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Kant's Revolution

Reader comment on item: Immanuel Kant vs. Israel

Submitted by J Kourlas (United States), Aug 17, 2010 at 21:28

Let me add to Pipes' argument. He is onto something that I've wondered about for some time. Kant's universalism differs distinctly from the universalism of our Founding Fathers.

While the Founders held that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" they understood that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." This was achieved by the nation-state. They were skeptical of creating such a union beyond what could be sustained by a common culture. Many were even skeptical of the expanded power of the federal union in the creation of our Constitution.

Kant's universalism stems from his "categorical imperative" that knows no bounds. For Kant, this imperative is devoid of instrumental importance and applies no matter what the consequences. The nation-state is inherently bounded and selective. It is based on the cultural identity of a differentiated peoples. The "categorical imperative" is devoid of cultural values, indentity, and bounderies. It is best suited to a one-world government philosophy.

Let's remember that Kant was influenced by Rousseau—the intellectual founder of the French movement that ultimately tried to conquer Europe and create a new world order. The French, Russian, and German movements shared a one-world outlook. This was indeed a shift in fundamental zeitgeist.

Whether Pipes gets the details and nuances of Kant's historical position (as Julienne points out) is less important than the fact that Pipes gets the essence of a revolution in worldviews. Some go even further and argue that Kant is the founder of the counter-Enlightenment leading to Post-modernism (see Steven Hicks' "Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault") That's a more ambitious point and I recommend Hicks' book for the interested reader.

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