Peace Kant Be Found

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Peace Kant Be Found

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About four years ago, I was able to visit the homeland of my grandparents—the part of the world once known as Prussia (now part of Poland). I visited the small village of Gros Arnsdorf (now Jarnoltowo) and to my great surprise, I noticed a plaque on the wall of its small school stating that Immanuel Kant had tutored there for four years in the mid-1700s. At this point in its history, the area has been torn apart by wars for hundreds of years. About 700 years before this, a leader named Mieszko, the head of the Polani tribe, united several Slavic tribes together into what became Poland. Since then, the country had become the political equivalent of a football—pressured from all sides, overrun and ruled by different individuals and groups. It was a land that rarely knew peace.

My father was a young man in the Polish forces that withstood the Red Army around 1920, and he migrated to Canada in 1925. My mother’s father foresaw more violence, and sent his family to Canada and Argentina around 1926. Poland is very fruitful and beautiful, with plenty of fresh water, rich agricultural land, forests and mineral wealth. The salt mines near Krakow brought great wealth and, subsequently, interest from outside to the south of Poland hundreds of years ago. All of this contributes to making Poland a desirable land. (As an aside, I cannot help but remark that we constantly ate in outdoor restaurants and went for walks through fields and undergrowth without one mosquito bite! That in itself was an added attraction for this lovely land.)

Immanuel Kant is one of the world’s most eminent philosophers, and I recognized his name from my university courses in philosophy. Kant was born in Königsberg, East Prussia and rarely went much further than 100 miles from his home city. He saw wars and knew the strong interference of Catherine the Great (of Russia) in Polish affairs. He longed for peace as most average people do. I was intrigued with a paper he wrote in 1795 entitled “Perpetual Peace,” in which he referred to “THE PRELIMINARY ARTICLES FOR PERPETUAL PEACE AMONG STATES.” His complete work can be found online.

God tells us that we humans do not know the way of peace (Romans 3:17). That does not mean we do not seek peace or that many do not want peace—it means that although we seek peace, other factors prevent it from remaining constant. Immanuel Kant thought about perpetual, ongoing, never-ending peace. That is in God’s heart too, and He will bring that condition to pass. Paul called God the “God of peace” (Philippians 4:9). Intangible factors such as vanity, ego and pride contribute to the failure of human attempts at peace. Additionally, there is the influence of the great power of darkness that God, because of mankind’s decisions, has allowed to roam on this earth. Revelation speaks of a “horse that was red; and power was given unto him that sat on it to take peace from the earth” (Revelation 6:4). But despite this formidable flock of enemies to peace, it is a great and noble task to seek after peace on earth. Those who recognize the need to make the earth a better place for future generations are starting out on the right foot as far as God is concerned. It is, after all, what He is working toward as well!

Immanuel Kant made some interesting statements in “Perpetual Peace.” He wrote, “No Treaty of Peace Shall Be Held Valid in Which There Is Tacitly Reserved Matter for a Future War.” In other words, any peace treaty that fails to resolve all issues between two or more groups will only result in a temporary suspension of hostility. That certainly is recognized as the underlying cause of the Second World War. And we need only to look at the manner in which the boundaries of nations were drawn in the Middle East or Africa to see the seeds of unrest and turmoil that have not stopped in those lands.

Another factor Kant saw as essential for perpetual peace was that “No Independent States, Large or Small, Shall Come under the Dominion of Another State by Inheritance, Exchange, Purchase, or Donation.” He saw the state as a society of men, and only they had the right to command or dispose of themselves. Foreign dictation of conditions for existence created conditions in which peace could not survive. It is quite startling to find these points carefully considered and written over 250 years ago when we consider the incredible wars that have taken place since then, as well as the ongoing tensions that exist today.

Several other points in Kant’s writing also express dreams that, if followed, would do much to promote perpetual peace. The world’s collective failure to adhere to these principles gives us insight into why peace has remained unattainable: we lack the necessary collective willpower and the strength of character needed to follow through. Kant continued to write that, in a world of perpetual peace, “Standing Armies…Shall in Time Be Totally Abolished,” “National Debts Shall Not Be Contracted with a View to the External Friction of States,” and “No State Shall by Force Interfere with the Constitution or Government of Another State.” Kant concluded the section with the requirement that “No State Shall, during War, Permit Such Acts of Hostility Which Would Make Mutual Confidence in the Subsequent Peace Impossible…”

There are human words of hope seen in Kant’s writings. The words and ideas were no doubt born out of the viewing of the hostilities extant in the region. In Section II of his paper, Kant admits, “The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state…the natural state is one of war.” Such a statement brings us face-to-face with reality—but it does not mean we need to accept the status quo quietly or without resistance. We ought to seek ways of peace. We need to learn to solve our differences with dignity and concern for all, beginning right within our own homes. Nations are becoming more and more fractured because we cannot find peace within marriage and our own homes—let alone within the boundaries of a nation or continent. Peace begins in the heart and flows out from there. It is a hope and a dream that needs to be nourished. Yet, as Kant did, we all must acknowledge that peace is not the natural state among people. Differences arise and change is constant, so we do not have the tools or the understanding prerequisite to designing a perpetual peace—but there is hope.

God does have the needed tools—and the understanding! That is the bright and hopeful lesson Jesus teaches us. Thousands of years before Immanuel Kant published his work, God inspired Isaiah to give us this hope. Isaiah 2:2-4 reveals God’s promise of perpetual peace. One law, one religion, justice for all nations, armies abolished and warfare no longer learned. Perhaps Kant read some of these lines in his musings and ponderings. Continued failure has taught us that peace must come from God—the God of Peace. His children will be like Him!

Further reading

For more on the subject of peace (like why we lack it and how to obtain it) read “‘Peace, Peace!’ When There Is No Peace,” as featured in our free periodical, World News and Prophecy.