BPTL # 7
Trump’s Wall lives on, but the latest addition seems to be more bizarre than serious. Here is part of the story, as told on December 8 by Ross D. Franklin of The Associated Press:
“SAN RAFAEL VALLEY, Ariz. — Work crews have steadily erected hundreds of double-stacked shipping containers topped by razor wire along Arizona’s remote eastern boundary with Mexico in a bold show of border enforcement by Republican Governor Doug Ducey even as he prepares to leave office.
Until protesters slowed, then largely halted the work in recent days, Ducey pressed forward over the objections of the US government, environmentalists, and an incoming governor who has called it a poor use of resources.
Democratic Governor-elect Katie Hobbs said last week she was “looking at all the options” and hasn’t decided what to do about the containers after her Jan. 5 inauguration. She previously suggested the containers be repurposed as affordable housing, an increasingly popular option for homeless and low-income people. . . .
Federal agencies have told Arizona the construction on US land is unlawful and ordered it to halt. Ducey responded Oct. 21 by suing federal officials over their objections, sending the dispute to court.
Environmental groups say the containers could imperil natural water systems and endanger species.”
By this move, Ducey seems to be joining governors Ron DeSantis from Florida and Greg Abbot from Texas, who have recently enacted stunts to foster their political agenda. However, this recent addition to the ongoing debate about immigration invites philosophical analysis of the basic principles that lurk blow the surface of this rhetoric. The wide gap between two opposed segments that is evident not only in the U.S. but throughout the world reflects a profound moral difference concerning how human beings do and should relate to each other. Philosophers have been puzzling over this topic at least since the ancient Greeks started considering the advantages and disadvantages of various forms of governance.
We can throw a light on today’s dichotomy by considering the difference between two characters found in Plato’s Republic, which was written around 375 BCE: Thrasymachus and Socrates. The topic is justice, and the split between these two characters is remarkably similar to the current division between (1) those who think that power in its various forms is what does and should shape the social and political life of human beings and (2) those who believe that universal principles such as wisdom, goodness, and justice should be our guide. Thrasymachus insists that “justice is the interest of the stronger.” When pressed by Socrates to explain what he means by “the stronger,” it becomes clear that Thrasymachus means physical force exemplified by armed forces, the strength of economic wealth in the marketplace, and power of the written and spoken word to persuade others to do whatever a leader commands. These two opposing views of how human society should be organized have taken many different forms throughout the globe in the past twenty-five hundred years, but the major differences remain.
Plato’s Republic extends over ten books (chapters) that require 400 pages to print; the result is a remarkable analysis that incorporates most of the perennial philosophical issues from a variety of disciplines. In this podcast I will focus on a single issue that lies at the heart of the current disagreement over immigration and brings us back to the overall topic of democracy. What is essential to human relationships? Is it security? Is it wealth? Is it the interest of individual people, of a specific nation, of a particular race, or of a particular gender? Thrasymachus and his followers are likely to embrace one or more of those choices. It is not surprising to find those who are on his side of the current struggle in the U.S. demanding that we place “America First” and devote the resources necessary to achieve that goal. A variety of famous “philosophers” have advocated tribalism and nationalism and defended their position on the claim that “might makes right.” Sun Tzu with his “art of war” in China, Niccolo Machiavelli with his advice to princes in Italy, Thomas Hobbes with his Leviathan in England, and Otto von Bismarck with his Realpolitik in Germany are some of those who have taken the lead in formulating and teaching the basic elements of a view of human relationships that is based on power and force. Their primary foreign policy objective is to establish and defend national boundaries and exclude anyone or any group that does not conform to and foster the national identity and interest. This, they believe, will bolster their political power and unite their base as they repel supposed threats from foreigners.
Socrates and his followers pursue a radically different vision of what is essential to human relationships. Pursuit of the common good with its many aspects is more important to them than “power, fame, and riches.” This group promotes universal values that are shared by all people and, when properly understood, by nature itself. If we do not interpret Plato’s Republic literally but follow the dialectical process it manifests, we can extrapolate from the discussion in Book 5 the general principle that even when we are at war with another state or nation, we should anticipate a future in which we make friends with those who are now our enemy. Although that discussion concerns other Greeks, it seems reasonable to apply that same principle to those now called barbarians. A truly common good can and should incorporate all of humanity, and whatever forms of association we create would apply globally.
In direct contrast to tribalism and nationalism, the ancient Greeks labeled this approach to human relationships by the term “cosmopolitanism.” Diogenes of Sinope, who was contemporary with Socrates, was the founder of the Cynic movement. When he was asked where he came from, he said: “I am a citizen of the world [kosmopolites].” Another Greek philosophical school, Stoicism, also contributed to this idea of cosmic citizenship, providing a helpful way of thinking about how we can retain our specific and local human relationships while participating in what is universal. I, as an individual, am at the center of a series of concentric circles that progressively include my family, my friends, my city, my state, my nation, the United Nations, and planet earth. My identity and my human relationships include all these circles, but limited resources force me to focus on the center even though I can and should embrace the largest possible sphere. The greater my financial and psychic resources the more I can participate in and contribute to the larger circles. In a democracy, as I have said in previous podcasts, moral responsibility and affinity with others are universal, not limited to local demands and expectations.
The Greek Enlightenment of the 4th century BCE and the Modern Enlightenment of the 18th century share this perspective on human association. Immanuel Kant’s version of cosmopolitanism appears in his 1795 essay Lasting Peace, as that title is translated by Lieselotte Anderson (https://www.lrdigital.dk/en/Kants-Foundations-of-Ethics-9788726627466). Kant’s universal ethics specifically appeals to cosmopolitan law for its ethical justification and as the path to a lasting peace for humankind. The “Third Definitive Article for a lasting peace is: “Universal right should be limited to the conditions of general hospitality.” Kant continues: “This article, like the preceding ones, does not refer to philanthropy but is a matter of rights. Hospitality refers to the right of  strangers not to be treated belligerently on other people’s soil. A stranger can be excluded, provided that does not lead to the stranger’s demise; but as long as they stay peaceful, there is no reason for hostility. No right exists to which one can appeal for hospitality; a special charitable arrangement would be required to accept a stranger into a household for a limited time. A visitor’s right is available to all people who wish to offer their companionship based on the right to common habitation on the surface of the world. Since people cannot spread out across a globe indefinitely, they must finally get used to the idea of tolerating each other’s proximity. Originally, no person was more privileged to a certain place than any other.”
Kant’s view provides a good example of those concentric circles in action. It preserves the priority of the individual and the local, but it incorporates our moral connection with the ever expanding circles that include other moral beings. Kant did not go this far, but today it is easy to include other species and the ecosystem itself as part of an inclusive cosmos. Plato presented a similar cosmic vision. “Socrates says: Callicles, philosophers tell us that community, friendship, orderliness, moderation, and justice bind together not only humans but also heaven and earth. That’s why this  universe is called
a cosmos, which means order, not immoderate disorder. (https://www.lrdigital.dk/en/Platos-Gorgias-9788726627534)
Individuals, cities, states, and nations are autonomous, which means they make laws for themselves. Invasions, especially by force, violate that autonomy. But cosmopolitan law comes from the idea that all moral beings are equal members of a universal community. Kant also elaborates the positive aspect of his view of ethical responsibility in The Fundamental Principlesof the Metaphysics of Morals when he discusses the concept of benevolence. Benevolence, the responsibility of acting to benefit others, is not based on feeling but on the universal moral law. The idea of hospitality, as it is explained in Lasting Peace, rests on the moral claim of other members as part of the universal community, the cosmos. Not only should they be welcome as guests when they enter in a peaceful way, but they also have a moral right to seek refuge if they are fleeing from hostile conditions in their current environment. Those countries that have the resources to do so have a moral responsibility to offer refuge and to support to those in need. This responsibility is grounded in universal rights and in the common good. This is not a vague, general notion but has been spelled out in detail at the global level in 1948 by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (https://www.agorapodcasts.com/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.html) The connection to Kant’s essay Lasting Peace becomes clear when we consider the similarity between Kant’s vision at the end of the 18th century and the League of Nations as it emerged in the 20th century.
Juast as Kant based his idea of benevolence not on emotions or feelings but on the universal moral law, the concept of hospitality, whether among individuals or between nations, has that same kind of justification. In the twentieth century, Martin Luther King, Jr., who studied Kant’s philosophy when he was in the doctoral program at Boston University, makes a similar argument about the nature of love. The kind of love that justifies loving even your enemies is not a passion or a subjective feeling; it is based on a universal moral responsibility that applies not only to the followers of Jesus but to all beings in the moral universe. Building walls to keep people inside a country, which was the function of the Berlin Wall in Germany, undermines the principle of hospitality to the point that even families were separated from being with each other. Building walls to keep people out of a country, as is the case with Trump’s wall, also subverts hospitality. This does not mean that there should be no limits on who is welcome in our house, our community, or our country. As Kant said, visitors must enter in a peaceful way to meet the conditions of hospitality. Laws restricting how long those guests may stay, including the possibility of being permanent residents, are consistent with the universal moral law. Laws and policies concerning imigration in all countries require legislative, judicial, and executive processes, but those activities should be grounded in the universal moral law. Enforcing imigration laws is a challenge, as is the case with most laws, but the asumption that visitors are hostile, pose a threat to safety and security, or that they are not worthy of our benevolence when they are trying to escape dire circumstances elsewhere is an unjustified assumption.
Although some proponents of cosmopolitan philosophy in the twenty-first century appeal to subjective feelings of sympathy and empathy, the strongest versions of cosmopolitanism appeal to universal moral responsibility. Two recent books that examine the cosmopolitan idea in our current world are worth mentioning here. When Martha Nussbaum first introduced the idea early in this century, she raised the hope for a universal way of thinking that extends the Greek tradition launched by Plato and Aristotle. However, her 2019 book The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal (Harvard University Press) backs away from that view in favor of the nation state. Kwame Anthony Appiah is both an example of a “citizen of the world” and the author of a comprehensive study of this idea called Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, published by Penguin Books in 2006. In 1998, as president of the International Society for Universal Dialogue (ISUD), I invited Professor Appiah to present a keynote address at the ISUD conference held in conjunction with the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy in Boston, Massachusetts. His presentation anticipated the major concepts developed in his book Cosmopolitanism, showing how cosmopolitanism is grounded in a universal moral vision.
Appiah’s father was a major political figure in Ghana who served as Ghana’s representative to the United Nations in 1977-1978. His mother was an English art historian and a writer. In the introduction to Cosmopolitanism, Appiah says: “In the final message my father left for me and my sisters, he wrote, ‘Remember you are citizens of the world.’ But as a leader of the independence movement in what was then the Gold Coast, he never saw a conflict between local partialities and a universal morality—between being part of the place you were and a part of a broader human community.” Contrary to many thinkers in our “scientific age,” according to Appiah, values are not entirely subjective. His commitment to the universal is stated clearly at the beginning of his book: “I want to hold on to at least one important aspect of the objectivity of values: that there are, and shoud be, universal, just as there are lots of values that are, and must be, local.”
Appiah’s book does not treat the specific topic of imigration, nor does he probe the concept of hospitality. However, his defense of universal moral values, especially in light of the actual and the symbolic walls that continue to separate us, promotes the possibility for a dialogue in which we can all participate. Genuine philosophers do not promise to share truth that they possess. As “lovers of wisdom,” they are seeking such universals as a goal. In that sense we can all be philosophers.