Friday, 30 October 2009

The Moral Politician

The next stage of Kant's discussion of the conflict between morals and politics in the appendix of Perpetual Peace is to invoke the idea of the "moral politician". Such a figure has as his mission the connection of principles of prudence with morals so that they can best coexist. So this person will think about the defects in constitutions in relation to the principles of natural right even though the latter are based fundamentally in ideas of reason. However, the principles of prudence will come in by reference to the need to keep maintained the bonds of civil and cosmopolitan union that already exist. Given this prudential disposition it would follow that this politician does not seek immediate remedy for all the defects found. This clearly reverts back again to the rationale for the division of the preliminary articles to the effect that not all principles that can be shown to be clearly right are, by virtue of that alone, to be the ground of political action in the interim.

An indication of the application of this notion of moral politicians follows. This concerns the fact that a state could have a republican mode of government despite the fact that its form of sovereignty (to use the distinctions made in the third definitive article) is despotic. The mismatch between the two could justifiably continue, suggests Kant, until the conception of the rule of law becomes popularly understood. In relation to the rights of states relative to each other this further supports the claim, made in the fifth preliminary article, that no state has a right to claim that another state change its constitution. However the basis of this specific claim is now tied to a condition which is that such a claim has no basis in right if enforcement of it would be prudentially bad (i.e. would lead to the collapse of the state).

This discussion next leads to a further footnote on permissive laws. In this footnote Kant now describes permissive laws as ones that allow a situation of public right that is afflicted with injustice to continue "until everything has either of itself become ripe for a complete overthrow or has been made almost ripe by peaceful means" (Ak. 8: 373n). Revolutions are subsequently referred to as like a "call of nature" that indicate a need for change.

The permissive law here refers us to the ripening of conditions for right. In so doing it adds a rightful point to the prudential one concerning the question of changing the constitution of other states. There is a prudential ban on altering externally someone's constitution if this would threaten the existence of their state as such. To it we now have added a condition of right in terms of allowing the other state to reach its own point of need for change whether this will arise for them either violently or peacefully. However, what is not addressed in these points is the claim made earlier in the 3rd definitive article that some states of themselves are more likely than others to produce war (republican peace thesis). Given this claim there are grounds in right to think that changes in constitutions of states would be beneficial and it is unclear how to reconcile this with the permissive law now set out that gives a ground in right that underpins the fifth preliminary article.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Antinomy of Politics and Morals

The "appendix" to Perpetual Peace is divided into two halves, the first part of which discusses the "disagreement" of politics and morals with a view to the idea of perpetual peace, the second half of which covers their "agreement". The "agreement" involves the account of the two principles of publicity covered in previous postings. I now wish to go back to reviewing the basis of the initial "disagreement".

Kant opens the discussion of this "disagreement" by reference to the point that morals is practical of itself, a contention that clearly refers back to the whole account of practical reason in The Critique of Practical Reason. In making this point Kant refers in passing to the general claim that "ought" implies "can". The point of these initial references is to make the claim (in contrast to some contemporary readings of Kant's practical philosophy) that morals and politics belong together as distinct parts, as he here puts it, of "doctrine of right" (Ak. 8: 370). Morals is now presented as the theoretical part of this doctrine with politics described as the doctrine of right put into practice. This does involve a distinction in some sense between what Kant will put out in the Doctrine of Right as a theory and politics as conventionally understood. So there is some form of relation that needs to be mapped (as is also apparent from Kant's essay on theory and practice).

The relationship that Kant maps between morals and politics thus understood is subsequently condensed into two statements. Politics is presented as based on the statement that we should be wise as serpents whilst morals is indicated to limit the application of this statement (thus in a sense to schematise it) by means of the condition that we be also as guileless as doves. Both need to be able to exist together if there is not to be a conflict between politics and morals.

The problem of the origin of the conflict is next traced to the attitude of the "practical man" who takes morals to be only theory. This person adopts the view that it is pointless to will the conditions of perpetual peace due to a claim concerning human nature. After a careful rendition of contractarian reasoning Kant points to the point that is at issue here which concerns the nature of power. The claim of the practical man is to the effect that the one who holds power will not let the prescription of laws be based on the ground of the social contract. Further, that states, once independent, will not be constrained by reference to other states. These claims rest on an appeal to political prudence and empirical principles of human nature. It is the combination of the "prudent" attitude and the purely empirical view of humanity that is the ground of this "realist" position, the same position still adopted in various guises in contemporary IR theory. Subsequent postings will trace further Kant's account of the problems he takes this view to have.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Research Excellence Framework and Impact

Since the last posting on this topic linking to the petition to the UK Prime Minister I have become aware of extensive discussion of this question to which I would like to draw readers' attention. In addition to the petition mentioned in the previous posting there is also a separate one launched by the University and College Union, which is the main lecturers' union here in the UK. Their petition is slightly differently worded and is available here.

There has been some disquiet indicated concerning the wording of the original petition linked to in the previous posting which has prompted a certain amount of debate over at Leiter Reports. There is also a serious discussion being conducted concerning the notion of "impact" assessment over at Crooked Timber.

By contrast the Arts and Humanities Research Council contains a number of pages on its site that discuss ways of applying the notion of impact within the area of humanities research which you can find here. The basic justification of inclusion of the notion of impact is also set out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on its site here.

The question also arises as to whether the opposition parties here in the UK have different views on this from the present governing Labour Party who, in their website statement of policies on education, make no mention of the Research Excellence Framework or the policy on "impact".

Friday, 16 October 2009

Petition to Prime Minister of UK

Here in the UK there has been a lot of controversy concerning the new Research Excellence Framework. This is the successor to the previous Research Assessment Exercise by which research was judged before. One of the criteria by which research will be judged in the new framework will be in terms of its "impact" defined in terms of "demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life". There has been quite a bit of disquiet as to how this criteria can possibly make sense with regard to either the humanities in general or with regard to philosophy in particular.

There is now a petition to the Prime Minister of the UK calling on him to reconsider the application of this criteria in the new framework and it is available here.

Please sign to protest against this application of a metric to philosophy and the humanities that makes little sense with regard to them.

Philosophy and Perpetual Peace

The 2nd supplement to Perpetual Peace specifically concerns philosophy. Kant opens it by distinguishing between objective and subjective secrecy concerning public right. Objectively there is no ground for secrecy as the content of public right is intrinsically public, a point whose amplification we will later find when we turn from Perpetual Peace to the Doctrine of Right. However, the fact that this objective publicity is attached to public right does not entail that there cannot be a certain subjective secrecy attached to it. The subjective secrecy concerns the authorship of certain parts of what can be granted in terms of its content with Kant giving the example that a person may find it prejudicial "to his dignity to announce publicly that he is its author" (Ak. 8: 368).

However whilst the example of subjective secrecy that Kant initially gives concerns authors the discussion that he next opens does not concern them but rather focuses on readers. What he declares to be the "sole article" of this kind that concerns perpetual peace is that the maxims of philosophers concerning the conditions under which public peace is possible should be consulted by states that are arming for war. This "sole article" is understood to involve secrecy in the sense that rulers of states will not wish to make evident the reference to advice that emerges from their subjects. So, rather than openly acknowledging the use of such statements from philosophers it will rather be the practice of states to only tacitly allow the debates of philosophers to take place without indicating that they are in sense being guided by such.

The point about this so-called "secret article" is that it is aimed at making manifest the need for publicity concerning the philosophical debate over the nature of public peace! This "secret article" is also indicated to be based on "universal (morally legislative) human reason" (Ak. 8: 369). So not only is the content of the article officially public it is something indicated to be based effectively on the moral common sense of humanity.

After inserting a discussion of the way in which philosophy is subordinate in practice to other powers in the state Kant returns to the point that rulers should enable the class of philosophers to both exist and debate, not least because philosophers are, he states, incapable of forming seditious factions or clubs. Hence philosophers are not agents of propaganda.

This "secret article" can hardly be understood other than as a reversion to the statement of the first paragraph of Perpetual Peace where Kant argued that since the worldly-wise statesman looks down on the philosopher due to the latter's ineffectual ideas that they cannot consistently state that they face danger from such ideas! In articulating the need for such publicity for philosophy Kant doubtless had in mind the suppression many thinkers faced across Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. There is also ancient precedent as the Roman emperor Domitian exiled philosophers from his polity on the grounds that they were in fact agents of sedition.

The general importance of this "secret article" is the way it introduces the topic of publicity into the discussion of perpetual peace, hence paving the way for the turn, in the appendix, to the formulas of publicity that were discussed in previous postings.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Right of Nations and Commerce

After giving the example of how self-seeking inclinations in a sense support the notion of a republican constitution Kant moves on, in Perpetual Peace, to the question of how the right of nations is supported by an appeal to "nature". The point that he first makes concerning the right of nations is that it clearly presupposes that nations are independent of each other and that such independence of nations is, in a sense, a condition of war between the states. The only basis of overcoming such a state of war between states is, as asserted earlier in the discussion of the second definitive article, the establishment of a federative union between states.

When discussing the second definitive article Kant arguably gave no clear reason why there should not be a world state. Now, Kant responds to the problem of why states should remain independent of each other, given that this involves a state of war between states, by discussing a specific danger that arises from overcoming such a condition. This is that fusion of states together into one larger state could simply arise from one state overpowering the others and turning into a universal state by this means. However, in discussing this possibility, Kant argues that such a universal "monarchy" (as he terms it) leads to a specific problem. This is that as laws gain in range they decline in vigour. In other words, as a state expands its range of operation it becomes more difficult for the laws in question to be based on a general agreement and to capture true consent. This argument is similar to the ones used by Rousseau to argue for smaller polities (and there is precedent for it also in Plato) but is not one that arises from concern with the specificities of international right. Nor is it the case that such an argument applies to a world state that has arisen from federative unions moving by their own momentum towards a general universal state.

That Kant's concern here is primarily with conquest is made further clear when he goes on to talk of every head of state having the ambition of creating peace by means of becoming the ruler of the world. In response to this danger Kant makes his second appeal to the means of nature. Now he refers to how the ambition of heads of state to create a universal monarchy by means of conquest is undercut by two central differences within the human race. These are differences of language and religion (though Kant here inserts a note to the effect that the latter are not really differences of rational religion but of dogmatic creeds). These differences promote many bases for war between peoples thus creating an obstacle to the ambition of heads of states. However, despite making the appeal to "nature" on these grounds, Kant goes on to point out that increase of culture leads to an agreement on principles by promoting a kind of equilibrium between them (shades here perhaps of Rawls' notion of "overlapping consensus"?).

Not only does this general agreement in principles itself undermine the differences Kant points to as undercutting the ambition of heads of states but there is a further uniting factor that is mentioned now. This is what Kant terms the "spirit of commerce" (Ak. 8: 368). The point Kant makes about this is that it cannot well coexist with war and that the power of money may be the most reliable of all powers for the promotion of peace. This argument in a sense follows from the earlier argument concerning the right of the state since there we found Kant appealing to the need for security of holdings (property) as a natural ground for the formation of the state. Similarly, the need for security of trade between partners in different nations grounds a basis for resistance to war amongst traders. The need for such security of trade promotes mediation between warring partners just as if there existed a permanent league to promote peace. So there is a virtual league that emerges automatically from the relations between states which may partially explain Kant's more sanguine attitude to the formation of a world state. It does however also point us back, in a sense not clearly undertaken anywhere directly by Kant, to the need to think further about the conditions for just and fair trade, a point discussed in previous postings.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Devils and the State

The second part of the first supplement to Perpetual Peace turns directly to the question of how war promotes public right. Kant begins by talking about the right of a state arguing that even if there were not discord internal to an area leading to the need to form a state there would be the problem of facing enemies from outside the area. Due to the fact that any area could be encroached on by such external enemies the need for the existence of a state to respond to them is imperative.

This point is amplified by consideration of what kind of person is required for a republican constitution to exist. In response to those (such as Robespierre?) who think that it would require angels for such a state to exist so that a republic is indistinguishable from a state of virtue, Kant argues the reverse. The basic self-seeking inclinations of human beings is sufficient in itself to point to the need for states to exist. In arguing this Kant points out that the question of how to regulate such self-seeking requires organisation so that the interest of one clashes with the interest of another in such a way that they cancel out. The result of this is that the behaviour of the people in question will emerge as of a sort that would be equivalent to the self-seeking inclinations not even existing.

So rather than a republic being a state of virtue it is plausible even for devils to come together in such a condition. The problem of state formation is not equivalent to one of moral improvement since all that is required is, as Kant puts it, using "the mechanism of nature" (Ak. 8: 366). The mechanism at issue appears to me to be the one of forces of attraction and repulsion producing states of equilibrium. (Directly referred to in the Doctrine of Right: Ak. 6: 232.)

Setting forces of self-seeking into such states of equilibrium does not require that self-seeking is itself abolished, only that it is regulated. Any state that exists will have this in view as a key part of its mission despite the fact that states are generally imperfect and do not meet the conditions of the republican constitution. The moral improvement of the people will thus emerge in a sense as a result of the republican constitution but not due to the constitution being based on moral requirements. Hence reason can use the mechanism of nature as a means to promote the rule of right as this mechanism will, if regulated to create mutual checking of inclinations, promote this in an automatic sense.

This argument shows one basis of Kant's view that there is a "guarantee" of perpetual peace in nature and establishes the ground for the existence of states in general not on any historical commitment to social contracts but instead on two requirements that are not in themselves moral. Firstly, the need for security of any people in an area forcing organisation upon them to resist the rapine of others. Second, the self-checking of inclinations when regulated together in a state framework. This hence provides the first illustration of Kant's general argument for a "cunning of nature".

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

War and Peace

After stating the 3rd definitive article of perpetual peace Kant, as if being unwilling to conclude Perpetual Peace, proceeds to write two supplements and an appendix to the work though the appendix has been partly covered in previous postings on publicity. The first of the "supplements" concerns a supposed guarantee of perpetual peace that is said to derive from "nature" itself.

After a preliminary discussion of the meaning of such terms as providence and fate Kant proceeds to describe a sense in which nature has prepared persons for the possibility of peace. Three conditions are mentioned as permitting the arrival of peace: a) the possibility of people being able to live in all parts of the globe; b) the use of war to drive people to every part of the globe, even to places intrinsically inhospitable; c) by the use of war people are driven to enter into lawful relations.

In ascribing the three conditions given to "nature" in a general sense Kant is implying a teleological argument though one of a subtle kind. Hegel is well known for insisting on a "cunning of history" by means of which outcomes that none intended are produced but Kant in this passage implies a broader cunning that makes history itself possible. In some sense, if people can survive anywhere then it is because they have had to so survive. And what has forced this upon people if not war?

In making this observation Kant further indicates a basis for thinking of war as an instrument of moral progress. This point is furthered when he reflects on the means by which war has been forged, namely, in the first instance, by domestication of animals such as horses and elephants. Not only is this the case but the settling of people that is involved in the establishment of agriculture is the basis of peaceful relations between folk, a peaceful relation brought about by a passage away from "lawless freedom". This passage from "lawless freedom" is the means by which war forces lawful relations to arise. This is further specified in the movement from hunting, which permits the dispersion of family units, to agriculture, which implies rather their settlement.

War is subsequently referred to discussed as involving a "drive to honour" (Ak. 8: 365) that provides a motive to action all of its own. The desire to display courage provides war with a certain kind of dignity so that philosophers have been known to ennoble it. However this is not the key point that emerges from war. Rather, the decisive thing is the means by which it promotes the conditions of peace and public right. This will be the subject of a subsequent posting.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pop Life at Tate Modern

Having recently visited the exhibition Pop Life: Art in a Material World at Tate Modern in London I felt moved to write a posting about it. It is true that this extends the remit of this blog, which is not officially concerned at all with questions of aesthetics but there are two ways in which this exhibition does touch on an issue that has been of central concern to a number of previous postings. The issue is publicity. The original press release makes clear that art that is involved with publicity in the sense of "marketing" is at the centre of the exhibition. Questions of publicity also arise however in another sense since some rooms of the exhibition are closed to those aged below 18 and one work has been removed entirely from being shown after consultation with the police. The relationship between these divergent senses of publicity and the fact that the exhibition is international both in composition and in terms of where it will be shown (since it will subsequently tour) make the exhibition worthy of comment here on a number of fronts.

The notion of "publicity" in the sense of marketing is heavily accented in the exhibition as the original press release suggested it would be. In the centre of the exhibition there is a recreation of Keith Haring's Pop Shop complete with products. One of the first works on display is a video that shows a giant version of Jeff Koon's Rabbit being pulled along as part of a parade organised by Macy's, there is a hour-long video about an artist who turned herself into a prostitute for a period and a room is devoted to the work of Cosey Fanni Tutti that features her in poses for pornographic magazines. In addition there are two rooms devoted to the work of Andy Warhol that focus on late pieces of his that are explicitly presented by the curators of the show as indicative of a compromised relationship to commerce.

The rooms that are explicitly presented as only suitable for those over 18 are the ones that feature the work of Cosey Fanni Tutti on the one hand and Jeff Koons on the other. Within the Jeff Koons room is Made in Heaven a celebration of his marriage to, and sexual relationship with the Italian porn star La Cicciolina. The centre-piece of this room is a very large sculpture that shows the couple copulating with Jeff on top. Around the room there are photographs of oral sex and anal sex and a wedding cake presented in suggestive style that also sends up the general idea of weddings.

The work that was withdrawn from the exhibition is a photograph by Richard Prince. This work is an example of appropriation art since it is a photograph of an original work by Gary Gross that features Brooke Shields, aged ten years old, nude and made up to look a good deal older than her age. The photograph by Gross was originally commissioned by Shields' mother to advance her career but was later objected to by Shields herself. The appropriation of the original by Prince was re-titled by him Spiritual America in reference to an earlier work by Alfred Stieglitz. The original Stieglitz photograph was itself suggestive in a different way being a close-up of a gelded horse in harness. Prince details his own thoughts on this image here. This work was exhibited initially in an over 18 only room like the works of Koons and Cosy Fanni Tutti that are still exhibited. It should be noted that as well as the continued exhibition of the works in these rooms there is also still on show a sculpture by Takashi Murakami Hiropon which shows a girl with enormous breasts from which are exuding milk with which she is featured skipping. Additionally, in the room devoted to Murakami there is a video which features Kirsten Dunst playing the role of a young girl who is very alluring and intended to invite an erotic notion of childhood.

In the context of the general works on show in the exhibition the censorship both of the work by Prince that has been entirely removed from show and of the rooms featuring the works by Koons and Cosy Fanni Tutti is completely absurd. The justification offered for the latter by one of the guards during the show was that many people not used to looking at art would come to the exhibition and might be offended though why they would be more offended by the works put into the specially marked rooms was not explained. The censorship of the Prince photograph is entirely outrageous and made on the grounds of child protection. The suggestion that the abuse to which children are routinely subjected around the world is grounded on the showing of art works in galleries is patent nonsense. The abuse to which children are subjected is of two sorts: domestic and in the context of civil conflict. In the former the abuse that is conducted is overwhelmingly the result of close intimate relations with relatives, often parents and siblings and is the product of these relations, not of exposure to art works. The latter type of abuse involves the formation of child armies, rape carried out by and on children in the pursuit of military goals and a widespread set of labour practices grounded in the societies they are part of. None of this is due to art works.

The fact that an exhibition based primarily on presenting the public with art works that negotiate a relation to commerce and to explicit sexuality should compromise itself with censorship authorities in the way it has is particularly disturbing and indicative of a lack of self-reflexitivity on the part of the curator's of the exhibition. This is particularly striking since Alison Gingeras, in the video that the Tate Modern web-site presents as an introduction to the exhibition speaks directly about work "pushing boundaries", "knowingly wanting to transgress taboos" and describes the attitude of wishing to demarcate the ways they can do this as "hypocritical". That Tate Modern could, after licensing such a video by the curator as indicative of what the exhibition is intended to convey, subsequently completely pull one of the works from the exhibition at the behest of the police, is extraordinary in what it says for the contemporary climate towards precisely the challenging works the exhibition is intended to show.

The exhibition itself focuses a series of questions that the actions of the curators and directors of the gallery make seriously urgent. Firstly, what is the relation between the sense of publicity indicative of "commerce" and the sense of publicity indicative of the need to display and show that many of the works stage? Secondly, how is that art institutions such as galleries and museums have come to see themselves as part of the policing of desire? Thirdly, what intended set of connections between art, morality and politics is engaged by works that immerse themselves so fully in contemporary culture (shops, pornography, pop reference and culture)?

These questions should be being left to the works themselves to engage with, obviously in relation to critical commentary that includes a sense of the connection between the works shown and those to which they comment and respond. But it cannot be the point to close down the exhibition by cloistering some of its rooms off or allowing the police power of the state to decide what should be on display.
See also this piece for further thoughts on this subject.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Rapes, Massacres and Humanitarian Intervention

The recent events in Guinea have, unsurprisingly, provoked revulsion. Massacre of a crowd demonstrating against the government culminated in mass rapes, some carried out by the insertion of bayonets into women. Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France, stated that massacres were not matters of only internal importance and strongly hinted at a desire to intervene.

It is, however, sobering to remember that when Vietnam invaded Kampuchea in 1979 in order to remove Pol Pot's regime that the Vietnamese were almost universally condemned with the French delegate to the UN at that time describing the notion that "because a regime is detestable foreign intervention is justified" as "extremely dangerous". In fact, if it had not been for a veto from the Soviet Union, there would have been passed a resolution calling upon the Vietnamese troops to withdraw.

During the Rwandan genocide of the 1990's no one moved to intervene and it took the slaughter of Srebnica to move Western governments to act to stall and eventually turn back the Serbian tide in the Yugoslav wars. Even the intervention into Kosovo carried out by NATO later in the decade came without UN sanction and against a backdrop of disapproval from Russia.

Given this situation it appears far from settled that there is any kind of generally recognised humanitarian right to intervention despite the fact that there has, in recent years, been much talk of one. The problem often seems to be that explicit and general recognition of such a right is felt to be a two-edged sword. It is also blatantly evident that states continue to be moved by considerations that are only selectively moral.

None of this is an indication that the French (or someone else) should not intervene in Guinea. The regime there is clearly a danger to its own population on whom it has effectively declared war. However this was just as clearly true for the regime of Pol Pot despite the Western response at the time of the Vietnamese invasion. Perhaps further clarification of the grounds, bases and right of intervention could do with being undertaken?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Trade and the State of Nature

The last posting ended with some comments on the state of nature. Prior to looking in any detail at either how Kant treats the topic of the state of nature or how it is viewed in contemporary IR theories it is worth mentioning and previewing here a conception of it that suggests it is not singular. In the course of a paper on distributive justice, sovereignty and trade, Aaron James argues for a view of the state of nature that leads to it being seen to have a dual status. The paper, originally published in Social Theory and Practice, can be accessed on his web page here. The distinction between the two goes like this:

"Let us say that there exists a social state of nature when the coordination of behavior for common purposes is not yet established, when compliance with any agreed-upon terms is not generally assured, or when participants are unable to adjust their organization over time, whether by centralized control or by informally modifying the many particular choices that sustain the practice, through individual reform and joint efforts of moral argument and social sanction. Let us also say that there exists a political state of nature when, but only when, one lacks assurance that others will not bargain over the terms of a practice purely out of self-interest."

If you have a situation where both social and political states of nature prevail you have no hope of raising questions of distributive justice with regard to trade he suggests. If, however, there is only a political state of nature but not a social one then there are grounds for thinking of trade as susceptible to pressures of distributive justice. Does this distinction between two types of states of nature in itself show that there are reasons for thinking of trade being open to pressures of distributive justice independently of any hopes or otherwise that one might have for superseding the political state of nature?

The reason for thinking that trade is susceptible to such pressure is that we can identify a distinct level of concern separate from that applicable to specific transactions, a level that describes the background conditions of transactions in general. These background conditions are the subject of such regulation as exists (WTO etc) but could they not (and are they not?) sites of contestation in which global distribution of resources could be altered?