On Immanuel Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795). Do nations have the “right” to go to war? What principles ground just international relations, and are there structures and agreements that we can embrace to prevent prevent future wars? Naturally, we consider the current conflict in Ukraine as well as other recent wars.
Kant’s essay reads like a multi-layered peace treaty, with various “articles” stating what nations should agree to. In this first part of the discussion, we discuss the six “preliminary articles of a perpetual peace” that make up the first part of the essay:
- No conclusion of peace shall be considered valid as such if it was made with a secret reservation of the material for a future war.
- No independently existing state, whether it be large or small, may be acquired by another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase or gift.
- Standing armies will gradually be abolished altogether.
- No national debt shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the state.
- No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state.
- No state at war with another shall permit such acts of hostility as would make mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace. Such acts would include the employment of assassins or poisoners, breach of agreements, the instigation of treason within the enemy state, etc.
This is our first peek into Kant’s political philosophy since our ep. 200 on his view of enlightenment, i.e. the intellectual and so political autonomy of citizens. As with that topic, we’re concerned here about how his views of political rights relate to his moral views. Kant saw nations as like people, with an organic unity based on their history and culture, and so just like people, their integrity should not be violated; they should not be merely “used,” as when states are sliced up or sold off (article #2). They should act with integrity toward one another. However, Kant makes a distinction between moral rules, which apply to individuals just because we’re reasoning creatures, and political rights. Kant agreed with Hobbes that the latter are granted by governments, and so there are no rights whatsoever in a state of nature. In order for there to be rights that governments owe to each other and to the citizens of other government, there needs to be some sort of super-state: a law-making entity that exists beyond individual states. In part two of this discussion, we’ll discuss Kant’s proposal for a federation of independent states, which is different than a world state. We’ll also say more about Kant’s claim that in order to guarantee perpetual peace, all states must be republics (even though per article 5, we can’t actually bring that about for other states; they have to work through their own problems).
Buy Kant’s Political Writings, which contains this essay, or read the essay online. The book of secondary readings (which we won’t actually discuss until part three of this episode) we mention is Perpetual Peace: Essays on Kant’s Cosmopolitan Ideal (1995); we read the essays in there by Jürgen Habermas (which we eventually discuss) and Martha Nussbaum (which we really don’t). You may also wish to look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on Kant’s political philosophy.
Image by Solomon Grundy; he says it’s based on a statue of him in Kaliningrad that someone doused in paint.
Audio editing by Tyler Hislop; check out his new Pixel Box Media podcast.