Personal beliefs and perpetual peace


Objectively (i.e., in theory) there is utterly no conflict between morality and politics. But subjectively (in the self-seeking inclinations of men, which, because they are not based on maxims of reason, must not be called the [sphere of] practice [Praxis]) this conflict will always remain, as well it should; for it serves as the whetstone of virtue, whose true courage (according to the principle, “tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito”) in the present case consists not so much in resolutely standing up to the evils and sacrifices that must be taken on; rather, it consists in detecting, squarely facing, and conquering the deceit of the evil principle in ourselves, which is the more dangerously devious and treacherous because it excuses all our transgressions with an appeal to human nature’s frailty.

― Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and other Essays on Politics, History and Morals


Today we started a discussion on one of the oldest idealistic views of our shared life on this planet: cosmopolitanism.

Philosophers, politicians, poets and activists have all embraced the idea, but it has yet to claim a secure position as a defining political activity that actively defines human relations. Perhaps it will never.

Kant’s quote above gets to the heart of this, and speaks to the question I have asked you to consider: What do you bring to the table in a discussion of cosmopolitanism, global politics and human relations? Kant would be more dramatic and ask us to squarely face the “deceit of the evil principle in ourselves,” but we are not going to assume that our transgressions are evil. We are going to assume that we have pre-existing notions and political beliefs that create conflicts between morality and politics–especially on a global scale–and we are going to analyze this potential to determine how it may define our world-view consciously or unconsciously.

Some nudges:

  • Do you believe your nation, ethnicity or culture is better than others?
  • Do you believe that no culture is superior to others, but all cultures are different?
  • Do you identify more with people from a similar background, or do you identify equally with any human you encounter?
  • How would you describe your political beliefs? Do you support a particular political party in your nation? Any nation?
  • How would your parents and family answer the above questions? Are your answers more similar, or dissimilar to theirs?

Feel free to expand your self-analysis. Stretch.


Some parting thoughts from Frank: Fukuyama

The effect of education on political attitudes is complicated, for democratic society. The self-professed aim of modern education is to “liberate” people from prejudices and traditional forms of authority. Educated people are said not to obey authority blindly, but rather learn to think for themselves. Even if this doesn’t happen on a mass basis, people can be taught to see their own self-interest more clearly, and over a longer time horizon.

Education also makes people demand more of themselves and for themselves; in other words, they acquire a certain sense of dignity which they want to have respected by their fellow citizens and by the state. In a traditional peasant society, it is possible for a local landlord (or, for that matter, a communist commissar) to recruit peasants to kill other peasants and dispossess them of their land. They do so not because it is in their interest, but because they are used to obeying authority. Urban professionals in developed countries, on the other hand, can be recruited to a lot of nutty causes like liquid diets and marathon running, but they tend not to volunteer for private armies or death squads simply because someone in a uniform tells them to do so.

― Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

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