THE FOUNDATION - A Self-Portrait

1.  Raison d'être and goals:

The Foundation was established in February 2004 on the 200th anniversary of Kant’s death. In addition to the founder as chief executive, there is an honorary eleven-member Council which meets several times a year, and a board of advisors (also honorary). The work of the Foundation is financed by the returns on the initial founding capital and on various additions to the same, and by donations.

Sapere aude! (literally “Dare to know!” - in the sense of having courage for the truth and pursuing knowledge, not for its own sake, but in order to be able to act intelligently and wisely). According to Kant, the courage demanded by the Enlightenment - the call to everyone to use their native power of reason - needs to be reinforced by a public mood of emancipation (cf. Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?”) i.e. by democratically organised, independent, critically illuminating public information and media sources. Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” explained for us the potential and the limits of human knowledge. This has logically necessary consequences for individual freedom and for the organisation of a constitutional or rule-of-law-based peaceful co-existence of all people as individuals and of such social communities as states (cf: Kant’s “Perpetual Peace”). In relation to the common European heritage, Kant’s work can be seen as an important crystallization point, whilst also representing a legacy of the European Enlightenment that has the potential to be expanded to encompass a global citizenship.

The primary purpose of the Foundation is the support and promotion of courageous and independent, critically illuminating media work and education to protect peace, human rights, democracy and the environment, and to promote the observance of democratic rule-of-law principles in national and international politics.

These goals find their most potent expression in the awarding, every two or three years, of the Kant World Citizen Prize to individuals or groups who have rendered outstanding services in relation to the implementation of universal political-ethical principles in accordance with Kant’s ideas. This also concerns the preservation and sustainability of our European heritage, a community of values and a political culture nourished by both positive and painful experiences.

In addition to the focus on the awarding of the Kant World Citizen Prize - including all the organisational and media preparatory and follow-up work - the Foundation also organises, in cooperation with various partners (e.g. the interdisciplinary Studium generale at Freiburg University, the Catholic Academy in Freiburg, Lutheran academies, the Federal Government, the Heinrich Böll Foundation etc.), lectures under the heading of “Enlightenment through Controversy”, and supports independent, issue-related journalism. Furthermore, from 2016 on the Foundation, in cooperation with the Kant Society, will support masters and doctoral degree courses under the slogan: “Discover Kant and take his ideas further!”


2. The name of the foundation as a programme; historico-political background to the establishment of the Foundation under the title:

Europe’s heritage as a mandate - the Freiburg Foundation for the promotion of a Kantian world citizen ethos. (also simply: The Freiburg Kant Foundation).

The impetus came from the clear challenge to our western community of values through the preparation and carrying out of the illegal war of aggression [a war crime] by the USA and Great Britain against Iraq in 2003, with its devastating consequences. The dissent between the USA and Continental Europe was summed up in the 2003 publication of a book by the neo-conservative political analyst Robert Kagan with the title: Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, where he observes ironically: “Europeans have stepped out of the Hobbesian world of anarchy into the Kantian world of perpetual peace”, preferring instead - in common with Tony Blair’s adviser Robert Cooper -   “the idea of an international moral double standard in relation to the politics of power”. Kagan’s wife, at that time [2003] security adviser to the Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, made headlines recently, at the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, with her telling statement: “Fuck the EU”. In contrast, EU-Europe claims to have learned the lessons from the mistakes of past wars and the colonialistic striving for hegemony and instead wishes to pursue an ethically oriented peaceful world domestic politics.


3. Immanuel Kant’s current relevance to the promotion of a politics of peace:

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been repeatedly blighted by wars - world wars, civil wars and proxy wars - which have set human beings back in their development. It is often the case that religions or different kinds of ideology serve to instrumentalise people for vested power or economic interests. The victims of these manufactured wars are the weakest in society and the natural, social and cultural commons - the foundation of human life on this planet.

People who, for instance, feel themselves to be bound by the “higher truth” of religious values e.g. certain “divine laws” (or rituals and customs that have been handed down) revealed by prophets, are at risk of becoming mere pawns of political and religious elites, thereby endangering the peaceful coexistence of all people, unless - as in secular states - the two spheres are clearly separated.

Kant’s summons: “Have the courage to use your own reason” leads us via the understanding of the limits of human knowledge and of the pointlessness of a battle between ultimate truths and values (and final authorities) to the recognition of a minimal shared diversity [multiplicity]: a mutual respect for human rights and for the freedom of every individual to be happy (or blessed) each in his or her own way. As a consequence, that rule-of-law-based or constitutional order, which ensures the dignity and human rights of each individual, is to be seen, striven for, and defended as the highest earthly value. Human beings do not need to be paternalistically directed as to the content of their lives, but rather need a clear, universally comprehensible and binding framework within which they can determine their own way of life. The United Nations Human Rights Charter formulated such a consensual framework. Kant’s political essays - such as “Perpetual Peace” - which are still relevant today, contain guidelines for implementing and applying that framework in principle and in practice. Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” and his Science of Right also contain suggestions for a protection of our natural, cultural and social commons.

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