political revue


Year XXVII, 1985, Number 3, Page 202




In the essay he wrote in 1784 called “Idea for a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view”, Kant tried to establish what the consequences of peace would be for the humana conditio. Peace would put an end to history, which is spurred on by the contradictions of inequality and discord, in which men, dominated by the violent component of the human nature, cannot freely dispose of themselves. Once peace has been established, any legitimacy regarding man’s cruelty to man, deriving from war and the possibility of war, would cease, and law would finally have universal validity. With no means of expression, man’s evil instincts would disappear. Subjected exclusively to law, man’s conduct would ultimately depend on the truly human part of his nature, on the autonomy of reason and on moral law.
In particular, the seventh Thesis which we present here tackles issues that make it possible for us to recognize that Kant foreshadowed a basic part of federalist thinking. The seventh Thesis affirms that the possibility of “establishing a perfect civic constitution” depends on the creation of an external relationship between states regulated by laws, and identifies in a great “union of peoples” (Völkerbund) the instrument by which to impose law in international relationships. The objective of the world federation, therefore, is the indispensable premise, the condition sine qua non to overcome a contradiction which, at that time and still today, heavily conditions all human action that attempts to achieve the basic values of freedom, justice and equality fully.
The contradiction lies in the fact that within states citizens are asked to accept the very thing that they themselves refuse to recognize in international relationships, namely legality. On the one hand, men urged on by what Kant calls their “unsocial sociability”, have gone a good way down the road towards ending “brutish freedom”, i.e. towards the affirmation of a freedom to be exercised in compliance with the law so as to respect the freedom of others: by accepting a civil constitution, men have recognised that unrestricted freedom is unacceptable since it is nothing more than a general subordination to power relationships and to the hierarchy imposed by these relationships. On the other hand, the instrument created to safeguard the freedom of individuals, the state, is at the same time the utter denial of all values. In the international context, law is turned into the rule, and indirectly the cult, of force, and morality is fully affirmed (sacrifice of oneself for the fatherland), only when it is totally denied (killing of foreigners).
However, Kant says, this very “antagonism” which lies at the basis of relationships between states, which encourages them to use material and human resources with a view to preparing themselves to face war, which is always possible, will lead, albeit very slowly, towards peace.
In this respect, Kant’s thought seems to take on an almost prophetic connotation: the instruments for war that mankind possesses today, nuclear weapons, have such a destructive potential that the problem of achieving an end to the antagonism between states, or an end to the division of the world into sovereign states, cannot be considered a theoretical question, the dream of an enlightened mind, but must be accepted as a political objective. Men cannot allow themselves to live with war unless they wish to accept the idea of marking time on the march towards moral progress and unless they wish to accept the possibility of the definitive disappearance of the human race. This situation, as Kant says, will bring the states “to that which reason could have told them at the beginning and with far less sad experience, to wit, to step from lawless condition of savages into a Union of peoples.
Seventh thesis – The problem of establishing a perfect civic constitution is dependent upon the problem of a lawful external relation among states and cannot be solved without a solution of the latter problem.
What is the use of working toward a lawful civic constitution among individuals, i.e., toward the creation of a commonwealth? The same unsociability which drives man to this causes any single commonwealth to stand in unrestricted freedom in relation to others; consequently, each of them must expect from another precisely the evil which oppressed the individuals and forced them to enter into a lawful civic state. The friction among men, the inevitable antagonism, which is a mark of even the largest societies and political bodies, is used by Nature as a means to establish a condition of quiet and security. Through war, through the taxing and never-ending accumulation of armament, through the want which any state, even in peacetime, must suffer internally, Nature forces them to make at first inadequate and tentative attempts; finally, after devastations, revolutions, and even complete exhaustion, she brings them to that which reason could have told them at the beginning and with far less sad experience, to wit, to step from the lawless condition of savages into a Union of peoples. In a Union of peoples, even the smallest state could expect security and justice, not from its own power and by its own decrees, but only from this great Union of peoples (Foedus Amphictyonum), from a united power acting according to decisions reached under the laws of their united will. However fantastical this idea may seem – and it was laughed at as fantastical by the Abbé de St. Pierre and by Rousseau, perhaps because they believed it was too near to realization – the necessary outcome of the destitution to which each man is brought by his fellows is to force the states to the same decision (hard though it be for them) that savage man also was reluctantly forced to take, namely, to give up their brutish freedom and to seek quiet and security under a lawful constitution.
All wars are accordingly so many attempts (not in the intention of man, but in the intention of Nature) to establish new relations among states, and through the destruction or at least the dismemberment of all of them to create new political bodies, which, again, either internally or externally, cannot maintain themselves and which must thus suffer like revolutions; until finally, through the best possible civic constitution and common agreement and legislation in external affairs, a state is created which, like a civic commonwealth, can maintain itself automatically.
[There are three questions here, which really come to one.] Would it be expected from an epicurean concourse of efficient causes that states, like minute particles of matter in their chance contacts, should form all sorts of unions which in their turn are destroyed by new impacts, until once, finally, by chance a structure should arise which could maintain its existence – a fortunate accident that could hardly occur? Or are we not rather to suppose that Nature here follows a lawful course in gradually lifting our race from the lower levels of animality to the highest level of humanity, doing this by her own secret art, and developing in accord with her law all the original gifts of man in this apparently chaotic disorder? Or perhaps we should prefer to conclude that, from all these actions and counteractions of men in the large, absolutely nothing, at least nothing wise, is to issue? That everything should remain as it always was, that we cannot therefore tell but that discord, natural to our race, may not prepare for us a hell of evils, however civilized we may now be, by annihilating civilization and all cultural progress through barbarous devastation? (This is the fate we may well have to suffer under the rule of blind chance – which is in fact identical with lawless freedom if there is no secret wise guidance in Nature.) These three questions, I say, mean about the same as this: Is it reasonable to assume a purposiveness in all the parts of nature and to deny it to the whole?
Purposeless savagery held back the development of the capacities of our race; but finally, through the evil into which it plunged mankind, it forced our race to renounce this condition and to enter into a civic order in which those capacities could be developed. The same is done by the barbaric freedom of established states. Through wasting the powers of the commonwealths in armaments to be used against each other, through devastation brought on by war, and even more by the necessity of holding themselves in constant readiness for war, they stunt the full development of human nature. But because of the evils which thus arise, our race is forced to find, above the (in itself healthy) opposition of states which is a consequence of their freedom, a law of equilibrium and a united power to give it effect. Thus it is forced to institute a cosmopolitan condition to secure the external safety of each state.
Such a condition is not unattended by the danger that the vitality of mankind may fall asleep; but it is at least not without a principle of balance among men’s actions and counteractions, without which they might be altogether destroyed. Until this last step to a union of states is taken, which is the halfway mark in the development of mankind, human nature must suffer the cruelest hardships under the guise of external well-being; and Rousseau was not far wrong in preferring the state of savages, so long, that is, as the last stage to which the human race must climb is not attained.
To a high degree we are, through art and science, cultured. We are civilized – perhaps too much for our own good – in all sorts of social grace and decorum. But to consider ourselves as having reached morality – for that, much is lacking. The ideal of morality belongs to culture; its use for some simulacrum of morality in the love of honor and outward decorum constitutes mere civilization. So long as states waste their forces in vain and violent self-expansion, and thereby constantly thwart the slow efforts to improve the minds of their citizens by even withdrawing all support from them, nothing in the way of a moral order is to be expected. For such an end, a long internal working of each political body toward the education of its citizens is required. Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery. In such a condition the human species will no doubt remain until, in the way I have described, it works its way out of the chaotic conditions of its international relations.




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