Peace Plans of Rousseau, Bentham, and Kant
Conscience is the voice of the soul.
Firmly convinced as I am that nothing on this earth
is worth purchase at the price of human blood,
and that there is no more liberty anywhere
than in the heart of the just man,
I feel, however, that it is natural for people of courage,
who were born free,
to prefer an honorable death to dull servitude.
All trade is in its essence advantageous-
even to that party to whom it is least so.
All war is in its essence ruinous;
and yet the great employments of government
are to treasure up occasions of war,
and to put fetters upon trade.
When the worst comes to the worst,
peace may always be had by some unessential sacrifice.
If only freedom is granted,
enlightenment is almost sure to .follow.
Dare to know!
Have courage to use your own reason!
Reason, from its throne of supreme legislating authority,
absolutely condemns war as a legal recourse
and makes a state of peace a direct duty,
even though peace cannot be established or secured
except by a compact among nations.
Saint-Pierre’s Peace Plan
Abbé Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre (1658-1743) was educated at a Jesuit college, where he studied the classics, logic, ethics, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. He joined a strict order of monks, but he had to leave it for reasons of health. He moved to Paris in 1680 and was at court from 1693 to 1718, when he was expelled from the French Academy for refusing to approve of the title “Great” for Louis XIV. He studied both the theory and practice of politics and was particularly influenced by Plato, Bodin, Machiavelli, Grotius, Pufendorf, Richelieu, Doria, and Hobbes. Paix Perpetuelle was first published in 1712, but he expanded that sketch to a two-volume edition the next year, which was translated into English in 1714 as A Project for Settling an Everlasting Peace in Europe. He added a third volume in 1717 and published abridgements in 1729 and 1738. Saint-Pierre tried to gain publicity for his effort by giving credit to France’s king Henri IV for the “grand design” that was actually written by Sully years later in 1638. He attended the peace conference at Utrecht in 1713 as the secretary for the Abbé Polignac, one of the three French plenipotentiaries. This gave him first-hand experience of the peacemaking process and stimulated him to work on his plan that could make peace perpetual.
Saint-Pierre attempted to use the philosophical methodology of Descartes in order to gain certainty by means of intuition and deduction. His first idea had been to include all the nations of the world; but then he limited his confederation to Europe so that the whole project would not seem impossible. Examining the various means which could prevent war among European nations, he inferred that a federation of states is the best solution. Whereas Hobbes showed that for the protection and benefit of individuals there must be unity in the state, Saint-Pierre went a step further in reasoning that to safeguard the peace between nations there must be a unifying federation. Although accused by Rousseau of unrealistically expecting people to be rational, Saint-Pierre did recognize that passions control the actions of most people. Therefore to overcome motives of self-interest the fear of violence must be used to enforce law and justice. Foreshadowing Rousseau’s ideas, he posited that society protects people from violence by a contract and can express its sovereign will by establishing a permanent federation among the states of Europe.
Saint-Pierre’s plan took the form of an elaborate treaty divided into articles that were fundamental, important, and useful. States of various forms of government could be in the federation, though most at this time were monarchies. The laws founded on justice were to be equal and reciprocal for all. Saint-Pierre pointed to the confederations of German and Helvetian states and the United Provinces of the Netherlands to show the practical advantages of union. He began his plan with peace and contrasted this to the French war aims that would have initiated the biased plan of Sully.
Saint-Pierre proposed twelve fundamental articles. First, all the Christian sovereigns of Europe shall form a permanent union for peace and security, endeavoring also to make treaties with Muslim sovereigns, and the sovereigns are to be represented by deputies in a perpetual senate in a free city. Second, the European society shall not interfere with the governments except to preserve them from seditious rebellions, and he even went so far as to guarantee hereditary sovereignties. Third, the Union shall send commissioners to investigate conspiracies and revolts and may send troops to punish the guilty according to the laws. Fourth, territories shall remain as they are unless three-fourths of the Union votes for a change, and no treaties may be made without the “advice and consent” of the Union. Fifth, no sovereign shall possess more than one state. Sixth, Spain and France shall remain in the house of Bourbon. These previous five articles have been criticized for not allowing a natural process of change. Seventh, chambers of commerce shall be maintained, and each sovereign must suppress robbers and pirates or pay reparation; if necessary the Union may assist them in this.
Eighth, no sovereign shall take up arms except against a declared enemy of the European society. Complaints shall be discussed and mediated by the senate in the city of peace. The Union shall defend the sovereigns who agree with its decisions. After at least fourteen nations have joined the confederation, any sovereign refusing to join is to be declared an enemy by the rest of Europe, which is to make war on it until the state joins or is dispossessed. The ninth article specified that the senate was to represent with one delegate each the following 24 powers: France, Spain, England, Holland, Savoy, Portugal, Bavaria, Venice, Genoa, Florence, Switzerland, Lorraine, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the papal states, Muscovy, Austria, Courland, Prussia, Saxony, Palatine, Hanover, and ecclesiastical electors. Obviously this scheme allowed extra votes for the divided German and Italian states. Tenth, each state shall contribute to the expenses of the society in proportion to its revenues. Eleventh, the senate shall take up questions after a plurality vote, and three-fourths is needed for a decision. Twelfth, none of the fundamental articles may be altered except by a unanimous vote of all members.
In the important articles Saint-Pierre gave more details he recommended such as Utrecht as the seat of the senate, which shall have an ambassador in every province of two million people. No sovereign shall keep more than 6,000 soldiers in his nation. Enemies of the union shall be punished with death or life imprisonment, and anyone reporting a conspiracy shall be given a reward. Every year on the same day sovereigns shall renew their oath to the Union. If a state has no succeeding sovereign, the Union may regulate the succession or allow a republic to be formed.
The useful articles are even more specific. The commander-in-chief of the federal forces shall not belong to any sovereign family. Rotating senators shall preside week by week. The four standing committees on politics, diplomacy, finances, and war are to be supplemented by committees of reconciliation, which shall adjust difficulties or report them to the senators for their decision. Freedom of religion is allowed. The Union may agree on weights, measures, and coins. The senate may mediate between conflicts of non-members and support the sovereign who accepts its offer. The European Union shall encourage Asia to establish a permanent society also.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a fascinating individual, whose unorthodox ideas and passionate prose caused a flurry of interest in 18th-century France; his republican sentiments for liberty, equality, and brotherhood led eventually to the French Revolution. He was born on June 28, 1712, but his mother died in giving birth to him. His father had him reading romances and classical histories such as Plutarch before apprenticing him to an engraver. Rousseau loved to walk in nature; frustrated at being locked outside the city gates of Geneva at nightfall, at the age of sixteen he left his home to wander on his own. He was guided by a Catholic priest to Madame de Warens, who took him in for about ten years and eventually became his mistress. Rousseau studied music and devised a new system of musical notation, which was rejected by the Academy of Sciences. Throughout his life Rousseau often earned his living by copying music. In Paris in the 1740s he entered literary society and wrote both the words and music for an opera Les Muses Galantes. Rousseau lived for thirty years with an uneducated servant girl, who bore him five children, according to his Confessions, but all of them were given to an orphanage in infancy.
In 1749 Rousseau burst into prominence by winning an essay contest on the theme: “Has the progress of the arts and sciences contributed more to the corruption or purification of morals?” Rousseau criticized social institutions for having corrupted the essential goodness of nature and the human heart. In his “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” he elaborated on the process of how social institutions must have developed into the extreme inequities of aristocratic France, where the nobility and the clergy lived in luxury while the poor peasants had to pay most of the taxes. In his “Discourse on Political Economy” he suggested remedies for these injustices. In 1756 he retreated to a simple country life and wrote a romantic novel La Nouvelle Héloise, which won the hearts of many. Some historians consider Rousseau the initiator of the romantic rebellion in art and literature.
Rousseau’s two greatest works were published in 1762-The Social Contract and Emile or On Education. For Rousseau society itself is an implicit agreement to live together for the good of everyone with individual equality and freedom. However, people have enslaved themselves by giving over their power to governments, which are not truly sovereign when they do not promote the general will. Rousseau believed that only the will of all the people together granted sovereignty. Various forms of government are instituted to legislate and enforce the laws. He wrote that the first duty of the legislator is to make the laws conform to the general will, and the first rule of public economy is to administer justice in conformity with the laws. His natural political philosophy echoes the way of Lao-zi. He suggested that the greatest talent of a ruler is to disguise his power to render it less odious by conducting the state so peaceably that it seems to need no conductors. Rousseau valued his citizenship in Geneva, where he was born, and he was one of the first strong voices for democratic principles. He believed there could be no liberty without virtue and no virtue without citizens.
Rousseau explained that citizens depend upon education. In Emile, a revolutionary book in educational theory, Rousseau described how a boy can learn most naturally by direct experience. Rousseau recommended awakening the inner goodness that comes from the heart and warned against the evil contrivances of “civilized” society.
Where are there laws, and where are they respected?
Everywhere you have seen only individual interest
and men’s passions reigning under this name.
But the eternal laws of nature and order do exist.
For the wise man, they take the place of positive law.
They are written in the depth of his heart
by conscience and reason.
It is to these that he ought to enslave himself
in order to be free.
The only slave is the man who does evil,
for he always does it in spite of himself.
Freedom is found in no form of government;
it is in the heart of the free man.
He takes it with him everywhere.
The vile man takes his servitude everywhere.1
Yet Rousseau was not against positive law. On the contrary, laws protect those who are free from the vile man who violates them. We are free within the law, but again the laws must be in harmony with reason and the general good.
Rousseau’s political writings stirred up controversy, and threatened by the established powers, he fled into exile to Prussia and also visited David Hume in England. Later he was able to return to France. In 1768 a populist revolt protested for more rights against an oligarchy of twenty-five councilors in Geneva. Rousseau counseled against violence but encouraged them in their struggle and predicted that in ten or twenty years the times would be far more favorable to the cause of a representative party. In fact the American Revolution was about ten years away and the French Revolution about twenty. Rousseau discussed many different forms of government and indicated that there are various factors to consider in deciding on the best form of government for any given state. Generally he favored “elective aristocracy”-not hereditary but republican. In his Constitutional Project for Corsica he advised them to adopt democratic government and to abolish hereditary nobility. Consulted on Poland’s government, he recommended the gradual enfranchisement of the serfs and a multi-level civil service system whereby one could advance by merit.
In pain often from a prostate disorder, Rousseau’s moodiness and paranoia of other influential people increased in his later years. Fearing distortions of his life by others, which actually were written later, Rousseau tried to tell all honestly in his Confessions and other autobiographical works. He died on July 2, 1778.
Rousseau’s writing about a federation to establish lasting peace was actually a summary and critique of the plan devised by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre. In 1754 an admirer of the late Abbé, Madame Dupin, suggested to Rousseau that he bring to life the good ideas in Saint-Pierre’s writings. In his Confessions Rousseau gave his reasons for taking up the project.
Not being confined to the function of a translator,
I was at liberty sometimes to think for myself;
and I had it in my power to give such a form to my work,
that many important truths would pass in it
under the name of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre,
much more safely than under mine.2
He also explained why he felt Saint Pierre’s ideas were not effective.
In the offices of all the ministers of state
the Abbé de St. Pierre had ever been considered
as a kind of preacher rather than a real politician,
and he was suffered to say what he pleased,
because it appeared that nobody listened to him.3
It is noteworthy that out of the twenty-three volumes of Saint-Pierre’s works Rousseau selected “Perpetual Peace” for his first essay, which was published at Geneva in 1761.
Rousseau began his description of Saint-Pierre’s project by expressing the feelings in his heart.
Never did the mind of man conceive a scheme nobler,
more beautiful, or more useful than that
of a lasting peace between all the peoples of Europe.
Never did a writer better deserve a respectful hearing than he
who suggests means for putting that scheme in practice.
What man, if he has a spark of goodness,
but must feel his heart glow within him at so fair a prospect?
Who would not prefer the illusions of a generous spirit,
which overleaps all obstacles, to that dry, repulsive reason
whose indifference to the welfare of mankind
is ever the chief obstacle to all schemes for its attainment?
I see in my mind’s eye all men joined in the bonds of love.
I call before my thoughts a gentle and peaceful brotherhood,
all living in unbroken harmony,
all guided by the same principles,
all finding their happiness in the happiness of all.4
Yet Rousseau was aware of the need for hard reasoning, and he promised to prove his assertions and asked the reader not to deny what one cannot refute.
Although governments have been instituted to control private wars, Rousseau lamented the national wars, which are a thousand times worse. In “The Origin of Inequality” he had described how individuals joined together to avoid conflicts, but the larger bodies reverted to even more disastrous conflicts.
Hence arose the national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals
which make nature tremble and shock reason;
and all those horrible prejudices which rank
the honor of shedding human blood among the virtues.
The most decent men learned to consider it
one of their duties to murder their fellow men;
at length men were seen to massacre each other
by the thousands without knowing why;
more murders were committed on a single day of fighting
and more horrors in the capture of a single city
than were committed in the state of nature
during whole centuries over the entire face of the earth.5
To remedy these dangers Rousseau argued that a federal form of government must be devised to unite nations, as nations unite individuals, under the authority of law. In his time this type of government was fairly new; but he noted that it did exist in the Germanic Body, the Helvetic League, and the States General of the Netherlands, and the ancients had the Greek Amphictyons, the Etruscan Lucumonies, Latin feriae, and the city leagues of the Gauls.
Rousseau pointed out that Europe has much in common-the history of the Roman Empire, the Christian religion, geography, blood-ties, commerce, arts, colonies, and printing. Yet the violence in practice contradicts the moral ideals and rhetoric of governments. Treaties are temporary and very unstable; there are few or no common agreements on public law; and in conflicts between nations might makes right as weakness is taken for wrong. Nevertheless the boundaries of countries remain fairly stable because of the natural conditions of geography and culture. No one country is powerful enough ever to conquer all the others; but if nations ally together for conquest, they end up fighting among themselves. The Germanic states and the Treaty of Westphalia stabilize the international situation. The conflicts, which do continually agitate, never seem to result in any advantage to the sovereigns. Commerce and economics tend to keep the power of states fairly balanced. Since it is so difficult for one nation to conquer others, it is easy to see that the federation would be able to force any ambitious ruler to abide by the terms of the league.
Rousseau delineated the following four necessary conditions for the success of the federation: every important power must be a member; the laws they legislate must be binding; a coercive force must be capable of compelling every state to obey the common resolves; and no member may be allowed to withdraw. His plan proposed five articles. The first establishes a permanent alliance with a congress so that all conflicts may be settled and terminated by arbitration or judicial pronouncement. The second article determines which nations shall have a vote, how the presidency shall pass from one to another, and how the contribution quotas shall be raised to provide for common expenses. The third declares that existing boundaries shall be permanent. The fourth specifies how violators shall be banned and forced to comply by means of the arms of all the confederates. The fifth article recommends a majority vote at the start, but three-quarters after five years, and unanimity to change the articles.
Rousseau explained how the six motives which lead to war are all removed by this plan.
These motives are:
either to make conquests,
or to protect themselves from aggression,
or to weaken a too powerful neighbor,
or to maintain their rights against attack,
or to settle a difference which has defied friendly negotiation,
or, lastly, to fulfill some treaty obligation.6
Actually the federation makes every purpose easier to accomplish except the first, that of conquest, which it most effectively deters by gathering all powers against the aggressor. Also under the alliance a country need not fear a powerful neighbor, because the alliance together has far greater power.
Sovereigns should not complain of losing their prerogatives because the federation merely is forcing them to be just. Rousseau estimated that nations would save approximately half of their military budgets. He enumerated the many evils and dangers of the prevailing conditions in Europe such as injustice because of might, insecurity of nations, military expenses, attacks, no guarantee for international agreements, no safe or inexpensive means of obtaining justice when wronged, risk and inconvenience of wars, loss of trade during crises, and general impoverishment and lack of security. The benefits of arbitration are: certainty of settling disputes peacefully, abolition of the causes of disputes, personal security for rulers, fulfillment of agreements between rulers, freedom of trade, smaller military expenses, increase in population, agriculture, and public wealth and happiness.
Rousseau wrote a brief critique of Saint-Pierre’s project, but it was not published until 1782, four years after he died. First he wondered why Saint-Pierre’s plan had not been adopted, and he suggested that it was because the princes were short-sighted in their ambition and greed for power. They were too proud to submit themselves to arbitration; their wisdom was not equal to their confidence in good fortune in the risks of war. They were too blinded by their self interest to see the wisdom of the general good. Rousseau recounted how Henri IV had tried to use self-interest with the powers of Europe to mold together a commonwealth, but he died. Rousseau finally concluded that the only way a federation could be established would be by means of a revolution; but sensing the violence in that, he considered it as much to be feared as to be desired.
Jeremy Bentham was born February 15, 1748 in London and died there in 1832. He was the son of an attorney, and by the age of four he was reading and beginning to study Latin. He gained a degree at Oxford in 1763, and becoming a lawyer, he criticized Blackstone, an influential legal thinker. To his father’s chagrin Jeremy never practiced law or traditional politics. Instead he developed his own legal philosophy, encouraged social reform, and wrote thousands of pages codifying laws. His most famous work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was circulated among his friends and finally published in 1789. A practical thinker, he founded the utilitarian philosophy which seeks “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” He explained his fundamental concept as follows:
By utility is meant that property in any object
whereby it tends to produce benefit,
advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness,
or to prevent the happening of mischief,
pain, evil, or unhappiness
to the party whose interest is considered:
if that party be the community in general,
then the happiness of the community:
if a particular individual,
then the happiness of the individual.7
By means of this “hedonic calculus” Bentham attempted to measure the positive and negative consequences of any decision. He went beyond a simple hedonism by describing seven dimensions of the pleasure or pain to bring a qualitative evaluation into the quantification. Thus one must consider the intensity, duration, certainty, and nearness of the pleasure or pain. In addition the results of the pleasure or pain can be estimated in terms of fecundity and purity; fecundity means whether there will be further pleasures or pains later, and purity whether pleasures or pains are likely to be followed by their opposites. Finally one must consider the extent in terms of how many people may be affected. Bentham used these principles in deciding on the appropriate punishments for various crimes. In prison reform he sought to reform morals, preserve health, invigorate industry, and spread instruction. In 1792 he was made a French citizen, and he advised that new government as well as that of the United States of America. He influenced many who were called “Benthamites,” particularly James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill, who wrote on Utilitarianism.
Bentham’s essay “A Plan for a Universal and Perpetual Peace” was published a year after his death in The Principles of International Law, but he wrote it in 1789. Bentham declared that the whole world is his domain and that the press is his only tool. Everyone suffers from war, and the wise consider it the chief cause of suffering. Bentham’s plan has two main propositions-to reduce military forces in Europe and to emancipate colonies. He emphasized the importance of a peace proposal, even if the world is not ready for it, because in that case there is a great need for ideas on peace. He asked for the prayers of Christians, and for the welfare of all civilized nations he had three goals-“simplicity of government, national frugality, and peace.”
Bentham proposed that it is not in the interest of Great Britain or France to have colonies, alliances, nor a large navy. Perpetual treaties ought to limit troops and establish a common court of judicature to decide differences. However, Bentham was clearly pacifistic in stipulating that the court not be armed with coercive powers. As he stated later on, he relied upon the power of public opinion. For this reason he was especially perturbed by the secrecy of British foreign affairs, such that he had to read the Leyden Gazette to get any news about British diplomacy, as there was none in the home press. Therefore he argued strongly against secrecy in international relations. He also complained that newspapers always took the side of their own nation. “It is that we are always in the right, without a possibility of being otherwise. Against us other nations have no rights.”8
The colonies cause nothing but trouble for England and France and should be given up. This is in the interest of the mother country because of the danger of war, military expense, corruption by patronage, and complication of government. He cited Gibraltar and the East Indies specifically. It is also better for the colonies themselves to be self-governing. Neither are alliances in the interest of Great Britain, because they lead to wars; also treaties to give advantage in trade are artificial economically and are not useful in the long run. The naval forces need only be strong enough to defend commerce against pirates. The pacification treaties, which are to limit the number of troops, are to be publicly announced. Bentham described the folly of attempting conquest and the madness of war. In modern times it is useless to the people. Bentham believed that trade is always advantageous to both parties, but war is ruinous.
Establishing a judicial court is in the interest of all. Bentham recommended a Congress of deputies from each country that should be public in its proceedings. Its power is in reporting its decisions to public opinion. Here Bentham appeared to be excessively idealistic in comparison to Saint-Pierre and Rousseau, who felt the need for enforcement. Bentham naively believed that if secrecy were given up, the public would no longer support wars. He pointed to the example of the Swedish soldiers, who refused to fight Russia. His pacifist ideas are not wrong, but they would depend upon an enlightened public opinion. He declared that the plunging of a nation into war against its will by ministers is not only mischievous but unconstitutional. He pointed out that punishing the authors of war does little good for the people of the nation. Since the war-makers cannot be punished effectively, they ought to be abandoned by the people. However, Bentham considered this not possible in his time. In war individual crimes are greatly multiplied; yet they win the approval of people. Since ministers are not deterred from misconduct, they are easily seduced by ambition and greed into wars, especially when shielded by secrecy.
Bentham’s plan is quite sketchy and obviously not comprehensive, but he did show the usefulness of disarmament and the dangers of colonialism and secrecy. He sensed the power of public opinion but also saw how effectively it was squelched in his time. He did not really present the executive and legislative powers for a federal system, as did Saint-Pierre and Rousseau; but he did establish the principles of an international judiciary and open public opinion on international affairs.
Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724 at Königsberg in East Prussia and lived his whole life there. His parents were pious and emphasized inward morality. In 1740 he entered the University of Königsberg in theology, but he also studied physics. After his father died in 1746, he worked for nine years as a family tutor. He lectured at the university on physics, mathematics, logic, metaphysics, moral philosophy, geography, and natural sciences. In 1770 Kant was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics. After working on it for a decade, in 1781 he published his magnum opus, the Critique of Pure Reason. In this book Kant analyzed how the mind itself structures our understanding of reality by conceptual categories. More books followed, and Kant is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of the age of enlightenment. Kant held that God, freedom, and immortality are transcendental ideas essential to the moral life.
In his ethical works Kant formulated the categorical imperative as a guide for conduct: “Act according to the maxim which can at the same time make itself a universal law.”9 Thus a person of good will always treats others as an end, not as a means. Kant found that two things filled his mind with increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. His lectures were popular, and he followed a regular routine. His daily walks were so punctual that the people of Königsberg could set their watches by his regular appearance. The only time he was known to have missed his daily walk was when he became absorbed in reading Rousseau’s Emile. He died on February 12, 1804, and his last words were: “It is good.”
Kant’s philosophy had a critical perspective, and he showed how by using higher human reason and justice we can transcend the brutal strife and arguments of war.
Without the control of criticism,
reason is, as it were, in a state of nature,
and can only establish its claims and assertions by war.
Criticism, on the contrary, deciding all questions
according to the fundamental laws of its own institution,
secures to us the peace of law and order,
and enables us to discuss all differences
in the more tranquil manner of a legal process.
In the former case, disputes are ended by victory,
which both sides may claim
and which is followed by a hollow armistice;
in the latter, by a sentence, which,
as it strikes at the root of all speculative differences,
ensures to all concerned a lasting peace.10
In The Science of Right Kant discussed the right of nations and international law and also the universal right of mankind. Ethically, people ought to be treated as ends in themselves and not mechanically as a means to some end. Therefore the ruler has no right to treat his people as objects for some warlike purpose. The people do not owe a duty to the sovereign; in Kant’s view rather the sovereign has a duty to the people.
As such they must give their free consent,
through their representatives,
not only to the carrying on of war generally,
but to every separate declaration of war;
and it is only under this limiting condition
that the state has a right to demand
their services in undertakings so full of danger.11
Kant defined three rights of peace: neutrality, guarantee, and alliance. Neutrality is the right to remain at peace when a war is nearby. Guarantee is “the right to have peace secured so that it may continue when it has been concluded.”12 Alliance is the right of federation, that states may defend themselves in common against attack. However, there is no right of alliance for external aggression or internal aggrandizement.
Kant applied the categorical imperative to the relations of states and rejected any action or policy which would make peace among the nations impossible. Kant pointed out that nations, like individuals, must enter into a legal state, in this case, a union of states, which is the only way to establish peace and the public right of nations. Thus a permanent congress of nations must eventually become practical so that differences may be settled by means of a civil process instead of by barbarous war. Kant based the right to a universal peaceful union of all nations on the juridical principle of legal justice rather than on the moral ideal of the philanthropic or ethical principles. Because all people originally share the soil of the Earth, they have a right to associate with each other. Even though perpetual peace may not be real yet, Kant emphasized that we must work to realize it as our duty. He concluded,
The universal and lasting establishment of peace
constitutes not merely a part,
but the whole final purpose and end
of the science of right
as viewed within the limits of reason.13
In his “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” Kant stated that Nature forces people to a cosmopolitan solution, making a league of nations the inevitable result of social evolution. Until then humans must suffer the cruelty of conflicts. The answer lies in a moral order, which can only be brought about through education. This enlightenment requires a commitment of heart to the good that is clearly understood. He lamented that rulers spend little money on public education, because they spend it paying for past and future wars. Kant predicted that the ever-growing war debt (which was new in his time) would eventually make war impractical economically. He foresaw that this and the value of interstate commerce would prepare the way eventually for an international government, even though there had never been one in world history. Looking toward the goal of world citizenship, he suggested that the philosophical historian ought to note how various nations and governments have contributed to this goal.
Kant felt that war is the greatest obstacle to morality and that the preparation for war is the greatest evil; therefore we must renounce war. “The morally practical reason utters within us its irrevocable veto: There shall be no war.”14 Yet without a cosmopolitan constitution and the wisdom to submit ourselves voluntarily to its constraint, war is inevitable. The obstacles of ambition, love of power, and avarice, particularly of those in authority, stand in the way. Again education must foster the building of character in accordance with moral principles. The full realization of our destiny, the sovereignty of God on Earth, ultimately depends not on governments but on justice and conscience within us.
Kant’s major work on peace entitled Perpetual Peace was published in 1795. That year in the separate treaty of Basel, Prussia ceded France territory west of the Rhine so that it could partition Poland with Russia and Austria. Kant was so indignant at this that he wrote Perpetual Peace as a just treaty that could be signed by nations. He stated six preliminary propositions for a perpetual peace among states:
- No treaty of peace shall be held valid in which there is tacitly reserved matter for a future war.
- No independent states, large or small, shall come under the dominion of another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase, or donation.
- Standing armies shall in time be totally abolished.
- National debts shall not be contracted with a view to the external friction of states.
- No state shall by force interfere with the constitution or government of another state.
- 6. No state shall, during war, permit such acts of hostility which would make mutual confidence in the subsequent peace impossible: such are the employment of assassins, poisoners, breach of capitulation, and incitement to treason in the opposing state.15
The reasons for these are fairly obvious. He added that a state has no right to wage a punitive war because just punishment must come from a superior authority and not an equal.
In introducing the three definitive articles, Kant observed that the state of nature tends toward conflict and war; therefore peace must be actively established and maintained by a civil state. Civil constitutions are of three levels: the law of persons, the law of nations, and the law of world citizenship.
The first definitive article states, “The civil constitution of every state should be republican.”16 By this Kant meant that the laws must be applied to everyone universally and fairly-in other words, government by law, not by favored men. Thus the principles of freedom, common legislation, and equality must pertain. He hoped that requiring the citizens’ consent to declare war would prevent its devastation, because it is usually the people, not the ruler, who sacrifices and suffers. By republican Kant meant representative of the people, but not necessarily democracy, which he considered more likely to be despotic than representative government by one (autocracy) or a few (aristocracy). In a pure democracy it is not possible to separate the execute power from the legislative function.
The second definitive article states, “The law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states.”17 This constitution establishes the rights of states through a league of nations. Kant noted that Grotius, Pufendorf, Vattel, and many other irritating comforters have been cited to justify war, but their code cannot have legal force. Victory in war goes to the stronger, but it does not settle what is right. At its conclusion a peace treaty ends that war, but to end all wars forever there must be a league of peace. The more republics associate with each other, the more practical a federation becomes. In the federation a supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power may be established to reconcile the differences between nations peaceably. But if nations do not acknowledge these supreme powers, then how can they safeguard their rights? Using unilateral maxims through force leads to “perpetual peace in the vast grave that swallows both the atrocities and their perpetrators.”18 Therefore states must give up their savage (lawless) freedom in order to find a greater freedom and security within the constraints of public law.
The third definitive article states, “The law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality.”19 Everyone has the right not to be treated as an enemy when arriving in another land. How prophetic Kant was when he wrote, “The narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world.”20 Thus he did not consider a law of world citizenship high-flown nor exaggerated but rather indispensable for human rights and perpetual peace.
The guarantee for perpetual peace, for Kant, is the design and process of world history which we call providence. People have spread throughout the Earth and have been forced to develop lawful relations with each other. States were formed for defense against violations, and man has been forced to be good for the sake of others by laws to keep the peace. Although differences of language and religion have kept states separate, competition nevertheless maintains an equilibrium, and commerce has made peace far preferable to war.
Kant argued that politics must eventually be moral because the moral laws are eternal and transcendent of political stratagems. Like Bentham, Kant emphasized that justice must be public and open to scrutiny. He reasoned that political maxims must be able to be public in order to be legitimate; those which need publicity in order to succeed are both right and politically advantageous because they must be in accord with the public’s universal good. Therefore it is our duty to publicly promote those policies which lead to the universal good of lasting peace.
By Sanderson Beck
This is a chapter in Guides to Peace and Justice from Ancient Sages to the Suffragettes, which is published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.
- Emile or On Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Allan Bloom, p. 473.
2. The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. W. Conyngham Mallory, p. 635-636.
3. Ibid., p. 661.
4. A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. C. E. Vaughan.
5. Second Discourse by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Roger D. and Judith R. Masters, p. 161.
6. A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe by Jean-JacquesRousseau, tr. C. E. Vaughan.
7. The Principles of Morals and Legislation by Jeremy Bentham, p. 2.
8. A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace by Jeremy Bentham in Jeremy Bentham by Charles W. Everett, p. 221.
9. Foundations of the Metaphysic of Morals, Second Section 436 by Immanuel Kant, tr. Lewis White Beck, p. 63.
10. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, tr. J. M. D. Meiklejohn, p. 222.
11. The Science of Right 55 by Immanuel Kant, tr. W. Hastie.
12. Ibid., 69.
13. Ibid., Conclusion.
15. Perpetual Peace 343-346 by Immanuel Kant, tr. Lewis White Beck et al, p. 85-89.
16. Ibid., 349, p. 93.
17. Ibid., 354, p. 98.
18. Ibid., 357, p. 101.
19. Ibid., 357, p. 102.
20. Ibid., 360, p. 105.