Nayef Al-Rodhan

philosopher, neuroscientist, geostrategist, and author

Nayef R.F. Al-Rodhan (born 1959) is a Saudi philosopher, neuroscientist and geostrategist. He is an Honorary Fellow of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University and Centre Director, Centre for the Geopolitics of Globalization and Transnational Security and Senior Fellow, Emerging Security Challenges Programme, Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

Nayef Al-Rodhan


  • Cultural and ethnic diversity benefit humanity’s future, survival, strength and excellence, promoting what I call cultural vigour, similar to the way in which molecular and genetic diversity promote “hybrid vigor” in nature and thus strength, resilience and a higher potential for a problem-free future.
    • The Geopolitics of Culture: Five Substrates, (2014)
  • Globalization is a process that encompasses the causes, course, and consequences of transnational and transcultural integration of human and non-human activities.
    • Pillars of Globalization, p. 13 (2006)
  • In a globalized world, security can no longer be thought of as a zero-sum game involving states alone. Global security, instead, has five dimensions that include human, environmental, national, transnational, and transcultural security, and, therefore, global security and the security of any state or culture cannot be achieved without good governance at all levels that guarantees security through justice for all individuals, states, and cultures.
    • The Five Dimensions of Global Security: Proposal for a Multi-sum Security Principle, p. 15-16 (2007)
  • We should aim for peaceful coexistence at least and transcultural synergy at best.
    • Symbiotic Realism: A Theory of International Relations in an Instant and an Interdependent World, p. 124 (2007)
  • Just like the threat of mutually assured destruction from nuclear weapons, an extensive war in space would make space useless, and the decisions taken today will influence the use of space for many generations to come.
    • Meta-Geopolitics of Outer Space - (2012) p.285
  • In order to stop the cycle of disenfranchisement, frustration, and discontent, dignity must be central, paving the way for a governance model that is affordable, acceptable, and applicable to various regional and cultural sensibilities.
  • Much of what we often consider knowledge is actually a point of view held without sufficient grounds: in a word, dogma.
  • The lack of collective dignity felt by so many in the Arab world is the result of a combination of internal autocratic and corrupt regimes, with predictable ineffective and unaccountable governance, supported by external actors with short-term geopolitical interests.
  • Neuro-rational Physicalism is premised on the neuro-biological foundation of human nature, which implies that thoughts, perceptions or emotions correspond to a physical reaction in the brain.
  • It is unrealistic to imagine a US geostrategic vision which sees its pivotal interests linked exclusively to the Pacific region. More appropriately, we need to consider the wider Middle East, Central Asia and North-East Africa to be bound together in a geopolitical unit of pivotal importance.
  • 3D printing is going to transform our societies, our freedoms and our sense of security.
  • Much like addictive drugs, power uses ready-made reward circuitries in the brain, producing extreme pleasure.
  • In the “stealth era,” battlefield strength might just be dictated by the level of stealth or invisibility technology at the disposal of combatants. This is likely to trigger a scientific and technological race, as well as provide new platforms for countries to enhance their prestige domestically and internationally.
  • A lesser-known fact about the geopolitics of resources has escaped public polemics. This refers to rare earth metals or rare-earth elements (REMs), a set of 17 naturally occurring non-toxic materials, which play a pivotal role for emerging technologies and which are predominantly produced and exported from China.

The Role of Education in Global Security (2007)

  • Institutions should focus on educating against clashes of culture and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace.
    • p.105
  • People should be educated about the links between education, ideology, and politics as a way to promote the virtue of humility.
    • p.106

Emotional amoral egoism (2008)

  • Human nature is governed by general self-interest and affected by genetic predisposition, which implies that there are likely to be limits to our moral sensitivities.
    • p.15
  • The enduring assumption that human behaviour is governed by innate morality and reason is at odds with the persistence of human deprivation, inequality, injustice, misery, brutality and conflict.
    • p.16
  • In my view, most human beings are innately neither moral nor immoral but rather amoral. They are driven by emotional self-interest and have the potential to be either moral or immoral, depending on what their self-interest dictates, and will be influenced in their choices by emotions and socio-cultural contexts. Circumstances will determine the survival value of humankind’s moral compass in that being highly moral in an immoral environment may be detrimental to one’s survival and vice versa. Indeed, our neuronal architecture is pre-programmed to seek gratification and feel good regardless of the reason. All apparently altruistic behaviour serves self-interest at some level.
    • p.16
  • Further, humanity must never be complacent about the virtues of human nature. Therefore, everything must be done at all levels to prevent alienation, inequality, deprivation, fear, injustice, anarchy and the loss of the rule of law. History has shown repeatedly that humankind is capable of unthinkable brutality and injustice. This is often a result of what I call fear(survival)-induced pre-emptive aggression, which may occur no matter how calm the situation appears, although it is not necessarily inevitable. Moreover, where there is injustice that is perceived as posing a threat to survival, humankind will do whatever necessary to survive and be free. In such instances, might (military or otherwise) may not prevail or be the optimal solution.
    • pp.16-17
  • Human nature as we know it is, nevertheless, malleable and manageable. It may be radically modified as a result of advances in bio-, molecular, nano- and computational technologies. It will therefore be essential to establish a clear code of ethics regulating the use of these technologies sooner rather than later.
    • p.17
  • Humankind is conceived as primarily motivated by neurochemically mediated emotions resulting from genetic make-up and environmental influences, employing reason and engaging in conscious reflection only occasionally.
    • p.65
  • We are neither radically free to choose our nature nor entirely determined by our biological heritage.
    • p.65
  • Circumstances will determine what I term the survival value of humankind’s moral compass. Being highly moral in an immoral environment will almost certainly be detrimental to one’s survival and vice versa.
    • p.71
  • In other words, it is my view that the brain is preprogrammed to feel good (i.e., to seek a sense of well-being/gratification). This is what I term the gratification principle. This usually occurs as the result of instinctive salient/relevant acts or what we normatively decide are salient/relevant acts.
    • p.110
  • Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest innate morality. It is therefore important to create the conditions under which the expansion of our moral communities may become more likely.
    • p.156
  • Those who are outside the centres of power, because of the need for a positive and not simply a stable identity, are likely to find an independent identity appealing.
    • p.180
  • Emotional Amoral Egoism indicates that ethnic conflict should be understood in terms of a reaction to a failure to satisfy a group’s basic physiological, security and ego needs due to discrimination, experienced by a group whose relations are premised, above all, on cultural affinities.
    • p.181
  • Human and societal security should be seen as complementary to state security, and security must be thought of in multi-sum and multi-dimensional terms (human, national, transnational, environmental and transcivilisational).
    • p.203
  • The power of emotions as drivers of behaviour, especially when survival is perceived as being at stake, needs to be recognised and taken into account at all levels of society and governance.
    • p.203
  • Policies should take account of the emotional dimensions of human behaviour rather than assuming rational action.
    • p.203
  • Policies that assume that human nature is a tabula rasa (clean slate) should be reviewed and revised to reflect that man has an in-built genetic code for survival with no evidence for innate morality.
    • p.203
  • Morality, if present, should not be relied on because it will be trumped by self interest in most circumstances.
    • p.204
  • All policies should be packaged with full awareness of the limitation of human nature (amorality, emotionality and egoism) in both the short- and the long-term.
    • p.204
  • International cooperation is required to prevent anarchic situations developing and the unmasking of ever-present brutality and injustice that results from fear for survival in such situations.
    • p.204

Sustainable History and the Dignity of Man (2009)

  • I define sustainable history as a durable progressive trajectory in which the quality of life on this planet or other planets is premised on the guarantee of human dignity for all at all times and under all circumstances.
    • p. 13
  • Many of the great achievements in history that are commonly attributed to one geo-cultural domain often owe a great debt to those of others. In this sense, some of the greatest achievements of human civilisation have been collective efforts and are part of the same human story.
    • p.14
  • A good governance paradigm that limits excesses of human nature and ensures an atmosphere of happiness and productivity by promoting reason and dignity is required.
    • p.27
  • Humankind is an insignificant part of existence.
    • p.27
  • Human beings are emotional amoral egoists, driven above all by emotional self-interest. All of our thoughts, beliefs and motivations are neurochemically mediated, some predetermined for survival, others alterable.
    • p.27
  • What makes our existence meaningful is highly subjective and ultimately determined by sustainable neurochemical gratification.
    • p.28
  • All knowledge is acquired through the application of reason and has a physical basis.
    • p.28
  • There is only one collective human civilisation comprised of geo-cultural domains and cultures.
    • p.28
  • The history of human civilisation is a history of mutual borrowings.
    • p.28
  • Dignity is central to the sustainability of history.
    • p.28
  • Security, stability and prosperity will depend on the application of the multi-sum security principle that captures the multi-dimensional aspects of security and insists on the centrality of global justice for lasting security.
    • p.28
  • Harmonious interstate relations will be guided by the paradigm of Symbiotic Realism that stresses the importance of absolute rather than relative gains.
    • p.28
  • A set of global values in keeping with human nature and dignity need to be identified and developed.
    • p.29
  • Strict ethical guidelines need to be developed in anticipation of significant technological and biotechnological advances in order to guarantee human dignity.
    • p.29
  • Ultimately, I conclude that however we understand existence, what gives meaning to our lives are those things that serve our neurochemically based emotional self-interest in a sustainable way.
    • pp.85-86
  • Addictive drugs misuse the brain’s existing pre-programming, activating reward mechanisms and extreme feelings of pleasure. When stimulated, the brain’s pleasure centres emit signals to repeat the behaviour. In this sense, the brain is pre-programmed to feel good.
    • p.97
  • Knowledge is also inferred from what is accepted as established knowledge, with new knowledge being based on the best explanation. This includes possible truths subject to proof.
    • p.108
  • Knowledge about things beyond our immediate environment may be acquired through deduction, if the initial premises are believed to be correct.
    • p.108
  • The notion of innate knowledge (including moral knowledge) is rejected, but that of moral sensitivities is accepted.
    • p.108
  • All knowledge is to some extent interpreted.
    • p.108
  • There is a physical neurobiological substrate to all human knowledge, including thoughts, memories, perceptions and emotions. To this end, mental states and thought processes are physical.
    • p.109
  • Morally relevant emotions are essential for living in social groups and they provide the basis on which we may construct conceptual frameworks that help guide our actions, but human beings should more accurately be thought of as being endowed with morally relevant capacities rather than innate moral knowledge.
    • p.128
  • Each high point in the history of human civilisation has taken place where the conditions were ripe and has borrowed and built on the achievements of other cultures whose golden age may have passed.
    • p.138
  • Almost every golden age of geo-cultural domains has been characterised by good governance, exchanges, borrowing, innovation and the adaptation of earlier contributions to forms of knowledge, and rationalism.
    • p.171
  • One challenge is to agree on minimum criteria of good governance that are not perceived as a threat to cultural traditions and to draw on moral concepts that are indigenous to specific cultural settings. {{fix cite}
  • Human beings are largely motivated by their emotional repertoire, manifested through their need for attachment, physical security, a sense of belonging and a positive personal and collective identity.
    • p. 186
  • Civilisational triumph is thus not a zero-sum enterprise that favours one geo-cultural domain over another.
    • p.213
  • Civilisational triumph is important because if it is not actively sought, conflictual relations between members of geo-cultural domains may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    • p.219
  • Justice is paramount to civilisational triumph because of its centrality to human dignity needs, the success of individual geo-cultural domains and the well-being of human civilisation.
    • p.219
  • Focusing purely on extremism, whether in the Arab-Islamic world or the West, will not alleviate the root causes of tensions between members of different cultures. It will only alienate those who do not recognise themselves in those stereotypes, and generate fear and misunderstanding.
    • p.390
  • Cultural essentialism is, thus, intimately tied to power relations. Fixity, homogeneity and separateness are prioritised within an essentialist framework. Therefore, part of any effort to resist essentialism is recognising diversity within difference, contingency, mutability and connectedness.
    • p.393
  • Considerations of justice are also integral to efforts to generate transcultural security in the first instance and, ultimately, transcultural synergy.
    • p.403
  • One of the key ingredients of coexistence and successful cooperation is trust.
    • p.403
  • In my opinion, a life governed by reason is likely to be more dignified than one shaped by dogma and unbridled emotions.
    • p.437
  • Indeed, collective triumph will also depend both on the application of reason and the recognition that a great deal of knowledge is indeterminate and may be temporally, spatially and perhaps culturally constrained.
    • p.437

Neo-statecraft and Meta-geopolitics (2009)

  • Our new concept of just power argues that the promotion of justice should be the aim of modern statecraft, not for altruistic reasons, but because it is the only sustainable way that states can promote progress and stability in a globalised world.
    • p.13
  • If states do not act according to principles of justice, the injustices they perpetrate will harm not just other states but ultimately also their own national interest.
    • p.117
  • A state’s foreign policy should not just be smart, it should also be just.
    • p.139
  • By promoting justice and thus the interests of the international community as a whole, a state will be able to make its influence over others sustainable and achieve its own national interest.
    • p.147
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