Cristina Bejan

The Autonomy of the Individual in a Newly Free Society

The Problem of Freedom in Romania

March 12, 2004
Senior Thesis in Philosophy
Northwestern University

To my parents,
Mary and Adrian Bejan

“Oh, Romania is such a beautiful country . . . too bad it is inhabited.”
- Romanian proverb

“The long road towards ignorance which was cultivated for decades by means of isolation, lies and sophism cannot be wiped out overnight or in a matter of months, although Romanian intellectuals today may be guilty of such a false evaluation of the situation. Shut in for years in the world of their books, they have not realized how deeply the collective spirit is marked by its sickness. What they are experiencing now is the powerlessness of direct speech, the drama of the doctor killed by his patients. Our minds are again prey to the thought that history is being made over our heads. The disturbing question again raises itself: what is to be done?”

-Gabriel Liiceanu, Păltiniş Diary, p. xxxii


It seems to me that in today’s world there is a crucial question that peace, in the most idealistic sense, hinges on. In recent times, all over the globe, mankind has demonstrated his thirst for power. Jonathan Glover has compared the current international community to a Hobbesian state of nature. There appears to be no tangible order or mutually agreed upon set of rules that every international player wants to play by. Rather each respective country makes up his own rules, and rationalizes his own interests in terms of what he thinks is best for everyone else. The fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a world with a plethora of different cultures, traditions, races, religions and regional interests. The crucial question that peace in the modern world rests upon is thus: what is mankind’s fundamental, most supreme, value? I propose that this value is our ability to choose, otherwise known as our autonomy, right of self-determination: i.e. what distinguishes us from the other organisms on this planet. This demonstration of why autonomy is so important can lead us to determine what possibly can be checked in human nature which will best enable people to live peacefully together in this divided world.
In “Perpetual Peace,” Immanuel Kant puts forth a proposal for the foundations of universal and permanent peace in the world and evaluates its likelihood and possibility. Kant states, “Peace means an end to all hostilities.” (93) He holds that such a state of peace between nations rests on account of recognizing and beholding the universal value of autonomy. The autonomy of each state is an extension of the individual’s autonomy within it. People come together in a society and rationally determine how to eliminate the state of nature through the formation of laws in government. If the international community appears to be a state of nature, in that men are still destroying one another on account of ethnic, religious and political difference or on account of any other violent self-serving whim. Kant maintains that man is capable of overcoming these differences and permanently eliminating the violence by recognizing that we are in a “universal community . . . where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere.” (107-108) According to him, “There is only one rational way in which states coexisting with other states can emerge from the lawless condition of pure warfare.” (105) We need to create a structure that upholds these universal rights and provides for perpetual peace. In the past century nations have attempted to actualize Kant’s suggestion with the League of Nations and the United Nations, and mankind has witnessed how difficult it has been to maintain peace. Such a coming together of nations depends on the particular nations valuing the autonomy of their citizens. So the possibility of this depends on the smaller scale of setting up a state with institutions that value autonomy. Such a state both depends on and allows for the individuals within it to value their own autonomy.
Kant recognizes the difficulty of this project but asserts that “even a nation of devils” can solve the “problem of setting up a state.” (112) The setting up of a state that preserves man’s individual autonomy does not require or involve the moral improvement of man as a prerequisite. Rather the laws can create the conditions of peace that allow and even promote the moral improvement of man. For progress to be possible, we need to put ourselves on its path and create institutions that allow for it to happen. We are left with two fundamental questions: #1) With regard to society: which institutions do we erect to preserve and promote autonomy? And #2) With regard to the individual: How do we motivate man to embrace his own autonomy?
For this reason I look at newly free societies in our world today. Kant claims, “soulless despotism, after crushing the germs of goodness, will finally lapse into anarchy.” (113) We have witnessed this with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. After the soulless despotism of the totalitarian communist regimes, countries such as Romania were very much in a state of nature. The blood spilt in the 1989 Revolution in Romania is evidence of the immediate dog-eat-dog reality that existed during and after the overthrow of the harsh dictator, Ceauşescu. With respect to newly free societies today, and to Eastern Europe in particular, the subject of man’s autonomy is more important than ever. After half a century of the communist government making every man’s decisions for him, thus denying man’s autonomy and ability to choose for himself, the gift and simultaneous harsh reality of choice confronts the people previously behind the Iron Curtain. No wonder so many dissidents and people who suffered under such inhumane regimes claim that totalitarianism robbed them of their humanity. These governments denied man the fundamental principle, which makes him human. Milan Kundera called life in communist Prague a “penumbra of depersonalization.” (49) People in government who abuse that power can restrict mankind of this fundamental freedom, to choose, the ability for individuals to rule themselves, to deliberate and determine their own destiny.
This is something that severely impedes progress: a man of a certain culture and world-view insisting that he knows best for everyone else. Man insisting that his particular culture (and with that comes a moral code) is universal. I do not buy any of these claims. I am a relativist when it comes to religious-cultural-traditionally inspired and justified moral claims. Kant states, “Religious differences- an odd expression! As if we were to speak of different moralities! . . . there can only be one religion that is valid for all men at all times.” (114) But to call it “religion” confuses man. Kant means there is only one morality universally applicable to human beings. This “religion” Kant speaks of are the universal conclusions with regard to the preservation of man’s autonomy, the supreme value in mankind that has moral superiority with regard to every human being, regardless of background, race or religion. To value autonomy in a given society, means to recognize that every man has to the right to his own pursuit of happiness so long as his pursuit does not infringe upon the rights of others. When the constitution of a state can insure this principle and guarantee its reality in practice, a given society will have provided the necessary structure and assurance for the promotion and preservation of the individual’s autonomy. The question naturally follows: but what of those people who do not value their autonomy? What of the individual who does not want to choose for himself?
This leads me to the significance of a newly free society in general and what Romania can teach us about basic principles of human nature. If we view post-communist Romania as a chance to witness a situation where man does not recognize the value in his own choice, because he never had to use it before, and now is expected to employ it, how do we suppose that autonomy really is valuable? It is easy to arrive at its validity in an established liberal democracy, where we take it for granted. Romania and the newly free societies that cover the globe give us a chance to see if that freedom really is fundamental to a good life. What I am proposing is perhaps presupposes Rawls’ investigation in A Theory of Justice, which, very generally and simply, says: we agree on a set of principles being valuable (equality, fairness) and asks: how do we maximize the justice in our society? My argument precedes this whole discussion. I strike at whether or not human beings find anything inherently valuable. I will argue that the one thing they do find inherently valuable is their own autonomy. But I do not want to deal with already established successful (however flawed and impure) democratic republics in order to prove my moral claims. Rather I feel my argument will be even more acute convincing and compelling if we look at a different society to the one we live in and are familiar with in the U.S., U.K, France, Germany, etc. Rather I need to demonstrate that each and every human being can arrive at the conception of autonomy, on his own, without being brought up in a society that already values it. This is the difficulty.
Thus, I look at a society that has no political restraints or barriers, that institutionally has the same values American democracy has, but whose people were not brought up valuing freedom and individual human dignity. If anything western political philosophy has proceeded on the assumption that liberal ideas are inherently important, because the theoreticians already agree that they are. So how do we arrive at a compelling argument for the Romanian (as well as the Iraqi, Russian, Hungarian, Afghan, etc.) people (who were raised to value something completely different) to embrace their own autonomy and become pro-active members of society in determining their individual fate? We can attribute our modern conception of autonomy to Kant. First, I need to explain how Kant arrived at this unique view and why it is legitimate for all of mankind. We need to understand what freedom meant for Kant before we can apply it to a newly free society.

Establishing Autonomy

I turn to this man from Königsberg to assist me in my attempt to help the newly free societies all over the world. Although Immanuel Kant never left his corner port-city of Prussia his entire life, he had an unparalleled insight into human nature. Kant proposes that mankind can arrive at an universal ethic through reason. In the Preface of his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant asserts that man must search for a pure ethic, one that can be reached through a priori reason and is not based on human nature, tradition and cultural circumstance. He asks, “Do we not think it a matter of utmost necessity to work out for once a pure moral philosophy completely cleansed of everything that can be empirical and appropriate to anthropology?” (55) With the Groundwork, he seeks to “establish the supreme principle of morality.” (55)
Kant suggests that we suppose “there were something whose existence has in itself an absolute value, something which as an end in itself could be a ground of determinate laws.” Kant proposes that the only thing with such absolute value as an end in itself is a human being. He states, “Man, every rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will.” (90) Man’s rational nature provides the ground for a universal moral law and the legitimacy of the objectivity of principles. This is why the ‘categorical imperative’ is superior and has moral authority. We can conceive how to exercise the moral law in practice as follows:

“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” (91)

A simpler way to state it reads: Treat every man as an end in himself as opposed to as a means to your own end. Kant uses the examples of killing, restricting the freedom and infringing on the property of others to illustrate violations of this law in practice.
The ‘Formula of Autonomy’ arises as “the supreme condition of the will’s conformity with universal practical reason.” (93) What is most necessary for the will’s adherence to universal reason is that the law originates in the individual person himself. In addition to being his own legislator, man must be the law’s author. Autonomy is the “Idea of the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal law.” Man’s will crafts the moral law and his reason ensures that he acts according to it. The individual is in complete control, as someone whose will is subject to the law “of which it can regard itself as the author.” (93) With autonomy, man can conceive himself as his own ruler. He has the ultimate authority when it comes to determining moral behavior.
Kant fully recognizes the existence of this “powerful counterweight of [man’s] needs and inclinations, whose total satisfaction he grasps under the name of ‘happiness.’” (70) He states that a conflict naturally arises betwixt the two (desire and reason), thus causing man to doubt the validity of the moral law. Man should be weary of always giving into his natural desires. Ignorance may be bliss. Being unaware of what constitutes moral behavior may excuse man from behaving morally, but this is dangerous. Kant admits, “Ignorance is a splendid thing, only it has the misfortune not to keep very well and to be easily misled.” (70) This ignorance can mislead man to give up his own autonomy and let someone else prescribe the laws of morality. In this case man would give into the natural inclination of submission and subservience. Or, this ignorance may mislead man to only behave in his own self-interest and influence him to infringe on the dignity of other men, by his insisting on providing a prescriptive morality of his own creation (that benefits himself, as a dictator does). In this case man gives into the natural desire for power. Refusing to recognize the categorical imperative is a violation of universal reason. This refusal out of ignorance of conscious choice can lead man to violate the rights of other men.
Autonomy is being the inner cause and source of your action. This is the practical relevance of autonomy: conceiving yourself as free. But Kant admits that no interests impels a rational being to obey the categorical imperative, so why then should he take an interest in morality? “Why should I subject myself to this principle?” (109) Kant recognizes that it is difficult to give an explanation as to why the worth attached to the categorical imperative should be greater than any other sensible interest. It is difficult to see how man finds his personal worth in being the author and subject of the moral law. What impels us to hold ourselves both free and subject to the principles law our will prescribes? Kant admits that to this question he can provide no “sufficient” explanation. But he suggests that this is not a difficulty for the universality of moral law. The categorical imperative’s validity does not result from man taking an interest in it. Rather man takes an interest in the law because it is already universally valid “in virtue of having sprung from [the freedom of the will] and so from our proper self.” (121)
So the superiority of autonomy as morality stems from its source in the individual himself, with the Idea of Freedom and the capacity to self-legislate. For Kant’s agents, “our autonomy is the source of our obligation.” (104) Kant’s metaphysic of morals comes from designating supreme authority to the power of reason. Autonomy is supremely valuable because it soars above every previous ethic. Kant abhorred the hyper-religious self-righteous Pietists that surrounded him in Königsberg. He found their hypocrisy and vast claims about how man should lead his life appalling. And as we can observe even more clearly today in our multi-cultural pluralist world in which everyone is connected through media, the internet and travel, man can believe very different things to be right and wrong. From Muslim to Christian to cannibalistic tribes in Papua New Guinea, mankind currently demonstrates his inability to come to a consensus on how he should live. Or even just go to a seminar on Moral Philosophy at Oxford. In a room full of experts on the subject, no two people agree.
I propose that it is a mistake to view this as a problem. Moral relativism is not an evil in and of itself. The fact of the matter is that people believe very different things and a vast variety of moralities exist today in practice. Religious and cultural practices differ all over the world. Tradition is very important. Custom matters to people. We can’t tell everyone to stop and live a different way. So I am not suggesting that that is what should be done. Rather this is my proposal: a universal ethic that is compatible with the array of ‘moralities’ we witness all over the world. Autonomy is the necessary premise for harmonious living between human beings. Let man believe what he wants to believe. If autonomy and the main central conclusion that Kant insists we draw from our own autonomy: the categorical imperative, are exercised, conflict could be avoided and the dignity of man would be respected. Treat every man as an end himself, rather than a means to your own end. Do not exploit people. Do not infringe on another individual’s freedom. If we can institutionalize this universal value that respects each individual man as an end in himself, we will have created a society in which ‘inhumanity’ as Glover calls it (25), can be avoided.
But what of the obvious difficulty concerning individuals who do not want to be autonomous? It is quite evident that these people exist all over the world. They are, in fact, the majority of human beings. Conforming to a group, and letting someone else make your decisions for you is easier than doing it for yourself. Whether that authority be the state, the church or your own parents, it is tempting to give up the responsibility of making your own decisions to someone else. Life is difficult. Having someone else tell you how to live it can make it more bearable.
Thus we need an ethic that transcends ideology. Ideology can be a trap for man because then he can act ‘in the name of ideology’ (something in itself better than man). In the name of ideology, he can negate life and behave inhumanely. When ideology is used in such a way, mankind is in danger. This has been demonstrated time and time again. From the Inquisition to September 11th to the Holocaust to Stalin’s Genocide, man has destroyed man in the name of something better than man. Our ethic begins and ends with man himself. Thus a Kantian ethic is not an alternative to a Christian ethic or a Muslim ethic; rather it is the secular ethic that should presuppose every religious and cultural practice in a society. It is the necessary precondition for the harmonious existence of these diverse multi-cultural belief systems. And this goes for belief systems that are not even based on culture or religion.
Democracy is the form of government that officially recognizes and values the opinions and beliefs of every individual and every group. Freedom of speech, religious practice, etc. are guaranteed rights in the U.S. Constitution. In such a society, as we have in the U.S. and the E.U., we are necessarily exposed to an array of people who disagree with us. In these societies we value man’s freedom to choose. Man has a right to determine his own destiny. Man can choose to convert to Judaism if he marries a Jew, or, even, if he does not. A Jewish man can become an atheist or marry a Catholic or both. I suggest that our intrinsic understanding of this right to choose; of man’s freedom to lead his own life, is something promoted and cultivated in our society. Although some Americans do not understand or value freedom, their right to exercise it is embedded in the institutions that create the U.S. government. These laws protect American citizens from self-destructing. (As would happen in a Hobbesian state of nature.) Even if you choose not to be free, at least you were able to make that choice. What is to be avoided is when someone else takes that choice away, without asking your permission.
Kant bases his “Theory of Right” on the conclusions he draws concerning morality. Although he never wrote a comprehensive treatise on his political views, what he did write supports a democratic republican form of government. According to Hans Reiss in his Introduction to Kant Political Writings, “The term ‘republican’ in Kant’s writings could be interpreted to represent what nowadays is generally called ‘parliamentary democracy.’” (25) Kant felt that what need be preserved most of all is each individual man’s autonomy. He felt that man was at the greatest risk of an unjust ruler infringing on his citizen’s freedom. By creating institutions, which would foster a ‘kingdom of ends,’ man’s freedom will only be limited so that he does not violate another man’s freedom. As Kant states in his “The Metaphysic of Morals: the Introduction to the Theory of Right,”

“Every action which by itself or by its maxim enables the freedom of each individual’s will to co-exist with the freedom of everyone else in accordance with a universal law is right.”

Thus maximum freedom for all is preserved. Man’s autonomy remains intact. No man should be more free than another, and no man should have more “right” than another. (Dicke, 119)
The concept of “right” is universal. Freedom is something that every person possesses and has equal potential to exercise universal reason in order to legislate. Since man knows the moral law according to universal reason, these maxims should extend to become constitutional law. The laws of morality become the laws of right and those are essentially Kant’s political principles. In this way, public law mirrors private law and man is still his own legislator. A constitutional government, with separate legislative and executive branches and a system of representation of the citizenry through voting, is the ideal form of government.
According to Kant, man has the ability to make his life worthwhile. Since each man has a different conception of happiness, what we all share should be a unified conception of what is moral: so that we can each pursue our respective view of happiness in peace. Man cannot exist in a vacuum writhing in his own petty intolerances and ignorance. Men have come to live together to create societies, which need governments to ensure the peaceful co-existence of individuals, families and larger communities. We are now at a point in time when we discuss the peaceful co-existence of nations, a discussion that Kant pre-empted in the late 18th Century. Governance enforces a universal justice. Law is necessary to ensure the resolution of social and political conflict. Being an ideal of reason, Kant recognizes that the attempts at the realization of such a republican government may be imperfect. But, based on his discussions of history and the goal of progress, humanity moving towards this ideal is necessary.
Kant’s ethic not only has regional political implications, but international political implications as well. He ultimately envisioned a federation of free states, a forbearer to Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations and now the United Nations. This universality of the principles of right would be recognized throughout the world. Reimund Seidelmann in “The New Order of the European System of Security,” (147) views NATO and the formation of the EU to be two organizations that have attempted to achieve this status of federation of free states. Seidelmann proposes adherence to the motto: “Wandel durch Annäherung,“ a change by coming nearer. Becoming nearer in form and substance to the democracies of Western Europe will make “Europaisierung” (Europeanization) and democratization easier and able to achieve success more quickly. By being part of the community of nations who share a Kantian “Friedensbund” (bond of peace), the newly free societies of the former communist states approach a Kantian ideal federation of freedom and peace.
The “Cosmopolitan Argument” of Kant’s philosophy of history is based on his belief that grounded on autonomy, every man is a citizen of the world. Kant viewed history as a process constantly moving to a goal: the full development of the human culture. With respect to the biggest picture: the history of mankind, Kant stretches and talks about mankind as one, as opposed to his focus on the individual with respect to morality or the individual plus society with respect to politics. Kant held that “culture was not the result of individual effort, but was produced by mankind as a whole.” (Reiss, 36) In one way we can view the history of the world as entirely teleological and focus on the descriptive analysis we can do of the phenomena of nature. In another way, we can focus on the ethical goals of nature: as expressed and sought after by freedom, as made possible through man’s autonomy (his will and reason) that has a noumenal source. As Klaus Dicke says,

“From this perspective, the goal of history is called ‘perpetual peace’ through erecting and building a universal republic and cosmopolitan Order of Right.” (129)[•]

So, culture, according to Kant, is the continuous reach and exercise (and perhaps even celebration of) this eternal freedom by mankind. With respect to a newly free society, perhaps an introduction of Kantian culture as a concept is in order. With respect to Romania, an entire re-definition of the word “culture” is necessary in order to transcend the nationalistic connotations and approach something that is compatible with human rights.
The institutions of a republican state enable “the [Kantian] moral character [to be] realized in legal arrangements.” (Reiss, 37) The establishment of such states (Romania, post-89) should make it possible for the full moral character of man to be realized. But here we encounter the precise problem this thesis aims to tackle: what of the individual who does not value or want to be autonomous? Kant advocates setting up a system of government that makes maximization of individual autonomy possible. Why should one value a system that promotes something one does not perceive to be valuable?

The Newly Free Society

By “newly free society” I mean a society, which is brand-new to freedom. This society has no tradition of freedom, democracy, individual responsibility or respect for personal dignity. The current citizens of this society grew up under an oppressive government and were punished for any attempt to exercise individualism. The institutions that existed previously were tyrannical and promoted totalitarianism. The institutions that exist in the society at present are democratic in structure, but the people are unfamiliar with the exercise of personal freedom. With a citizenry unused to participating in government and naturally suspicious of politicians in general after years of political oppression, the newly free society finds it difficult to transition quickly to a culture of freedom. In this situation, the government is the least trusted institution. Political and societal corruption is still as rampant as it was under the dictatorship.
The citizen of a newly free society has little to no conception of his own value as an individual. Under totalitarianism, the citizen was taught the most important thing was the larger picture: the state, the ideology; the dictator. Man found his value in being part of something greater than himself. He does not value himself as an individual. Now, with a liberal democracy replacing an abusive dictator, this individual is not proud of himself. He does not respect his fellow citizen. He blames anyone and everyone but himself for his problems. He can accept no responsibility for his actions, or his current state of being. He does not recognize that he has the power and potential to improve his place in life. He does not recognize that he can make his life worthwhile. This citizen is not autonomous.
So, why should one be concerned with autonomy in a society where it does not appear to exist either theoretically or in practice? There are two answers to this key question:

1. The success of the democratic institutions depends on the exercise of individual autonomy. A Kantian morality would result in the decline of corruption and the individual’s participation in government. A Kantian view of the self would also inspire each citizen to respect other individuals. This mutual respect and universal recognition of human dignity would eliminate discrimination regarding ethnic or religious difference in society. The autonomous citizen would also jumpstart the economy because he would have the confidence to start his own businesses. The autonomous individual takes control of the reins of his life thus leading to a political, economic and inter-personal improvement of the newly free society.

2. The second answer to the question hinges on the first. The problem with Kantian autonomy is that its origin lies in the individual himself. It cannot be imposed from the citizen from the outside. If the citizen of this newly free society does not already possess the concept of individual freedom, where does the legitimacy of his autonomy come from? How is man supposed to magically behave like a responsible individual with the fall of a totalitarian regime? Most Romanians admit the impossibility of this proposition. And herein lies the difficulty. Why should man be free in the first place? Is it just one paradigm just like the submissive mentality of totalitarianism is another? Why is autonomy better than that? Why should man be autonomous? Why can we not appeal to multiculturalism when it comes to autonomy? Why is a universal morality legitimate and how does it find its origin in the individual?

My exploration of a newly free society is meant also to prove the Kantian conclusion in a situation most like what he himself conceived of. So, in this sense, a scenario like we have in Romania, is a tremendous opportunity to test the validity of Kantian autonomy and the legitimacy of a universal ethic. I also hope that my investigation will help Romania in her struggle today as a newly free society.
Romania is a prime illustration of the difficulties that a newly free society faces. Her institutions are democratic but the players are still plagued by the old-school communist mentality. As Lucian Boia, a Historian at the University of Bucharest, says in his book, Romania: Borderland of Europe, “What is perhaps needed most in Romania is a change of mentality, as well as material conditions.” (187) They still play by the dog-eat-dog rules of Ceauşescu’s communism. Bribes are commonplace in both the legislature and judicial system. Many politicians flaunt how rich they are. In some ways the terror and the paranoia remain. After over 40 years of living under a harsh dictatorship with their behavior being monitored by the Securitate (the Secret Police), Romanians are reluctant to express an opinion that might be considered controversial. Many former members of the Securitate are former members of the Romanian Information Service (SRI) and have roles in the economic-financial system. (Boia, 189) Under communism there was always the risk of being informed on and the pressure to be an informer.
Material conditions for many have worsened since then. Before ’89, many Romanians had little, but at least they were guaranteed a steady paycheck from the government (based on a currency that Ceauşescu artificially inflated the value of). Now, since the value of the Romanian lei keeps dropping and as many jobs have become obsolete from privatization, some Romanians have no paycheck. I have witnessed protests by the miners in Baia Mare, and I have also talked to a variety of people (from miners to students) who maintain life was better before ’89. According to Lucian Boia, “More than half of Romanians consider their lives were better [before Communism.]” (182) People are nostalgic for the old days and fail to recognize that “the present upheavals are due precisely to Communism, without which their lives would be better today.” (182) It makes sense for Romanians to wish for communism, an era when someone else took responsibility for everything: food, money, and security. Now Romanians, having no history or tradition of freedom and responsibility are reluctant to make the necessary changes to make the most of their newly free democratic republic. They do not know how.
Boia states that “the shadows of Communism will only disappear completely with the natural succession of generations.” (190) At first glance I agree with this statement but upon further thought and speculation, I realize that Boia illustrates the Romanian mentality himself.
To wait for the older Romanians to die out, is not the solution to their current problem. The fatalism that abounds in Romania is a result of this attitude: “I can do absolutely nothing to change the present therefore I will just wait and do nothing.” If everyone lives in fear of the future, the misery of the present, and the denial of the past, then nothing will change for the better. The Romanian cycle of fatalism will continue. The older generation will teach the new generation and this negative attitude will perpetuate itself. I do not think the shadows of communism will naturally go away. Man has to make an effort. Romania failed to rid herself of the questionable elements in 1990. As Boia points out, “It would have been more important if the moral cleansing of society and the exclusion of compromised individuals from the political game had taken place in 1990.” (189) But she did not do that, Romania had a renowned communist as her first president, while the Czech Republic elected a celebrated dissident, Vaclav Havel. Havel, a playwright and essayist, has always been a poster boy for freedom and spent 7 years in prison paying the price for speaking out against the communists. With no such figure to lead Romania, and with the unfortunate geography of being more east than the Czech Republic, Romania is behind in her democratic progress when compared with certain other post-communist nations.
In the case of Romania, the former communists and the nationalist party have allure because they appeal to something the citizens want: security, absolution of responsibility and an immediate solution to their problems. The proponents of constitutional democracy cannot instantaneously improve economic conditions and inspire people to value freedom for the sole sake of finally being free. As Romanians are learning, freedom, choice and responsibility are difficult burdens to bear when they are alien concepts. Autonomy and the institutions that preserve it are worthy of fear and doubt as well because the Romanian can perceive them as being imposed on him from the outside. (But this precise fear is evidence of the authenticity of autonomy!) The West, the Atlantic tradition of republican democracy, can be perceived as foreign and incompatible with the archaic mentality of this corner of Eastern Europe. Kant is correct when he asserts that the validity of his ethic comes from within man, himself. The Citizen must arrive at the categorical imperative and impose it on himself. He must support the political principle of universal right. He must advocate constitutional democracy. The legitimacy of the political structures of any society must find their origins in the citizen who is living within it.
Thus, in a newly free society, we witness a situation where the citizen is not the origin of the laws he must live by. And yet, this individual is free? From the Western perspective, we say he is free. He enjoys every freedom we do. He now has a Bill of Rights. He has a ‘Western’ constitution. He may scoff at the West trying to impose Western values upon him. But, when we turn to Kant, we see that these values are not strictly Western, or American, or represent any particular contestable dogma. Frankly, the morality and corresponding political program pioneered by Immanuel Kant in Königsberg in 1789 is universally legitimate for all mankind. He speaks of the “Einheit der Menschheit” being his “Autonomie.” Kant views us all as human beings and he values our ability to be rational most of all. This man from the Eastern edge of Prussia (now called Kaliningrad, Russia) bridged East and West and proposed a groundbreaking way human beings could live peacefully together. When we conceive of the potential Romania has as a newly free democratic society after the fall of communism in this way, we can look at ‘freedom’ in isolation: freedom as necessary; morality as duty; autonomy as supremely good.
As Robert Leicht stresses in “From the Cold War to Eternal Freedom,” both 1789 and 1989 are astounding years with respect to universal human rights. Kant was writing and thinking about politics at the time of the French Revolution. The discussions of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” and “Enlightenment” of those ideal times resurface as undeniably important when one considers the fall of the Berlin Wall. 1789 marked the start of the signs of human rights, and 1989 marks the start of the self-determination of people (Völker). Leicht states, “What began in 1789 as individual rights, should with 1989 become realized as rights of the people.” (12) The evolution of a concept of right, in that human beings are entitled to inalienable rights regardless of class, upbringing, heritage, etc., is vastly significant with respect to the fall of the communist regime. Half of Europe and many acquired nations in central Asia were subjected (against their universal will) to the tyranny of the USSR. The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized this triumph of the power of freedom.
But the institutions of a Western democracy (with a constitution modeled on the French) were installed within the next two years, and presidential elections were held in 1992. This newly free society immediately confronted the difficulties of transitioning from functioning under an inhumane dictatorship and needing all its citizens to behave like autonomous individuals. Here I want to put this problem in basic terms: form and substance. Romania, and any newly free society, which adopts a democratic republican system of government, has the form necessary for the preservation and exercise of freedom. But this form lacks substance. The substance is autonomous individuals. A newly free society does not seem to have them.
After President Iliescu’s failure to speed up reform efforts, Constantinescu (President 1996-2000) guaranteed that joining NATO and the EU should be Romania’s top priority. He was right. Joining the western club of nations is necessary for Romania to be dragged out of her obscure corner of Europe. However, the perception that Romanians have of these elite clubs can lead to a self-destructive attitude that perpetuates their continued failure to embrace their newfound freedom. Many of the reforms Romania needs to make in order to gain entrance into the EU, she would prefer to ignore existed or she has complied with EU demands (with reluctance). In the 2003 Country Report assessment of Romania, the EU officials reported that Romania did not yet have a functioning free market economy. This is a necessary component to a free society, integral to the Kantian picture. In 2001 Romania finally repealed a law, which declared homosexuals criminal offenders who must serve prison sentences. With respect to ignoring problems, Romanians are loathe to admit that there are problems that need to be resolved concerning the ethnic and religious minorities within her borders: the Gypsies, Hungarians and Jews are prime examples.

Anthropology: Mentality and Culture

Many Romanians today agree with Lucian Boia and claim that the number one obstacle they face is “changing mentality.” With this thesis, I propose the modern Romanian move from his present mentality to a more Kantian one. But what is the mentality of the modern Romanian exactly? We want to move from point A to point B (A à B). We know a good deal about point B, now, what is point A? There is more to their way of thinking than being reluctant to embrace their newfound freedom. There are aspects of “being Romanian” which are unique to being from this region (South-Eastern Europe) and are logical byproducts of a turbulent history. The Romanian mentality, which exists and is begging for change, is completely understandable. But that does not make it justified. To be self-righteous about an unfortunate state of affairs, is not the most direct route towards societal improvement.
It is common to blame the Romanian’s present inability to stand up for himself solely on the evils of communism. And I have heard many (both Romanian and non-Romanian) warn such people to be careful not to blame everything on the unfortunate fate of Romania over the past 50 years. The roots of this mentality reach far back to centuries of oppression and exploitation by foreign occupants. Why assert your individuality if your day-to-day survival depends upon submission and obedience? What’s the point of protesting the squalor of your life if you cannot conceive of anything better? Even if it requires the very sacrifice of your dignity and, thus, the denial of your own humanity? But even then, there was no such thing as dignity for Romanians. When the young revolutionary boyars, inspired by Louis Napoleon, came to the villages “and spoke to them about libertate” the Romanian peasantry dismissed them with suspicion. Libertate was “a word unknown and meaningless to them.” (Nagy-Talavera, 31)
Earlier I proposed the juxtaposition of ‘form’ with ‘substance’ versus ‘form’ without ‘substance.’ Currently, Romania has the institutions of democracy but lacks an extensive moral substance due to lack of autonomous individuals. When we consider the establishment of a democratic form of government in Romania today, we must consider that this has been attempted throughout Romania’s history . . . twice, in fact. The people of Romania are no strangers to this experiment of democracy. But the combination of an enormous poverty-stricken peasant population and a host of corrupt politicians made it difficult for the Romanian ever to develop the corresponding substance to her ostensibly existing form. There are comprehensible explanations as to why the peasantry did not understand the word “libertate” and still, today, would not understand it. In the summer of 2002 a Romanian peasant man in Sapinţa, of perhaps 50 years of age, confided in me that he wished for Vadim Tudor to become president of Romania. Tudor is the notorious nationalist of the Greater Romania Party. After the peasant expressed this point of view, he become frightfully paranoid and asked me to promise that I would not repeat what he said to anyone. He motioned with his hand as if to slit his throat and said one word, “Securitate.”
Thus I must demonstrate why Romanians think they way they do today. With a sympathetic view of why they think, feel and believe what they do, hopefully we can better understand what it is like to live in Romania and, in turn, see why a Kantian morality is desperately needed in this corner of Europe. In order to do this, I must lay out a brief explanation of the history of this Latin island of the Balkans. As former President Emil Constantinescu says, “Romania is a country that suffers from too much history.” What is this history? And why do Romanians suffer from it?
The region that is present-day Romania has been overrun by invasion and foreign occupation from the expansion of the Roman Empire in 105 AD (Constantiniu, 38) until the indirect rule of the Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the 18th century. The Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled the province of Transylvania until WWI. Despite the original Roman influence, the “Romanian-speaking” people were thoroughly immersed in Byzantium. Nicholas M. Nagy-Talavera asserts that the “mysterious flexibility and indestructibility” demonstrated by the Romanian people during numerous centuries of foreign occupation have “become the cardinal traits of the Romanian national character.” He states that these features themselves are “reflected in Romanian proverbs” such as “’The flood runs down the river-bed – the rock remains in it’” and “’ O Lord, do not make the Romanian suffer as much as he can bear.’” (16)
From the early 18th until the mid-19th Century the Phanariot Greeks ruled the Romanian people through a system of small principalities, all answering to Constantinople. According to Nagy-Talavera, the Phanariot Period drastically demoralized the Romanian peasantry. He states,

“This period deprived the mass of people of all feeling of honor and independence. It made hunger, misery, injustice, and personal abuse the normal state of human existence, until at least the average Romanian, were he peasant or boyar, went about his business like a dog that has been beaten so often his spirit is broken and he dare not wag his tail without permission.” (17)

At this point Romanian was spoken primarily among the peasants, and Greek was the language of the cities. In Transylvania, Hungarian and German were the languages spoken in the urban centers, and Hungarian landlords managed the Romanian peasantry. Foreigners (Greeks, Armenians, Hungarians, etc.) comprised the aristocracy, the business-class and the clergy. (17) The Romanians remained shackled in serfdom, poverty-stricken and completely powerless. Nagy-Talavera claims, and rightfully so, that with foreigners taking over the lucrative professions Romanians consequently developed “a long-lasting inferiority complex.” (17)
In the early 19th Century young affluent boyars traveled outside Romania, and many went to France. Receiving a Parisian education and exposure to liberal ideas, these young men returned to their homeland and began the crucial cultural connection between France and Romania. Alexandru Ion Cuza was among them. These idealists wanted to unite the Romanian-speaking principalities of Moldova and Wallachia and improve the lot of the peasants. While in Paris, Ion C. Brătianu (a young student thinker) impressed Louis Napoleon with the idea of a “Latin Sentinel on the Danube.” (31) With support of the French consul in Iaşi, Brătianu organized elections and both the Romanian principalities of Moldova and Wallachia elected Alexandru Ion Cuza to be the “Prince” of unified Romania. Cuza was incredibly idealistic and instigated a number of key reforms, of Western liberal influence, including the Napoleonic Code, liberating the peasants from oppressive boyars and instituting state free compulsory education. (32)
Clearly Cuza was a man ahead of his time, and “the first, but by no means the last, Romanian leader” to learn how difficult democratization can be in Romania. Cuza discovered that it is one thing to achieve independence and the approval of foreign nations by adopting Western values, and quite another to “overcome a long continuity of tradition and the consequences of a very different heritage.” Cuza consequently received no support or affirmation from the peasantry, despite his efforts towards their liberation. “After generations of long suffering, the spirit and backbone were missing from the peasant masses.” (32) And since the lower class could not support their new prince, the dissatisfied upper class could easily dispose of Cuza. Rumors of an adulterous liaison tarnished Cuza’s reputation, and his former friends, Brătianu and Mihail Kogălniceanu, forced him to abdicate in 1866.
Brătianu, once a fierce young vibrant revolutionary, had become disillusioned with the ability of Romania to govern itself. He sent for a foreign king to replace Cuza. In his stead came Prince Carol, of the Catholic House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, with the approval of Bismarck, to ascend the empty throne. Thus began the Romanian monarchy, of German origin. Prince Carol technically gave Romania a constitution but it was never enforced. Cuza’s reforms actually left the peasant class worse off, because the local bureaucracy knew how to manipulate the new agrarian laws to their own benefit. This created a seething mass of discontent. Thus it is no surprise that a bloody peasant revolt broke out in 1907 in which 10,000 peasants were brutally crushed by the military commander at the time, General Averescu. As Nagy-Talavera writes, “This spontaneous, unorganized desperate outburst of the peasant masses showed better than anything else the reality behind the trappings of the artificially Westernized salons of Bucharest.” (35) But there was little time for reform, due to the arrival of WWI.
The Treaty of Versailles expanded Romania’s territory, thus increasing the Romanian population from 7 million to 15.5 million people and increasing the territory from 137,000 square km to 294,000 square km. (Nagy-Talavera, 51) Iuliu Maniu and Prime Minister Ion I. C. Brătianu (son of Ion C.) are considered to be responsible for the construction of Greater Romania. A lawyer, educated in Cluj, Budapest and Vienna, Maniu developed a firm belief in the liberal principles of a parliamentary democracy. But just as Alexandru Cuza was a man ahead of his time, Iuliu Maniu’s “deep faith belonged to another age.” (50) Maniu’s strong moral sense of decency and honesty did not mesh well with the corrupt political ethics practiced post-1918. He appeared to be “a pathetic figure” because he could not “live up to the ruthlessness, the atrocious vulgarity, and unscrupulousness of politics of his age.” (50) Armed with a sense of honesty and fairness, he could not compete with his ruthless contemporaries.
Following WWI, the drastic difference between the affluent life in Bucharest and that of the peasant increased. Records show that by 1930, 79.9 % of the population of Greater Romania lived in villages and only 20.1 % lived in towns. (51) Despite being relieved of de facto serfdom, “the agrarian reform did not change the outlook and the lack of education in the villages.” (53) The mentality of the majority of Romanian citizens, the peasantry, had not changed, and they remained centuries behind modern Romania. Even if they had been technically ‘liberated,’ “the humiliations inherent in poverty, economic underdevelopment and a police state remained.” (53) Conditions were harsh for the peasantry: economically, financially and medically. There averaged only 1.1 doctors per capita in the rural districts in 1938, which is the identical statistic for India that same year. (53) While many peasants still lived in clay huts, Bucharest acquired small skyscrapers. The capital city became a hedonistic playpen complete with nightclubs and cafes. A “corrupting mood” took over anyone who came through this Paris of the East. Instead of dwelling on a past and future she did not have, Bucharest focused on living the moment in the here and the now.
While “European science, ideas and fashion dominated social life in Bucharest,” (Nagy-Talavera, 55) politics functioned in the same way. Under the guise of democracy and parliamentarianism, greedy individuals sought to further their own selfish ends by bleeding the state for money. Instead of focusing on political issues and causes, politicians got caught up in the competition, slandering one another. At this time in Europe, there was no comparison to the corruption that took place in Romania. Bribery and violence were the key methods of persuasion. The administration was uneducated and corrupt. The Romanian middle class basically did not exist. (Jews and Hungarians comprised the majority of the middle class at this point.) Goga points to the essence of the problem when he says, “Because in our great haste we could not wait for the slow process of development, we replaced the citizen with the swindler.” (Nagy-Talavera, 59)
I have noticed, after having many conversations with Romanians, that the ‘Inter-War Period’ (1918-1944) is often held up and lauded as this tremendous achievement. It is regarded as a successful attempt at a constitutional monarchy. People romanticize how life really was in the decades preceding WWII. I think this happens for two major reasons: 1) this period directly preceded the Communist Period and had the trappings of liberalism. After experiencing the horrors of communism, it is natural to look back with nostalgia to a time with ostensibly more freedom. And 2) present-day Romanians know very little about important realities of their nation prior to World War II and during the war. These crucial aspects include the corruption of politicians, the fascist leanings of leading intellectuals, the degradation of the governmental administration, and the poverty of the peasantry
By now, one might wonder: did anyone object to the sordid state of affairs in Bucharest and the poor conditions in the countryside? The opposition to this ‘sham democracy’ certainly existed. A shocking brand of opposition manifested itself in the young student population and the peasant community. The Iron Guard, also known as the “Emissary of the Archangel Micheal,” or the Legion (of which the members were called Legionnaires) was a mystical Orthodox Romanian nationalist movement led by a man called Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. For Codreanu the good was “the unspoiled peasant” whereas “the Jew represented the incarnation of evil on earth.” (Nagy-Talavera, 362) He defined the corrupting behavior of the politicians as Jewish acts. As this idealistic soon-to-be king of the peasants saw it,

“’[All the political parties] are nothing but a gang of tyrants. Under the cover of justice, freedom, human rights, they trample on the country, its laws, freedoms and rights. What road remains open to us in the future?’” (Nagy-Talavera, 370)

Romania needed someone to say that, to speak up for the average Romanian of whom the system was taking advantage. But the negatives of the Iron Guard far outweighed the positives. It was a superstitious, religious, isolationist, nationalist, intolerant movement, and, thus, with a disillusioned, dissatisfied Romanian population, carried mass appeal. But the “dejected millions” supported the Legion because of “its impulsive actions on behalf of the poor and the sincerity of its desire to be of help.” (Nagy-Talavera, 374)
While the Iron Guard grew in numbers with the youth and peasantry, it also gained the support of a number of intellectual periodicals, most importantly, Cuvântul, the magazine of philosophy professor, Nae Ionescu. This is a period looked on with much shame by many current Romanian academics. Philosophers such as Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran and Constantin Noica were vocal in their support of the Legion. Young, idealistic thinkers, they sympathized with the case of Codreanu and the need to return to Romania’s roots. Among philosophy circles, much talk was dedicated to ‘Romanian-ness.’ The discussion romanticized the peasant life as idyllic (also celebrated by such Romanian great minds as Mihai Eminescu, the national poet) and emphasized the mystic power of Romanian Orthodox Christianity.
With the onslaught of WWII things got dire. General Antonescu forced King Carol II (grandson of Carol I) to abdicate in 1940, (Nagy-Talavera, 429) and proclaimed Romania a National Legionary State. In this military dictatorship, the only recognized political party was the Legionary movement, which was “‘responsible for the moral and material uplifting of the people.’” (Nagy-Talavera, 433) Antonescu held absolute power until the end of the war. I will not go into detail regarding World War II, but a word must be said about the fate of the Romanian Jews. Present-day Romanians exhibit a sort of pride that the Romanian Jews were spared. I have heard numerous statements of, “The Holocaust did not happen in Romania.” But if this is the case, then why did Hilary Clinton issue a statement in 2002 requesting Romania to release an official apology for her contribution to the Holocaust? The truth is that the Jews in Romania were luckier than those in Hungary or Czechoslovakia, but they did not entirely escape the horrors of the Holocaust. Approximately 120,000 Jews and 40,000 Gypsies perished in Romanian occupied territory. (Nagy-Talavera, 462-463)
This demonstrates an important lesson I was taught as a child: We must learn from history. If the Romanian people cannot confront the crimes of the recent past, how can they know to avoid committing them again in the future? Investigating the past does not mean encouraging and harboring nostalgia for things as they once were, but are no more. Codreanu did this by looking at the past “as if he were trying to give substance to his dream of the past.” The Iron Guard movement was his effort to realize this romantic dream of the Romanian man and the glory of the peasant. As Nagy-Talavera says, “the dream world the [fascists such as Codreanu] created served well in a situation where every rational approach failed.” (Nagy-Talavera, 513) Because democratic liberal theory failed to solve the immediate problems, as demonstrated by the political circus in Bucharest, men looked to something else to solve the woes of Romania. Although the Inter-War Period was a time fondly remembered for her decadence, beneath Romania’s shiny flashy exterior lay a decaying corpse and a tortured soul.
This was the state of affairs that Communism enveloped in 1945. The next forty-five years were full of isolation, corruption, demoralization, dehumanization, fear, hunger and injustice. In no way do I want to downplay the terror and suffering that occurred in Communist Romania. My own grandparents were imprisoned on multiple occasions for being labeled “intellectuals.” The greatest threat to the survival of the Communist state was the freedom of thought and hence the people in power took every means to stamp out the possibility of that freedom. Hopefully the following discussion of dissidence and intellectual activity in Romania in the 70s and 80s will shed some light on why there was seemingly no intellectual opposition to the dictatorship. This tendency of the Romanian to subserviently obey finds its roots in the history of the region. I have explained the origins of the Romanian mentality. Now I wish to demonstrate the de facto dissidence of Romanian thinkers under communism.
As for academia, a spirit of intellectualism returned after Ceauşecu’s period of reform in the late 60s. Before then every person labeled “an intellectual” was stomped out and punished for his or her freethinking ways. But after the 60s the freedom of thought that was exercised was not actively critical of the government. An internal dissidence developed and people accepted the gravity of their current state and escaped into the freedom of their own mind. An incredible example of this is the famous “Păltiniş School” of Constantin Noica, a renowned Romanian philosopher. He actively recruited young people with inquisitive minds and a love for philosophy to attend the mini-seminars he held in the small town of Paltiniş in the Carpathian Mountains. This occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the discussions at Paltiniş are preserved in the cult classic book, Gabriel Liiceanu’s The Păltiniş Diary.
At this point, the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Bucharest taught almost exclusively Marx, Engels and Lenin, and expelled a student caught reading Kant. (xxvii) Liiceanu claims that, during communism, the intellectual from the East found escape in the culture of Europe. “It was one way of surviving in a world asphyxiated by lies, ideology and vulgarity.” (xxvi) The Păltiniş School represents a remarkable form of escapism for intellectuals under such a stifling regime. According to Liiceanu this “resistance through culture” makes sense when we consider the situation at the time, and it can help explain what is happening now in Romania. The totalitarian society is completely de-politicized. The citizenry takes absolutely no part in determining their collective destiny. Political decisions are made by one (the dictator) or a select few (the party). “The rest of the population are infantilized: they are told what to think, what to say and what to do.” (xxvi) In this environment the mind is most “under threat” and culture (exercise of intellectual freedom) “becomes a means of transgression, and so by this very fact, takes on a political significance.” (xxvi) But some dissidents seize upon the political relevance of their freethinking ways. They recognize it as an affront to the regime and, consequently, speak out against the injustices.
Perhaps, it is no surprise that Romania did not produce the equivalent of a Vaclav Havel. Constantin Noica refused to admit the political significance of his advocacy for high culture. The intellectuals he trained in Păltiniş were not taught to consider their dissidence to be political. This internal dissidence was for the salvation of high culture alone, not in response to the tyranny, under which the Romanians suffered. On one hand, a school like Păltiniş was a phenomenal achievement: it kept intellectual freedom alive. To learn Greek, Latin and German and thus translate and publish world-renowned philosophers from Plato to Heidegger, and write your own scholarly books “were all moments of a ritual of the liberation of the mind.” (201) This liberation was “discreet” and “unspectacular” but nonetheless a “form of survival.” (202) These intellectuals escaped into the playpen of their minds: the one place they could be completely free.
But, in order for these intellectuals to do so, Păltiniş “turned its back on real history.” As Liiceanu explains,

“For Noica, dialogue with political figures, the representatives of the forces in power – the ‘scoundrels of history’ – was completely nonsensical. And for this reason he considered dissidents to be victims of an illusion, caught in the grip of the non-essentials.” (xxxi)

Thus, while Noica carefully groomed the future minds of Romania for cultural greatness, he discouraged their involvement with politics. Even though Noica himself suffered a decade of imprisonment and forced removal from academia, he embraced this fate as a blessing. He found shelter in his studies, his writing and his own mind. Noica could have left Romania and become internationally famous, as Eliade and Cioran had done. Noica chose to stay behind and ignore the immorality of the non-essential real history that surrounded him. Rather he found solace in his students and the potential salvation of Romania through high culture.
With respect to “culture” Noica encounters his most startling contradiction: between universal (and hence Western) values and the national Romanian traditional authentic culture. Noica, his whole career, advocated both. He investigated and wrote about universalist thinkers including Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. Noica also wrote books investigating what it means to be “Romanian.” The Romanian Sentiment of Being and Eminescu: the Complete Man of Romanian Culture are just a couple of titles. Noica (as well as many other leading Inter-War intellectuals) thought there was something unique to being “Romanian.” By returning to that, the present-day Romanian can contribute to national culture. But how does one trained in the rigors of philosophy, fall for this when it “[opens the road] towards a mildly ridiculous nationalism” (200)? Is it possible for universal reason to narrow itself and address solely a small Eastern European nation?
Since Kant’s supremely rational picture is itself an “ideal,” “it is not possible to realize it completely, but it can be approached.” (Reiss, 37) This requires the continued enlightenment of men through education, freedom of the pen and prosperity of intellectual freedom. Kant is quite clear regarding the importance of intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is a prerequisite for practical freedom. Man must be able to exercise his rationality, his intellect, in order to perceive his own autonomy. If freedom of thought is not inspired in young people in schools, where else can intellectual freedom be exercised? The exercise of intellectual freedom can take place in academia and the within the media through journalism (as is emphasized by Kant’s advocacy for the freedom of the pen.) And how can this spread to the unthinking immature mass? First of all, we need to make sure that this intellectual freedom can actually exist and does exist in a newly free society.
Culture is opposed to mentality. The masses of people have a certain mentality due to circumstance, history and upbringing. Culture results from the exercise of intellectual freedom and the striving to achieve human greatness. Mentality is what is given. Culture is what we attempt to reach, by exercising what distinguishes us as human beings: our minds. Culture is what is produced by mankind as a whole, through its efforts towards enlightenment. Culture is not unique to one individual. Kant’s “anthropological studies had confirmed in his conception of the unity of mankind.” (Reiss, 36) This cosmopolitan view is key when, on the individual level, man must conceive of himself universally, and, as a contributor to culture and the spread of enlightenment, man knows that he alone cannot bear the responsibility of mankind realizing its essence.

Enlightenment the Kantian answer to the anthropological situation

With his essay, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” Kant provides a solution to the anthropological problem encountered in a newly free society: man does not appear to want to be autonomous. An argument against the legitimacy of a Kantian morality is that in a newly free society it is an empirical fact that many men do not behave like moral and autonomous individuals. But we can use Kant’s own system to demonstrate why this counterargument is premature and fails to invalidate Kantian morality. Kant does not hold that every man finds autonomy universally appealing; rather he claims it is easy for man to dismiss it. “It is so convenient to be immature!” (54)
In this political essay he puts the struggle in terms of ‘immaturity’ and ‘maturity.’ The mature person is he who exercises his “understanding” (rationality) and therefore can come to the moral and political conclusions which reason necessarily derives. Such a person values the categorical imperative and his own autonomy. The immature person is he who cannot employ his reason. His rationality does not motivate him to behave autonomously. Kant suggests that “laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men . . . gladly remain immature for life.” (54) At the same time it is easy for other men to position themselves “as guardians” of these immature people. These guardians can supervise and determine the behavior of immature men (and women) and lead them to believe that the road to maturity is “difficult” and “dangerous.” The path from immaturity towards maturity is called Enlightenment: “man’s emergence of self-incurred immaturity.” (54)
Enlightenment is no easy task. It requires courage and steadfast determination. What is necessary for the success of enlightenment is freedom. But the acquisition of freedom for a public does not automatically ensure enlightenment. As is demonstrated by a newly free society, a change of political regime from a despotic totalitarianism to a democratic republic, does not guarantee the corresponding change in the public’s mentality. A revolution does not guarantee immediate positive change. As Kant states,

“Thus a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly. A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking. Instead, new prejudices, like the ones they replaced, will serve as a leash to control the great unthinking mass.” (55)

The necessary change in man’s value system will not happen miraculously overnight. Rather, we must be patient as the citizen moves from being a member of the great unthinking immature mass into the realm of the mature man. Just as man must rule himself, man must free himself from his own immaturity and susceptibility to succumbing to heteronomy. Cultivating one’s own mind, exercising one’s own understanding and realizing one’s own autonomy requires bravery. It is dangerous territory into which one ventures after being ruled by a guardian for so long.
Kant asserts that all that is needed is “freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters.” (55) This corresponds with his valuing the freedom of the press so highly. One should be able to criticize the institutions of government, while respectfully adhering to them at the same time. Ideally a ruler could say, “Argue as much as you like about whatever you like, but obey!” (59) This ruler is both enlightened and able to ensure public security.
Kant harshly criticizes the man who refuses to embark on his own enlightenment. If a man is aware of the path from immaturity, yet postpones and renounces it, he is gravely guilty of not living up to a natural responsibility. Such a man betrays himself and the future generations of man, which follow by “violating and trampling underfoot the sacred rights of mankind.” (58) Kant views enlightenment as necessary for the progress and preservation of the right of man to be autonomous. Freedom is the necessary fertilization of enlightenment.
Kant explains it in the following terms: implying the gradual growth and development from thinking to acting. Here Kant stresses the importance of developing intellectual freedom within the constraints of civil freedom, the laws of the government. If man can come to value the freedom of the mind and the importance of his own opinion and self-worth, the activity of being autonomous will naturally follow. He states,

“Thus once the germ on which nature has lavished most care – man’s inclination and vocation to think freely – has developed within this hard shell, it gradually reacts upon the mentality of the people, who thus gradually become increasingly able to act freely.” (59)

The mentality of the public will change from immaturity to maturity due to a continual exercise of their intellectual freedom. It is crucial to realize and understand that this is a very gradual process and it will take time for the public to act freely. It can be helpful to conceive of this in terms of ‘practical wisdom.’
Even if an individual knows intellectually the moral law he determines within himself, it can take time for him to successfully apply it in practice. This process is man’s moral education: the perception of the moral law in his understanding and the active effort to apply it in action. Through this process the individual follows his natural immature inclinations (cowardice and laziness) less and less and increasingly adheres to his own autonomy. Once he eliminates all inclination and is able to act out of duty alone, he reaches a “good will.” In his case the moral law was there all along, it just took him awhile to realize it. Kant claims this is the case for every man. Universally every man has the moral law embedded within him. The light may come on, but it can take man awhile to perceive and follow that light. A famous Kant quote from his Critique of Practical Wisdom reads,

“Two things fill the heart with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”(191)

Did Kant live in an age of enlightenment? He claims that he lived in an age where the obstacles for enlightenment were becoming fewer and fewer. Nations were moving towards governments that supported and respected the individual rights of man. Religion was no longer being enforced upon man. But what of the newly free society? Do those in Romania live in an age of enlightenment?
I would maintain that the obstacles to enlightenment in Romania are becoming fewer and fewer: the fall of communism and the efforts to join the EU contribute to its enlightenment. However a substantial passage of the public from immaturity to maturity has yet to take place. Kant suggests that once “the guardians [those in power] throw off the yolk of immaturity, they will disseminate the spirit of rational respect for personal value and for the duty of all men to think for themselves.” (55) The laws of the republican constitutions preserve and protect the dignity of each man. We have such a situation in Romania but many of the guardians have yet to emerge from their own immaturity. The overwhelming corruption in government is a testament to the fact that most politicians have ulterior motives that do not respect the dignity of each man.
But ultimately, as stated above, enlightenment must come from within the individual. Only thinking for himself, the cultivation of his own intellectual freedom, can result in autonomous action. Kant states that only “eventually [will this freedom] influence the principles of governments, which find that they can themselves profit by treating man, who is more than a machine, in a manner appropriate to his dignity.” (60) So, since politicians may not present good moral examples, the enlightenment must originate in the public: the people.
So, let us ask: where can intellectual freedom run freely? What role do schools play in the education of the people? Education is the gradual process of becoming enlightened. This is not the kind of schoolbook education received in a classroom. Oftentimes children are not taught to think for themselves, but instead are taught the opposite: to regurgitate and to repeat. The educational system in Romania is required for every citizen but it remains dogmatic in its structure. Efforts to reform the system of education in Romania are slow and laborious. (Georgescu) I have heard from other Romanians, more than once, the “our youth is our future.” I agree with this attitude whole-heartedly. Therefore reforming the education system is of utmost importance.
If freedom of thought is not inspired in young people in schools, where can intellectual freedom be exercised? The exercise of intellectual freedom can take place in academia and the within the media through journalism. And how can this spread to the unthinking immature mass? First of all, we need to make sure that this intellectual freedom can actually exist and does exist in a newly free society. According to Romanian journalists, freedom of speech does not exist entirely. Politicians own the major publications and television stations. (Ionescu and Rizea) According to Kant, “’Freedom of the pen is the only safeguard of the rights of the people.’” (Hans Reiss, 32) This “medium für die Klärungsprozesse” (process of clarification) takes an educated readership (i.e. a literate population), an engaged public and universal access to this forum of expression.
However to conclude that citizens of a newly free society are not autonomous individuals is haste and unfair. These citizens did not grow up with exposure to freedom, but that does not mean they are incapable of it. As Kant insists, every man has the potential to be an active determiner of his own fate. Every human being has the capacity to be autonomous. One might contest this, in the case of a newly free society, and ask: what about brain drain? They might think that individuals leaving Romania to search for a more prosperous life abroad is a sign that all the autonomous individuals have left. The fact that people flee Romania now, as well as when dissidents fled under communism, is evidence of an independent mind and of the individual taking a risk and starting a new life elsewhere. This spirit of independence is not autonomy although one who possesses it seems more likely to behave autonomously. A person who treasures his independence seems more likely to embrace his freedom. But this does not mean that the people who are left behind cannot view themselves as individuals or value autonomy.
On the contrary, people who leave can help inspire their family, friends and former neighbors from back home. They provide inspiration by bringing back money (contributing to the necessary improvement of the economic situation, the attempt to eliminate poverty) and they import ideas. Whether they are in academia or not is irrelevant. Expanding one’s world-view through exchanging of ideas and education is vital to the prosperity of the newly free society, and the success individuals within it of looking at mankind as having universal rights. Letiţia Mark, the Director of the Association of Gypsy Women: For Our Children (a NGO for Roma in Timişoara, Romania) said to me, “If you give people food, they will eat it and want more the next day. If you build people a school, they have that forever.”
Economic development and education are necessary for enlightenment. The poverty-stricken in a newly free society cannot depend on handouts (in the form of food or money) from more prosperous nations. Rather the people of the newly free society must accept the responsibility to realize their own freedom. To not do so is to voluntarily remain in a state of ignorance. But, as Nagy Talavera so rightly acknowledges, “Under the heavy burden of modernization, the lamps of the Enlightenment may easily flicker or go out altogether.” (514) Thus Romania is undergoing privatization of the once state owned businesses and international business is now moving there. Also a universal comprehensive honest education about her nation’s, people’s and region’s history is a crucial step on the Romanian individual’s road to Enlightenment. At the moment the Romanian student is failing to receive such an education. During the Inter-War period, economics, prejudice and disillusion led Romania to reject her own Enlightenment. Thus Romanians must go to every measure not to let that happen again.

Conclusion. Theory and Practice.

The discussion on mentality demonstrated that throughout the past, the attempted democratic reforms in Romania were unsuccessful. Then it lacked the substance of a Kantian mindset. But, as I just described, the mentality that Romanians generally possess is perfectly understandable from a historical perspective. What currently plagues Romania’s attempt at democratization remarkable resembles what crippled her attempt 70 years ago: corruption, suspicion and fatalistic apathy. The mentality has remained the same. Present-day Romanians admit that what they need most is a “change of mentality.” The ideal of a Western liberal democracy functioned on a drawing board in the Parliament in Bucharest, but its actualization throughout the rest of the country could not be realized. If the form did not work then, how can we expect that structure (of a liberal democratic republic modeled after the “West”) to work now? If the mentality is still awaiting a Kantian makeover, can we not just throw our hands up in the air and say, “We give up! What works in theory does not necessarily work in practice!”
Kant anticipates such an objection to his principle of right and his theory of autonomy. Hence he addresses this issue in an essay entitled, “On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice.’” Upon re-reading this text, I am left with two key words: possibility and hope. Kant staunchly defends the proposition that what is valid in theory, is also valid in practice. He denies the legitimacy of the argument that experience should discourage someone from pursuing a valid theory. The proposal that one should abandon theory because we have not been able to witness its fruition in practice is dangerous and “does great harm if applied to matters of morality, i.e. to moral and legal duty.” (63) Kant claims that “all is lost if the empirical conditions governing the execution of the law are made into conditions of the law itself.” Kant’s subsequent analysis demonstrates why allowing experience to trump theory is harmful to the individual, states and all of mankind.
In the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant has already demonstrated how one’s adherence to the moral law is man’s ultimate end. Kant insists, “The true value of morality consists precisely in the purity of its concept.” (69) The consequence of violating duty is appearing “despicable and culpable in our own eyes,” the eyes that have seen the light of enlightenment: those that have recognized the moral law. Natural desire and inclination do not give laws to the free will, whereas duty does.
Kant suggests that it is entirely possible that “no recognized and respected duty has ever been carried out by anyone without some selfishness or interference from other motives.” (69) Kant even supposes that such an instance will never happen in the future! He says, “Perhaps no-one will ever succeed in doing so, however hard he tries.” (69) Perhaps Kant’s conception of morality is so purely ideal that it is practically completely unattainable. Man might be too susceptible to letting his own natural desires concerning happiness leak into a motivation, even if it involves moral duty. Kant admits this can happen.
Kant recognizes that his morality demands a lot of mankind and he sympathizes with the empirical fact that man is not naturally inclined to be rational, autonomous and moral. But, he states, “It is the death of morality if we make it our maxim to foster such motives, on the pretext that human nature does not permit moral purity.” (69) We can still be “aware of the maxim of striving for moral purity” even if it is so strenuous that even the most moral people have difficulty actualizing it. Kant asserts we should still strive to realize the theory, even if we experience discouraging realities of mankind’s behavior in practice. As he admits, “Historical experience has not proved the success of our ethical doctrines.” (72)
So what can man do to further increase the likelihood of behaving morally? In “What is Enlightenment?” Kant discusses the process of becoming enlightened, thus educating oneself about free will and autonomy. As Kant admitted (and has already been discussed in the section on Enlightenment) it is a gradual process. The light-bulb going on is the realization of what the moral law actually is. This insight, of how man ought to behave according to moral reason, i.e. what the moral law actually prescribes, is the first step down the path of becoming a moral (thus autonomous) human being. Possessing a good will requires continuous effort. Kant states,

“If man were frequently enough reminded so that it became a habit for him to [conceive of] virtue (duty) in its complete purity and made a principle of private and public instruction always to use this insight, human morality would be soon be improved.” (71-72)

The ultimate goal, as Kant’s moral doctrine outlines, is achieving universal adherence and respect for the universal moral law. That goal may never be fully reached by anyone, but the striving for it and the attempting to attain it inspires moral behavior. Making it a habit to follow the moral law would make following the moral law more automatic, thus easier, and consequently morality would improve.
Kant does not deny the value of experience all together. He merely says that experience will not “help us escape the precepts of theory, but at most to learn how to apply it in better and more universal ways after we have assimilated it into our principles.” (72) Thus experience does not disprove the validity of theory, rather we should learn from it how better to apply the theory in practice. Thus we are not entitled to reject theory entirely as an unattainable ideal, such as a purely good will, but instead we must strive to achieve it as best we can, in practice.
In the conclusion of Part II, Kant points out that a Rousseau-ian “original contract” has never happened in practice. Although we may operate within a commonwealth as citizens with the assumption that such a contract has taken place, in fact every individual never signed such a thing. It is

“merely an idea of reason, which nonetheless has undoubted practical reality. It can oblige every legislator to frame his laws in such a way that they could have been produced by the united will of a whole nation, and to regard each subject in so far as he can claim citizenship, as if he had consented within the general will. This is the test of the rightfulness of every public law. For if the law is such that a whole people could not possibly agree to it, it is unjust; but if it is at least possible that a people could agree to it, it is our duty to consider the law as just.” (79)

The idea of reason (this theory) is necessary to preserve the freedom, equality and independence of man in practice. It is necessary to form the structure of the civil state accordingly to guarantee political right. With this principle in mind, of the universal public will (what will be best for everybody) we can do our best to achieve this ideal of freedom in practical society. If we refuse to consider the possibility of a universality of the principle in practice, it cannot motivate our actions to try to achieve it.
Thus the constraints of individual morality, and man’s ability as his own ruler, extends to the civil state in that political right is the public will, just as the categorical imperative legislates the individual will. As Kant states, “Whatever a people cannot impose upon itself cannot be imposed upon it by the legislator either.” (85)
According to Kant experience cannot provide knowledge as to what is right and wrong. That is a conclusion that we come to rationally, it is something we can a priori know. Natural freedom (freedom without coercion, constraint through political right) leads to antagonism between human beings due to their naturally conflicting desires and inclinations on account of their different conceptions of happiness. Political right has a binding force because it provides “an objective, practical reality” (86) which can legitimately constrain these natural inclinations and preserve man’s universal freedom, equality and independence. It is necessary to appeal to this objective principle in practice because otherwise there would be nothing to check man’s arbitrary will and antagonism would reign. “But if both benevolence and right speak out in loud tones, human nature will not prove too debased to listen to their voice with respect.” (87) The only thing that commands immediate respect through reason are the basic rights of man. To deny those because we do not see them respected in practice is begging for universal self-destruction.
With respect to the human race as a whole, does the evidence of its capacity for distasteful behavior convince us to give up on expecting it the human race to succeed at achieving moral goodness? Kant brings up the issues of progress and improvement when he asks

“Does man possess natural capacities which would indicate that the race will always progress and improve, so that the evils of the past and present will vanish in the future good?” (87)

Kant assumes that the human race is constantly progressing with respect to cultural matters and also is improving “in relation to the moral end of its existence.” The progress can be interrupted. Mankind can relapse into savagery. But the enlightened man knows his moral duty and even though, as Kant admits, “I am not as good as I ought to be or could be according to the moral requirements of my nature” (88), his efforts to be good and moral will positively “influence posterity” and will contribute to the “constant progress” of mankind.
History may give me cause to doubt my moral conviction. I might ask, “Why is it worth it?” But the shadows of the wrongs of the past do not have “the force of certainty.” Although the failure of mankind to behave morally (the failure of theory being successfully adopted in practice) may leave me with uncertainty, that uncertainty does not conquer the moral law. It is necessary to assume “for practical purposes that human progress is possible.” (89) If we do not assume this, then we deny the validity and universality of the moral end of human existence. Kant advocates this “hope for better times to come.” (89) Acknowledging the tragedies that man and nature can perpetrate in the world, “our spirits can be raised by the prospect of future improvements.” (89) Hope for the future can inspire man to behave better in the present. But this still requires “an unselfish will” because we will be long gone to witness the positive effects of our labor. Progress is slow and we must trust that our current efforts will influence long-term improvement.
Kant asserts that it is quite irrelevant if empirical evidence indicates that these hope-based plans would lack success. How could any scientific or humanitarian discovery be made if not for hope it was possible in the first place? In recent history we have Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein to demonstrate this. Before the Wright Brothers invented the first successful flying machine, men had asserted that such an apparatus was impossible due to the unfavorably circumstances of physics. Time and time again, a discovery has been made, which greatly advances society, whose possibility had been written off by pessimistic doubters. Those who persevered and proved the doubters wrong had hope in the possibility of their efforts. The same must extend and apply to matters of morality and human behavior. The fact that history demonstrates how difficult it has been in the past should only provide more motivation to try harder.
Kant insists that this observation is also evidence to our moral improvement. He states, “We have reached a higher level of morality. We thus pass more severe judgments on what we are, comparing it with what we ought to be.” (89) The more critical we are of mankind’s past and present behavior demonstrates our self-reproach increasing “in proportion to the number of stages of morality we have advanced through during the whole of known history.” (89) Thus our disdain for past and present immorality should not disprove the value of Kant’s moral theory; rather it should demonstrate that man has developed a moral awareness. It demonstrates that human nature can be animated by respect for right and duty. (92) This awareness coupled with the belief that moral perfection is worthy of striving towards contributes to the constant progress and improvement of humanity. This progress is produced by each age’s love for the age itself, rather than past or present. (91) For lamenting about the wrongs of the past and thus giving up on the future, does not improve the present. Rather, we must recognize the wrongs of the past and hope for the future, which combined, motivate us to live morally in the present. This love for the present will affect perpetual progress towards a morally superior condition.
Thus, Kant “puts his trust in the theory of what the relationships between men and states ought to be according to the principle of right.” (92) Human beings are “earthly gods” who thus prescribe the laws for themselves and determine the right way to live life on earth. We thus must assume the possibility of moral improvement. Men might jump to say that what works in theory does not apply in practice, but we have not tried hard enough yet. We cannot give up hope. To do so is dangerous and destructive for the entire human race. As Kant says,

“I therefore cannot see it as so deeply immersed in evil that practical moral reason will not triumph in the end, after many unsuccessful attempts, thereby showing it is worthy of admiration after all. On the cosmopolitan level too, it thus remains true to say that whatever reason shows to be valid in theory, is also valid in practice.” (92)

In all three realms, individual, state and cosmopolitan, theory serves as the lighthouse, which the agent (as a ship) aims toward in practice. The theory is the goal, the destination, the beacon of light lighting the way, thus directing and influencing action. Just as the enlightened individual keeps attempting to achieve a good will (after he has seen the light, he needs to make an effort to behave accordingly with less and less internal conflict), the state strives to realize universal political right. To give up on the theory that outlines right and wrong, e.g. to willingly ignore the North Star (as the indicator for which direction is “north”), because it has been very difficult to obtain in practice is the last thing mankind should do.
With respect to Romania, I hope that the above discussion demonstrates why the two key words “hope” and “possibility” are particularly relevant to this newly free society. A change of mentality requires adopting a hopeful attitude that abandons its former fatalism and apathy, and views the moral improvement of society as possible. Then a Kantian substance to the democratic form can be cultivated through the gradual enlightenment of the public.
I began this thesis by discussing the global picture and Kant’s idealistic vision of the peaceful coexistence of nations and peoples. My investigation, although focused on a particular region in Eastern Europe, extends to the problems currently faced by newly free societies all over the world. Man’s struggle for self-determination continues, from Africa to the Middle East back to my own neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina. Immanuel Kant believed humanity needs to have faith in theory, in order to successfully affect its realization in practice. In a shrinking world ablaze with hate and confused by religious-cultural difference, we need to recognize the value and legitimacy of a universal ethic. We must take responsibility for the education of our children, the spread of ideas, the promotion of democracy, the advancement of freedom, the advocacy of human rights and, thus, hope to create the conditions in which enlightenment can flourish. It is possible.


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[•] The quotes from the text, Republik und Weltbürgerrecht: Kantische Anregungen zur Theorie politischer Ordnung nach dem Ende des Ost-West Konflicts, are my own translations from the German into English.

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