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Perpetual Peace

Distributed by Microcinema International/Microcinema DVD, 2169 Folsom Street, Suite M101, San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-447-9750
Produced by Gregg Lambert
Directed by Laura Hanna, Alexandra Lerman, and Aaron Levy
DVD, color, 54 min.
Philosophy, International Relations

Reviewed by Sandy River, Architecture and Humanities Librarian, Texas Tech University

Not recommended   
Date Entered: 6/13/2011

Philosopher Immanuel Kant first published his essay “To Perpetual Peace: a Philosophic Sketch” in 1795. Written in the form of a treaty, it sets out the conditions for bringing peace among nations and argues that we have an obligation to try to bring this ideal into reality. Peace, in Kant’s view, requires a federation of republics with no standing armies and little behind-the-scenes diplomacy. The Perpetual Peace Project, a partnership between the European Union National Institutes of Culture, the International Peace Institute, the United Nations University, the Slought Foundation, and the Syracuse University Humanities Center, derives inspiration from Kant’s text. Its contributions to the achievement of international peace include public initiatives such as symposia, workshops and seminars, museum installations, and this video. As stated on the project’s website, it is “predicated on the belief that no one institution or individual can claim or guarantee a mastery of the concept of peace.”

The video brings to the discussion about peace several philosophers, sociologists, and diplomats. They were “invited to speak to Immanuel Kant's text and expand upon the issues it raises in relationship to their own varied practices.” Some of the participants are fairly well-known, including philosophers Helene Cixoux and Kwame Anthony Appiah and sociologist Richard Sennett, while others, such as the United Nations representatives, will be unfamiliar to viewers. The philosophers try to define terms. The diplomats compare the United Nations to Kant’s proposed federation. In general, the speakers affirm what they take to be valid in Kant’s text and discuss features of the today’s world that Kant could not have anticipated—nongovernmental terrorist groups, multinational corporations, Internet hackers—and suggest how those features complicate the achievement of peace. Also discussed are globalization and multiculturalism as they relate to Kant’s ideas about cosmopolitanism and hospitality.

Perpetual Peace is a series of short videos of the individual participants speaking for a few minutes. The short videos are grouped into segments: Defining Peace, The Politics of Peace, Practicing Peace, The Idea of Peace, Dreaming of Peace, Cosmopolitanism and Hospitality, and Rewriting Perpetual Peace. Each segment features one to seven of the short videos. The speakers are not introduced, and the order of the list at the opening of a segment may not match the order of the speakers. There is no interviewer, and it doesn’t appear that the speakers are responding to a particular question. Some of them refer to a particular portion of Kant’s text that they are responding to, however, not all do, and a viewer unfamiliar with Kant’s essay could be forgiven for tuning out references to it.

The video employs a “talking heads” format, but the speakers do not engage each other or an interviewer. The film quality is good, but speakers are put in a circular frame, as though you are watching through a port hole. There are sometimes images shown while a speaker talks, but it’s not clear what significance those images might have. The sound quality is good but the volume is not consistent from one video to another. A number of the participants are non-native English speakers, and it can take a sentence or more to get accustomed to their accents. You can select segments from the main menu, but you cannot select the individual speaker that you want to hear. Nor can you play the entire video—after each segment you must go to the main menu and select the next.

Kant wrote that the ideas of philosophers should be sought regarding relations among nations. This video brings together the ideas of a number of philosophers and other serious thinkers and makes those ideas available for a nominal price. It’s not clear, however, that the filmmakers had a particular audience in mind. Graduate students studying Kant’s text or exploring the idea of peace seem to be the most natural audience. Other adults who regularly engage with the world of ideas might also find the film to be of interest. For most of us, however, the limitation of the navigation, the curious framing of the speakers, and unfamiliarity with the text under discussion would make viewing Perpetual Peace a chore rather than a pleasure.

Unless asked to purchase this video by a faculty member who wants to use it in classes or for some campus event, you should visit the Perpetual Peace Project website and view the posted clips of the speakers’ presentations before buying. You’ll then be better able to determine whether the film would find an audience among your clientele.