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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse Symposium hosts yearlong Perpetual Peace Project

Arts and Sciences plays leadership role in galvanizing world leaders, scholars, and thinkers

Sept. 25, 2010, by Rob Enslin

The Syracuse University Humanities Center has announced the Perpetual Peace Project, a joint initiative with the Slought Foundation, the European Union National Institutes of Culture, International Peace Institute and United Nations University through 2011. The project is part of Syracuse Symposium, an annual intellectual and artistic festival whose theme this year is “Conflict: Peace and War,” and is organized and presented by the SU Humanities Center for The College of Arts and Sciences. For more information, contact (315) 443-7192, or visit

The Perpetual Peace Project encompasses a series of public dialogues about possibilities for international peace, based on Immanuel Kant’s landmark essay, “Toward Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.” The project encompasses five curatorial initiatives: a feature documentary film and exhibition, both presented at Manhattan’s New Museum of Contemporary Art; a daylong symposium at United Nations Plaza; various workshops and seminars throughout the United States and Europe; and a republication of Kant’s landmark essay.

“The Perpetual Peace Project aspires, at its simplest, to begin a conversation between philosophers who engage with the idea of peace, between practitioners who participate directly in the world of geopolitical conflict, and between governing bodies that have the power to truly make peace a sustainable reality,” says Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities and director of the SU Humanities Center. “The conversation starts with a traditional definition of international peace as a relationship between states, while acknowledging contemporary realities of intra-state conflicts, issues of global governance and human security.”

More than two years in the making, the Perpetual Peace Project was conceived by Lambert, along with Aaron Levy, founding executive director and chief curator of the Slought Foundation; and Martin Rauchbauer, deputy director and head of the Department of Literature, Drama and Debates of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. The objective of the initiatives is not to formulate public policy, says Lambert, but to create conditions in which a “peace movement” might occur among the various institutions in the initiative. Among the issues the project aims to address are “non-state actors” on the international scene, new concepts of asymmetric warfare and complex battlefields, post-9/11 security concerns, the fate of international norms governing war and peace, and the prospects for international community and world governance to reduce geopolitical conflict.

Central to the project is Kant’s essay, written on the occasion of the 1795 signing of the Treaty of Basel between Prussia and France. In his essay, the philosopher argues that neighboring nations are inherently hostile, so world peace can be achieved only through the creation of a “federation of free states.” “By espousing international laws and governing bodies, Kant effectively anticipates multilateral institutions like the United Nations and European Union,” notes Lambert, adding that one of the project’s goals is to produce a newly revised and updated version of Kant’s essay, aligned with “limitations and possibilities that define the contemporary world.” “Since Kant’s essay takes the form of an international treaty, each initiative is expected to rewrite a part of the original text. The result is a manifesto for a new world peace,” he says.