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Kant's Vision, Europe, and a Global Federation

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In his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace,” Kant considers two ideas for overcoming the state of war among states. The first is a federalism of free states (Föderalism freier Staaten) or pacific federation (Friedensbund, foedus pacificum). The second is an international state (Völkerstaat, civitas gentium) or, more specifically, a world republic. For Kant, these two ideals are sharply distinct: With a federation, each member state continues to have its own sovereign, while in an international state there is only a single, global sovereign.

Kant conceives sovereignty in the traditional way prevalent also in Hobbes and Rousseau: A sovereign is a person or group of persons having ultimate political authority within a particular jurisdiction (normally defined in territorial terms). Its authority is (almost) unlimited and extends, in particular, to the promulgation/recognition, to the interpretation/ adjudication, and to the enforcement of laws. It is crucial for this notion of sovereignty that political power be exercised through and under laws. Without laws, persons can subject others to their will, but such subjection without legal rights and duties does not count as sovereignty or political authority: Rule without rules still counts as a state of nature (as opposed to a juridical condition).

Ideally, in a republican constitution, sovereignty rests with the people, who should legislate through representatives and should delegate executive and judicial authority to magistrates and judges (whom they retain the right to depose and replace). Constitutions under which sovereign power, including the power to decide about war and peace, does not rest with the people, and also constitutions under which executive or judicial authority are not delegated by the sovereign, are despotic. All constitutions exemplify one of these two forms of government (Regierungsform, forma regiminis): republican or despotic.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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