Immanuel Kant, from Conjectural Beginning of Human History

[In the following passage from Conjectural Beginning of Human History (from On History, ed by Lewis White Beck, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1963, pp. 63-65), Kant follows the general outline of the Book of Genesis and offers some speculations on the beginning of human history. He pokes a little fun at himself and at this type of writing when he states: “Conjectures cannot make too high a claim on one’s assent. They cannot announce themselves as serious business, but at best only as a permissible exercise of the imagination guided by reason, undertaken for the sake of relaxation and mental health” (p. 53).
We place man into a condition in which he owned tame animals, as well as crops for nourishment, which he himself could produce by sowing and planting (Genesis 4:2). To place him in this condition requires of us…a big leap. For in actual fact the transition from the existence of a wild huntsman to that of a keeper of tame animals, and from haphazard digging for roots or fruit-gathering to an agricultural way of life must have been slow enough. Until that time men had lived peacefully side by side. But here that strife had to begin which separated those of a different way of life, and dispersed men all over the earth. The existence of the herdsmen is not only leisurely, it is also economically the safest; for there is no shortage of grazing land in sparsely populated country. But agriculture is troublesome, dependent on the caprices of climate, and hence insecure. Moreover, the farmer needs a permanent habitation, land of his own, and sufficient power to protect it. But because it limits his freedom of pasture, the herdsman hates the farmer’s property. Because of their difference in condition, the farmer could seem to envy the herdsman, and regard him as more favored by heaven (4:4). In fact, however, he rather considered him a nuisance, so long as he remained in his neighborhood. For grazing cattle do not spare the crops. Now the herdsman, having done his damage, can always take his cattle and go elsewhere, escaping all responsibility. This is easy for him, for he leaves nothing behind which he would not find elsewhere. Hence it was probably the farmer who first resorted to force in order to end the nuisance which the other had created. The latter probably was conscious of no wrongdoing. And it was probably the farmer who finally removed himself as far as possible from those who lived the life of the herdsman. For in no other way would the encroachments, or at least the danger that he might lose the fruits of his long, industrious labor, ever wholly cease. This separation inaugurated the third epoch.
Where sustenance depends on the cultivation of the soil–especially the planting of trees–there is need for permanent housing. This in turn the inhabitants must be able to defend against attacks; and in order to be able to do so they must be organized to assist each other. Given such a way of life, then, men could not longer live isolated, in small families. They had to band together and build villages (improperly called towns). Only thus could they protect their property against the attacks of wild hunters or bands of roving herdsmen. It now first became possible to acquire by mutual exchange those basic necessities of life which had been made into necessities by an altered way of life (4:20). This was bound to give rise to the first beginnings of culture, of art, of entertainment and of the habit of industriousness (4:21, 22). But above all it had to give rise to some kind of civil order and public administration of justice. Such administration, to be sure, at first concerned itself only with the most flagrant acts of violence. These were no longer to be avenged by individuals, as had been the case in the savage state. They were to be punished by an authority, which acted according to law and which was the highest power. This authority preserved the unity of the whole and was a kind of government. (4:23, 24).
From this crude original disposition all humans skills could gradually develop, skills of which that of sociability and securing public safety is the most beneficial. The human species could multiply. It could spread from a center, like a beehive, sending everywhere as colonists men already civilized. With this epoch, too, human inequality began, that rich source of so many evils but also of everything good. Later on, inequality increased.
The nomadic people recognize God alone as their Lord. The city dwellers and farmers, on the other hand, have a human master in the form of government (6:4). Because of its opposition to land-ownership, the former group feels ill will to the latter two, and is hated by them in turn. Hence so long as the one surrounds the other two there is continuous warfare between them, or at least continuous danger of war. But both sides can at least rejoice in the priceless possession of liberty. (Even now, the danger of war is the only factor that mitigates despotism. For a state cannot be powerful unless it is wealthy, but without liberty, wealth-producing activities cannot flourish. This is why a poor nation requires the broad support of a citizenry intensely committed to its survival, to take the place of its lack of wealth. But such support, again, is possible only in a free nation.) Nevertheless, it is inevitable that the herdsmen should increasingly be tempted to establish relations with the city dwellers, and to let themselves be drawn into the glittering misery of their cities (6:2). The temptation consists in the incipient luxury of the cities, manifest especially in the art of charming by which the city women came to show up the slatternly wenches of the desert. Now on the one hand this fusion of two formerly hostile groups ends the danger of war. But on the other it is also the end of all liberty. The result is a despotism of powerful tyrants and–culture having barely begun–not only an abominable state of slavery, but along with it soulless sense-indulgence mixed with all the vices of an as yet uncivilized condition. A further result is also that the human species is irresistibly turned away from the task assigned to it by nature, the progressive cultivation of its disposition to goodness. Thus the human species became unworthy of its destiny, which is not to live in brutish pleasure or slavish servitude, but to rule over the earth (6:17).