Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Hospitality Codicil

Hospitality and International Relations, II

By John Taylor; 2009 Dec 15, Masa'il 04, 166 BE

We are looking at Immanuel Kant's outline of a future world constitution, specifically the "third definitive article." This part of his Sketch for a Perpetual Peace deals with questions of sovereignty, ownership of land, the freedom to travel and live where one chooses and, most of all, of relations between peoples. The common ground where all these meet is hospitality. The title of this section is, "The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality." As I understand him, Kant is saying that there is a difference in kind between ordinary hospitality and universal hospitality. He defines the term in this way:

"Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility."

In the beginning, there was no need for hospitality because there was no property. A host cannot entertain guests if he has no specific place to call home. Probably referring to hunter-gatherer societies, Kant posits that "Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth." Only when private property evolved did we get a communitarian sense that the earth could be a possession. From property evolved the laws of hospitality.

In comparison with rule by naked force and the morality of "might makes right," hospitality is as close to the ideal as possible. The moral basis of hospitality is the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We now know that the Golden Rule is to be found in virtually every moral and religious tradition. The reciprocal responsibilities on both host and guest rule over relations among every group, right up to the international level.

As we saw yesterday, there have always been problems with ordinary hospitality in practice, since it is, as Shakespeare put it, "more honoured in the breach than the observance." While ordinary hospitality is a theoretical ideal, it assumes equality between guest and host. When one party is disproportionately more advanced than the other and there is no central authority, reciprocal behaviour is unenforceable. The stronger side is always tempted to break the Golden Rule while expecting the weaker party to comply to it. As mentioned yesterday, this kind of one-sided hospitality ends up as a form of hypocrisy even more cynical than "might makes right."

"In East India (Hindustan), under the pretense of establishing economic undertakings, they (British colonizers) brought in foreign soldiers and used them to oppress the natives, excited widespread wars among the various states, spread famine, rebellion, perfidy, and the whole litany of evils which afflict mankind..."

While tyrants of old oppressed millions, this process has become progressively worse since Kant's time. The present hypocrisy subjugates not millions but billions in penury, without benefit of basic infrastructure. And crime and corruption spread as fast as physical pollution. A recent study estimates that organized crime has shot from five percent of world GDP to fifteen percent over the past decade. Worst of all, the hypocritical kind of hospitality is scuttling the all-important international talks taking place this week in Copenhagen. Instead of talking in terms of eliminating carbon emissions wholesale, rich and poor nations squabble over who will emit how much.

This is why I am drawn to this document while these talks continue. As our world teeters on the brink of climate-induced anarchy and collapse, I look over what Kant says here:

"The worst of this (or, to speak with the moralist, the best) is that all these outrages profit them nothing, since all these commercial ventures stand on the verge of collapse, and the Sugar Islands, that place of the most refined and cruel slavery, produces no real revenue except indirectly, only serving a not very praiseworthy purpose of furnishing sailors for war fleets and thus for the conduct of war in Europe."

Before these climate talks, Kant's analysis must have seemed premature. Clearly, Europe gained great riches from plundering the planet, as does the United States today. But the great game is not over. Even now the wealthy elite imagines that they can keep raking in short term profit from the structural changes that climate change demands. But ultimately Kant's moral stance is correct, the only way for some to profit is for all to submit to binding, universal hospitality. We have to set up universal hospitality as the fundamental limitation because ultimately all peoples derive the right to associate,

"... by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other."

With each advance in technology ever more distant parts of the world are brought into closer contact. The Internet is the ultimate conclusion of this trend, for it makes the entire sphere of earth into a giant brain. The only way to take this to its natural conclusion, peaceable relations of all peoples with one another rather than conflict and competition, is by forging our universal consent into a constitution establishing world citizenship.

"Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a supplement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, indispensable for the maintenance of the public human rights and hence also of perpetual peace. One cannot flatter oneself into believing one can approach this peace except under the condition outlined here."

Next time I will go into more detail on this crucial difference between ordinary hospitality and universal hospitality.



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