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Immanuel Kant’s views on politics, peace, and history have lost none of their relevance since their publication more than two centuries ago. This volume contains a comprehensive collection of Kant’s writings on international relations theory and political philosophy, superbly translated and accompanied by stimulating essays.
Pauline Kleingeld provides a lucid introduction to the main themes of the volume, and three essays by distinguished contributors follow: Jeremy Waldron on Kant’s theory of the state; Michael W. Doyle on the implications of Kant’s political theory for his theory of international relations; and Allen W. Wood on Kant’s philosophical approach to history and its current relevance.
Whatever concept of the freedom of the will one may develop in the context of metaphysics, the appearances of the will, human actions, are determined, like every other natural event, in accordance with universal natural laws. History, which is concerned with giving a narrative account of these appearances, allows us to hope that, however deeply concealed their causes may be, if we consider the free exercise of the human will broadly, we can ultimately discern a regular progression in its appearances. History further lets us hope that, in this way, that which seems confused and irregular when considering particular individuals can nonetheless be recognized as a steadily progressing, albeit slow development of the original capacities of the entire species. Thus, given that the free will of humans has such a great influence on marriages, on the births that result from these, and on dying, it would seem that there is no rule to which these events are subject and according to which one could calculate their number in advance. And yet the relevant statistics compiled annually inlarge countries demonstrate that these events occur just as much in accordance with constant natural laws as do inconstancies in the weather, which cannot be determined individually in advance, but which, taken together, do not fail to maintain a consistent and uninterrupted process in the growth of the plants, the flow of the rivers, and other natural arrangements. Individual human beings and even entire peoples give little thought to the fact that they, by pursuing their own ends, each in his own way and often in opposition to others, unwittingly, as if guided along, work to promote the intent of nature, which is unknown to them, and which, even if it were known to them, they would hardly care about. Since human beings do not, in the pursuit of their endeavors, follow merely their instincts as do animals, and yet also do not, as would rational citizens of the world, proceed in accordance with a previously arranged plan, it does not seem possible to present a systematic history of them (as could be given for bees or beavers, for instance). One cannot but feel a certain disinclination when one observes their activity as carried out on the great stage of the world and finds it ultimately, despite the occasional semblance of wisdom to be seen in individual actions, all to be made up, by and large, of foolishness, childish vanity, and, often enough, even of childish wickedness and destructiveness. When confronted with this, one does not know, in the end, how one ought to conceive of our species, one so thoroughly conceited about its own superiority. The only option for the philosopher here, since he cannot presuppose that human beings pursue any rational end of their own in their endeavors, is that he attempt to discover an end of nature behind this absurd course of human activity, an end on the basis of which a history could be given of beings that proceed without a plan of their own, but nevertheless according to a definite plan of nature.-Let us now see whether we can discover a guiding principle for such a history, and then we want to leave it up to nature to produce the man who is able to compile such a history in accordance with this principle. Thus nature produced Kepler, for instance, who described, in an unexpected manner, the eccentric orbits of the planets as subject to definite laws, and Newton, who explained these laws in terms of a general natural cause.
All of a creature's natural predispositions are destined eventually to develop fully and in accordance with their purpose. This proposition is supported both by external observation and by internal observation or dissection. An organ that is not meant to be used, or an arrangement that does not achieve its purpose, is a contradiction in the teleological theory of nature. For if we abandon this principle, then we can no longer understand nature as governed by laws, but rather only as playing aimlessly; and the dismal reign of chance thus replaces the guiding principle of reason.
In the human being (as the only rational creature on earth), those natural predispositions aimed at the use of its reason are to be developed in full only in the species, but not in the individual. Reason is the ability of a creature to extend the rules and ends of the use of all of its powers far beyond its natural instincts, and reason knows no limits in the scope of its projects. Reason itself does not function according to instinct, but rather requires experimentation, practice, and instruction in order to advance gradually from one stage of insight to the next. For this reason any individual person would have to live an inordinately long period of time in order to learn how to make full use of all of his natural predispositions. Or, if nature has limited the span of his life (as has in fact happened), it requires a perhaps incalculable number of generations, of which each passes its enlightenment on to the next, in order to eventually bring the seeds in our species to the stage of development which fully corresponds to nature's purpose. And this point in time must, at least in the idea of what the human being is, be the goal of his endeavors, since otherwise his natural predispositions would have to be regarded as largely futile and pointless. All practical principles would thereby be abolished, and nature, whose wisdom otherwise serves as the basic principle for judging all other arrangements, would thus be suspected of childish play in the case of human beings alone.
Nature has willed that human beings produce everything that extends beyond the mechanical organization of their animal existence completely on their own, and that they shall not partake in any happiness or perfection other than that which they attain free of instinct and by means of their own reason. For nature does nothing superfluous and is not wasteful in the use of its means to attain its ends. The mere fact that it gave human beings the faculty of reason and the freedom of will based on this faculty is a clear indication of its intent with regard to their endowments. They were intended neither to be led by instinct, nor to be supplied and instructed with innate knowledge; they were intended to produce everything themselves. The invention of their means of sustenance, their clothing, their outward security and defense (for which it gave them neither the bull's horns, nor the lion's claws, nor the dog's teeth, but only hands), all the joys that can make life pleasant, their insights and prudence, and even the goodness of their will were intended to be entirely the products of their own efforts. Nature seems to have taken pleasure in its own extreme economy in this regard, and to have provided for their animal features so sparingly, so tailored as to meet only the most vital needs of a primitive existence, as if it had intended that human beings, after working themselves out of a condition of the greatest brutishness to a condition of the greatest skill, of inner perfection in their manner of thought, and hence (to the extent possible on earth) to a state of happiness, should take the full credit for this themselves and have only themselves to thank for it. It thus seems as if nature has been concerned more with their rational self-esteem than with their well-being. For in the course of human affairs, humans are confronted with a whole host of hardships. It seems, however, that nature was not at all concerned that human beings live well, but rather that they work themselves far enough ahead to become, through their behavior, worthy of life and of well-being. What is disconcerting here, however, is that previous generations seem to have pursued their arduous endeavors only for the sake of the later ones, in order to prepare for them a level from which they can raise even higher the structure that nature intended; and that nevertheless only the later generations should have the fortune to dwell in the building which was the work of a long series of earlier generations (albeit without this being their intention), without themselves being able to share in the fortune that they themselves had worked toward. But however perplexing this may be, it is nevertheless necessary if one assumes that an animal species should possess reason and, as a class of rational beings, each of which dies, but whose species is immortal, ought nonetheless attain the full development of its predispositions.
The means that nature employs in order to bring about the development of all of the predispositions of humans is their antagonism in society, insofar as this antagonism ultimately becomes the cause of a law-governed organization of society. Here I take antagonism to mean the unsociable sociability of human beings, that is, their tendency to enter into society, a tendency connected, however, with a constant resistance that continually threatens to break up this society. This unsociable sociability is obviously part of human nature. Human beings have an inclination to associate with one another because in such a condition they feel themselves to be more human, that is to say, more in a position to develop their natural predispositions. But they also have a strong tendency to isolate themselves, because they encounter in themselves the unsociable trait that predisposes them to want to direct everything only to their own ends and hence to expect to encounter resistance everywhere, just as they know that they themselves tend to resist others. It is this resistance that awakens all human powers and causes human beings to overcome their tendency to idleness and, driven by lust for honor, power, or property, to establish a position for themselves among their fellows, whom they can neither endure nor do without. Here the first true steps are taken from brutishness to culture, which consists, actually, in the social worth of human beings. And here all of the talents are gradually developed, taste is formed, and, even, through continual enlightenment, the beginning of a foundation is laid for a manner of thinking which is able, over time, to transform the primitive natural predisposition for moral discernment into definite practical principles and, in this way, to ultimately transform an agreement to society that initially had been pathologically coerced into a moral whole. Without those characteristics of unsociability, which are indeed quite unattractive in themselves, and which give rise to the resistance that each person necessarily encounters in his selfish presumptuousness, human beings would live the arcadian life of shepherds, in full harmony, contentment, and mutual love. But all human talents would thus lie eternally dormant, and human beings, as good-natured as the sheep that they put out to pasture, would thus give their own lives hardly more worth than that of their domesticated animals. They would fail to fill the void with regard to the purpose for which they, as rational nature, were created. For this reason one should thank nature for their quarrelsomeness, for their jealously competitive vanity, and for their insatiable appetite for property and even for power! Without these all of the excellent natural human predispositions would lie in eternal slumber, undeveloped. Humans desire harmony, but nature knows better what is good for their species: it wills discord. Humans wish to live leisurely and enjoy themselves, but nature wills that human beings abandon their sloth and passive contentment and thrust themselves into work and hardship, only to find means, in turn, to cleverly escape the latter. The natural motivating forces for this, the sources of unsociability and continual resistance from which so many ills arise, but which also drive one to the renewed exertion of one's energies, and hence to the further development of the natural predispositions, thus reveal the plan of a wise creator, and not, as it may seem, the work of a malicious spirit that has tampered with the creator's marvelous work or ruined it out of envy.
The greatest problem for the human species to which nature compels it to seek a solution is the achievement of a civil society which administers right universally. Nature's highest intent for humankind, that is, the development of all of the latter's natural predispositions, can be realized only in society, and more precisely, in a society that possesses the greatest degree of freedom, hence one in which its members continually struggle with each other and yet in which the limits of this freedom are specified and secured in the most exact manner, so that such freedom of each is consistent with that of others. Nature also wills that humankind attain this, like all the ends of its vocation, by its own efforts. Thus a society in which freedom under external laws is connected to the highest possible degree with irresistible power, that is, a perfectly just civil constitution, must be the highest goal of nature for the human species, since it is only by solving and completing this task that nature can attain its other goals for humankind. It is hardship that compels human beings, who are otherwise so enamored of unrestrained freedom, to enter into this condition of coercion. Indeed, it is the greatest hardship of all, that which human beings inflict on each other, whose natural inclinations make them unable to live together in a state of wild freedom for very long. It is only in a refuge such as a civic union that these same inclinations subsequently produce the best effect, just as trees in a forest, precisely by seeking to take air and light from all the others around them, compel each other to look for air and light above themselves and thus grow up straight and beautiful, while those that live apart from others and sprout their branches freely grow stunted, crooked, and bent. All the culture and art that decorates humankind, as well as its most pleasing social order, are fruits of an unsociability that is forced by its own nature to discipline itself and thereby develop fully the seeds that nature planted within it by means of an imposed art.
Excerpted from Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History by Immanuel Kant Copyright © 2006 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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