Unit Overview

In these last two weeks we take a look at some of the biggest challenges we face looking ahead in building a more just world. These are dealing with the staggering levels of extreme poverty around the globe. Facing the challenge of reducing or eliminating war. And develop an ethic and political system that protects the environment that we all depend on for our survival. The Steven Pinker reading and video are summaries of his book The Better Angels of Our Nature which looks at the levels of violence in the world as related to historical levels. Evidence shows that violence has declined dramatically. Pinker also attempts to look at the causes of why violence has declined.

The essays we look at on each topic only take up one small aspect of these very large and complex issues. In the first essay Peter Singer argues that those of us in affluent countries have a moral obligation to donate to charity. Douglass Lackey looks at the traditional arguments that have been used to justify when it is morally appropriate to go to war. And Paul Taylor outlines a Kantian argument for why we ought to protect the environment.


Steven Pink The Better Angels of Our Nature

Kant “Toward Perpetual Peace”

“Kant sees the preservation and promotion of our own freedom as our most fundamental moral obligation.”

“Kant argues that such widespread freedom of action can exist only in a republic, by which he means a system of government that respects the rights of private property and contract, that divides legislative, executive, and judicial power, and that prohibits proprietary and hereditary rulers, that is, rulers who regard their dominion and their office as private property, to be passed on to heirs of their own rather than the people’s choice and augmented or diminished as they see fit.”

“In Toward Perpetual Peace, Kant argues that stable peace can come only when all the nations of the earth are such republics, governed by citizens who see the security of their property obtaining only under the universal rule of law rather than by proprietary rulers who can always see a neighboring state as a potential addition to their own personal property. But in Kant’s view even a worldwide federation of republics cannot guarantee world peace: such a federation provides the necessary conditions for peace, but peace can only be realized and maintained by the free choice of all those politicians governing the republics—the “moral politicians”—to do so.”

Step 1: Preliminary Articles

“Kant presents his scheme for the necessary conditions of perpetual peace as if it were a treaty. Its first part comprises “preliminary articles for perpetual peace among states” which would reduce the probability of warfare even among states that are not yet true republics. These preliminary articles preclude peace treaties with secret reservations, acquisition of states as if they were private property, standing armies, the incurrence of national debt for purposes of foreign adventures, interference with the constitution or politics of other states, and in general all acts of hostility that would “make mutual trust impossible.”

Step 2: An Actual Federation of Republican Governments

“The “definitive articles” for perpetual peace, however, require not just the avoidance of provocations but the permanent institution of a federation of republican governments, whose citizens always have the right to hospitality from foreign governments but not the right to colonize or dominate other states.”

Federation vs. One World Government

Kant’s insistence upon republican governments throughout the world may be an expression of his idealism, but his insistence upon a federation of such governments rather than a single world-government is a sign of his realism: he thinks a single world-government would just be too big to govern by republican means and would inevitably degenerate into a tyranny. He argues that we may think of differences of language and religion as providential provisions of nature to make a single-world government impossible, while the spread of trade and its need for respect for rights of property and exchange across national borders should inevitably encourage internationalism.

The Importance of Moral Politicians

“But, Kant insists, even a “race of devils” could figure out the necessity of both the preliminary and definitive articles for world peace, and then feign compliance with them while secretly attempting to subvert them when they think that is in their own interest. Only moral politicians will decide always to observe these articles, not merely when seeming to do so is in their own short-term interest but when really doing so is in the long-term interest of everyone throughout the world.”

Assessing Kant in view of Current Events:

“Political scientists sometimes argue that Kant’s scheme for perpetual peace has been undermined by the subsequent course of history, which apparently offers numerous examples of republics making war upon one another. But to this objection, two replies should be made. First, it is far from clear whether even in modem times there has ever been a war between two polities that do not merely call themselves republics but really do satisfy Kant’s own highly stringent definition of a republic. Certainly the existence of a legislature did not make the Germany of 1914 a true republic (while the continued existence of a monarchy might not have prevented the Britain of the same period from more fully approximating the ideal of a true republic). Second, it must always be remembered that Kant never argues that even a worldwide federation of republics makes permanent peace necessary; his view is rather that only such a federation makes permanent peace even possible. Kant’s final word, after all, is that human beings have free will, and no matter what remain free to choose to do what is right, but equally free, alas, to choose evil over good.”

Kant’s List of Preliminary articles

1. ‘No conclusion of peace shall be considered valid as such if it was made with a secret reservation of the material for a future war.’

2. ‘No independently existing state, whether it be large or small, may be acquired by another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase or gift.’

3. ‘Standing armies (miles perpetuus) will gradually be abolished altogether.’

4. “No national debt shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the state.’

5. ‘No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state.’

6. ‘No state at war with another shall permit such acts of hostility as would make mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace. Such acts would include the employment of assassins (percussores) or poisoners (venefici), breach of aggreements, the instigation of treason (perduellio) within the enemy state, etc.’

Kant’s “Definitive Articles for Perpetual Peace”

“A state of peace among men living together is not the same as the state of nature, which is rather a state of war. For even if it does not involve active hostilities, it involves a constant threat of their breaking out. Thus the state of peace must be formally instituted, for a suspension of hostilities is not in itself a guarantee of peace. And unless one neighbour gives a guarantee to the other at his request (which can happen only in a lawful state), the latter may treat him as an enemy.”

The path to achieving perpetual peace is analogous to how we go from a state of nature to a social contract. Right now we are in a state of nature regarding international relations because there is no international social contract.

First Definitive Article of a Perpetual Peace: The Civil Constitution of Every State shall be Republican

“A republican constitution is founded upon three principles: firstly, the principle of freedom for all members of a society (as men); secondly, the principle of the dependence of everyone upon a single common legislation (as subjects); and thirdly, the principle of legal equality for everyone (as citizens). It is the only constitution which can be derived from the idea of an original contract, upon which all rightful legislation of a people must be founded. Thus as far as right is concerned, republicanism is in itself the original basis of every kind of civil constitution”

Why a Republican Government will lead to peace

The republican constitution . . . offers a prospect of attaining the desired result, i.e. a perpetual peace, and the reason for this is as follows. —If, as is inevitably the case under this constitution, the consent of the citizens is required to decide whether or not war is to be declared, it is very natural that they will have great hesitation in embarking on so dangerous an enterprise. For this would mean calling down on themselves all the miseries of war, such as doing the fighting themselves, supplying the costs of the war from their own resources, painfully making good the ensuing devastation, and, as the crowning evil, having to take upon themselves a burden of debt which will embitter peace itself and which can never be paid off on account of the constant threat of new wars. But under a constitution where the subject is not a citizen, and which is therefore not republican, it is the simplest thing in the world to go to war. For the head of state is not a fellow citizen, but the owner of the state, and a war will not force him to make the slightest sacrifice so far as his banquets, hunts, pleasure palaces and court festivals are concerned. He can thus decide on war, without any significant reason, as a kind of amusement, and unconcernedly leave it to the diplomatic corps (who are always ready for such purposes) to justify the war for the sake of propriety.

Repubican vs. Democratic

Democracy is a kind of despotic form of government because one single entity has all the power. IN a republican system of government there is a separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers.

“We can therefore say that the smaller the number of ruling persons in a state and the greater their powers of representation, the more the constitution will approximate to its republican potentiality, which it may hope to realise eventually by gradual reforms. . . if the mode of government is to accord with the concept of right, it must be based on the representative system. This system alone makes possible a republican state, and without it, despotism and violence will result no matter what kind of constitution is in force.”

Second Definitive Article of a Perpetual Peace: The Right of Nations shall be based on a Federation of Free States

“Peoples who have grouped themselves into nation states may be judged in the same way as individual men living in a state of nature, independent of external laws; for they are a standing offence to one another by the very fact that they are neighbours. Each nation, for the sake of its own security, can and ought to demand of the others that they should enter along with it into a constitution, similar to the civil one, within which the rights of each could be secured. This would mean establishing a federation of peoples.”

“We look with profound contempt upon the way in which savages cling to their lawless freedom. They would rather engage in incessant strife than submit to a legal constraint which they might impose upon themselves, for they prefer the freedom of folly to the freedom of reason. We regard this as barbarism, coarseness, and brutish debasement of humanity. We might thus expect that civilised peoples, each united within itself as a state, would hasten to abandon so degrading a condition as soon as possible. But instead of doing so, each state sees its own majesty (for it would be absurd to speak of the majesty of a people) precisely in not having to submit to any external legal constraint, and the glory of its ruler consists in his power to order thousands of people to immolate themselves for a cause which does not truly concern them, while he need not himself incur any danger whatsoever.”

“Although it is largely concealed by governmental constraints in law-governed civil society, the depravity of human nature is displayed without disguise in the unrestricted relations which obtain between the various nations.”

“The way in which states seek their rights can only be by war, since there is no external tribunal to put their claims to trial. But rights cannot be decided by military victory, and a peace treaty may put an end to the current war, but not to that general warlike condition within which pretexts can always be found for a new war. And indeed, such a state of affairs cannot be pronounced completely unjust, since it allows each party to act as judge in its own cause.”

“Yet while natural right allows us to say of men living in a lawless condition that they ought to abandon it, the right of nations does not allow us to say the same of states. For as states, they already have a lawful internal constitution, and have thus outgrown the coercive right of others to subject them to a wider legal constitution in accordance with their conception of right. On the other hand, reason, as the highest legislative moral power, absolutely condemns war as a test of rights and sets up peace as an immediate duty. But peace can neither be inaugurated nor secured without a general agreement between the nations; thus a particular kind of league, which we might call pacific federation (foedus pacificum), is required. It would differ from a peace treaty (pactum pacis) in that the latter terminates one war, whereas the former would seek to end all wars for good. This federation does not aim to acquire any power like that of a state, but merely to preserve and secure the freedom of each state in itself, along with that of the other confederated states, although this does not mean that they need to submit to public laws and to a coercive power which enforces them, as do men in a state of nature. It can be shown that this idea of federalism, extending gradually to encompass all states and thus leading to perpetual peace, is practicable and has objective reality. For if by good fortune one powerful and enlightened nation can form a republic (which is by its nature inclined to seek perpetual peace), this will provide a focal point for federal association among other states. These will join up with the first one, thus securing the freedom of each state in accordance with the idea of international right, and the whole will gradually spread further and further by a series of alliances of this kind.”

Noam Chomsky on Just War Theory

Jeremy Scahill on The Military Industrial Complex

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