Sunday, December 27, 2009

Diplomatic Sincerity

Kant on the Need to be Sincere Internationally

Immanuel Kant points out in his Cosmopolitan History that wars and revolutions are not anomalies. They have an underlying purpose, which, unfortunately, they fall short of, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill, eternally trying but eternally failing.

"All wars are accordingly so many attempts (not in the intention of man, but in the intention of Nature) to establish new relations among states, and through the destruction or at least the dismemberment of all of them to create new political bodies, which, again, either internally or externally, cannot maintain themselves and which must thus suffer like revolutions; until finally, through the best possible civic constitution and common agreement and legislation in external affairs, a state is created which, like a civic commonwealth, can maintain itself automatically." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, Seventh Thesis, p. 256)

This automatic arrangement among states would be a constitutional world government. Unfortunately, even peace advocates like the Abbe de St. Pierre and Rousseau had laughed at the "fantastical" idea of a League of Nations because in order for this to happen, states would have had to come to the same realization that individuals do at that mythical point in the past when they agreed to form governments, "namely, to give up their brutish freedom and to seek quiet and security under a lawful constitution." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, Seventh Thesis, p. 256) Needless to say, difficult as it is for individuals give up this "brutish freedom," nations will be all the more reluctant to do so. Yet the question remains, does it make sense to assume that what is reasonable for a part is not reasonable for the whole? Is the brutish freedom of an individual morally different from the "barbaric" freedom of a nation? In answer to these questions, Kant says:

"Purposeless savagery held back the development of the capacities of our race; but finally, through the evil into which it plunged mankind, it forced our race to renounce this condition and to enter into a civic order in which those capacities could be developed. The same is done by the barbaric freedom of established states. Through wasting the powers of the commonwealths in armaments to be used against each other, through devastation brought on by war, and even more by the necessity of holding themselves in constant readiness for war, they stunt the full development of human nature." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, Seventh Thesis, p. 257)

Kant makes here what I think is an essential point about government, that its ultimate reason for being is educative. It was formed not for its own good but to bring the capacity of all humans to their full potential. Therefore, at the same time we form a League of Nations, we would also have to devise a world educational program -- which, needless to say, did not occur when the abortive institution named the "League of Nations" was formed soon after the First World War. Underlying all such structural problems, Kant recognized, is an unfortunate tendency of leaders to be hypocritical and insincere in the face of the moral demands of their office.

"So long as states waste their forces in vain and violent self-expansion, and thereby constantly thwart the slow efforts to improve the minds of their citizens by even withdrawing all support from them, nothing in the way of a moral order is to be expected. For such an end, a long internal working of each political body toward the education of its citizens is required. Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery. In such a condition the human species will no doubt remain until, in the way I have described, it works its way out of the chaotic conditions of its international relations." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, Seventh Thesis, p. 256)

Lost in their quest for barbaric freedom (absolute sovereignty) nations seek instead physical dominance, economic and military hegemony, over one another instead of aiming at being the best-educated and most moral among states. We have to overcome this barbaric state and sincerely desire the good of all humanity before we can expect the full benefit of international agreements.

"The problem of establishing a perfect civic constitution is dependent upon the problem of a lawful external relation among states and cannot be solved without a solution of the latter problem." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, Seventh Thesis, p. 255-256)

Until we overcome our ambition and mendacity -- not so much as individuals as in our group relationships -- the human race will fall short of the purpose which God and nature intended for us,

"The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men."


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