Kant’s relevance for anthropology today from The Memory Bank by Keith Hart In order to understand the world, we must begin not with the empirical existence of objects, but with the reasoning embedded in our experience and in all the judgments we have made. This is to say that the world is inside each of us as much as it is out there. Our task is to unite the two poles as subjective individuals who share the object world with the rest of humanity. Knowledge of society must be personal and moral before it is defined by laws imposed on us from above.
Kant published Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view in 1798. The book was based on lectures he had given at the university since 1772. His aim was to attract the general public to an independent discipline whose name he more than anyone contributed to academic life. Remarkably, histories of anthropology have rarely mentioned this work, perhaps because the discipline has evolved so far away from Kant’s original premises. But it would pay us to take his Anthropology seriously, if only for its resonance with our own times.
Shortly before, Kant wrote To perpetual peace: a philosophical sketch (1795). The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw its own share of “globalization” — the American and French revolutions, the Napoleonic wars, the rise of British industry and the international movement to abolish slavery. Kant knew that coalitions of states were gearing up for war, yet he responded to this sense of the world coming closer together by proposing how humanity might form society as world citizens beyond the boundaries of states. He held that “cosmopolitan right”, the basic right of all world citizens, should rest on conditions of universal hospitality, that is, on the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else’s territory. In other words, we should be free to go wherever we like in the world, since it belongs to all of us equally.
“The peoples of the earth have entered in varying degree into a universal community, and it has developed to the point where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere. The idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastic and overstrained; it is a necessary complement to the unwritten code of political and international right, transforming it into a universal right of humanity.” (Kant 2003:18).
This confident sense of an emergent world order, written over 200 years ago, can now be seen as the
of the liberal revolution, before it was overwhelmed by its twin offspring, industrial capitalism and the nation-state. [11:35 AM] high point
The twilight of the idols has been postponed. For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us.
Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused.
Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong. [5:22 PM, 3:25 PM]