Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century metaphysician who remains “the central figure in modern philosophy,” has wrangled up a Twitter account from the ether and this morning tweeted an endorsement in today’s election:
In a statement released concurrently from the noumenal sphere, Kant offered an explanation for the endorsement:
In an American epoch in which all but the right-wing family values crowd seeks to separate morality from politics and in which Machiavellianism is the norm, the left needs a refresher course on the fundamental agreement between the concept of right and the political sphere.
I will save my full lecture for another time, because I know Americans are busy and are on their way to the polls. So for the first time since I wrote the essay “What Is Enlightenment” in 1784, a six-page haiku on the importance of “using your own understanding,” I will be brief.
As I argued in the first appendix to my essay Perpetual Peace: a Philosophical Sketch, there are three ways morality and politics can relate in a political leader. I like to conceive of these options in the guise of three figures: the moral politician, who puts morality first and implements it wisely, the political moralist, a Machiavellian who adapts morality to serve his advantage, and the despotic moralist, a Ralph Nader type who might have great ideas but “errs in practice” by acting “contrary to political prudence.”
The 2012 presidential election offers a classic battle between a moral politician and a political moralist. Mitt Romney’s anti-intellectualism and uncommonly brazen shifts on questions from abortion to Afghanistan, from tax policy to Medicare, reveal him as a man who will profess a belief in anything when the political calculus favors it. All politicians pivot and prevaricate from time to time, but a political moralist like Mr. Romney “makes principles subordinate to his end (i.e. puts the cart before the horse).” One can only guess which positions will guide Mitt Romney as president if he is elected today.
President Obama’s record isn’t flawless — he did a lot less on immigration reform and climate change in his first term than I would have liked to see — but his principled belief in pushing for a fairer country where people should be treated as ends in themselves is in evidence in many of his accomplishments. Here are some examples from a campaign email I received this morning:
- "The first measure he signed into law after becoming president was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — so a female high school counselor or physical education teacher can fight for equal pay for equal work." Connie Britton, California
- "The Affordable Care Act is saving my daughter's life." Stacey, Arizona
- "Obama stuck his neck out for us, the auto industry. He wasn't going to let it just die, and I'm driving in this morning because of that, because of him." Brian, Ohio
- "When Obama came into office, he successfully renewed our country's place in the community of nations, making cooperation in tackling the world's challenges possible." Willis, North Carolina
- "I was really very grateful to him for standing up for those kids who are having a really rough time out there because of their orientation." Jane Lynch, California
- "For me, President Obama is our best choice because he has a vision of the United States as a place where we are all in this together." Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey
- "I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics." Michael Bloomberg, New York
- "Thanks to the President's efforts to keep student loan rates low, I can expect to save nearly $1000 as I work to repay my student loans. And I don't have too many of those, thanks to the Federal Pell Grant program." Sam, Minnesota
I do not have a vote in this election, as I am neither an American citizen nor presently residing in the world of experience. But if I were, Barack Obama would be my choice.
Steven Mazie is on Twitter: @stevenmazie
...and evidently so is Kant: @ImmanuelKant11