Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy is systematic. It ranges over all the traditional divisions of philosophy and integrates them into a systematic whole. He brings metaphysical considerations concerning man and the cosmos to bear on ethics, political philosophy epistemology, aesthetics and religion. The resultant product is a Philosophy that rivals Aristotle’s in its scope and reach. Kant had the ability as did Aristotle to see a simple phenomenon woven into an integrated system of propositions: touch one strand of the complex and the reverberations would resonate harmoniously and holistically throughout the system producing a sound as beautiful as the sound of pure knowledge.
I have argued elsewhere that Kant’s Enlightenment philosophy provided the ethical foundations for human rights. It can be further argued that Kant’s article on a universal history provided the blueprint for the organisation which would, after the second world war, become the United Nations, the champion of universal human rights. Kant did not only have ethical arguments for the existence of human rights, he also had arguments that are difficult to classify and which enable one to embrace the phenomena of globalization and immigration, positively, from a philosophical perspective. One of Kant’s basic arguments is that every human being on earth possesses a right to roam the earth and pursue their peaceful activities and the consequence of this cosmopolitan and global right is the right of everyone to expect hospitality wherever they may roam. In an earlier essay I spoke about how Kant viewed the nation state as pathological(as did a number of other philosophers) during a time in which it was not yet clear that the European nation state system in Europe would bring actual devastation to the world. Devastation firstly, in the form of two world wars and a holocaust, and secondly, in the form of threatened catastrophe on a scale never before witnessed or even imagined: post war nation state alliances and enmities would for a long period of time promise to outdo the malevolent social engineering project of the Nazi’s with a nuclear holocaust which would threaten the very existence of the world. That this latter phenomenon did not occur, in my view, may have been attributable to a deep process of globalization, a cosmopolitan attitude towards and knowledge of the world and its people which Kant expressed in his Philosophy: an attitude moreover, that can be defended with logic and sound and systematic argumentation which has philosophical consequences and that reverberate and resonate over the whole extent of our thought about everything, including the right we have to roam the earth.
The level of self consciousness of the first trekkers leaving Africa is unfathomable so we do not know whether, when man encountered man in these sparsely resourced environments, he did so in a spirit of hospitality or fear. Hobbes envisioned life in this kind of state of nature as being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Locke, to the contrary, envisioned life in a state of nature to be relatively peaceful but politically problematic owing to the absence of law to regulate disagreements. Given the fact that one of the benefits of the nation state was to produce a rule of, and a respect for, the law it would seem that even if these early encounters of man with his fellow men were fearful, the rule of law in a more modern community would appear to make such a response of fear, otiose.
So, I am genuinely puzzled by the obviously fear based responses of both politicians and large numbers of people to immigration that we are seeing the world over. The first migrants from Africa took considerable risks and showed remarkable courage in their decisions to leave what they knew behind, however, sparse and poorly resourced their environment must have been. These first trekkers were the builders of our first small communities. There is an obvious correlation with their willingness to brave dangers and the subsequent skill and competence they demonstrated in creating and maintaining their small settlements. There is also an obvious correlation between the asylum seekers we see risking their lives in rubber rafts and our early ancestors. If one examines the statistics in immigration friendly countries, such as the USA of past years, Britain after the collapse of the British Empire and Sweden in recent times there is clear statistical and experiential evidence of the considerable benefits that have accrued to the countries in which immigrants have come to settle. There are of course short term adjustment problems where life as one knew it may be to some small extent disrupted for a period of time, but the Chinese are supposed to have wisely claimed (in response to the question why they did not resist large numbers of immigrant settlers) : “In three generations they will be Chinese, so why bother about the fact that they are not Chinese when they arrive?” The statistics and general experience in both the USA of the past and Britain support this claim.
There is no doubt that in Kant’s Philosophy there is an ethical obligation to help people whose lives are in danger. Asylum seekers must be given asylum irrespective of ethnic or religious denomination. The second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative claims that we have a duty to treat people as ends in themselves and this demands as a consequence not just hospitable behaviour but also justifies the right to asylum that has been universally agreed to by the members of the UN.
Kant would not claim that there is any difference in principle in relation to the freedom of movement of peoples involved in the European project. Treating people as ends in themselves requires that one is hospitable to strangers. The European project is a Kantian project, an Enlightenment pilot-project. Today freedom of movement in Europe, tomorrow freedom of movement on a cosmopolitan scale. The logic of cosmopolitanism requires that the European eventually be hospitable to the non European stranger who appears on their doorstep.
The Kantian Philosopher believes that this ethical argument is the primary argument for globalization. But has it not historically been the case that commerce has been the driving force of globalization? It has certainly been a superficial force. To the extent that our self interest has driven commerce, the philosophical analysis of this phenomenon would suggest that self interested commercialism and the desire to expand ones sphere of self interest over the whole world is not in the spirit of Kantian cosmopolitanism. This commercial spirit on the contrary, was one of the roots of in imperialism which did not know what to do with the discovery that the mere accumulation of capital as an aim seemed to make the working man superfluous, an entity to be exploited for the end of the accumulation of capital. Hannah Arendt provides compelling arguments which suggest a connection between this anti-humanistic spirit of commercialism and the emergence of totalitarian governments last century.
There are deep processes of globalization which populism, in its ignorance or misunderstanding of the systematic arguments of Philosophy, does not understand. Quite simply the populist politicians, whether they be British, European, American or Swedish, do not know what they do not know. They concentrate upon the divisions or differences between people rather on the systematic truths which unite them. This is why there is so much discussion about who is telling the truth and who is lying, why there is so much discussion about real and fake news. Real, objective Ethical Truths relate to cosmopolitan rights and the rights that unite all occupants of the earth. The shadowy arguments of populist politicians focus on national and cultural differences and fear of change, fear of the deep ethical process of globalization. This process of ethical globalization, for them is not an ethical matter, it is rather a natural destructive phenomenon which requires national defense measures. This fear of something which is not of itself fearful is of course a pathological feat of the imagination which reveals itself in all talk of building walls or defending borders or expelling aliens. This is the talk of the ignorant prisoners imprisoned deep in Plato’s cave, a deeply disturbing fearful incoherent babbling which is paradoxically, claiming to know something.