Radical Bourgeois Philosophy, Week 4: Immanuel Kant and Benjamin Constant

Immanuel Kant

Benjamin Constant

Last week we covered Adam Smith’s excellent Wealth of Nations, focusing on the way in which Smith can be regarded as “the philosopher par excellence of the manufacturing period of capitalism,” as Marx called him.  We took note of the way that Smith registered the development of the division of labor, relations of exchange, and the nascent possibility of a society in which everyone could work less while still producing more useful goods for consumption.  This week we are reading Kant’s brief essays on “What is Enlightenment?” and his “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.”  The interpretation that is being presented is that Kant articulates the new, modern subjectivity of bourgeois society, based on the principle of universal freedom.  This parallels the way that Smith articulates the new, modern economic form of bourgeois society as being founded on the principle of universal exchange.  To this end, we are also reading Benjamin Constant’s “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns,” as Constant spells out more explicitly the difference between Kantian freedom and earlier philosophical/theological treatments of free will, as say by Augustine or Leibniz.