrial or pre-literate ones; and I am not sure that even these terms are not proscribed as condescending. I think the proper designations are now ‘non-industrial’ and ‘non-literate.’ Relativity of values at one time became the cornerstone of cultural anthropology, an indispensable ingredient of its method, not without justification, to be sure; for just as a foreign language, especially one far removed from one’s own, cannot be fully mastered unless one discards one’s phonetic, grammatical, and semantic preconceptions, so a culture far removed from one’s own cannot be fully understood without undergoing a similar conceptual purge. I submit that controversies about relativity of values, just as those about the reality of mental disease, are often at cross purposes, because one of the disputants is primarily interested in understanding a phenomenon, while the other is intent on doing something about it. This recognition does not in itself resolve the issue but only transposes it to another level. The question arises whether something should be done at all about the phenomenon in question. Plainly speaking, should certain practices which may appear repugnant to us but which fit admirably into some culture be tolerated if we are empowered to eradicate them? If some contend that we have no business interfering with sun worship or polygamy, will they also contend that we have no business eradicating infanticide or chattel slavery or head hunting? What about isolation of individuals? If an idiot should be treated as a full-fledged member of a community, should a demonstrably homicidal paranoic or a compulsive rapist be treated with the same consideration? I take the position that evil exists in a very real sense in human affairs. Moreover, the concept of evil, although it may be irrelevant for understanding certain forms of behaviour, is necessary for designing ways of dealing with them, in particular, of containing or eradicating them. Further, I will speak of evil only as it becomes manifest in observable conditions and actions. I will not infer anything about the inner states of persons to whom the conditions or the actions portrayed as evil may be ascribed. It may be indispensable to speculate about these inner states if the task is to understand the evil, but less so (sometimes not at all) if the task is to control or eradicate it. Next, I want to emphasize at the start that this avoidance of consideration of inner states of persons to whom evil-generating actions can be ascribed has nothing to do with an inclination to either vindictiveness or lenience in dealing with them. In fact, the evil I shall be discussing, namely, the events ascribable to Realpolitik, is not of the sort that is ascribable to hatred, destructiveness, mischievousness, or some such state of mind. Rather, it is an evil that results from the dialectic opposition of local rationality and global rationality. It will be defined entirely in terms of its manifestations, not in terms of people’s intentions. I will identify Realpolitik with collective madness and madness with bizarre behaviour that produces evil, without regard to its status as a mental category. I will avoid any definition that only raises further questions, especially questions rooted in the conviction of the relativity of values. I will use the crude form of definition — definition by enumeration of actions or conditions that I regard as evil — and hope that most other people do the same. To repeat: madness will be understood as bizarre behaviour that has evil consequences. Granted, what is regarded as bizarre depends on cultural criteria. But since to get anywhere in a discussion, one must anchor one’s conceptions, I will anchor my conception of bizarreness in the culture with which we are familiar. If a person keeps snapping his fingers and explains that he does this to keep elephants away, we feel justified in calling his behaviour bizarre, especially if he insists that his action is effective, since there are no elephants around. But as long as this bizarre behaviour has no demonstrable evil consequences, it still does not qualify as madness. When, however, amassing weapons of total destruction is regarded as a way of keeping peace and the absence of war in Europe is offered as proof of its efficacy, this equally bizarre behaviour qualifies as an instance of madness as soon as its evil consequences can be demonstrated.
Evil conditions, then, are those under which many people suffer privation, illness, or untimely death. Actions that generate these conditions are evil actions. Explanation of these actions having no discernible relation to reality are symptomatic of madness. It remains to define reality.
Here, too, I will eschew profound metaphysical questions. I ask the reader to go along with me in identifying reality with observable conditions and events describable without recourse to high levels of abstraction. I know that science has revealed aspects of reality not accessible to ordinary human senses. But these realities do not concern us in this discussion, because conceptions of evil, and by implication of madness, are not applicable to events on those levels. Human suffering and absence of it are aspects of reality with which we will be mainly concerned. These constitute evidence that evil and, by implication, good, are aspects of reality.
Now the link between Realpolitik and madness is in the circumstance that Realpolitik regards states as agents and ascribes interests to these agents, moreover, interests that are strongly associated with addiction to power. Realpolitik not only depicts the behaviour of these agents (states) as motivated by the pursuit of power but also prescribes ‘rational’ means of engaging in this pursuit. This interpretation of political ‘reality’ provides a rationalization for the continued existence of war as an institution. This, in turn, produces untold misery and untimely death of millions of people for whom the power appetites of states means absolutely nothing, in fact, cannot possibly mean anything. So the bizarreness of behaviour associated with Realpolitik is in the breach between its ideational content and commonly observed reality. And the evil generated by the behaviour, specifically the conduct of war, justifies the categorization of this behaviour as madness.
The claim of Realpolitik to ‘rationality’ is based on two of its features. First, it purports to explain the behaviour of states more credibly than other conceptions of international relations, for instance, conceptions that ascribe considerable weight to the psychological predispositions of political leaders or to ideological determinants of conflicts between states. Second, in accepting the pursuit of power as a principal motivating factor in the behaviour of states, Realpolitik uses this ‘reality’ as a basis for a normative theory of international relations. There is a natural distinction between a decriptive and a normative theory. The former purports to tell it as it is, that is, to describe the acts of political life. The latter purports to indicate how things ought to be, to prescribe courses of action which in some sense are expected to produce optimal consequences.
As a descriptive theory, ‘political realism’ has some claim to success in that the behaviour of some states can be more easily understood as motivated by power considerations than, say, by the psychological make-up of leaders or ideological predilections.
In theories related to human affairs it is often difficult to separate a descriptive mode from the normative. Knowing how things are is usually a prerequisite to finding ways to make things as one would like them to be. So the present state of affairs is taken as a point of departure. It is natural to assume that in order to take effective action, one must be adapted to the existing conditions. Adaptation means acceptance. In this way, one’s value system is brought into concordance with the ways of the world as it is. This is why the political philosophy underlyng Realpolitik is called by its adherents political realism.
The philosophy goes back to Machiavelli, who in his best known work, The Prince, speaks of virtu (a concept related to ‘virtue’) as the competence of the prince in the business of acquiring power and holding on to it. Henry Morgenthau, the prominent exponent of political realist school of international relations, does as much when he defines power as the fundamental ‘good’ of political life, much as wealth is taken to be the fundamental good of economic life.
Morgenthau goes on to point out that political behaviour is not devoid of a sense of values. However, he also points out that the values inherent to political behaviour are different from those inherent to, say, relations between human individuals or to other fields of social behaviour.
The principal virtue of a political actor, especially in the international arena, according to Morgenthau, is prudence. To see the import of prudence in international relations, we must examine a theory of peace based on the concept of ‘balance of power,’ which is the normative component of the school of political realism. That prudence is a prime virtue of the political actor is implied in the definition of politics as the art of the possible. Indeed, if the prime motive of political life is pursuit of power, then prudence dictates a realistic assessment of the amount of power one can realistically expect to amass. In this assessment the attempts of others to acquire and/or hold on to power must be taken into account. Realistic assessments of this sort put limits on everyone’s ambition. Keeping within such limits is supposedly conducive to peace (understood here as the absence of war). In this way, political realism, in recommending ‘balance of power’ as something to strive for in international relations can be said to espouse a value consonant with people-oriented values.
It is easy to accept the definition of rationality as awareness of the likely consequences of one’s actions and as deliberate choice of actions that are likely to lead to preferred consequences. Thus, rational design of policy in its relation to the policies of other states coupled with the prime goal of maximizing one’s relative power would inhibit a state from launching crusades, holy wars, and such, going to war in search of glory, to avenge an insult, and the like; in short, would deflate romantic notions of war. There is always a bottom line in the list of incomes and expenditures of war, which for the polticial realist is the net gain or loss of power. And this, as already mentioned, serves for the political realist as the universal measure of utility in the international arena. If all political leaders thought in those terms, political realists maintain, balance of power would indeed be an inhibitor of war, since only by attacking a weaker state could a state reasonably count on victory and its payoffs in the currency of power. But under ideal balance of power conditions, no state would be weaker than any other state, so there would be no point in starting a war.
Conclusions arrived at by formal reasoning often fail to be realized. Medieval scholasticists argued that a hungry donkey placed exactly between equally attractive bales of hay must starve to death, because being equally attracted to both, it could not move in either direction. I doubt whether such an experiment was ever actually carried out. But if it were, I doubt that the predicted result would be observed. More likely, the donkey, disregarding the balance of forces, would approach one or the other bales of hay and eat it, and, if it were still hungry, would eat the other also.
If we prefer formal arguments to common sense ones, we can invoke the concept of equilibrium stability, which the medieval philosophers were ignorant of. An equilibrium is stable if a slight perturbation generates a force that tends to restore the equilibrium. It is unstable if a slight perturbation generates a force that increases the perturbation still further. Clearly, I3uridan’s Ass, as the donkey striving between the two bales of hay was called, found itself in an unstable equilibrium. The slightest deviation from the exact midpoint would drive it to the one or the other bale of hay.
The same principle was posited by Lewis F. Richardson in his mathematical models of arms races. He showed that under certain conditions, which, he had some reason to believe, were approximated in a situation involving two states in an arms race, the equilibrium, i.e., balance of power based on military potential, was likely to be unstable. Thus perturbations would be likely to be magnified rather than attenuated.
Unlike the situation with Buridan’s Ass, arms races are starkly real. We have just witnessed over four decades of one, and, in spite of the projected arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, the arms race spawned by the Cold War is still going on.
A political realist would point out that a runaway arms race results not from following his recommendations but on the contrary from ignoring them. Balance of power could be made stable if a state that got an edge in its war potential eliminated it by partial disarmament. This is practically never observed, but there was one notable exception, viz., when the Soviet Union in negotiating arms control in conventional weapons with the United States, agreed to reduce its forces by a much greater amount than the United States in order to reach a ‘balance’. It should be noted, however, that this decision came in the wake of explicit rejection of the paradigm of political realism, namely, abandoning the basic tenet of the class struggle (the Marxist version of political realism where classes rather than states engage in a perpetual struggle for power). In this way, one might say that the exceptional behaviour of a state (reducing its war potential to attain ‘balance’) has weakened rather than strengthened the basic hypothesis of political realism.
I submit that the normative recommendations of political realism, specifically the attainment of preservation of a balance of power between states cannot be realized. In support of this conclusion,
I call attention to historical evidence. Attempts to preserve or restore a ‘balance’ of power have typically led to arms races and war rather than to a lasting peace. Political realism also suffers from two additional defects. First, it fails to take into account the addictive nature of power. Second, it fails to recognize the ambiguity in the conventional definition of rationality. It is those failures that make political realism as a theory and Realpolitik as its practice pernicious influences in today’s world, contributions to madness that threaten to destroy us all.
Let us first examine power as an addiction. We can distinguish two kinds of needs, non-addictive and addictive. The former are manifested in cycles. A need stimulates behaviour that satisfies it. Thereupon the need subsides then increases again, until it is again satisifed. Typically, the peak intensity of the need remains more of less constant. Such are the ordinary bodily needs: hunger, thirst, sleep, sex. In contrast, the intensity of an addictive need increases with each satisfaction. This is clearly the case with drug addiction. Each fix changes the physiology of the addict and intensifies the need for the next fix. The addictive need frequentlly destroys the addict. The need for power, to the extent that it exists in some people (I am not prepared to say how many) has some aspects of an addictive need. Machiavelli advised the Prince to destroy the friends of the defeated ruler, lest they plot revenge. The more are destroyed the more enemies are likely to be acquired. The need to destroy (kill, banish, imprison) becomes addictive. The mutually stimulating arms race can also be regarded as an example of power addiction. Increasing one’s own military potential is almost certain to stimulate others to do the same, who thereby become potential enemies and make further increases imperative.
Let us now examine the mainstay of political realism — its claim to rationality. The claim is based on recommendations of careful assessment of power relations in the international arena in the process of designing policy, that is, of paying due attention to what is, or is not, likely to bring success in the pursuit of power. The claim is unfounded, because the fundamental difference between individual and collective rationality is ignored. This difference manifests itself whenever several actors pursue their individual interests by apparently rational means but where the total result turns out to be bad for all. In these situations, the effectiveness of an action depends crucially on how many other actors engage in similar actions. To see this, consider the person driving to work in the morning and listening to a broadcast which informs him of traffic conditions. Some thoroughfares are crowded; others relatively free. The rational thing seems to be to choose the less crowded thoroughfares. But if many motorists make this choice, these thoroughfares will become crowded, and the advantage will be lost.
If one state has a monopoly on some ‘ultimate weapon,’ it can be said to have an advantage in the game of power politics. Therefore it seems rational for a state to develop such a weapon when no other state has it. But what is ‘rational’ for one is rational for all. When every state has the ‘ultimate weapon,’ none is more secure than any other. In fact, in general, every state is less secure than it had been when no one possessed the weapon.
These two shortcomings of political realism, namely, the failure to recognize the addictive nature of power and the failure to recognize the dialectic opposition between individual and collective rationality make it appear that continued adherence to Realpolitik has contributed to madness as a chronic condition of the human race, as it is manifested in its collective behaviour. Let me reiterate. By madness I mean a form of behaviour that is both bizarre and destructive. Destructive means causing large scale misery; bizarre means based on concocted fantasies substituted for observable reality.
I will cite a few examples of bizarre reasoning. I often cite my favourite whipping boy, the late Herman Kahn, because he exhibited in his writings bizarre reasoning at its crassest. Kahn attracted wide attention with his magnum opus, On Thermonuclear War. The title is an obvious take-off on Clausewitz’s important work, On War, a classical treatise on the implications of Realpolitik for military science. On Thermonuclear War was partly offered as an updated version of that treatise. The message of On Thermonuclear War, subsequently repeated in Kahn’s later Thinking About the Unthinkable and On Escalation, is that imagining nuclear war as a sort of final spasm resulting in the end of everything is a panic reaction unworthy of rational beings. Nuclear wars, Kahn teaches, come in many sizes, and decision makers can make intelligent choices among them in accordance with how well a particular form of nuclear war can best serve national interest. War plans should include also bargaining strategies, which can be put into effect not only during the warm-up preceding the hostilities but during the hostilities themselves. Kahn lectured widely across the U.S. to lay audiences, including, as he reported, a broad cross-section of American society. He felt that his audiences learned something from his lectures, became less panicky and more composed, that is, adopted a problem-solving stance appropriate to rational beings. Thus, he contrasted the reactions of his audience of some years back with later ones to one of the questions he used to put to them to start a discussion going.
‘What do you think would happen, or, in your opinion, should happen,’ he would ask, ‘if a single hydrogen bomb fell without warning on New York City?’
In the early days, Kahn relates, the prevailing response was that the US should wipe the Soviet Union off the face of the earth by a devastating attack with nuclear weapons. Some years later, however, the reactions to this hypothetical event were quite different. Usually someone would suggest that first the nature of the event should be ascertained, e.g. whether it might have been an accident (presumably, if it was, there was little to get excited about). It was suggested that the President of the United States should call up his opposite number in the Soviet Union and ask ‘What gives. Was it an accident? Specifically, why was only one bomb dropped? Where were the others? If it was no accident did the Soviet Union wish to convey a message to the United States by dropping a hydrogen bomb on New York City? If so, what message?’
Then Kahn would elaborate. He would explain that the bomb was not an accident, that indeed a message was intended, namely, an indication of what the Soviet Union could do to the US if the US refused to do — or to refrain from doing — such and such.
This explanation would start a lively and productive discussion. The audience would continue to ask for more information. What were the relative sizes of US and Soviet nuclear arsenals? And so on. Generally there would be agreement that US should retaliate in kind but not in the form of an all-out attack, a ‘spasm war’ as Kahn used to call such an attack, sometimes referring to it naughtily as a ‘wargasm,’ but a measured response — a punishment to fit the crime. Someone would suggest that in return for NYC, the US should ‘take out’ Moscow. To this someone might reply that no, this would be overreacting. Moscow is, after all, more important to the Russians, being their capital, than New York is to the US. Perhaps a bomb on Leningrad would be a fair quid pro quo. If Leningrad were not enough, perhaps Leningrad and Kiev would be a fair exchange for New York City. Once the score was evened, negotiations could start on how to proceed with the contest.
Another example. The point of departure of Realpolitik is that war is a normal phase in relations among states — a continuation of politics by other means to cite Clausewitz’s immortal aphorism. In the spirit of political realism, however, the costs of war should be weighed against its projected benefits. In the old days when war deaths were confined to soldiers, generals calculated the projected casualties and weighed them as costs against the benefits of winning a battle, a campaign, or the war. In the nuclear age, everyone is a potential victim. The mode of thinking of Realpolitik, however, has not changed. Now civilian war deaths can enter the calculations of costs and be weighed against projected gains. At this point, however, a troublesome question might occur to someone not completely locked into the mode of thought characterizing political realism. Namely, what possible benefits could accrue from a ‘victory’ in a nuclear war? This question is answered implicitly by Kahn in the way he poses the problem of ‘How many civilian casualties resulting from a nuclear war would be just acceptable to the US as a price for ‘standing up to the Russians.’ Incidentally, similar questions were asked in the days preceding January 15. Americans were asked whether they would favour going to war in the Gulf if it meant 1000 American casualties, 5000, 10,000 etc. I recall that the percent of negative responses rose rather steeply with the number of casualities projected. If I recall correctly, it dropped to less than 50% already with 1000 casualties. These were not the results Kahn obtained in the 1950’s with his ‘quick and dirty’ survey. You get the picture — the scenario as the strategists call their fantasies. The Russians have just presented an ultimatum, threatening a nuclear war if their demands are not met. ‘Standing up to them’ means rejecting the ultimatum, thus risking nuclear war. The question asked is what is the upper bound of ‘acceptable’ casualities?
In his book On Thermonuclear War, Kahn tells how he estimated this figure. He asked a number of people, possibly colleagues at the Rand Corporation where he worked, what they thought was a reasonable upper bound. Some said 10 million, some 20 million, some 100 million. The numbers clustered around 60 million, which Kahn took for his working figure.
In describing this form of behaviour as ‘bizarre’, I am using Kahn’s own term. Only he applied it to the situations depicted in his scenarios rather than to taking these situations seriously. He evaluated the dicussion about hypothetical nuclear exchanges as responding ‘rationally’ to the threat of a nuclear war. I, on the other hand, regard the invention of the scenarios in which cities with millions of inhabitants are represented by poker chips as bizarre. This poker metaphor is also Kahn’s. He often began his lectures by asking his audience to regard the US and the USSR as two poker players each initially in possession of 200 poker chips representing so many cities. He would then go on to describe complicated, eminently rational, ways of playing the game with these chips as resources. These exercises had a well defined educational goal. According to Kahn (1965)
… almost everyone in the US who has any interest in these problems or is even modestly well informed, has, as a result of both serious and fictionalized discussions, learned that there are possibilities for control in such bizarre situations.’
Henry A. Kissinger presented similar bright prospects for ‘taming’ nuclear war, that is, subjecting it to control so as to make it a useful instrument of foreign policy. He wrote (Kissinger, 1957):
‘In these circumstances it is possible to conceive of a pattern of limited nuclear war with its own appropriate tactics and with limitations as to targets, areas and the size of weapons used. Such a mode of conflict cannot be improvised in the confusion of battle. However, the limitation of war is established not only by our intentions but also by the manner in which the other side interprets them. It therefore becomes the task of our diplomacy to convey to our opponent what we understand by limited nuclear war, or at least what conditions/limitations we are willing to observe … If the Soviet leadership is clear about our intentions … a framework of war limitation may be established by the operation of self-interest — by the fear that all-out nuclear war and by the fact that new tactics make many of the targets of traditional warfare less profitable.’
So much for bizarre behaviour. The misery directly resulting from this mode of thinking is equally conspicuous. A most interesting article by Christopher Hitchins appeared in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine, in which he traces the intrigues of the US in the Middle East beginning with the early attempt in 1972 to get the Shah of Iran to ‘destabilize’ the Baathist regime of Hassan Bakr in Baghdad. At that time, the US was suppporting the insurgent Kurds. However, the aim was not to help the Kurds achieve autonomy or independence. Rather, their insurgence was encouraged to sap Iraq’s resources. When Iran and Iraq signed a treaty temporarily ending their border dispute in 1975 American aid to the Kurds was abruptly cut off. Apparently an appropriate signal was sent to Saddam Hussein, now master of Iraq, who on the very next day launched search and destroy operations against the Kurds, which have continued ever since. The poison gas attack on Haladjan made history in 1988 — the first time a government used poison gas against its own unarmed citicizens.
Is it in the 1970s then, that Saddam became the Hitler of the Middle East? Not at all. There was no consternation about Iraq’s attack on Iran in 1980. During that war, according to Hutchins, the United States supplied both sides with arms. Hitchins cites an excerpt from Oliver North’s diary (later subpoenaed) for May 15, 1986: ‘Cunningham running guns to Baghdad for CIA; then weapons to Teheran.. Secord runing guns to Iran.’
This is Realpolitik. International politics is a game. Countries, their populations, their resources are the werewithal of the game. The stakes are avenues of influence, development of clientele among the national security forces of other nations, a veto power over the emergence of any rival power, markets for weaponry, the most lucrative trade of our times, rivaling the drug trade.
There remains the task of showing the break of the thinking that accompanies this activity with reality, where, by reality, I mean those aspects of the world that we can experience directly without recourse to a mind set that has created its own universe. I should like to emphasize that this sort of break with reality, as I have just defined it, is quite common in human experience. It is by no means always symptomatic of mental aberration, or ‘madness’ as all kinds of mental aberrations are labeled colloquially. In fact, sojourn in a universe of free fantasy unrelated to what we have called ‘reality’ may be quite salubrious. Children spend much time in imagined worlds. Adults create exceedingly sophisticated fantasy worlds. As an example, take chess. It is in every respect an imaginary world with its own peculiar but absolutely rigorous rules governing events. And I submit that, aside from some farfetched comparisons to strategically conducted war, which need not be taken seriously, the world of chess is completely cut off from the world of ordinary experience. That is to say, the triumphs and frustrations of chess can be experienced only by the initiated in contrast to the joys and sorrows, fears and hopes attending human lives that everyone at one time or another experiences. An even more dramatic example is mathematics, a mental activity originally directly convertible into everyday business, such as land measurement (hence geometry), trade, and so on, later an adjunct of the natural sciences (physics, astronomy). But aside from these links, which still exist, vast areas of mathematics are entirely autonomous. They are a world of pure cerebration unrelated to anything that can be identified in space or time. In my opinion, the ability to create these worlds of fantasy and to escape into them is part of the fun of being human.
I submit that the world or Realpolitik is also a world of fantasy, meaningful only to the initiated. There are links between that world and the world of common human experience, but the results of this linkage are horrendous. The reason for this is that the institution of war with all the horrors that it produces has acquired a raison d’etre of its own, quite independent of the alleged functions that this institution is supposed to serve.
To see this, suppose we engage a chess master in a conversation about chess. He or she, if inclined, will give us intricate and sometimes fascinating explanations of the moves of an analyzed game; how each move serves some immediate or distant goal; how the goals are, in turn, steps toward an ultimate goal — that of winning the game or avoidng losing it. Suppose, however, we push our inquiries a step further and ask why anyone should want to win or avoid losing. This question can be answered tautologically. The situation classified as a won game is by definition more desirable than one classified as a drawn game, and the latter is more desirable than one classified as a lost game. As to why that should be so, or why the game should be played at all, the chess master regards such questions as senseless. The concern is only with how a game should be played, not with why it should be played.
The situation with the war planner or the realpolitiker is different. Like the chess player, the warrior and the virtuoso of power politics may give cogent answers to questions why this or that manoeuvre should or should not be undertaken. When, however, we raise the ultimate question — why a war should be fought at all, or why the game of power politics should be played, he will not declare this question to be senseless. He is more likely to refer to some extrinsic goals to be served by these activities. but these goals have no relationship to the fears or hopes or predilections or aspirations of the vast majority of human beings. The expertise of the military planner and of the realpolitiker serves only the aspirations of the people who live in the world of fantasy created by themselves. For most of the remaining humanity, their activities generate untold miseries.
Unlike the chess master or the mathematician who need only modest support to be able to exercise their expertise and derive satisfaction from it, the realpolitiker needs solid political support, or at least the acquiescence of a large sector of the society in which he pursues his activities and, of course, a substantial portion of its resources. He acquires this support, and through it taps the resources, by a sort of mass hypnosis., exercised through reflexes elicited by what are called the ‘buzz words’: defence, security, deterrence, modernization, and so on. They are the successors of the shibboleths that have been worn out, such as God, king, country, glory, and so on.
It would be doing the realpolitiker an injustice to accuse him of deliberately brutalizing the population by means of these shibboleths. For the most part, he believes in his own fantansies. The real motivation behind the deception is to keep the institution of war alive after it has become obsolete. The institution provides satisfaction for a wide range of occupations, professions, social strata, etc.: for the business man contracts, for the worker well-paying jobs, for the scientist and technician challenging problems, opportunities to exercise ingenuity, and a sense of being near the centres of power; for the politician — political support.
In this way Realpolitik has constructed a world of its own — a world of fantasy which remains without links to the lives of ordinary people, except indirectly by its insatiable appetite for the world’s resources, but only as long as those fantasies and scenarios remain fantasies and scenarios. This is what I mean by bizarre modes of cognition and bizarre patterns of behaviour — symptoms of mental aberration. As soon, however, as those fantasies and scenarios are translated into action, they become obscene orgies of destruction, murder, and mayhem, for which no sanely defensible justification can be given. They then become the embodiment of pure evil. Together the mental aberration and the evil it generates constitute madness.
Note: The above forms the text of a lecture given on January 24, 1991 as one in a series of ‘University College (U of T) Lectures in Peace Studies.’ The lectures are co-sponsored by University College and Science for Peace.