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Perpetual Peace By Immanuel Kant

  • 14 Dec 2022

Immanuel Kant, born in Konigsberg (present-day Kaliningrad, Russia), was one of the most remarkable philosophers that has existed near the end of the Enlightenment period. Western philosophy is incomplete without mentioning his name and his contributions ranging from epistemology to metaphysics, ethics to aesthetics. His belief in reason as the basis of morality eroded the debate between empiricism and rationalism and introduced a new perspective of "Transcendentalism". While his contributions are many, in this blog, I would focus on his idea of "Perpetual Peace", which is arguably referred to as an inspiration behind the creation of the League Of Nations.

In 1795, Immanuel Kant offered one of his most famous works, "Towards Perpetual Peace", to a Konigsberg Publisher. It was also this very year when Frederick William II of Prussia concluded the peace of Basel with the government of France. The essay is evident that Kant did not consider the idea of the League of Nations to be impossible. This was based on his ground for the final end of the Doctrine of Right. In his work, Metaphysics of Morals, Kant emphasises what duty is, and it is in the essay "Towards Perpetual Peace" that the Doctrine Of Right ends.

The blog is divided into two sections- the first dealing with preliminary articles for Perpetual Peace and the second dealing with the definitive articles for Perpetual Peace. Further, Kant provides two supplements to justify the goal of Perpetual Peace.

Section I

The first section contains the preliminary articles for Perpetual Peace among states. Here, Kant mentions six important Articles, which are as follows:

I. "No treaty of peace shall be held to be such if it is made with a secret reservation of material for a future war".

If a treaty of peace is concluded to wage a future war, then it is not a peace treaty but a truce. Kant underlines that peace is the end of all hostilities, not the suspension of hostilities. The purpose of a peace treaty is to annihilate all the causes of a future war, even if they are unrecognised by the contracting parties. In case of a mental reservation to work out old claims in future, which neither party mentions because they are too exhausted to continue the war and possess the ill will to use an opportunity later, it is beneath the dignity of a ruler. Kant remarks that if according to political prudence, the true honour of the state is in increasing power, then his judgement about the dignity of a ruler is academic.

II. "No independently existing state (whether small or large) shall be acquired by another state through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation."

Kant condemns acquiring of the state through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation. It is because a state is not a belonging. A state is a society of human beings that no one can command other than itself. To annex a state is to do away with its existence as a moral person and to treat it as a thing. Kant compares the state with a trunk that has its roots and should be treated as an end.

III. "Standing armies shall in time be abolished altogether."

Armies threaten the other states as they always appear to be prepared for war. It leads to competition among states to increase their armed men. The expenditure of such standing armies is more than a short war, and a standing army becomes the cause of an offensive war. Kant writes that being hired to kill or to be killed involves using human beings as machines and tools, which doesn't reconcile with the right of humanity. Hence, armies do not treat the person as an end in themselves.

IV. "No national debt shall be contracted with regard to the external affairs of a state."

Kant believed that a credit system of debris that is secured against present demands, an invention of the commercial people, is a dangerous power of money. It meant that the interests incurred according to the changing time on debt instead of when the money was borrowed would lead to bankruptcy of states, and it would be a public wrong. Other states should stand against such states that provide credit for the sake of the external affairs of another state. It should be noted that Kant does not see a problem lending money for the national economy or needs within the state.

V. "No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state."

Kant cannot think of any justification for interference by a state in the government of another except when there is an internal discord, and the state is divided into two parts, forming two separate states. He clarifies the difference between assistance and interference here. As long as the internal conflict is not critical, a foreign power should not interfere in its matter, or it would be treated as a violation of the rights of the people, and it would make all states insecure.

VI. "No state at war with another shall allow itself such acts of hostility as would have to make mutual trust impossible during a future peace; acts of this kind are employing assassins or poisoners, breach of surrender, incitement to treason within the enemy state, and so forth."

Kant refers to these as dishonourable strategies. According to him, there can be no peace if there is no trust in the enemy's way of thinking. At least, some confidence is required, or the hostilities would turn into what he refers to as a war of extermination. He refers to these strategies as means in themselves and should be forbidden—for example, the use of spies, whose use is made only of others' dishonesty.

Section II

The second section contains the definitive articles for Perpetual Peace among states. Here, Kant mentions that a condition of peace among men living near one another is not a state of nature. The state of nature is a condition of war. Hence, a condition of peace has to be established, and the suspension of hostilities is not an assurance of peace. Until this assurance is afforded, the neighbours treat each other as enemies.

This section is divided into three definitive articles for Perpetual Peace, which are as follows:

First Definitive Article for Perpetual Peace

The Civil Constitution in every state shall be republican:

Kant considers a Republican Constitution as the sole constitution on which the rightful legislation of people should be based. He lays down three principles of a Republican Constitution– freedom, dependence and equality. The first principle is the freedom of the members of a society, which treats them as individuals. The second principle is the dependence of all upon single common legislation, which treats them as subjects. The third principle is the law of their equality, which treats all as citizens of a state.

The first reason for his belief in the republican constitution is its original basis that it has arisen from the pure source of the concept of right. But most importantly, the Republican constitution offers the prospect of Perpetual Peace. According to this, citizens' consent on whether there shall be a war will most likely be no. However, under a constitution where subjects are not citizens and hence, it's not a republic, the head of state can decide upon war as he is not a member of the state but its proprietor.

Kant distinguishes between a democratic constitution from a republican constitution. According to him, the forms of state can be understood in two ways-

  • Forma Imperii (Form of Sovereignty): This refers to the persons with supreme power within a state. He mentions three forms which are possible, namely autocracy, which is the power of a prince; aristocracy, which is the power of nobility; democracy, which is the power of a people.
  • Forma Regiminis (Form of Government): This refers to the way people are governed by the head of the state, based on the civil constitution. Here, he mentions two types of states, either republican or despotic. Republicanism is the political principle of separation of executive power from legislative power. At the same time, despotism is the management of the state by the laws the regent gives according to his public will as well as private will.

Kant considers democracy as necessarily a despotism. The rationale here is that democracy establishes an executive power that decides for all, which is a contradiction of general will as well as freedom. Any form of government which is not representative

is without form because the legislation cannot be in the same person as the executor of the will.

The smaller the number of persons exercising the power of a state and the greater their representation, Kant believes, so much more the possibility of a republican constitution. He emphasises that if there has to be any kind of government, it has to conform to the concept of rights, and it must have a representative system. Further, it is possible only in a republican kind of government alone.

A. Second Definitive Article For Perpetual Peace

The right of nations shall be based on the federalism of free states.

For the sake of their security, nations, as individuals, can and ought to require others to enter with a constitution to feel assured of its right. This, he refers to as the league of nations. The league of nations is not a state of nations because every state involves a relation of a superior to an inferior. Still, several nations within one state would only constitute one nation which contradicts the presupposition.

Kant argues that one would think civilised people would leave a depraved condition of lawless freedom where the chief puts others in danger and sacrifices thousands of people. To him, it is surprising that the word right has not been banished as an academic from the politics of war, even when human nature is malevolent. It is this homage that every state regards the concept of right that proves that there is a moral predisposition that can become the master of the evil principle in human beings. This morality is greater than the present evil in human beings. He holds that the word right would never be spoken among states if there was no morality among human beings.

Since rights cannot be pursued through legal proceedings before an external court, states pursue them through war. However, Kant denies that right can ever be decided by war or its outcome, victory. Right cannot be decided by a peace pact as well. A peace pact can bring an ongoing war to an end but not the condition of war, and there can always be a new war in such a case.

Kant views reason as capable of establishing rights. Reason delivers absolute condemnation of war as a procedure for determining rights. It makes a condition of peace which cannot be instituted or assured without a pact of nations among themselves. This means that to establish a condition of peace, there has to be a direct duty. For this purpose, there will be a league of a special kind.

The league Kant refers to as the pacific league or foedus pacificum would be different from a peace pact or pactum pacis. A peace pact seeks to end only one war, whereas the Pacific league seeks to end all wars forever. The purpose of the league is not to acquire any power of a state but to preserve and secure the freedom of a state itself and other states in league with it. This would not require the state to commit to any coercion; instead, the idea of the federation would allow the states to attach themselves and secure freedom with the idea of the rights of nations.

The idea of a federative union of such states is "There shall be no war between myself and other states, although I recognise no supreme legislative power which secures my right to me and to which I secure its right", and it is opposed to "There shall be no war among us, for we want to form ourselves into a state, that is, to establish for ourselves a supreme legislative, executive and judicial power, which settles our disputes peaceably". The concept of the right of nations as the right to go to war is not sensible. So, by reason, there is only one way that states in relation to one another can leave the lawless condition, which is the positive idea of a league that creates a condition of peace.

B. Third Definitive Article For Perpetual Peace

Cosmopolitan rights shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality.

The question of philanthropy is a question of right, which deals with the right of a foreigner not to be treated with hostility because he has arrived in the land of another. The claim is not the right to be a guest but the right to visit. This right should be present to all humans by the right of possession in common on the earth's surface. Thus, the distant parts of the world should enter peacefully into relations with one another and bring the human race close to the cosmopolitan constitution.

He also points to the inhospitable behaviour of civilised, especially commercial states of the European world and condemns the injustice shown in visiting foreign lands and people. Mentioning the Hindustan, China and Japan, he criticises the domination shown by Europeans. Kant points out that the idea of a cosmopolitan right is necessary. It can be a supplement to the rights of a state and the rights of nations for the sake of the public rights of human beings and, thus, for Perpetual Peace.

First Supplement: On the guarantee of Perpetual Peace

Kant calls nature a great artist and credits it for letting concord arise using the discord between human beings, even against their will. He clarifies that by nature, he does not mean religion in any sense. Nature has prepared a platform for human beings that makes it essential for them to have peace. The preparatory arrangement done by nature is through making sure that people can live in all regions of the earth, by war which pushed human beings to populate even the most inhospitable regions and by compelling them to enter into lawful relations. It has bound them with a concept of duty through a means of moral law.

Nature makes it necessary for human beings to favour moral purposes. Nature wills that this or that happens, and it does not rely on duty to do it rather, nature itself does it. Kant holds high regard for the republican constitution but also reminds us that it is most difficult to maintain because of human beings' self-inclinations. Here, nature plays a role through these very self-seeking inclinations by arranging the forces of nature in such a way that one checks the destructive forces of others.

The result is that human beings are constrained to become good citizens, even if they are not morally good human beings. The concern is not the moral improvement of human beings but seeing the mechanism of nature and how it puts human beings to submit to laws that can create a condition of peace. Reason uses the mechanism of nature to meet the end of the rule of right and promotes peace through it.

Every state desires to create a condition of peace by ruling the whole world, but nature does not allow it. For this, nature uses two mechanisms: language and religion. The paradox is that while these two mechanisms create differences, it also establishes the need for equilibrium among them. Last but not least, nature united nations through the spirit of commerce. The commercial interest of states cannot coexist with war. Through the power of money, states find themselves compelled to promote peace and whenever there is a warlike condition, they try to prevent it through mediation. Thus, nature guarantees Perpetual Peace through the mechanism of human inclinations itself.

Second Supplement: Secret Article For Perpetual Peace

Kant's second supplement for Perpetual Peace is contained in this proposition: The maxims of philosophers about the conditions under which public peace is possible shall be consulted by states armed for war. A state should invite instructions that would allow them to speak freely and publicly about universal maxims of waging war and establishing peace. Kant does not say that the state must give precedence to the principles of philosophers but should give them a hearing.

By no, he meant that saying that Kings should philosophise or philosophers become kings because possession of power corrupts free judgment of reason. However, kings or royal people should not let the class of philosophers or make them silent. They should be allowed to speak publicly, and since philosophers are incapable of creating seditious factions, they cannot be suspected of spreading propaganda.

 Annie Pruthi 

Annie Pruthi is currently pursuing her masters in Political Science from JMI, New Delhi and is a first division Arts graduate from University of Delhi. She is an avid reader and an award-winning best selling author. Her book "Will You Stay?" won the title of "Most Promising Book, 2020 (Fiction)" in the Coimbatore Literary Awards.

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