I. Deterrence, Moral Disarmament, Total War and Euthanasia
Total war, therefore nuclear war, is once again in the realm of the thinkable, the possible. And on the other hand, in the West, we are discussing the legalization of euthanasia. One does not see a priori a connection between these two facts. However, the conjunction of the two phenomena is extremely worrying. Why is it so? Because the possible legalization of euthanasic suicide would lead to the dynamic tendency of replacing the balance of terror by what Thérèse Delpech calls the “imbalance of terror.”
To wage atomic war is to commit suicide by killing one’s opponent. This is why the more suicide is contrary to the logic of a culture, the more credible is the classical deterrence (renunciation of killing for fear of dying) on the part of a state structured by this culture. It is thus understandable that, if suicide enters in a quasi-normal way into the logic of a culture, the economy of deterrence is profoundly disturbed.
If, in a nuclear power state, suicide becomes the normal way for the individual to leave life, its opponents have reason to be alarmed. Indeed, the reasoning that “no one wants to commit suicide” loses much of its force. Such a state becomes much more unpredictable because of an inevitable contamination of its political culture by the logic of the ethics that now govern private life. A heavily armed state that then turns suicidal is even more frightening than before, although it is not the same kind of fear at all. The relative security one feels when faced with an opponent who is not afraid to die, but who one is certain also prefers life, is replaced by a painful uncertainty when faced with an opponent for whom the idea of committing suicide seems to be a normal prospect.
But that is not all, because this preference for life, which makes deterrence not only credible but also stably pacifying, is itself suspended on the conviction that life has meaning. Now, euthanasic suicide participates in the idea that life has no other meaning than that of preserving it as long as it is interesting, or not too unpleasant. Overall, this normalized suicide is part of a system, where the absence of a somewhat transcendent meaning logically implies an irredeemable existential despair. Such despair is self-destructive. Having become habitual and culturally shared, it will gradually make collective as well as individual suicide thinkable, acceptable, desirable. For if suicide is the normal death for any individual, it will be the same, sooner or later, for a society where such individuals are aggregated.
Let me explain precisely the most dangerous consequences:
Loss of credibility for a suicidal person but fortuitous deterrent when facing non-suicidal and more robust adversaries—the latter no longer respect him, because they know, or think they know, that the suicidal person only seeks to survive in a pleasant way and has no more reason why he would prefer to die rather than capitulate, provided that his victor assures him a small comfortable life;
Loss of security of nuclear partners facing a suicidal deterrent, whose emotional stability, psychic balance and capacity for rational objectivity they begin to suspect, as with any suicidal person;
The temptation, for these adversaries, to resort preventively, before it is too late in their eyes, to any adequate means to neutralize a dangerous suicidal person, a madman who could well end up seeing in war, one day, the most honorable way to commit suicide.
Deterrence is not a matter of a simple formal theory of games, because if it is a game, and a very dangerous one, it only functions by certain principles in culture. The legalization of euthanasia is a powerful marker for a state. It signs with certainty the tipping of this state into a non-functional culture, especially if this state is a nuclear power. It deprives this state of its character as a reassuring, credible, rational and predictable actor. Under these conditions, total war becomes not only possible in the medium term, but practically certain.
II. Euthanasia: From the Right to Die to Obliged to Die
We are debating the right to die. Many people seem to agree with establishing this right, out of respect for freedom or out of compassion for suffering. They would no longer be in agreement if they realized the price of the obligations it entails. To acquire a certain right to die is indeed to renounce a certain right to live.
If the law establishes a right, whatever it may be, it also establishes three obligations, without which this right would be empty and non-existent:
Not to oppose the exercise of this right;
To provide the means without which the right would remain completely theoretical;
To accept to suffer the effects resulting from its exercise.
Application: The right of X to kill himself implies three obligations for others, taken collectively: the first is not to prevent X from killing himself. The second is to help him to do so, if he does not have the means to do so alone. These first two are obvious. But what is the third? The obligation to kill oneself, in certain circumstances. Nothing less. And this can be demonstrated.
For the law to grant a right, and impose corresponding obligations, it is necessary that the state, or the elites, or the people as a whole, judge that the object of the right, the subject of the authorized action (in this case, killing oneself), is not immoral. One does not imagine that the state could ever establish a right to evade taxes, to set fires, or to collect inheritances. One can conclude, at worst, that the object of the right is not good, but excusable and tolerable, at best, that there is nothing wrong with it and it must be held to be perfectly moral. Some people will undoubtedly be granted the right to think the contrary, and to say so, but not to disturb the enjoyment of the right. In other words: by establishing a right, the state does not simply give an order—it validates in the name of all, despite the dissent of many, a value judgment of a moral nature. As Blaise Pascal says, the people are not mistaken. If they share the judgment that affirms, or concedes, the morality of euthanasia, then they will support the legislator’s action. And in general, the legalization of a practice contributes to the progressive generalization of the belief in its relative or complete morality.
This is where the difficulty arises. For if a type of act is judged to be moral, at least in certain circumstances, not only may we be entitled to it, but there is nothing to prevent it from becoming our duty in other circumstances. If there is a single counter-example, I will renounce this last statement. It will be asked: would this not be the case for the right to die? Well, no.
Experience clearly says the opposite. Among the Inuit, in the past, the elder, when he considered his mouth too useless, went out of the igloo to die slowly in the cold. He probably thought that such was his duty. In the Polynesian tropics, other elders, or even young supernumeraries, would voluntarily leave in a pirogue and never return. They did so because they believed that killing themselves was not immoral and therefore could be a duty. Otherwise, they would have acted differently.
Now, when a person has (by hypothesis) the duty to kill himself, what will the group do, what will society do, if this person refuses to do his duty, when “public necessity, legally established, obviously requires it?” The answer is sadly obvious. He will be forced to do so. If, therefore, we establish a right to commit suicide, we admit the possibility of an obligation to commit suicide, under certain other conditions. The assistance required to fulfill this obligation by the recalcitrant citizen may take the form of those constraints by which, as Rousseau said, “one will force him to be free.” Let’s not mince words. We can only acquire the right to give ourselves death by recognizing the right of the state to give it to us.
III. Two Logical Implications of a Constitutionalization of Abortion
Legislators have an obligation not to legislate in a hurry, but to consider carefully the logical consequences of their decisions. The constitutionalization of abortion would have two rigorous implications in this respect, undoubtedly unnoticed by its short-sighted promoters, but each of which would amount to nothing less than the breaking of the social pact.
First, it aims to reinforce, legally and symbolically, a woman’s right to freely perform an abortion.
Unfortunately, this decision goes much further. It also gives the state the right to implement a demographic policy, which would include, if necessary, the obligation for mothers to have an abortion, as was the case in China.
Indeed, what is the object of a fundamental right can also become, in certain circumstances, the object of an essential duty and, consequently, of a legal obligation. By constitutionalizing a right, the state does not simply give the most imperative order, it solemnly validates, in the name of all, and despite the dissent of many, a moral and very absolute value judgment.
The state proclaims and declares that abortion causes no real harm to anyone, is neither an evil nor a lesser evil. It becomes a pure and unmistakable good. I do not argue with this moral judgment. I am only drawing attention to the fact that, if our state affirms in this way, as strongly as possible, the unqualified morality of this type of act (this would be true for any other), not only do the citizens have the right to it, but absolutely nothing prevents this act from becoming for them (in this case, for women), in certain circumstances, a categorically imposed duty.
If, therefore, one recognizes a fundamental right of the individual to abortion, then one automatically gives the state the right to do an abortion, insofar as public necessity would require it. The short-sighted do not see what a nightmare they are preparing. For the fight against the more than predictable fraud of compulsory abortion, and the securing of the state’s right to do so, could go so far as to prohibit in utero gestation and to make artificial gestation compulsory. And because of the constitutionalization of abortion, it would be legally impossible to escape all these consequences. The constitutionalization of abortion would legally open the way to a totalitarian biocracy with all power over bodies.
Secondly, this constitutionalization would legally open the way to totalitarianism over minds.
No conscientious objection could hold under these conditions. But beyond the problems of the medical profession, as important as it is, what is at stake, universally, is nothing less than the future of enlightenment.
The theoretical and practical debate on abortion centers on the notion of the person. From the theoretical point of view, the question is—is the embryo a person or not, legally, anthropologically, metaphysically? That is the whole question. From a practical point of view, assuming that we cannot get out of doubt, should we apply the adage “when in doubt, we are free” or the adage “when in doubt, we abstain?” That is the question. The current decriminalization remains consistent with doubt and chooses to apply the first adage, “when in doubt, freedom.” Now, in good faith, is this not a theoretical question on which there is legitimate discussion, uncertainty and doubt? And a practical question that does not have an immediately obvious answer either?
If we therefore constitutionalize abortion, we outlaw in the Republic, by an untimely dogmatization, the free discussion of a question, about which any rational and thoughtful person knows with what obscurities it is surrounded. If such an abuse is allowed on such an important and difficult question, where are the limits? A person respectful of the Constitution will feel obliged, before thinking, to ask the authorization of the Republic, which will thus have become despotic. On the grounds of defending this fundamental right (and soon, which others?), one thing leading to another, the list of unconstitutional opinions will be extended ad infinitum, rightly or wrongly, and no doubt in spite of common sense, until there is nothing left, not only of freedom of conscience and expression, but also of the audacity to reason and to communicate the fruit of one’s reasoning—and finally nothing left of reason at all. The Senate will have to say whether, in its opinion, the audacity to think is legally inferior or superior to the Constitution, and whether, without the audacity to think, there can still be a Republican Constitution.
Conclusion? For these two reasons, and some others, it is to be hoped that the Senate, acting with reason and gravity, will conclude to reject an uncultured and inconsiderate proposal, by which the social pact would be broken and despotism substituted for the Republic.
Henri Hude is the former director of the Ethics and Law Department at the Research Center of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy. He is the author of several important works of philosophy, among them, most recently, Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War). These three articles appear through the kind courtesy of Pierre-Yves Rougeyron and Le cercle Aristote.
Featured: Brennende Stadt (Burning city with Lot and the Angel and his Daughters), attributed to Daniel van Heil; painted ca. 17th century.
Former director of the Ethics and Law Department at the Research Center of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, the philosopher Henri Hude has just published, Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), a book written for decision-makers who, in the tragedy of history, have an urgent need to rise to the level of the universal, in order to appreciate situations objectively, and master them effectively. Faced with the persistent risk of high-intensity war that threatens the world, Hude defends the thesis that the solution to the problem of war does not lie in the power of a planetary empire, a kind of “global Leviathan,” but in a philosophical and spiritual awakening, in which religions are called upon to take an essential place and to cooperate in view of a “cultural peace.”
[This interview was conducted by Guillaume de Prémare of the magazine, Permanences, through whose kind generosity we are able to bring you this English version].
Permanences (P): In the present state of our civilization, what are its weaknesses and strengths in the perspective of a return of the tragedy of History?
Henri Hude (HH): It was Reason that made the fortune of Western civilization. The major weakness of the West today is the loss of strong reason and the sense of truth, if that truth is objective, universal, demonstrative and binding. Human freedom, which also characterizes Western culture, is a power of rational self-determination. If reason weakens, thought becomes delirious, and freedom arbitrary.
The great modern philosophy—Kantian, for example, that held sway under the Third Republic—was idealistic; but while losing reality, it had kept objectivity, that of science and morality. Man was everything. Nature and God were who knows where, but Reason remained an impersonal principle at the core of the human soul, capable in theory of absolute truth and in practice of universal and categorical obligation.
Postmodern thinking has swept all that away. Neither God, nor Nature, nor Reason, nor Being. The individual replaces everything, and facts are only what he wants them to be. Individuals therefore spread the infinite magma of data, giving it through their discourses a form of consensual objects, temporarily consensual. It seems that shared envy and common arbitrariness, in affirmation or negation, will suffice to produce reality, even objectivity. Even science bows before desire and interests. There are only fictions left—but these fictions are also all of reality. Western society thus begins to look very much like an insane asylum. Of course, this is only a collective paranoia: one bomb falls somewhere in our country, and very real realities, which mock our discourses, are destroyed and this philosophy collapses. While waiting for war and defeat, or a revival of rationality, to restore, perhaps, realism, the West lives without foundations and plunges into a kind of blur, into a non-functional culture and a somewhat ungovernable society. The powers that be no longer have any leverage to reform—they are all-powerful to deconstruct, powerless for the rest. Let’s not be surprised that history is becoming tragic again.
P: How do you define the tragic?
HH: The tragic is not evil, it is fatal evil. The tragic is beyond the dramatic, where we still oscillate between fear and hope. The tragic is when there is no way out and we are forced to go through it. We sometimes imagine that tragedy would disappear completely if all problems could find a technical solution. This would be true, if all reality were mechanical. But it is not the case. To believe this is to institute a society in which everyone is treated as a cog in a machine. This is why technology, which solves so many problems, immediately creates other, even more serious ones. It itself becomes an unsolvable problem—through technology. This is what the invention of the atomic bomb clearly shows.
P: This tragedy, which we may have thought we could escape, was very much present in the ancient culture from which we come. Why did the Greeks write so many tragedies?
HH: The Greeks were the first humanists of the West. Aristotle said: “Man is the animal in which there is a lot of the divine.” Humanism guesses the greatness of man. Courage is part of this greatness and expresses the awareness of it.
Heroism is the depth of courage. It is the capacity to measure the tragic without dissolving it, without hiding it. It is the capacity to face death, destiny, freedom, salvation or perdition, and evil in all its forms, including war—that universal phenomenon, in time and space. It is part of human existence.
P: We thought we could overcome war, and some say that we have become somewhat soft. Can a nation and a people adapt and quickly convert their mentality and worldview in a crisis situation?
HH: Experience must answer, more than reasoning. What will happen if we have to switch from a soft dream to a hard reality? For example, if we cut electricity in Paris or Lyon for several weeks, what would happen? If the Internet stops working, how will we react? Will we be able to adapt quickly to a new situation that radically shakes up our daily lives and our gentrified mentalities? No one can know a priori. In Ukraine, which is a more rustic country, it is a return to their youth for the older people, because the memory of very difficult times is still recent and vivid.
Generally speaking, humans are built in such a way that they can cope with all sorts of hazards, but this capacity to adapt—to be resilient, as we say today—depends a great deal on the culture: to adapt to the torment, one must accept the very idea of suffering, so that suffering has a meaning, that life and death have a meaning. I fear that if culture is unable to offer us such a meaning, it is not functional—it does not put man in a position to face the hazards of his condition. There is tragedy. Perhaps we will have to bear our share of it. But if the collective meaning of our existence is reduced to consuming satisfactions and living to be old in almost good health, we will not be able to face it. We escape from this nonsense by recognizing the transcendence of man’s soul and that of the Absolute, of God.
P: This sense of transcendence is not very developed today, to put it mildly.
HH: The great philosophy of the Enlightenment, which—as we have said—still reigned in France under the Third Republic, was a religion of Man. There was no longer any Transcendence in the biblical sense of the word, but there was still one, within the Great Divine Whole that man believed to be between the impersonal universal ground that was Reason and the individuals in which it was, so to speak, always incarnated. And this Reason founded objective truth and moral obligation. This dissolved with what is called postmodernity, coming from Nietzsche or Freud among others.
The great rationalist philosophy was rejected because of its neurotic moralism; also because the evolution of sciences had made it partially obsolete; also because it was very aristocratic, elitist, not very accessible, hardly taking into account the individual, of his lived experiences, of the affective, of language, of the body and finally, perhaps especially, because this residue of transcendence constituted still a source of obligation and a limit to the pretensions of the individual freedom to a boundless independence.
Demolishing God, Nature, Reason, Being, Truth, etc., this postmodern evolution leads in practice to nihilism. Living together in confidence under these conditions becomes almost impossible and society becomes ungovernable. Without a cultural revolution, including the recognition of metaphysical foundations, the West will persevere in this nonsense and it cannot even imagine to what extent it will lose its aura and its position in the world. It is a functional culture that allows a civilization to be present in history and to stay there.
P: The prospect of a philosophical, spiritual and cultural upsurge seems rather distant today. Can a time of crisis make decision-makers arise and/or new leaders emerge who will be able to face the situation, and give meaning to events and involve all citizens?
HH: The great crisis occurs when culture does not allow solutions to be found to problems that have become absolutely vital. The non-functional character of culture is today, in my opinion, the root of all problems. I think that we will have difficulty in seeing the emergence of true decision-makers, without a cultural awakening.
P: Today, the West is still dominant, despite its non-functional culture, but it is fragile for the reasons you indicate. On the other side, there is what we can call the rest of the world, which functions according to very different mental patterns. We have the impression that, for the other civilizations, war and the tragedy of history are quite normal things. Doesn’t this create a gap between the West and these other cultural realities, confirming in a way the famous “clash of civilizations?”
HH: We exaggerate cultural relativism. There is a human universality, a community of human nature: each of us is born, dies, suffers, works, exchanges, loves, speaks, questions, invents, negotiates, wars, is cunning, meditates, is anxious. Every man in existence becomes aware of our common nature; and it is this common awareness which is the culture. In all functional cultures, the fundamentals are present, like friendship or truth. The same questions arise everywhere. Zhu Xi could dialogue with Thomas Aquinas, Socrates with Confucius.
However, the human condition also depends on technical progress. Now, in technology and in science, a whole way of thinking is forged. If this way of thinking does not manage to be in harmony with immemorial wisdom, culture becomes dysfunctional. This does not prevent the sciences from being true, nor the techniques from being efficient. And since the West is the place where science and technology first developed, Westernization is inevitably universal. But as it is the reason which made the fortune of the West, so its unreason deprived of wisdom is making its ruin. For the West is becoming the least rational fragment of the planet. If it does not return to reason and wisdom, we will see, in our lifetime, its marginalization—and its great suffering.
P: All the same, the fundamental principles are not the same in all civilizations; for example the notion of freedom in China, or that of equal dignity of persons in India.
HH: You have to look at things in the long term. The simple fact of owning, for example, an iPhone provides a feeling of individual power that was previously unimaginable. This feeling leads to the emergence of an individualism, which is not necessarily negative and anti-social in itself. Technology allows man to realize his power and nourishes the consciousness of a transcendence of the human being. This phenomenon can be devastating for all premodern cultures, and lead to non-functional ways of thinking, where we no longer understand anything about the Absolute or about God, about life, about the universe, about good and evil, about Salvation… But it can make a civilized humanism grow everywhere. The most reasonable solution is to profoundly rethink the relationship of humanist culture to the religion of the God-Man, that is, of Christ. Otherwise, the West will go out of history. But I believe that all its positive values will survive, carried by other peoples.
P: The Romans, then Christianity, developed the concept of the just war, and the Church tried to moralize war. Are there equivalent reflections in other civilizations?
HH: The Canadian researcher Paul Robinson has written a book entitled Just war in Comparative Perspective, in which he shows that all civilizations have had a similar reflection. It is easy to understand why. On the one hand, everyone realizes that goodness is found in justice, peace, mutual service, good understanding; and that war, which uses violence and trickery, is the opposite of the charity we owe each other.
On the other hand, absolute pacifism, in its pure state, seems equally immoral. For if the use of force were unconditionally immoral, intrinsically perverse, there would be no right of collective self-defense, and surrendering to an intrinsically perverse power would be a duty. Moreover, all non-violent resistance would be physically eliminated. Thus, on the one hand we have the immorality of war, on the other the immorality of pacifism. The theory of the just war is an attempt at a solution. War is evil itself; but one must be ready to defend one’s own against aggression. For it is a fact—conflict exists, not just cooperation. The world is full of transgressors, aggressors and unjust people, who take pleasure in appropriating everything and find their enjoyment in the persecution of others. One must therefore be ready to defend one’s own. This is what every functional culture must teach its members. But this is not possible if we sink into the illusion that everyone can remain quietly in his corner, in a passive individualism.
P: The classical theory of the just war has, however, been challenged by Pope Francis.
HH: I read very carefully the chapter of the encyclical Fratelli tutti that deals with war. Paul VI also said, at the UN, “Never again war!” Surely, you don’t want the Pope to be in favor of war! The text expresses, I believe, a fear of the possibility, once again very serious, of total war, therefore nuclear. In this chapter, which (with all due respect) can be described as rather vague, the only perfectly clear formula, although drowned in pacifist rhetoric, maintains the Thomistic doctrine of the just war. It seems to me, therefore, that the Pope is not changing anything in substance. In previous years, in the face of the terrorist problems of 2015, he had in fact, unlike his predecessors, a much more classical and Thomistic attitude on the question of war. What terrifies us today—for example, the atomic bomb—will be surpassed tomorrow by other, far superior means of destruction. It is in this perspective that the Holy Father’s words in Fratelli tutti are justified.
Today we do not know how to live in peace without the balance of terror. With the postmodern crisis of culture that we are experiencing, it is possible that this balance of terror will give way to what Thérèse Delpech calls the “imbalance of terror.” The preference for life makes deterrence credible; but this principle is itself suspended from the conviction that life has meaning. To wage atomic war is to commit suicide by killing one’s opponent. If suicide becomes possible because culture induces a preference for death, then nuclear war is ultimately possible. The desire for euthanasia manifests a preference for death. La Fontaine said in one of his fables, “Rather suffer than die is the motto of men.” But the postmodern culture is suicidal. It says, “Rather die than suffer.” That is why the Pope is right to draw attention to the fact that deterrence between rational actors is no longer guaranteed within the framework of this culture that the West is spreading throughout the world.
P: What is the basis for an ethics of war?
HH: The basis consists in knowing that the good is peace, and that nothing should be done in war that would give rise to a definitive hatred, making the conflictual relationship irreversible. It is a matter of, for example, not to create a hereditary enemy, but rather to use force in a measured, proportionate way, and to limit the time of the war. The ethics of war is the imperative of peace regulating war.
P: In 1945, was the use of the atomic bomb by the USA against Japan proportionate and morally acceptable?
HH: When the means are extremely debatable, the end justifies the means, if and only if the end is morally necessary, and if this means is rigorously necessary to reach this necessary end. Thus the question is: what was the end pursued by the United States? Was this end necessary? And, if so, was the bombing necessary for that necessary end? These are the principles, expressed as questions. Their application is obviously by nature more contingent and dubious than the principles themselves.
The political goal of the United States was to impose on Japan an unconditional surrender that would allow it to change profoundly, militarily, politically and culturally, and to make it a satellite in its Empire. Such an imperious goal is part of a policy aiming at imposing on mankind the Pax Americana. If one considers this goal to be morally necessary, then, in relation to such a goal, the use of the atomic bomb was certainly a necessary means. The conditions demanded of Japan by the USA were exorbitant, and it was to be expected that Japan would put up a tremendous resistance. The atrocious use of the bomb broke this resistance and certainly spared more lives, American and Japanese, than it sacrificed.
The answer to the question you ask leads back to the answer to a more fundamental question: Is the global hegemony of one state morally and politically necessary for the common good of humankind? If so, then the use of weapons of mass destruction is probably justified, at least objectively. If not, then not. In other words, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are an impressive show of force and decisive action, which are legitimate only if the United States can reasonably pretend to be the universal Empire, to be the universal hegemon bringing peace and a true flourishing civilization. Otherwise, what would have been legitimate would have been a reasonable negotiation in which the loser would have accepted to take his loss, without being totally subjugated. When a head of state judges that an end is necessary and that the means to that end is necessary, it is he who makes that judgment and assumes the ultimate moral responsibility for it—it is he who will be accountable to the Supreme Judge.
P: Today, some people seem to think that a universal empire is better than war. Does this seem justified to you?
HH: The “great game” for empire has always existed. Powers want to ensure their hegemony, out of ambition but also out of fear. Let’s think of Athens and Sparta, or Rome and Carthage. Is building an Empire, ideally building the Empire, a just cause for war? The Empire brings peace after the time of conquest, the Pax Romana for example. But every Empire will end. What chaos follows! Today, would the constitution of a planetary Empire be a just, permitted and necessary end? As the techno-scientific world becomes more and more unified, the idea that some kind of universal political authority could emerge has some logic and appeal. But this does not necessarily mean a world state, led by a universal imperial power. The “function of empire” must be fulfilled. Exploring this question is precisely what my book does.
P: How do you characterize the Leviathan and the peace it proposes to us?
HH: I reflect upon the future, from the probable state of technology, in a century or two. We must imagine that we will be able to colonize the universe. We have to imagine the military technology that goes with it. Today, it is science fiction, but tomorrow? If there has been no cultural revolution, it is highly probable that we will have such a fear of war that we will accept an absolute security tyranny. The Power will have access in real time to the brain and the whole body of each individual to take immediately, on the basis of automated and very fast anticipations, the decisions required for the collective security. The security requirement will become such that freedom will be reduced to nothing. This is what I call the “Leviathan.” People will accept it and want it, because there is apparently no other way; and there will be no other meaning to existence than to keep this miserable meaningless life.
My thesis, which I believe I have demonstrated, is that far from being a guarantee against a possible nuclear war, the advent of the Leviathan, on the contrary, will make it highly possible. It will bring us total war; and that will be the sad end of history. That is why we need another solution, without the Leviathan.
P: You are looking for the solution of a political and cultural peace without the Leviathan.
HH: If we do not take the risk of freedom, we take the risk of the Leviathan. It is a profoundly unstable regime, extremely oligarchic, concentrated, dictatorial. The dictatorship will have to rely on a kind of planetary and omniscient “Stalin,” with the right to life or death on any human being. Let us be sure that utilitarianism can justify everything, even the worst, in the name of the good. This supposes the injection of a culture of powerlessness upon the planetary people. It is necessary to develop egoism in order to kill courage. It is necessary to fear death in order to favor materialism. It is necessary to suppress all morals and laws in order to make the crimes of the Leviathan seem normal. It is necessary to fear everything in order to cling to the Leviathan as the one who will save us.
P: All current transgressions are justified in the name of the good. Western elites do not present themselves as villains who would like tyranny, on the contrary.
HH: I am not thinking only of Western or Westernized elites. I am a philosopher and my book is neither a political position nor a geopolitical interpretation. I think that any leader, both powerful and influential in the world, is tempted by the Leviathan solution. The Leviathan is not necessarily a conscious and assumed project; it is in any case an objective dynamic that unfolds, as long as the culture remains unchanged, and which can in this framework be seen as the lesser evil. If we want to avoid the Leviathan, preserving the pluralism of states is necessary, because it is the only way to ensure the division of powers. It is also the only way to have a basis for social justice and regulation. Of course, states remain rivals, with their various ambitions, their greed too. But these States, because of the danger of the Leviathan, must be able, individually, to renounce the universal Empire, whose concrete figure is the Leviathan, and, collectively, to take on the function of Empire.
P: However, one can imagine a strong resistance of the people to the Leviathan.
HH: In order to resist an excess of power or exploitation, one needs a coil—to reduce this resistance, one needs to break this coil. This is why the Leviathan must reduce the intellectual and moral strength of individuals and peoples to a minimum. It must intoxicate the masses with a “culture of impotence”: all sorts of nonsense, even monstrosities, but it must remain unharmed. Indeed, if the Leviathan’s elite began to believe in the nonsense it inoculated into the people in order to subdue them, the Leviathan would reduce itself to impotence.
For the Leviathan to exist and last, it needs a caste of hard, rational, ruthless, cruel, immoral men at its head, who are in solidarity with each other. But how to believe that beings armed with such a culture and endowed with such a psychic apparatus will be able to live in peace without devouring each other? The Leviathan cannot keep its promises of peace. We therefore need to find a culture of peace and a political system without the Leviathan, allowing a world balance, a kind of planetary civilization which does not fall into the absurdities we know. For this, we must start from what exists. The religions and wisdoms that have lost the initiative in relation to the philosophy of the Enlightenment must take the initiative again, now that the Enlightenment has gone mad.
P: However, religions themselves can cause wars.
HH: Of course, religions can cause war. Men fight for an interest, which can be material or moral, i.e., political and economic, or cultural. God, or the Absolute, being the supreme Good, religion or wisdom is also, by definition, a supreme interest. Why should men fight for oil or a piece of territory, but not for the very meaning of life? The more necessary the goal seems, the more man is theoretically inclined to use all means to reach it.
P: When Cavanaugh says that there are no wars for religious reasons, but that all so-called religious wars have a political, cultural or economic underpinning he seems to be reasoning against reality.
HH: Most wars have three aspects: economic, political and cultural. In the term “cultural,” I include the religious dimension. The so-called “religious wars” therefore always have both political and economic dimensions. When, in the 16th century, the English nobility seized the property of the Church, or when the German princes strengthened their independence in relation to the Germanic Emperor, it was not primarily out of religious sentiment. In spite of this, fighting for a metaphysical good is possible, because it touches on the absolute, an absolute for which men are willing to die. To pose the problem well and to be able to solve it, it is necessary to universalize the notion of war of religions and to speak about wars of cultures. Thus, the wars between ideologies born of the Enlightenment, although they do not have a motive that would normally be qualified as “religious,” are nevertheless battles waged for what seems to have an absolute value. These wars of ideologies have probably caused more deaths than all the religious wars. However, if religions can be a factor of wars, they can also be a factor of peace.
P: How can religions be a factor of peace and also bring part of the solution to the problem of war, and thus spare us the advent of the Leviathan?
HH: If we take into account and respect a factor of personal freedom in adherence to the truth, religion automatically leaves the logic of war. For peace to reign, a formula of equity must be found, a way of sharing power, authority, wealth, territories, natural resources, etc. This is why most of the great wisdoms and religions are capable of making an extremely positive contribution to the definition of a kind of global social pact of equity.
I am not at all sure that the current Western formulas, which are liberal extremisms, can achieve anything other than instituting selfishness and war. It would be absurd to deny the potential or actual frictions between the various wisdoms and religions; for they exist, as between the various modern ideologies. However, a very new fact has appeared—from now on, we see the Leviathan emerging; and we know that, if religions allow themselves the luxury of wars between religions, they will all “die.” Indeed, the Leviathan has two ways to impose itself against religions: to divide them in order to throw them against each other, or to dissolve them in a relativistic syncretism.
P: A kind of universal and humanitarian soft religion?
HH: Yes. Religions will be tolerated if they manufacture impotence; but they will nevertheless remain suspect, under surveillance. The important thing is that they produce power for the Leviathan and powerlessness for the citizens. The situation being what it is, with the Leviathan on the horizon, either religions will show exceptional stupidity and will be dissolved by harshly opposing each other, or they will find what I call “a non-relativistic understanding” based on a culture of philia, excluding armed struggle and discrimination, but not excluding proselytizing and conversions.
P: So, you believe that friendship between religions is possible.
HH: Yes, this philia is the natural law itself, which allows a decent public order. Natural law proposes a system of virtues, a golden rule, universal ethical principles, even if we justify them differently by our metaphysical and religious beliefs. I believe that this can work.
P: This assumes, however, that this culture of philia is shared by the different religions. Do you think, for example, that contemporary Islam, as reaffirmed since the early 1990s, could adhere to this this principle of philia?
HH: There are two options: either we practice this philia without denying ourselves, that is to say, by following our conscience and continuing to seek the Truth; or this philia is a dream, a utopia, and there will be no alternative to the Leviathan. This is my conviction.
P: For the Islamists, the West still represents Christianity, a land to be conquered.
HH: Any intelligent person who opens his eyes knows that the West is no longer Christianity, and that the present Western powers have practically nothing Christian left. As for wanting to conquer seven billion people with 5% of a billion and no up-to-date military technology, this is nonsense. This is what the Egyptian president Al Sissi once said.
P: For religions to cooperate, they would have to recognize a common enemy of sorts.
HH: The Leviathan is obviously this common enemy, which is at once a pure concept, an objective dynamic and a real potential for power. Faced with this enemy, an alliance of non-relativistic religions and wisdoms and of nations, excluding the universal Empire. If to this is added a philosophical progress which takes us out of modernity and postmodernity, but which is at the same time traditional and ultramodern, then yes, at this moment, we can hope to live an era of peace and freedom.
P: So, you include the religious question in what you call, in your book, “cultural peace.” In this perspective, Catholics fear that Christianity is moving from a reasonable humanism to an unreasonable, almost naive humanitarianism, and that interreligious dialogue is accelerating a kind of post-Christian decomposition within Christianity, even within the Catholic Church itself.
HH: If you have faith, if you believe that God is God, that Christ is truly the Son of God, that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, that He will reign in glory, you can perfectly well go to your Buddhist or Muslim neighbor and talk to him. Knowing each other is important, so that we don’t get the wrong idea about each other, without deluding ourselves about others and ourselves. Since we have the choice between surviving together or dying together, we must learn to talk to each other.
Father Bertrand de Margerie, a Jesuit theologian, a very good man whom I knew well, wrote a book entitled, Liberté religieuse et règne du Christ (Religious Freedom and the Reign of Christ). He thought that religious liberty, properly understood, was the best way to establish the reign of Jesus Christ in the future. However, without this freedom, clashes between religions or wisdoms are most likely and the Leviathan will prosper by capitalizing on these conflicts. Yet it is by taking into account the dimension of personal freedom in the religious act that a religion can extract itself from a logic of war.
You will tell me, of course, that this or that religion gives less importance to personal freedom and seems fatalistic. But one should not caricature. You will also find Augustinian texts which will give you the impression that Saint Augustine was a fatalist and that he does not really believe in human freedom because Grace does everything. But the praxis of man shows that he is nevertheless aware of his own will and of a certain capacity for self-determination. This is part of the universal human experience. If you want freedom, and if you want to save your soul and not end up as a slave of the Leviathan, you have to get out of a logic of religious war.
You ask me if I believe that the Leviathan will impose itself. I answer that it has a reasonable chance of success. But I also think that the future is very open. The more the postmodern West loses control of the world with reason, and the more diverse Asia remains, the less chance the Leviathan has in the short and medium term. The problem will undoubtedly arise again in a hundred years, but in very different terms and circumstances.
P: My hypothesis is that the extraordinary technical power on which the Leviathan relies is inseparable from economic reality. It is therefore a techno-market reality, a power of technique and money that exercises a form of tyranny. In this context, what is likely to prevent the triumph of the Leviathan is the collapse of technical civilization, as the collapsologists tell us.
HH: To the question “Will the world destroy itself?” Zhu Xi answered: “Men will one day reach such a degree in the absence of the Way, that they will fight each other, giving rise to a new chaos during which men and other beings will disappear to the very last.” Very dark perspective, but very profound. Technology however is not in itself a monstrosity.
P: In itself no, but we are reaching technical levels that are becoming monstrous.
HH: What is monstrous is not the great power of man, it is the decorrelation between science and philosophy, between technology and spiritual reality. For example, we do not see that the human body is a “body of spirit” and we treat it as if it were only a machine without a soul. It is true that, if this decorrelation persists, the future state of technology, in the next centuries, will be absolutely monstrous. More likely, History will have come to an end, despite the Leviathan’s promise of immortality, and especially because of the Leviathan’s inability to keep his promises. To re-establish the correlation, it will be a Cultural revolution which will not block technology, but will humanize it radically and will make it, paradoxically, infinitely more efficient by avoiding most of its perverse effects. But this is impossible without a return, in grace and in strength, of religions and wisdoms.
P: Nevertheless, there remains the hypothesis of an impossible control. At a certain level of sophistication of technology and the means it offers, notably in terms of absolute control of social life, it can become impossible to resist it by wisdom, by culture and politics. The task is perhaps too complex because the temptations are too powerful to resist.
HH: This is unfortunately possible, but it is always possible to hope with reason, because evil is always self-destructive. The will to power, carried to its paroxysm, wants its own death, which frees us when all seems lost. Like the scorpion that stings itself. A dark future is therefore not at all written, and we can try, with a reasonable hope, which can also be supernatural, with all that is humanly possible, to give back to our world, and particularly to the West, the cradle of modern technology, a culture and a philosophy worthy of the name. A humanized technology, too. A non-reductive, humanistic science. I believe that that is the urgent work, both necessary and possible.
In the tradition of Sun Tsu and Clausewitz, Henri Hude has just published a fascinating book, Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), which offers a necessary reflection on what war is today and how to prevent it in the future.
Henri Hude, a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and holder of a Doctorate in Philosophy, was director of the ethics and law department at the research center of the Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan military academy between 2004 and 2018. He founded the International Society of Military Ethics in Europe and is a senior research fellow at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is here in conversation with Christophe Geffroy of La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interview.
Christophe Geffroy ( CG):You open your book by evoking the theory of the just war, from which you distance yourself. What is this theory? Is it obsolete today?
Henri Hude (HH): The idea of a just war is indispensable, in order to get out of the dilemma between the immorality of war, which is easy to admit, and that of pacifism, which can be demonstrated: if all war were perverse, no defense would be legitimate; it would be a moral duty to submit to the strongest, even the most perverse. But in the complexity of today’s world, applying the idea is not so obvious.
The theory of the “just” war can serve as a weapon of legal warfare, justifying any warlike enterprise of the postmodern West. It is then only a matter of separating the idea of “justice” from the idea of the good and to solidarize it with arbitrary individualism (this is the pathological theory of postmodern justice).
CG: In the present context, you show that there is an alternative to total war, which you call the “Leviathan.” What is this Leviathan and how does it come to be an alternative to total war?
HH: Total war, with the progress of armaments, will be more and more equivalent to general annihilation. To survive, it must be prevented. But war is a duel between political wills. If we want to radically prevent war, one solution is to suppress the plurality of political wills. A single world power will do for all peoples what the State does in a single country, according to Hobbes—to be the “Leviathan,” imposing peace by disarming everyone.
In the face of present and future danger, disarming means installing a despotism that reduces the majority to total powerlessness, including spiritual, intellectual and moral powerlessness. The total Leviathan is a unique, absolute and unlimited power, spiritual and temporal, over the human race.
CG: With this concept of the Leviathan, aren’t you afraid of being accused of “conspiracy?”
HH: “Conspiracy” is used to designate either political analyses that are judged to be sketchy or delusional; or stimuli that are judged to be capable of triggering submission reflexes. But conspiracy theory has its credentials. Marx practiced a political conspiracy when he analyzed, in his German Ideology, the links between systems of ideas and class interests. Nietzsche and Freud looked for ulterior motives in every thought, in every action—this is psychological conspiracy. In Descartes, the method depends on the idea of an Evil Genius “who uses all his industry to deceive me,” making man live in a universal illusion. It is the metaphysical conspiracy of “doubt.”
CG: Is this total war nuclear? And where do nuclear strategies stand today?
HH: If war were total, today it would be nuclear. In a total war, all means are used. In nuclear strategy, what cannot change is the general concept of deterrence. But to make war absurd by raising its cost far above the value of any conquest. To make it so that there can only be two defeated parties, and that to want to defeat is equivalent to committing suicide. Between people admitting the preference for life, there can be no nuclear war, except by accident.
But the preference for life depends on the belief in the meaning of life. Postmodern culture, by diminishing this belief, diminishes this preference. If freedom is fulfilled in transgression or perversion, the murder-suicide duality may become desirable. And if freedom refuses objectivity, the worst is to be feared in the appreciation of situations. The balance of terror will give way to the “imbalance of terror.”
CG: Why can’t the Leviathan be the solution to the problem of war?
HH: In theory, the Leviathan is a thinkable solution. In practice, it is not the solution, because it cannot deliver on its promise of peace. On the contrary, it is the most certain cause of war. For the Leviathan to be established in perpetuity would be a miracle, in a universe subject to change. Instead, the Leviathan becomes a personal iron dictatorship subordinating itself, like a disciplined Party, to a terrified oligarchy. It is therefore very unstable, like any extremist regime, never lasting more than two generations. It arouses extreme and irrational opposition, which would then move on to nuclear terrorism.
Such a will to power would not go without a desire for self-destruction. And then, no Leviathan without a culture of impotence destroying the moral strength of the people (and this can be achieved by ruining popular education). But for the Leviathan, to function, must remain rational and powerful. If suicidal, it then becomes contaminated by the idiocies made for the masses. Ceasing to be rational, despising opponents who are more rational than it is, arousing opponents who are even less rational than it is, the Leviathan will fall; and even before its fall, no security is assured.
CG: Traumatized by world conflicts, many Europeans see the nation and nationalism as one of the main causes of war; yet you show that it is not the nation as such that is at fault, but the modern nation as modern. Could you explain this to us?
HH: War, among humans, is a universal phenomenon in time and space, well before the nation and nationalist cultures. Its primary cause is at the heart of man as man. Insofar as the nation is a human fact, it contains, like everything human, including post-national political structures, a potential for aggression and a need for conflict.
Although war cultures do not produce war, they can intensify it. Modern” culture has “doubt” as its foundation, and “freedom-first” as its keystone. Rooted in distrust and fear, it incorporates egoism and war—whose first law, said Marshal Foch, is “to preserve one’s freedom of action.” A “modern” nation is animated by this culture. Nationalism is among the modern ideologies; the one that sees in the modern nation the highest realization of Freedom. If this ideology reigns over a large nation, it will not create domineering ambition, but it will unleash it. And if the phenomenon affects several large neighboring nations, the clash between modern imperial nationalisms is inevitable.
The Leviathan does not only erase nations. Absolute security = freedom at zero + man annihilated. Nations, if they detach themselves from modern culture, can block the Leviathan. A non-imperial alliance of nations, animated by an ultramodern culture of peace, of philia: this would be the political solution without the Leviathan.
CG: Why, in any current war, do we demonize the enemy with the risk of going towards total war?
HH: Postmodern culture hyper-culpabilizes violence and what it wrongly associates with it (strength, energy, power, authority, virility, etc.). War becomes an absolute evil. When postmodern powers deem war necessary, they must then justify it by a more than absolute evil—the demonized enemy.
In any culture, there is a risk of going to war at the extremes of enmity, but the culture of courage inclines to respect for the adversary. “The blood of our enemies is also the blood of men.” But the culture of impotence is “the decline of courage.”
CG: In your book you mention the crisis of representation and sexual liberalization that aims at the control of the masses. Could you explain the mechanism of these two phenomena?
HH: There is a crisis of representation when representatives are powerless. Today, free elections remain, but elected representatives no longer control much. The power is elsewhere: the media, the markets, international organizations, treaties preforming the policies to be carried out, judicial power having for criterion an idea of the individualistic and uprooted man. This excludes nationalist, socialist, or conservative decisions, which the majorities often demand, rightly or wrongly.
Faced with stagnation and decline, elected officials lack personal authority, for lack of a new vision and strategy. In a degraded situation, cornered into verbiage, they reap mistrust and contempt, while the demand for justice, lacking direction, does not go beyond sterile protests.
Sexual freedom is the ultimate safeguard against social revolution. It makes the exploited in solidarity with the exploiter. Both think that freedom consists in being a selfish, and the arbitrary individual, who does whatever he wants with his property, the one his body, the other his money. Sexual liberalization is an elitist “biopolitics” aimed at controlling the masses.
CG: In order to establish a culture of peace, you attribute a key role to religions, even though many people think that religions are a factor of division and therefore of war. How do you see this role of religions which are themselves very different?
HH: The survival of the human race requires peace. Peace requires a culture of peace. Religions have been at war with each other. This is the first reason why secular humanist cultures have supplanted them. And yet, modern humanist culture is a culture of war. More people have died in wars of ideology than in wars of religion. Postmodern culture sinks into the inhuman and favors the Leviathan. The pendulum swings back the other way. The initiative of a culture of peace belongs to religions and wisdoms, if they are capable of being factors of peace.
CG: What is needed for religion to be a factor of peace?
HH: Taking personal freedom into account. This is the decisive condition for transforming religion into a factor of peace. For we must not deny the obvious. One can fight for religion. When one believes in it, the salvation of the soul or the honor of God are the most important things. If salvation requires a degree of free adherence to the saving truth, religious freedom is encouraged, but it is not a “freedom-first,” and it does not express a political utilitarianism indifferent to truth, salvation, and Divinity. Consequently, religion asks less for power than for freedom. It relies more on persuasion than on force. We are thus not in a logic of war.
If religions do not take into account this factor of personal freedom, they are henceforth doomed to destroy themselves for the sole benefit of the Leviathan. They can be all the more easily allied, since they have the Leviathan as their mortal common enemy. They can once again become the nucleus of planetary culture, by becoming, together, the bulwark of human freedom against the Leviathan. This strategic alliance does not exclude conversions and does not imply relativism. But it does require that the natural value of friendship and the priority interest in the mystical dimension of religion be cultivated among all religious people.
CG: In what way does secularism, in the sense of the distinction of powers, require the notion of natural law? And in religions, isn’t this aspect specific to Christianity?
HH: In my opinion, what can be called “secularism” consists less in ideas or laws than in the effective reality of peaceful coexistence, without relativism, in philia, between seekers of the Absolute. It is probable that the distinction between temporal and spiritual is more coherent with this religion than with another, but the practical necessity of peaceful coexistence, on pain of neutralization by the Leviathan, is obviously imposed on all of them—and this is enough for all of them, including the less traditionally secular ones, to admit a practical secularism, at least in the sense that I have just said.
If there is philia, there will also be the golden rule, the set of virtues that philia unifies, the admission of basic moral rules. All this, being common to the whole human race, and not only to this or that culture, or civilization, forms a natural morality. This natural law is sufficient for the needs of public order. Philia is only a word if it does not materialize in this friendly justice. Thus, without natural law, there is no philia, and without philia, there is no secularism.
The postmodern West has lost this notion of natural law, but above all it has lost the sense of objective truth, and this is even more serious. The common opinion among us is that we cannot know anything for sure in morality. This is a mistake. Everyone knows what to do to go to war with his neighbor. The causes of war are objective. Elementary morality, as a prohibition of these causes of war, is therefore just as objective. There is a natural law, at least in the Hobbesian sense—the natural law is the law of peace.
CG: We reproach Islamism for waging “holy” wars against the West through jihad, but are we not doing the same as the Americans in Iraq in the name of “freedom?”
HH: If we were capable of forming true and universal notions, we would recognize that the postmodern West has waged, between 1991 and 2021, several wars, in its eyes “holy” (in relation to its Absolute of Freedom of the Individual), against Muslims considered as disbelievers. The latter are not mistaken. They are only wrong to speak of “crusaders” and “crusades,” because our West of today, at least in its spheres of power, has nothing Christian anymore. Can this religion of Freedom, which does not stop fighting against another, claim to be above all religions and wisdoms in order to organize a peaceful coexistence between them? And then, who will be able to do it? This is the question.
CG: In what way is the culture of peace a culture of philia?
HH: The cultures of the great premodern civilizations put wisdom, or piety, first. Without necessarily excluding freedom; they only give it a secondary value. They are most often cultures of peace, but they dysfunction from a certain degree of freedom that progress makes possible and which they resist. Freedom then prevails, but this modern humanist culture, which puts Freedom first, is a culture of war, by definition, since the first principle of war is to preserve freedom of action. Moreover, it encourages political fanaticism and absolutizes temporal issues.
Philia is part of wisdom and piety, while assuming trust, thus a sufficient degree of freedom, reasonably evolving. The good without freedom cannot work. Neither can freedom without the good. The two are in danger of colliding. What allows for peace and “a new humanistic synthesis,” as Benedict XVI said, is philia, social friendship. This is the main idea of Fratelli tutti.
CG: In conclusion, you write that only the non-relativistic understanding of religions can prevent the Leviathan from triumphing. Could you explain this to us?
HH: The Leviathan cannot establish himself without neutralizing all religions and wisdoms, because they produce fortitude, and it can only dominate through a culture of impotence. To neutralize religions, it has two ways. Either to make them fight each other, to set itself up as an arbiter. Or to subordinate them all to the relativistic principle, which is the basis of the culture of impotence to be introduced in all brains. If religions and wisdoms are not exceptionally stupid, they put both means in check, by refusing both to fight and to merge in a relativist syncretism. The Leviathan is the main common enemy that allows, paradoxically, an understanding that, without it, would not be self-evident.
Featured: Allegory of War, by Jan Brueghel the Younger; painted ca. 1640s.