Book Reviews

What is Enlightenment and Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant – Book Review

Immanuel Kant is one of the greatest philosophers to have ever lived. He wrote about nearly everything from ethics to politics to aesthetics. All of philosophy after Kant was influenced by him. He also wrote a small introduction to the Enlightenment and a systematic overview on how we could achieve perpetual peace.

            Sapere aude! Dare to be wise! This is the most fundamental claim of the Enlightenment according to Kant. It means we should try to have the courage to use our own mind, to use our own rational capacities instead of relying on anyone else. When we don’t use our reason, we are immature. The Enlightenment is the time where we become mature rational beings. Or as Kant put it: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity”. How eloquent.

            The step towards maturity is a dangerous step, that is according to the immature. The have prejudices and prejudices are dangerous because they come back around to those who have them. Therefore, we should try to not have prejudices, like sexism or racism, because then we would not be enlightened.

            Kant believed that a revolution would never reform the way people think. People need the freedom to use their reason on their own terms (Marx would not be happy to hear this). Therefore, institutions should also not interfere with the rational capabilities of the people. There shouldn’t be any laws that prevent the use of the rational mind. We can simply say that without freedom of speech, freedom isn’t possible. If we can’t say why something is wrong, we can never be free to change it. This all results in progress and it is the dogmatic thinking that hinders progress.

            Kant proceeds to talk about his conception of perpetual peace, which he simply calls peace. Peace means that there aren’t any wars between two factions anymore. If there would be war against the two, then it would simply only be a truce and not peace. But how do we attain that peace? Well, we use the Enlightenment values in order to progress towards it. Armies of states should disappear after times of peace. The peace state should be formally constituted. The list goes on.

            The ideal state for Kant is the Republican state which is based on three principles. All members of the state are free, autonomous beings. Everyone is dependent on one common legislation. Equality for everyone. If one should have these three ideals, progress will be made and there will be no more wars.

            What is remarkable is how topical the state theory of Kant is today. Kant writes about immigration, that everyone should be allowed entrance into any country of they so please and they shouldn’t be attacked or deported because they come from another country. There should be a supranational state which embodies all other states, kind of like the UN. He gives examples of states who are corrupt (a sort of how to not run a state). You see this when the political leader is a political moralist (politics influences morality) instead of a moralist politician (morality influences politics). To recognize him/her look for these maxims. First act then justify your actions. If you did it, deny it. Divide and conquer, keep them in conflict with each other. I don’t want to get all political here, but that sounds like someone I know.

            This small book is one of those books that gives a great insight and brings a lot of new ideas to the table in a consistent manner. It’s about 100 pages, but the ideas in it are vast. Kant is hard to read sometimes, but this one is quite doable actually. If you want to start reading primary works of Kant, I can recommend this as a starting point. I read this because I believe now more than ever, we will need the Enlightenment values to guide us through the hard times. We need to become mature once more. We need to strive towards perpetual peace instead of conflict. We need to dare to be wise.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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