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Kant's Essay

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Structure of Kant's Essay

Immanuel Kant's foundational essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), which takes the form of an international treaty, serves as the starting point for the Perpetual Peace Project. Since Kant's essay takes the form of an international treaty, participants to the project will be encouraged to rewrite each article of the essay, revisiting Kant's founding manifesto for a new world order.

Perpetual Peace consists of two sections. The first section contains the Preliminary Articles of a Perpetual Peace between States, which include:

  • No conclusion of Peace shall be held to be valid as such, when it has been made with the secret reservation of the material for a future War.
  • No State having an existence by itself-whether it be small or large-shall be acquirable by another State through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation.
  • Standing Armies shall be entirely abolished in the course of time.
  • No National Debts shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the State.
  • No State shall intermeddle by force with the Constitution or Government of another State.
  • No State at war with another shall adopt such modes of hostility as would necessarily render mutual confidence impossible in a future Peace; such as, the employment of Assassins (percussores) or Poisoners (venefici), the violation of a Capitulation, the instigation of Treason and such like.

The Second Section contains the Definitive Articles of a Perpetual Peace between States:

  • The Civil Constitution in every State shall be Republican.
  • The Right of Nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States.
  • The Rights of men as Citizens of the world in a cosmo-political system, shall be restricted to conditions of universal Hospitality.

There are two supplements to the essay:

  • Of the Guarantee of Perpetual Peace.
  • Secret Article relating to Perpetual Peace.

The appendix, consisting of two sections, concludes the essay:

  • On the Discordance between Morals and Politics in reference to Perpetual Peace.
  • Of the Accordance of Politics with Morals according to the Transcendental Conception of Public Right.

Supplemental Readings on Peace

Desiderius Erasmus's The Complaint of Peace (Peace speaks in her own person.) (1521), from The Complaint of Peace, trans. Thomas Paynell (Chicago: Open Court, 1917).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe and The State of War (1756), trans. Charles Edwyn Vaughan (London: Constable and Co., 1917).

Jeremy Bentham's Essay IV.: A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace (1843), from The Works of Jeremy Bentham Vol. 2, edited by John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843).

Ralph Waldo Emerson's War (1909), from The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 11 (Miscellanies)

Kant's Essay and Commentary

Immanuel Kant's Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), from Principles of Politics, trans. W. Hastie (Edinburgh: Clark, 1891).

Gregg Lambert, Aaron Levy, and Martin Rauchbauer's The Idea of Perpetual Peace (Philadelphia: Slought Foundation, 2010).

Selected Quotations

A state of Peace among men who live side by side with each other, is not the natural state. The state of Nature is rather a state of War; for although it may not always present the outbreak of hostilities, it is nevertheless continually threatened with them. The state of Peace must, therefore, be established; for the mere cessation of hostilities furnishes no security against their recurrence.

The notion of a Right to go to war, cannot be properly conceived as an element in the Right of Nations. [...] If such a Right be conceivable at all it would amount, in fact, to this: that in the case of men who are so disposed it is quite right for them to destroy and devour each other, and thus to find Perpetual Peace only in the wide grave.

A State is not to be regarded as a property or patrimony, like the soil on which it may be settled. It is a society of men, over which no one but itself has the right to rule or to dispone. Like the stem of a tree it has its own root, and to incorporate it as a graft in another State, is to destroy its existence as a moral Person.

For of the three powers known in the State as the Power of the Army, the Power of external Alliance and the Power of Money, the money-power might well become the most reliable instrument of war, did not the difficulty of determining its real force stand in the way of its employment.

A war of extermination, in which the process of annihilation would strike at both parties, and likewise at all Right at the same time, would reach Perpetual Peace only on the final Golgotha of the human race. Such a war, therefore, as well as the use of such means as might lead to it, must be absolutely unallowable.

This Right of Hospitality as vested in strangers arriving in another State, does not extend further than the conditions of the possibility of entering into social intercourse with the inhabitants of the country. In this way distant continents may enter into peaceful relations with each other. These may at last become publicly regulated by law, and thus the human race may be always brought nearer to a Cosmo-political Constitution.

The social relations between the various Peoples of the world, in narrower or wider circles, have now advanced everywhere so far that a violation of Right in one place of the earth, is felt all over it.

That 'kings will philosophise or philosophers become kings,' is not to be expected. Nor indeed is it to be desired, because the possession of power inevitably corrupts the free judgment of reason. But kings or king-like nations, who govern themselves according to laws of equality, should not allow the philosophers as a class to disappear, or to be silenced; rather should they be allowed to speak forth their maxims publicly. Nay, this is even indispensable to both for the mutual enlightenment of their functions.

Reason would drive [states] to give up their savage lawless freedom, to accommodate themselves to public coercive laws, and thus to form an ever-growing State of Nations, such as would at last embrace all the Nations of the Earth. But as the Nations, according to their ideas of international Right, will not have such a positive rational system, and consequently reject in fact (in thesi) what is right in theory (in hypothesi), it cannot be realised in this pure form. Hence, instead of the positive idea of a Universal Republic-if all is not to be lost-we shall have as result only the negative surrogate of a Federation of the States averting war, subsisting in an external union, and always extending itself over the world.

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