Kant: More Constraints result in More Freedom

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant

English: Immanuel Kant Deutsch: Immanuel Kant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the end of his essay, Kant criticizes leaders, religious rulers and monarchs, who “have no interest in playing the role of guardian to their subjects with regard to the arts and sciences” (60). He emphasizes the notion of mankind’s self-imposed immaturity, and states that it is “this type of immaturity that is the most harmful as well as the most dishonorable” (Kant 63). In opposition to these immature leaders is the enlightened ruler. The enlightened ruler does not “fear shadows,” and is therefore able to create a society where a lesser degree of civil freedom creates more room “for spiritual freedom to spread to its full capacity” (Kant 63).

This is the notion that constraints actually create more freedom is quite popular in artistic and literary circles. In particular, constrained writing is a literary technique which requires a writer to some condition that imposes a pattern or prevents certain things (Constrained Writing). For example, constrained writing may restrict the range of vocabulary or impose a particular verse form. As a result, constraints are very commonly used in poetry writing (Constrained Writing). The popularity of this notion fostered the French movement called Oulipo or Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, the workshop of potential literature. Founded by French writer Raymond Queneau in 1960, the movement consisted of writers and mathematicians who employed constrained writing techniques (Oulipo). A contemporary and broader example of constraint writing is the use of writing prompts. For many writers, a blank page is daunting and overwhelming because there are too many options of where to begin, and what to write. As a result, many writers employ writing prompts which guide their writing process. Writing prompts restrict freedom by limiting the writer’s choices, freeing the writer to focus his or her mind and think creatively by fitting in whatever he or she wanted to write about into the prompt.

Writers who use constraint writing techniques view constraints just like Kant. The hard shell is representative of social constraints that protect the seed, “the inclination or vocation for freethinking” (Kant 63). A seed without the hard shell would be under constant threat from birds and harsh weather, making it difficult to flourish. Similarly, the masses’ inclination for free thought without social constraints and guardians would be under constant threat, making it difficult to flourish and mature. Therefore, the hard shell of social constraint protects and shields the masses, allowing them to develop to maturity and gradually become able to act freely (Kant 63). A transformation from seed to plant is the transformation from immaturity to maturity.

Kant again establishes a thin boundary between constraints that facilitate enlightenment and those that that facilitate tyranny. He appears to be quite uneasy about giving people more freedoms than they would otherwise be ready for, and believes that if the government is permitting enough and men are evolved enough then social tensions can be kept at bay.

“Constrained Writing.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 May, 2012. Web. 6

September 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constrained_writing

“Oulipo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 August, 2012. Web. 6 September 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. JamesSchmidt. 58-64.


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