Hospitality: everyone's right and everyone's duty

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As always, the global refugee problem presents an ethical imperative of hospitality at both the national and international levels. We are witnessing a human migration much as occurred during the decay of the Roman Empire. Millions of people seek new homelands so as to survive, or simply to escape the wars and to find a modicum of peace. Hospitality is the right of all and the duty of all. Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804), clearly saw that the interdependence between the rights and duties and hospitality, were necessary in order to construct what he called "perpetual peace" (Zum ewigen Frieden, 1795; see Jacob Ginsburg, Perpetual Peace, La paz perpetua, 2004). Anticipating its time, Kant proposed a world republic (Weltrepublik), or a Country of the Peoples (Völkerstaat), founded on the rights of the world citizenry (Weltbürgerrecht). This, says Kant, is the first task of "general hospitality" (allgemeine Hospitalität: § 357).


Why hospitality? Kant himself says «because all human beings are on planet Earth and all, without exception, have the right to be on her and to visit her places and the peoples that inhabit her. The Earth belongs to all, in community» (§ 358).


This citizenry, created by general hospitality is governed by rights, and never by violence. Kant proposes dismantling all the machinery of war and abolishing all the armies, just as the Earth Charter does now. Because as long as such means of violence exist, there will be threats by the strong against the weak, and tensions between Countries, undermining the bases for a lasting peace.


The imperative of a state of rights and the spread of generalized hospitality should create a culture of rights that penetrated the minds and hearts of all the global citizens, creating a "community of the peoples" (Gemeinschaft der Völker). This community of the peoples, affirms Kant, can grow to the extent that there is an awareness that a violation of law in one place will be felt everywhere (§ 360), something that Che Guevara would later repeat of his own accord. The spirit of hospitality and solidarity, is such that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, and the advances of one are the advances of all. It is echoed by Pope Francis, who speaks of humans as beings of relationships, who participate in the suffering of others.


If we want a lasting peace, and not just a truce or a momentary pacification, we must live universal hospitality and respect for universal rights.


Peace, according to Kant, results from the prevalence of the law, from legally ordained cooperation, and from institutionalizing cooperation among Countries and peoples. For Kant, rights are "the apple of God's eye" or "God's most sacred gift to Earth". Respect for rights allows for a community of peace that puts a definitive end to "the infamous war making".


In our times, it has been Jacques Derrida, (1930-2004), who, with his book, Of Hospitality, (De l'hospitalité, Paris, 1977), has taken up the subject of hospitality giving it an unconditional character for everyone.


Nevertheless, it was Kant who gave it the best foundation. His basis is good will, that to him, is the only virtue that has no defects. In his book, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, (Fundamentación para una metafísica de las costumbres) (1785), Kant makes a very important declaration: «One cannot think of anything, in any part of the world or even outside of the world, that without reservation can be considered to be as good as good will (der gute Wille)». Translating his difficult language: good will is the only good that is good in itself and which has no limitations. Good will is good, or it is not good will. If there is suspicion in the good will, then it is not good. Good will presupposes an opening to the other and unconditional trust. This is feasible for human beings. If we do not undertake good will in earnest, we will not find a way out of the desperate social crises that tear up the societies on the periphery, and causes the millions of refugees that are headed for Europe.


Good will is the last life boat that is left. The world situation is a disaster. We are living in a permanent state of siege or global civil war. No one, not even the two Holy Men, Pope Francis and the Dali Lama; not the intellectual or moral elites, nor techno-science, offers any clues for a global path. In fact, we depend solely on our good will. It is worth remembering what Dostoyevski wrote in his 1877 fantastic short story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, (El sueño de un hombre ridículo): «If everyone really wanted it, everything on Earth would change in an instant».


Brazil reflects in miniature the drama of the world. The social wound produced by five hundred years of neglecting the issues of the people has resulted in a bloodletting. The majority of our elites never thought about a solution for Brazil as a whole, but only for themselves. The elites are more concerned with defending their own privileges than in guaranteeing rights for all. Through thousands of political maneuverings, even threats of impeachment, they have managed to manipulate the democratically elected governments to adopt the agenda of their interests, and to avoid or slow down the necessary social changes. In contrast to the majority of the Brazilian people, who show immense good will, the greater part of the Brazilian elites refuse to pay the debt of good will that they owe the country.


Since good will is so decisive, it is urgent that it be summonsed in everyone. Everyone bears the responsibility of hospitality, and everyone has the right to be hosted, because we live in the one and only Common Home.


- Leonardo Boff, Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commission


Free translation from the Spanish by Servicios Koinonia, Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.
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