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Perpetual Peace

Posted on August 20, 2017 — 4 Minutes Read

More than 200 years ago in the year of 1795, a German philosopher named Immanual Kant, who would later be recognised as one of the most influential philosophers in the Western philosophy, published a paper titled Toward Perpetual Peace, in which, Kant, along with 6 preliminary provisions that described steps to be taken immediately, proposed 3 definitive articles that are designed to permanently end all hostilities, and to provide a foundation for perpetual peace, namely:

  1. The civil constitution in every state shall be republican;
  2. The right of nations shall be based on a federalism of free states; and
  3. Cosmopolitan right shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality.

Each of these has a crucial role in our march towards perpetual peace.

The Civil Constitution in Every State shall be Republican

Republican in the first article does not refer to any political party in particular. Kant instead meant the form of a government, in which the executive branch is separated from the legislature, the lack of which, he believed, was a downfall of pure democracy, and rendered it or any other form of government with both the executive and the legislature fused no different than a despotism, or a tyranny, on ground that both forms of government will produce an executive power that decides every matter in the society, and may result a scenario where some force their own interests above, and at the expense of, the other. This, in a democracy, with majority rule, is what the 19th-century French political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, called tyranny of the majority, in his magnum opus, Democracy in America. Kant described that the republican constitution shall be established in three subsequent parts:

  1. By principles of the freedom of the members of a society (as men);
  2. By principles of dependence of all upon a single common legislation (as subjects); and
  3. By the law of their equality (as citizens of a state).

This builds upon a foundation of individual rights and freedom, and extends outward to empower a single common legislation by which each is governed, and lastly to ensure the equality of all in the eyes of the law. Such republican constitution, Kant believed, shall be the basis of every form of civil constitution.

The Right of Nations shall be Based on a Federalism of Free States

The second article reaches outward to look at conflict between nations. Like individuals, Kant argued, nations need to enter into a constitution with one another, to secure their rights and to prevent hostilities between them. Kant called this a league of nations. The primary goal of which is to maintain and secure freedom of its member states, and to provide, perhaps, a just, consented, and non-violent solution to conflicts that will inevitably arise between nations, instead of having to resolve to ‘might is right’.

Cosmopolitan Right shall be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality

The third and last article aims to extend hospitality beyond people within a particular community or nation, to those across the national borders, on the basis of the common right and of possession of the earth. This allows people from distant territories to enter into peaceful relationships with one another, and prevent inhabitants from committing injustice to visitors, and vice versa. There are countless examples throughout human histories, and Kant named a few, e.g. the Barbary pirates and European’s arrival in America etc., that resulted in hostilities and violence because of a lack of universal hospitality.

Perpetual Peace

To end all hostilities between men and nations, Kant proposed a reasoned ground for surrendering our savage freedom, and our urge to resolve conflicts by force, to the constraints of law. The most admirable aspect, however, of Kant’s inquiry in perpetual peace, is perhaps how all of which are constructed on the basis of the right of individual, and of individuals as a nation, that attests to the humanistic principle in the Germanic tradition.