viernes, noviembre 15, 2019


George Friedman's Thoughts: Flipping the Cards

By: George Friedman

Let me turn over some cards. Reasonable people (every one of you, I’m sure) are likely wondering what in the world I am doing, swinging from discussions of enchantment to the benefits of solid over liquid propellants in missiles, and back again. The motivation is embedded in my life; I have been asked to write a book on the geopolitics of space and warfare.

In a way, it would be a 20-year follow-on to my book “The Future of War,” published in 1996.

It has also been my personal desire to write a book embedding the concept of geopolitics in the tradition of western philosophy, showing the lineage from Plato to Hegel from which that line arises.

On the surface, these must be two separate books. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized these ideas are really one book. I was personally shaped by war, and intellectually by political philosophy, with assorted other sordid threads. For me, war and philosophy have been indelibly linked.

Humanity is going into space to wage war more efficiently, and, as with the seas, it will transform who we are. But the underlying question of all change is, who are we? What is the thing that is permanent, and what is the thing that is, in Aristotle’s words, “coming to be and passing away”?

When Europeans took to the high seas, the vast nothingness from which no land can be seen, they were changed. They were changed not only because they were going somewhere, but because they encountered a realm, still part of Earth, in which they confronted something they had never confronted before – a realm in which every landmark ceased to exist, and in which the laws of life and community had been transformed. Far out on the Atlantic, sailors discovered the nothingness from which there was no appeal but going forward or dying.

It seemed to me that this moment must have transformed humanity, not only because of the new understanding of the map of the world, but because of the experience of existing in an uncontrollable nothingness. This world evolved, of course, into a realm of business and war. It became a realm that still overwhelmed those of us who had sailed on it. The sense of aloneness, with only God aware of you, had dissipated.

And it was the geopolitical reality of the Spanish Main, the Royal Navy and the Boeing 707 that turned this realm into something humanity could grasp and even own. The transformation of the oceans from an existential crisis into the commons on which humanity did business and waged war turned it from a metaphysical moment to a geopolitical one.

But the truth was deeper. The oceans revealed the aloneness in which humans live deep in their souls and also that the aloneness is far from the entirety of the human condition – and that what took humanity beyond the abysmal moment was geography and politics, place and community. In other words: geopolitics.

The abysmal moment of aloneness is embedded in geopolitics. Geopolitics is about more than war, but in a sense, it is always about war. The experience of the soldier begins with his buddies (and a sergeant or two), but there is the moment that he must face alone, an ocean of angry danger, seeking to annihilate him, and he alone, not by choice, selecting between life and death.

Plato said that the philosopher was golden and the soldier silver. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. The soldier’s love is of his city or country or honor or fear of being a coward. The philosopher loves one thing that comprises everything. The soldier loves everything but also fears many things.

There is an intimate link between the solder and the philosopher that Plato described. They are not the same, but they are inseparable. Their souls are profoundly different. One guards the wall, not because his city is just, but because it is his honor and duty to do so. The other guards the soul of the city, not by being just, but by caring about what justice is. So, they are the two precious metals that make up what is great in humanity – and what is horrible.

There are three Greek words that must be mentioned here: logos, phronesis and techne. Logos means two things – reason and language. The New Testament’s Book of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The word it used was “logos.” Logos is the highest thought a human can have, whether of God or of reason. It is the essence of philosophy and of Christian theology.

Phronesis means a practical wisdom. We Americans speak of getting things done. The type of reason that makes it possible to get things done is phronesis. Plato sat on a log and spoke of important things. It is said that he fought in an Athenian war. But in the end, he left us logos, reason and words.

Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle, who learned from Plato. Aristotle understood that Alexander did not need what he had to offer; Alexander knew from his birth how to be a soldier, the greatest soldier who ever was. And using his phronesis – his practical reason – Alexander conquered the world. Logos is exceptional in humans. Phronesis is what makes our species what it is.

Techne is the point at which logos and phronesis meet. Techne, like philosophy, needs to understand the underlying principle of things, but not as an end itself. Techne is intended to do things with that knowledge, to change the way in which we live.

It combines the practical wisdom of phronesis with the transcendent reason of logos, to do things that are transcendent. The Wright brothers made it possible for men to fly, perhaps the most extraordinary of things. They sought to understand the nature of air, not as an end in itself but to fly in it. That is both phronesis and techne.

In space, we enter a realm even more profoundly alien than the oceans, a place where even making a sound is impossible. And we enter that realm in order to wage war and guard the walls of our nation, as others will theirs. And the principles that Plato taught about the nature of the soldier’s soul will go there as well.

And what will take him there is techne, or technology, and what will save his life is phronesis, practical reason. But we will be in a place that only philosophy can grasp, because it, more than the oceans, will change our souls.

Therefore, why not a book that embeds geopolitics within the Western tradition, through grasping the meaning of space and, first of all, the most human of things, war? So, flipping the cards over, why not pose the question of place within the history of thought by considering the strangeness and the commonness of a place in which there is no gravity or air or sound? And why not link the story of logos with that of phronesis and techne?

My son, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel from the United States Space Command, is the ultimate warrior, seeing space through the practical eyes of phronesis and the techne of using the basic principles. He makes the sacred his own, not elevating it to logos but making it human through phronesis.

So, to be banal, it will be one book, not two, linking the emergence of humanity’s presence in the place where the gods were said to live, with the history of thought that led us to this.

I think I will name it hubris.

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