Curatorial Initiatives
Kant's Essay

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'The maxims of the philosophers regarding the conditions of the possibility of a public peace, shall be taken into consideration by the States that are armed for war.'
-- Immanuel Kant, "Secret Article relating to Perpetual Peace," in Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)

The Perpetual Peace Project begins from the understanding that for many politicians and policy experts, today "peace" is a poorly defined word that has many meanings in different contexts. Similarly, when used in public discourse peace is often dismissed as an empty rhetorical gesture, or as an abstract and unsustainable concept. It persists more pragmatically through short-term processes to mitigate suffering or end ongoing hostilities, or as the desired outcome of supposedly necessary wars. Yet this resigned acceptance of strife, and this dismissal of peace as an esoteric or irrelevant exercise, seems paradoxical in a world that has long dreamed for things to be otherwise.

This project is a partnership between the European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC), the International Peace Institute (IPI), the United Nations University, Slought Foundation, and Syracuse University. It joins theorists and practitioners in revisiting 21st century prospects for international peace. The project finds its public form in symposia, exhibitions, lectures, as well as a feature film organized around Immanuel Kant's foundational essay "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" (1795), which itself takes the form of an international treaty exploring the possibility of permanent peace. Positing peace as an unnatural state that must be enforced by international laws and governing bodies, Kant effectively anticipates multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the European Union. Though the essay's ironic tone suggests the impossibility of this vision, one of its ultimate goals is to nevertheless challenge the politicians who mock the concept as "a childish and pedantic idea," and to create in their place a newly discursive space for discussing peace and international law.

This project also has a seemingly unattainable goal--namely, international peace. But what it aspires to do at its simplest is begin, as Kant himself proposed, a conversation with those philosophers who engage with the idea of peace, with those practitioners who participate directly in the world of geopolitical conflict, and with those governing bodies who have the power to truly make peace a sustainable reality. This conversation begins with a traditional definition of international peace as a relationship between states, but also acknowledges contemporary realities of intra-state conlicts, issues of global governance, and human security. Whether this conversation happens in the public halls of cultural institutions or governmental offices, in cafes or living rooms, newspapers or blogs, our project seeks to restart this discourse without worrying where it will end.

Though traditionally organized around conferences, exhibitions, and publications, the Perpetual Peace Project does not define its successes through measured outcomes alone, but also finds value in continued dialogue, collaboration, and research. Moreover, in the spirit of the secret article contained in the second supplement to Kant's essay, this curatorial intervention encourages untraceable outcomes. Alongside the public programs, the project brings theorists and practitioners together at the same table for sessions behind closed doors in the conference rooms of the United Nations and other governmental institutions.

By bringing institutions and individuals together who trace their origins and identities to Kant's essay in this way, we like to think that the project has in a sense already begun. If the project can be thought to succeed, it will take the form of a continued conversation among these individuals, within these institutions, and in the public sphere more generally, without our assistance and beyond our prompting, long after our last events have been staged.

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