>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….