17 May 2006

  Louis Rene Beres

  Professor of Political Science and International Law

  Purdue University


  TEL 765 494-4189

  FAX 765 494-0833



        Every Jew is familiar with Deuteronomy 30:19. "I have set before you

life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and

your descendants may live." But in choosing life, there must be a prior anxiety

about death. Without such anxiety, there can be no correct understanding of what

is required to live.

        What is true for individuals is also true for nations. Israel, because

it now prepares to surrender even more essential lands to Hamas and possibly

even to ignore Iranian nuclearization, approaches widening terrorism and

multi-level unconventional war. At the same time, many citizens of Israel appear

comfortably assured that their country can endure. Insufficiently apprehensive

about the coming of "Palestine" and the correlative prospect of an atomic Iran,

these Israelis want no part of any national anxiety.

        Israel now suffers from too little anxiety. Refusing to tremble before

the very real possibility of collective chaos and national disintegration,

Israel is now unable to take the necessary steps toward remaining "alive." And

because death is the one fact of life which is absolute, Israel's denial of its

national mortality deprives its still-living days of indispensable preparations

against both genocide and war.

        States are sometimes the individual human being writ large. For states,

as well as for individuals, confronting death can mentor the most positive

nurturance of life. A cultivated awareness of nonbeing is central to each

state's pattern of potentialities as well as to its physical survival. When a

state chooses to block off such an awareness it loses, possibly forever, the

altogether critical benefits of "anxiety."

        There is a distinctly ironic resonance to this argument. Anxiety, after

all, is generally taken as a negative, as a liability that cripples rather than

enhances life. But anxiety is not something we "have." It is rather something

that we "are." It is true, to be sure, that anxiety can lead individuals to

experience the literal threat of self-dissolution, but this is, by definition,

not a problem for states.

        Anxiety stems from the stunning awareness that our existence can

actually be destroyed. Forgetting both Einstein and Buddhism, we humans can be

struck with the paralyzing understanding that we can become nothing. This is

correctly called Angst, a word related to anguish (which comes from the Latin

angustus, "narrow," which in turn comes from angere, "to choke.")

        Here lies the idea of birth trauma as the prototype of all anxiety, as

"pain in narrows" through the "choking" straits of birth. Kierkegaard identified

anxiety as "the dizziness of freedom." Such dizziness can impact the survival of

nations. Israel is a critical case in point.

        Both individuals and states may surrender freedom in the hope of ridding

themselves of anxiety. For states, such surrender can lead to an expanding

"unfreedom" that seeks to crush all political opposition. It can also lead to a

national self-delusion that augments enemy power and hastens catastrophic

conflicts. For the Jewish State, a lack of pertinent anxiety, of the positive

aspect of Angst, has now led its always imperiled people to the precipice of

collective disappearance.

        Truth often emerges only through paradox. Israeli imaginations of

collective mortality - imaginations generated by a common national anxiety - are

integral to survival as a state. To encourage such productive imaginations,

Israelis need look much more closely at the inevitable survival consequences of

their incremental territorial surrenders and at the corresponding development of

nuclear weapons in Iran.

        Automatic presumptions of collective immortality are not helpful to

Israel's security. Instead, the people of Israel must learn to cultivate

imaginations of national death in order to prevent annihilation. Strange as it

may seem, Israel must quickly discover, in the coming abyss of potential

nonbeing, the course of direction toward national life. By drawing knowingly

upon the anxiety of death's immanence, the People of Israel could then nurture

enough Angst to "choose life."


  LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and lectures widely

on international relations and international law. The author of many major books

and articles, his work is well-known within senior academic, military and

government circles in Israel.

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