‘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.
The Perpetual Peace Project developed along three phases:
Phase 1 (2008-2011)
The Perpetual Peace Project began in 2009 in a series of conversations that took place in New York and Syracuse between the three principal founders: Gregg Lambert, founding director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center; Aaron Levy, curator of the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia; and Martin Rauchbauer, at that time a Deputy Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in the United Nations. The project was conceived in light of the increasing number of geo-political conflicts and wars during the first decade of the 21st century, and with the awareness that the idea of permanent peace had suffered an ignoble and unpopular fate within the institutions represented by the founding partners: politics and diplomacy, art and culture, and philosophy and the Humanities.
In response to this worsening situation, the original goal of the Perpetual Peace Project was to bring these respective institutions into a renewed dialogue with one another using a variety of public formats, such as symposia, exhibitions, lectures, as well as a feature film organized around Immanuel Kant’s foundational essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795), which first defines peace as an unnatural state that must be enforced by international laws and governing bodies, and effectively anticipates multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the European Union.
By bringing institutions and individuals together whose origins and identities have been informed by Kant’s original essay in this way, the project takes the form of an ongoing conversation within these institutions and in the public sphere more generally, and has continued to attract new partners and public initiatives including the Centre for the Humanities (CfH) at Utrecht University and the Treaty of Utrecht Foundation beginning fall 2011.
In this phase, a UN Symposium titled Sovereignty, Democracy, Human Rights: Dialogues on Perpetual Peace was held at the IPI in November 2010. Moreover, a Perpetual Peace Project installation was realized at the New Museum in New York, which then travelled to Philadelphia (U.S.), Kigali (Rwanda) and Utrecht (The Netherlands).
Phase 2 (2012-2013)
In spring 2012, Prof. Gregg Lambert brought the Perpetual Peace Project to the border between North and South Korea to engage in dialogue with public intellectual Taek-Gwang Lee, and give a public presentation of the project. In fall 2012, the Perpetual Peace Project was engaged in two initiatives at Syracuse University: the ‘Eat Together for Peace,’ a series of exhibits, shared meals, discussions, dialogues, conversations and panels over the course of a week; and the public forum at Syracuse University, “A Common Ground for Peace,” which was led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with a number of distinguished international thought leaders in a series of symposia co-hosted by the Syracuse University Humanities Center.
In 2013, the Perpetual Peace Project moved to Utrecht, with the launch of Redrafting Perpetual Peace. The initiative invited academics to engage in the project of re-writing Kant’s Perpetual Peace to re-frame it for the contemporary world. The six original preliminary articles of Kant’s document were revised by contemporary academics according to the current geo-political, economic and social realities. These articles are to be engaged with and alongside six short films that explore the question: How can we translate Kant’s academic discourse to induce discussions on peace between the academic and the artist?
Phase 3 (2014-2017)
The last phase of the Perpetual Peace Project saw the launch of three important projects, which are still ongoing. Firstly, the Kant for Kids project launched by the Center for the Humanities at Utrecht University, and endeavor aimed at translating the concept of perpetual peace, and namely Kant’s six preliminary articles, into a terminology accessible and understandable for children. The translation thus entails not only adapting Kant’s text but also linking it to a contemporary political, social and economic context, and developing a book for which Kant’s text serves as an inspiration. The end result is a book for kids which could be used either as a stand-alone reading or incorporated into a wider course related to philosophy and/or politics. The e-book (in Dutch) will be published at the end of 2015.
Secondly, the three-year project Histories of Violence ‘Disposable Lives,’ an initiative that interrogates the meaning of mass violence and human destruction in the 21st Century. Inviting critical reflections from renowned public intellectuals, artists and writers, the project features a series of monthly filmed reflections from an illustrious list of participants; a subsequent feature film for public broadcast; accompanying book of complementary essays and associated publications/media articles; along with a series of global events bringing together the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to offer innovative and publicly engaging forums to inform debate and rethink the ideals of global citizenship. Founded & Directed by Brad Evans, the project benefits from an international advisory board which brings together renowned academics from the United Kingdom, Europe and North America, breaking down the intellectual boundaries between politics, culture and the Arts.
Slought Foundation engages the public in dialogue about cultural and socio-political change through collaborations with communities, universities, and governments.
European Union National Institutes of Culture
EUNIC is a partnership of national institutions for culture, operating beyond their national borders and with a degree of autonomy from their governments.
United Nations University
The United Nations University explores, through research and capacity building, global problems facing the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.
Syracuse University Humanities Center
The Syracuse University Humanities Center is an interdisciplinary center for research, events, and exhibitions in the arts and humanities.
International Peace Institute
IPI is dedicated to the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening peace and security institutions.
Utrecht University Centre for the Humanities
The Centre for the Humanities is the platform where pioneering, innovative research is connected to greater socio-political relevance of the humanities, by focusing on the social status and the public perception of the humanities today.
Treaty of Utrecht Chair
The Treaty of Utrecht Chair is founded to highlight the relevance of the Treaty of Utrecht in current European and international perspective, in terms of social sustainability, cultural diversity, dialogue, respect for each other, mediation, tolerance, inspiration and diplomacy.
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Executive Director, Slought Foundation
Deputy Director, Austrian Cultural Forum
Founding Director, Syracuse University Humanities Center
The Perpetual Peace Project includes roundtables, commissions, exhibitions, and publications:
Aaron Levy, Slought Foundation
Alexandra Lerman, ScibeMedia Arts Culture
Laura Hanna, Hidden Driver Productions
Gregg Lambert, Syracuse University
Technology and technical assistance provided by ScribeLabs
Ken Saylor, Saylor + Sirola
Prem Krishnamurthy, Project Projects
Anna Gritz, Liana Moskowitz, Megan Schmidgal, and Melanie Kress, Slought Foundation
Kathryn M. Tunkel, Syracuse University Humanities Center
Corri Zoli, Syracuse University Humanities Center/INSCT