December 13, 2009

Perpetual Peace Project

Perpetual Peace Project is organized by the Slought Foundation, based on Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace: A Contribution to Political Science (1795). The project “is a two-year initiative of the European Union National Institutes of Culture’s ‘Series in New European Manifestos,’ which re-revisits and re-writes European political texts that have profoundly shaped our modern world.” Kant noted that the phrase “perpetual peace” was posted near a cemetery, with the recognition that death might be the only human way of achieving peace. Kant’s preliminary articles from the late eighteenth century bear listing here, in the same week that Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize while increasing the numbers of US troops to be deployed to Afghanistan. I have much to learn about Kant, because I find these statements surprisingly radical. But then 1795 was a radical time in western Europe. It’s possible that Kant wrote this as irony, and intended to cast doubt on there ever being such a thing as Peace.

Article I. No conclusion of Peace shall be held to be valid as such, when it has been made with the secret reservation of the material for a future War.

Article II. No State having an existence by itself–whether it be small or large–shall be acquirable by another State through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation.

Article III. Standing Armies shall be entirely abolished in the course of time.

Article IV. No National Debts shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the State.

Article V. No State shall intermeddle by force with the Constitution or Government of another State.

Article VI. No State at war with another shall adopt such modes of hostility as would necessarily render mutual confidence impossible in a future Peace; such as the employment of Assassins or Poisoners, the violation of a Capitulation, the instigation of Treason and such like.

Kant says of the modes listed in Article VI that “these are dishonorable stratagems.” Indeed. The Slought Foundation and its collaborators encourage us to rewrite this possibly satirical manifesto in light of contemporary events.

My rewriting of Article I: We must constantly remember that an open hand can become a fist.

Other rewritings to follow. Thanks so much to Aaron Levy of the Slought Foundation for our conversation yesterday!

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