>Immanuel Kant says we’re Selfish!

>Are we too selfish to achieve true world peace? Immanuel Kant seemed to think so. In one of his shorter essays, “Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795)” he said as much.

Now the republican constitution is the only one wholly compatible with the rights of men, but it is also the most difficult to establish and still harder to maintain, so much so that many contend that the republic must be a nation of angels, for men’s self-seeking inclinations make them incapable of adhering to so sublime a form of government.

At the turn of the 19th century modern republican democracy was in its infancy. America was just 19 years old when Kant made that statement. Great Britton’s House of Commons was much less powerful than the nobility’s House of Lords and both houses still largely differed to the will of the king. Napoleon was consolidating power in France and would soon stage a coup convincing the elected senate to install him as emperor. Monarchies were the rule of the day throughout Europe and would hold for the next 100 years in Germany, Austria and Spain to name just a few. America was looked upon with scepticism and even distain as a foolish experiment.

Kant looked at the world around him and made some very astute observations. Imperial governments do not have to listen to the population in the same way that democracies do. They are free to amass wealth and direct it any way they wish. But because imperial leaders are human they generally use their wealth to feed their ego and the more wealth they amass the more likely they are to try and push their agenda not only in their own territory but beyond. In Kant’s time governments were amassing wealth and power through imperialist expansion in Africa and the Far East that put them on a collision course eventually leading to the Napoleonic and other wars.

And so Kant concluded that republican democracy was the only type of government that could come close to achieving lasting peace. By turning government over to the masses, even if only in the form of the occasional referendum, the wealth of the nation had to be focussed on the needs of the people and not the ego of a leader. But therein lies the rub. Kant’s prediction that the selfishness of human nature would be democracies undoing seems more likely today than ever before.

The great paradox of western culture is that all have the right to Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, it’s enshrined in constitutions for Pete’s sake, but with millions of us all jockeying for the same thing we are bound to get in each other’s way. My liberty will inevitably encroach on your liberty. My pursuit of happiness may upset yours. Left unchecked liberty will lead to anarchy.

I’ve been accused of being everything from too liberal to too conservative and even a bit skitsophrenic by some of my readers. Quite honestly I don’t know what any of that means. I just look at and comment on the world through the lens of my personal experience and right now I see a very selfish society that is on the path to destruction.

Immanuel Kant was right; our self-seeking inclinations are incompatible with democracy. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it work because the alternatives are inconceivable.

It’s going to take me a while to flesh out all of the implications of this line of thought so stay with me. Many of you will likely disagree with my conclusions, please comment on anything you take issue with. I crave the dialogue, it’s how I learn. I very rarely sensor anything I receive. If you do agree I want to hear from you too. As you know, when all you get is negative feedback you start to wonder if you might be crazy.

Stay tuned, I promise, it’s about to get really interesting….


  1. >Hi Lauren, you've written an interesting article. I tend to agree with your view but am wondering why you see the alternatives as inconceivable? What are these alternatives? I have been following the Mises blog http://mises.org/ an Austrian School of economics and libertarian political and social theory. I have some problems with some of its articles especially where they concern government's role in social policy. Mises' preference being small government that allows the flow of free market forces. It seems to me that democracy requires a good balance between social responsibilities and the free market. At present many democracies are struggling to find that balance. The GFC clearly shows free market left to itself doesn't work very well but social control doesn't work very well either. I'll enjoy reading your further thoughts on this.Annie

  2. >Kant is a tough cookie to crack. I have some fundamental disagreements with his ethics (deontology). Regarding his thoughts on America, I think he was like most Europeans at the time: staring slack-jawed at an American system they could not fathom. They were living in a different era, and we were ahead of our time.Sadly, establishing a democracy was one of the last steps America took first. We were slow to abolish slavery, give women the right to vote, and we treated the native population as second- or third-class citizens well into the 20th century (and in many ways, still to this day). We're not the model anymore. We're the prototype full of errors and bugs, showing wear, with a little rust in the wheels of Congress.We ought to be encouraging a culture of humility and frugality; perhaps these hard times we're having will serve us good.

  3. >Many philosophers of old are "tough cookies" as you say and I agree the America was ahead of her time. I also agree as you say that "We're not the model anymore. We're the prototype full of errors" It is those errors, not just in America but all over that I intend to discuss over the next few posts.

  4. >The problem here in America is that our politicians have, over the last 125 years (roughly) have allowed perpetual croneyism and "special interest" groups, largely with secular progressive agendas become more and more influential, to the point that they are as powerful as any multinational corporation. Speaking of corporations, we have stopped enforcing any form of anti-trust, or anti-competition legislation allowing corporations to have lobbying power of nations, with the same rights and protections as individual. Our corporate laws are based on the notion that an incorporated business is owned by a person as they were before the industrial revolution. This was intended to protect small business owners from the type of corruption we now see in "tort" litigation. Ever see those cheesy t.v. commercials, where the attorneys say they don't get paid unless they collect money for you if_____subject of lawsuits change daily? John Edwards D, ex presidential candidate slimeball who cheated on his wife, used his slick tongue and $300 haircuts to exploit his way into being a multi-millionaire in tort lawsuits. So, we used to prevent such scumbags from exploiting our businesses, but as we let companies get so big that they control a market, weasel tort lawyers have learned how to exploit the corporations who then exploit the customers by raising prices. The kicker is, the government loves this arrangement because the tort lawyers lobby (buy time to talk to our representatives), as do the corporations, and when prices increase, so do sales tax revenues, so the government makes money from all sides. So, the logical answer seems to be to eliminate the lobbyists, the tort lawyers, and bust up multinational corporations and "special interest" groups such as the ACLU, NAMBLA, Planned Parenthood, The Rainbow-Push coalition,AFL-CIO, ACORN, SEIU,ELF etc., we'd probably be a much better country. Instead, we give all of the above taxpayer money for their endeavors. On top of that, our "of," " "by" and " and "for" the people is now more interested in bailing out companies that are "too big to fail" instead of allowing failure and renewal as as happens naturally as it does in nature and in venture (small business) capitalism, we now have the worst scenario possible…an endless cycle of big corporations backed by the government money pushing or or buying out small businesses out. Since the Corporations are multinational, tax have migrated to other countries where operating costs are lower.

  5. >And hello to AnnieH, I too have very strong libertartarian leanings. I believe that most Americans that call themselves "conservatives" really want something much closer to libertarianism than the Republicans will ever offer….and by the way, the tractor trailer load of food and clothing that my fellow local Christians have gathered to send to Haiti makes me think otherwise. Fortunately, we have a clear way to get the materials sent to the people in need. Most people are using the 9099, which will go the way of typical U.N or federal aid to third world countries and will be effective in supplying cartels/local militias and will not get to the people that are in need. The ways of "getting things done" in places like Haiti are rarely effectively used in this regard and so the donations that are sent with the best of intentions but do more harm than good by empowering those who are the most corrupt and are the root cause of the problems.

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