“Towards a Perpetual Peace”

Rabbi Juan Mejia
November 3, 2011
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One of the most difficult texts I had to encounter as a Philosophy undergrad in my native Colombia was Immanuel Kant´s “Towards a Perpetual Peace”:  the Prussian philosopher´s master plan for a cosmopolitan league of republics that would, in time, guarantee universal understanding, hospitality and friendship.  As with most political utopias, Kant then goes ahead and lists a well meaning but almost impossible list of conditions that would create this political body.  What I found difficult to stomach, back then, was not the utopian character of the project (as a philosopher and a Jew I am quite fond of Utopias) but rather how painful it is to view such a project from the inside of a country at war.  The sheer irresponsibility of dreaming of global solutions to the problems of the World, while bullets were flying all around us did not scape any of the people in the participating seminar.  How could countries who are in constant inner turmoil, balance their interests and power struggles to participate in an international community of peace seekers?  How can countries who locally cannot guarantee (or actively violate) the life and liberty of its citizens within their borders, be a moral player in the game of international peace?

Kant´s experiment and its incarnations (the UN, the League of Nations, among others) seem to be predicated on a paradoxical power given to States: the ability to participate and coordinate their “foreign interests” in distinct separation of their ability to uphold internal and local peace.  States can negotiate with each other like objective players, regardless of whether they can keep their own house in order.  We know, however that this is a risky gambit.  The Arab Spring, instability at home, and history show us that  that separation between internal and external is but diplomatic legerdemain: what happens in the streets of Cairo echoes in the halls of power in Beijing and bounces right in the middle of Wall Street.  States are not coordinated rational players but wobbly extensions of their sometimes chaotic inner selves.

The only rational alternative would be utter pessimism: how do we improve our chances of getting these unruly, unstable, unpredictable collective players to agree on anything that will look like peace?  A radical solution which has not been fully fleshed out but is now possible through technology is skipping the middleman.  Until now we have trusted in the power of governments and states to carry the collective will of the people to other states and to compete and negotiate for them.  However, in a world of states of competing interests and inner conflict, can we really trust governments to represent the will of the people?  Today, through the revolutionary advances in communications, people have created and found ways to communicate their needs, desires, and dreams directly to the world, even despite the censorship and intervention of their States.  Will this new connection herald a digital Messiah or will people, with their small interest, end up as unwilling to commit to lasting peace as nations (who might or might not be representing them) have been until now?

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Rabbi Juan Mejia was born in Bogotá, Colombia. After discovering the Jewish roots of his family, he embarked on a spiritual journey that lead him back to the religion and the people of his ancestors. He holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the National University of Colombia and a summa cum laude Master´s Degree in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received rabbinic ordination from the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in NY. He plans to devote his life to the Torah education of both Jews and descendants of anusim wherever they may be. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oklahoma City, OK. He was recently appointed as the coordinator for the Southwest for the Jewish non-profit organization Bechol Lashon.

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