Chapter 3. The Problem of International Politics: Human Beings within the Mechanism of Nature
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68 Chapter 3 The Problem of International Politics Human Beings within the Mechanism of Nature [I]n the end one does not know what concept to make of our species, with its smug imaginings about its excellences.1 In a manner that demonstrates the intertwining of his critical-­ philosophical works and his international theory, Kant commences his engagement with global politics in the 1784 essay Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim (which itself anticipates many of the themes of the third Critique regarding the purposiveness of nature), by means of a distinction between the freedom of the will, viewed as a metaphysical idea, and “its appearances, the human actions ,” which appear to be determined “just as much as every other natural occurrence ” by universal laws of nature.2 If freedom of the will is determined in the realm of appearances, this has the important implication that political activity is likewise determined and subject to universal laws of nature discoverable by observation and the application of understanding and technical practical reason. The results of such observation and analysis are somewhat dispiriting in relation to human beings: the empirical evidence of their activities in nature leads to the conclusion that one “cannot at all presuppose any rational aim of theirs” to be in evidence. The metaphysical presupposition of a purpose underlying nature itself, however, permits the observer “to try whether he can discover an aim of nature in this nonsensical course of things human,” by assum- the problem of international politics    69 ing a rational purpose that can then render human activity meaningful.3 Although natural forces determine the appearance of human behavior, the history of mankind, and therefore its possible meaning and significance, is open to interpretation in that “the narration of these appearances, however deeply concealed their causes may be, nevertheless allows us to hope from it that if it considers the play of freedom of the human will in the large, it can discover within it a regular course,” culminating in the conclusion that “what meets the eye in individual subjects as confused and irregular yet in the whole species can be recognized as a steadily progressing though slow development of its original predispositions.”4 The progressive reading of a purposeful nature must not, however, be mistaken for an ontological position as “any order Reason imposes upon a historical narrative is one which applies to our manner of comprehending history and not directly nor immediately to the historical events themselves .”5 Jens Bartelson’s formulation is particularly useful in identifying the relationship between meaning, narration, and history in Kant’s work: “Lacking intrinsic meaning, history has to be narrated through a deciphering of its signs; lacking a finished plot, history has to be created by being narrated. Hence, making history and narrating history become two aspects of the same process.”6 The assumption of “a hidden purpose to nature, a purpose that drives toward morality , even if the people who live in the world would not be aware of that mission in their own lives,” despite all empirical evidence to the contrary, enables a reading of human existence in which it is possible to posit a final resolution in which politics bends its knee before morality.7 Two perspectives then are possible regarding nature and mankind’s place within it: first, that nature (including mankind) can be read as proceeding according to a rational plan, and, second, that nature is “purposelessly playing,” i.e., that it exists without innate meaning in a universe devoid of genuine purpose . The former reading is Kant’s preferred one, i.e., that human existence be viewed as if it is subject to a “determinate plan of nature.” At the very least, such an assumption of rational nature provides a guideline for understanding human activity that might lead to philosophy being “in a position to compose that history accordingly.” Kant draws an analogy between taking this position and that of “Kepler, who subjected the eccentric paths of the planets in an unexpected way to determinate laws, and a Newton who explained these laws from a universal natural cause.”8 In short, the assumption of a rational plan of nature enables the systematic study of human behavior. The antinomy of rational and purposelessly playing nature proceeds to dominate Kant’s analysis of interna- 70    kant’s international relations tional politics from this point onward, with significant implications both for what we can know and what we can believe about what constitutes and...