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Kant's Reasons Against a Global State: Popular Sovereignty as a Principle of International Law

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Allow me to begin by mentioning that the main section of this paper (II), which focuses on Kant's reasons against a global state, has been taken from an unfinished book manuscript that was written in 1996 and should not therefore be understood as a reaction to the current attempt to establish global peace by means of unlimited war; but it has indeed acquired an unexpected contemporaneity in this context.

The introductory part of the paper (I) is new and deals in all brevity with the connection of the Second Definitive Article of “To Perpetual Peace” to arguments from the theory of popular sovereignty in other parts of Kant's text. Here it is to be shown that for Kant state sovereignty is simply the exterior aspect of inner-state popular sovereignty and because of this latter dimension requires protection at the level of international law. The concluding passages (III), which are also new, briefly confront contemporary prevailing models of a global state or other global organizations of politics with the rationality of Kant's defence of state sovereignty, a rationality that takes its orientation equally from human rights, democracy, and peace. The same observations will be applied to the present discrepancy between the UN Charter, which is understood as the positivization of Kant's text on peace in international law, and the practice of military intervention. In the process, reflections in Part II are supplemented by functional determinations of Kant's “law of permission” (Kant, 1983:111. Published translations of Kant's texts have been modified).

Kant's reasons against a global state in the text on peace are prepared by arguments for the principle of popular sovereignty in such a manner that neither his option solely for the league of nations nor his defence of state sovereignty can be understood as a provincialism that contradicts cosmopolitan principles. The Preliminary Articles 2 and 5 already make clear that state sovereignty is essentially popular sovereignty. According to Kant, it is not permissible for a state to be acquired by another one in a peaceful manner on the basis of private Right; nor does a state have the right to “forcibly interfere with the constitution and government of another.” The reasons in both cases are the same: the state “is” the people, it “is a society of human beings” that, in accordance with the “idea of the original contract,” has been formed into a nation of citizens. Acquiring a state on the basis of private Right does not damage it as such, it damages the state in its attribute as a “moral person” (in current usage: as a legal person), that is, the state as an association of citizens. These citizens would be mistreated in such a transaction as “things” and would lose their selfdetermination as citizens—as happened in the sale of Corsica to France by Genoa, for example. In the case of forcible interference, the “scandal,” which “would render the autonomy of every state insecure,” is located in the violation of “the rights of an independent people struggling with its internal ills” (Kant, 1983:109, italics added). When Kant applies his republican epigram—“where state and people are two different persons, there you will find despotism” (Kant, 1968:193)—to questions of international law, it is clear that peace should not be established at the cost of the citizens’ freedom.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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