Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Immanuel kant's Perpetual Peace

Perpetual peace refers to a state of affairs where peace is permanently established over a certain area, ideally this would be the world. In Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" Kant described his proposed plan that he believes will lead to this perpetual state of peace.

Kant's plan can be broken down into 3 parts, the preliminary articles, the definitive articles, and his supplemental arguments. The Preliminary Articles describe the steps that should be taken immediately, or with all deliberate speed, they include the following:

1. "No Secret Treaty of Peace Shall Be Held Valid in Which There Is Tacitly Reserved Matter for a Future War" This means that we should always choose a treaty over a truce, as this will help stop future violence.

2. "No Independent States, Large or Small, Shall Come under the Dominion of Another State by Inheritance, Exchange, Purchase, or Donation" This means that we should respect state sovereignty and only interfere when it's absolutely necessary.

3. "Standing Armies Shall in Time Be Totally Abolished" It is impossible to work for peace while at the same time you're preparing for war.

4. "National Debts Shall Not Be Contracted with a View to the External Friction of States" There can be no debt systems, you will never be able to obtain peace in a system that places the rich over the poor. Money power will always be stronger than arms power. It takes violence to sustain a system that places the rich over the poor.

5. "No State Shall by Force Interfere with the Constitution or Government of Another State" We must respect the constitutions of other states.

6. "No State Shall, during War, Permit Such Acts of Hostility Which Would Make Mutual Confidence in the Subsequent Peace Impossible: Such Are the Employment of Assassins (percussores), Poisoners (venefici), Breach of Capitulation, and Incitement to Treason (perduellio) in the Opposing State" We must have respect for the enemy even in times of war.
Next we have the definitive articles. These actions would provide not merely a cessation of hostilities, but a foundation on which to build a peace, they include:

1. "The Civil Constitution of Every State Should Be Republican" This means that the laws of civil society should be based on a republic. There should be one legislature and one government. Rule of law, freedom and liberty.

2. "The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States" Kant belived that rational people will never choose war but that not all peoples are rational, for this reason, we must have laws.

3. "The Law of World Citizenship Shall Be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality" This is essentially world citizenship.

First we have the law of civil society, then we have the law of nations, and then we come to our ultimate goal, world citizenship.

Finally Kant gives us his two supplemental arguments, they are as follows:

1. The spirit of commerce is incompatible with war

2. The opinions of philosophers should be sought after in all things.
Kant's essay in some ways resembles, yet differs significantly from modern democratic peace theory. He speaks of republican, Republikanisch, (not democratic), states, which he defines to have representative governments, in which the legislature is separated from the executive. He does not discuss universal suffrage, which is vital to modern democracy and quite important to some modern theorists; many philosophers dispute whether it is implied by his language. Most importantly, he does not regard republican governments as sufficient by themselves to produce peace: freedom of emigration (hospitality) and a league of nations he believes are necessary to consciously enact his six-point program. Unlike some modern theorists, Kant claims not that republics will be at peace only with each other, but are more pacific than other forms of government in general.

I have always enjoyed Perpetual Peace. I find it to be am inspiring and truthful essay. My only argument with Kant emerges with his first supplemental argument where he claims that the spirit of commerce is incompatible with war. I would argue the opposite. I believe the spirit of commerce to be one of the greatest causes of war if not the greatest. In Kant's defense however, he probably would have never imagined "free trade" would ever become this corrupt.

At a time when immigration policies and our commitment to peace-keeping missions and foreign aid are under attack, reading Kant's essay is a powerful reminder of why these practical political measures matter from the moral standpoint. For we still have to be prepared to meet the challenge of Thrasymachus in the opening of the Republic that the only valuable political stance is that justice is the interests of the stronger, that might makes right, that we have no moral obligations, only imperatives of power.


Dawson said...

I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of philosophy, although it can be intensely interesting I typically end up with a monumental headache.

That said, between Kant's straightforward manner of rational thinking and your uncanny ability to take the most complex of ideas and break them down into terms that a layman can truly wrap his head around, this post is simultaneously profound and easy to understand. Thank you.