Thieves’ Kant

by Henry Farrell on September 21, 2009

“Scott”: reviewing David Harvey’s latest at BookForum (free reg. required).

bq. It is unlikely that anyone has ever confused a page of Thomas Friedman’s with one of Immanuel Kant’s, but between them it is possible to triangulate a prevailing sensibility of the past two decades. Call it managerial cosmopolitanism. It celebrates the idea of a global civil society, with the states cooperating to play their proper (limited) role as guardians of public order and good business practices. The hospitality that each nation extends to visiting foreign traders grows ever wider and deeper; generalized, it becomes the most irenic of principles. And so there emerges on the horizon of the imaginable future something like a world republic, with liberty and frequent-flier miles for all.

The core insight here is sufficiently close to the “Forty Days and a Mule”: post of last week as to suggest a competition. Winner will get the usual prize (a year’s free subscription to CT). Rewrite some of Immanuel Kant’s _Perpetual Peace_ in the style of Thomas Friedman’s _The World is Flat._ Or, if you prefer, Thomas Friedman’s _The World is Flat_ in the style of Immanuel Kant’s _Perpetual Peace._ Or any contemporary purveyor of bollocks in the style of some more learned and wordy philosopher with whom he or she may be said to have an intellectual connection, however tangential. Or vice-versa. Or plausible and amusing variations on any of the above; you get the idea.



Maurice Meilleur 09.21.09 at 7:35 pm

Kant: ‘The accumulation of treasure would have the same effect, for, of the three powers–the power of armies, of alliances, and of money–the third is perhaps the most dependable weapon. Such accumulation of treasure is regarded by other states as a threat of war, and if it were not for the difficulties in learning the amount, it would force the other state to make an early attack.’

Friedman: ‘The cab driver pulled over to the side of the road and fished a grimy receipt book out of his jacket pocket. He tore off one slip and wrote three words on it, “armies”, “alliances”, and “money”. He underlined “money” twice. “Armies are bad enough, but my grandfather used to tell me that the lack of money was the root of all evil–especially when you go throwing your wealth around”, he said. I had never thought of things this way, but it made perfect sense and I was stunned at how simple it was; all I could do was nod at his wisdom.’


Maurice Meilleur 09.21.09 at 8:04 pm

I guess while I’m at it–Friedman’s versions of the definitive articles for perpetual peace:

1. The civil constitution of every state should be republican.
2. The law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states.
3. The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality.

1. We are all Americans now.
2. Birds of a feather flock together.
3. Borders don’t matter.


Chris Bertram 09.21.09 at 8:06 pm

1. The global market is all that is the case.
1.1 ….


P O'Neill 09.21.09 at 8:11 pm

Kant: The worst of this (or, to speak with the moralist, the best) is that all these outrages profit them nothing, since all these commercial ventures stand on the verge of collapse, and the Sugar Islands, that place of the most refined and cruel slavery, produces no real revenue except indirectly, only serving a not very praiseworthy purpose of furnishing sailors for war fleets and thus for the conduct of war in Europe.

Moustache: As my ship arrived in Martinique, I was led to formulate my “First Law of Sucro-Politics” , which states that the proportion of free people in a state moves inversely with the price of sugar. Thus if the price of sugar declines, the world will move to a state of greater harmony between states and the conditions for perpetual peace will be more favourable.


Barry 09.21.09 at 11:06 pm

I think that Maurice won it with comment #1.

It could be beaten – one would have to compare/contrast the taxi driver’s comment with something totally unrelated (except for having three points) from a megacorp executive, and keep it almost as short.


Substance McGravitas 09.22.09 at 12:15 am


Maurice Meilleur 09.22.09 at 12:21 am

True, Barry: Even better, I could have had the taxi driver taking Friedman away from his docked cruise ship in Martinique (P O’Neill) to a meeting with Meg Whitman or Nandan Nilekani, where Friedman realizes that both the cab driver and the CEO, by some stroke of banal kismet, are talking about exactly the same thing that he’s been thinking about, the same thing that everyone on the planet who can read has been talking about for years before it germinated in Friedman’s conscious mind.


josh 09.22.09 at 5:18 am

That last comment, Maurice, makes Friedman sound more Hegelian than Kantian …
“… the Moustache of understanding spreads its wings only at dusk …”


garymar 09.23.09 at 3:35 am

The moustache an sich?


andthenyoufall 09.26.09 at 4:29 am

“Kritik der Urteilskraft”: Marsden, in his description of Sumatra, comments that the free beauties of nature there surround the beholder everywhere, so that there is little left to attract him…

“Beauty is Flat”: Right after I got to Sumatra, my friend Billy Marsden picked me up at the airport. “You have to see this,” he said. He drove me overland directly in to a clearing the middle of the jungle. “Do you see this?” I did. “This is the future of eco-tourism. We use micro-finance to fund micro-pepper plantations in ecologically sensitive areas, and use a data-center in Bangalore to remotely monitor the pepper plants.” I had to stroke my mustache vigorously to keep myself from shouting, Eureka! “Of course,” he added, “the data uplinks all run on energy from solar panels produced in China and Germany.” He looked at me significantly. I nodded. He nodded. America is losing the race to grab the baton in the great global relay race that is the Green Micro-Pepper Flat Revolution.

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