Curatorial Initiatives
Kant's Essay

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In Conversation with Jean-Marc Coicaud

In May 2010, the Perpetual Peace Project filmed Jean-Marc Coicaud, Director of the United Nations University (UNU) in New York, in the public gardens at United Nations Plaza where diplomats and staff often retreat. He spoke about the increasing specialization of the roles of the philosopher and the diplomat today, that Kant intuited in his concerns about the separation between theory and practice. He explained that historically the statesman had a more holistic relationship to the humanities, and that his work at the United Nations University today is an attempt to bridge that divide. At one point, Coicaud described Kant's proposal for Perpetual Peace as both a practical manual and an imaginative treatise, with a speculative nature in which error and failure is allowable. He lamented that for the diplomat today, on a purely practical level, error is lethal, and inhibits philosophical inquiry.

One thing that Kant could never have imagined, Coicaud remarked, was a United Nations in which democratic and non-democratic participants would gather at the same table. He also spoke of his fascination with the psychology of peace, and the need for nation-states, regardless of political composition, to first be at peace internally in order to be at peace with other nations. He cautioned that if the nation-state appears weak today, and its interests increasingly abrogated to other powers, this state of affairs is part of the philosophy of the nation-state itself, and its leaders have chosen this trajectory.

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