Who’s More Naive About Putin–Immanuel Kant Or The Captains Of German Industry?

My vote is that Kant was much less naive than the head of Siemens, for example, about the implications of Putinism for Europe’s future.  Sure Kant lived in the 18th century–details, details.  Lately there has been much commentary about the contrast between Putin’s Hobbesian vision of the world vs. the European Union’s supposedly naive Kantian cosmopolitanism.  There is some truth in that contrast, but I would say it is unfair to Immanuel Kant.  For example, in his essay, “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but it is of no use in practice,”  Kant is quite aware that “nowhere does human nature appear less lovable than in the relations of entire peoples to one another.”  And his short treatise, “Toward Perpetual Peace,” opens with the worldly comment that “It may be left undecided whether this satirical inscription on a certain Dutch innkeeper’s signboard picturing a graveyard was to hold for human beings in general, or for heads of state in particular, who can never get enough of war, or only for philosophers, who dream that sweet dream.”  And Kant recognized that “no treaty of peace shall be held to be such if it is made with a secret reservation of material for a future war.”  He could hardly have anticipated more concisely the Russian attitude toward last week’s “agreement” between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the EU.

Meanwhile Angela Merkel is having a very hard time keeping her business elite from bowing down to Putin (the head of Shell Oil–Dutch-owned–literally bowed before Putin last week, hat tip to Bill Browder Twitter feed) in their quest for business as usual.  If the CEO of German conglomerate Siemens goes to pay a friendly visit Putin in Moscow, while German-trained Russian special forces pursue their soft invasion of eastern Ukraine (see Josh Rogin, “Germany Helped Prep Russia For War,” Daily Beast, 4/22/14) how is Chancellor Merkel supposed to conduct a foreign policy that serves the interests of all Germans, and by extension the EU as a whole?  And who then looks more naive, Immanuel Kant or the masters of the German universe who are pretending that business continues as usual?

P.S. It is a tricky business, trying to muster the immense economic power of a group of countries accustomed to neo-Kantian “win-win” cosmopolitanism (under unanimous consent EU rules that are not necessarily helpful in crises) against a bad actor who decides to play by “Hobbesian” win-lose rules and redraw national borders.  It behooves the leaders of Europe–Merkel and Cameron and Hollande–as well as Obama, to up their game, which would involve, at a minimum, preparing their constituents and their own oligarchs for some inconveniences.

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