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The Montreal Review, April, 2010




Does the reality of war not prove that the Kantian idea of perpetual peace is a chimera, the dream of an idle moralist only, asked Thomas Mertens in Hegel's Homage to Kant's Perpetual Peace (Review of Politics, Vol. 57, 1995). According to Mertens Hegel's answer to this question is "Yes, the perpetual peace is a chimera, because war is a permanent feature of human history." And war is a necessary part of the dialectic of human progress and development.

But this is an easy answer to one of the most difficult and important questions of our time.

In his article, Mertens reminds us the Hegelian critique to Kantian moral approach, but we also must remember that Kant wrote against the political moralist as a threat to peace. Actually, in his Perpetual Peace, Kant explained that the good politics is the honest politics, and the clever politics is the politics that sees in the moral action rationalism and pragmatism. Kant supports the politics that understands the value of moral actions as better option than the immoral political behaviour. Thus, the perpetual peace may look as a chimera, but it is not an impossible condition as many politicians and political thinkers tend to argue.

Who is the political moralist today? Most of the autocrats are political moralists. The leaders of Al Qaida, the Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the the dictators and autocrats of every time - they are political moralists. The moral rhetoric is often a prerogative of authoritarian leaders and regimes. But not exclusive prerogative. The United States and Britain attacked Iraq in 2003 on the ground of political moralism. It is moral to depose a dictator, argued American and British administration before the invasion. And the war is a duty and responsibility, if this dictator possesses nuclear arms. Al Qaeda explains its terror with religious moralism. Nearly every bellicose nation, group or person needs moral excuse to explain its right for agression.

Meanwhile the pragmatic politician does not need to think about moral to understand that military confrontation is option only in case of self-defence. If we follow this logic, the opposition to the nuclear threat coming from Iran today, must not be expressed in open war actions. Yet, stakes are high with or without such actions.

Kant begins his philosophical sketch To Perpetual Peace with the argument that political theorist is more honest than politician is, because the motives of both in explaining and thinking politics are different. Of course, the politician has always something to conceal. Kant exposed his vision about the Perpetual Peace as a political theorist and as a such he is an optimist in contrast to the traditional politician. In his short philosophical article, he clearly enumerated the conditions under which the peace can or cannot exist:

No treaty of peace that tacitly keeps open the possibility for future war shall be held valid, is the first postulate in the Perpetual Peace. Such a treaty is not a peace treaty, but temporary cancelation of war. The Treaty of Versailles was temporary cancelation of war and the Second World War exposed its hypocrisy and futility. On the other hand, the modern European Union is based on treaties that really create peace. European integration that has started in the 1950s is not based on moral appeals and rhetoric, but on conscious, pragmatic interest and actions that reject the idea of war a priori.

No independent nation, be it large or small, may be acquired by another nation . This is the second postulate in the Kantian Perpetual Peace. The empires are built on submitted nations. But it is a historic fact that there is no eternal empire. And the most durable empires were the empires that gave enough freedom to the locals. Romans tried to stay away from domestic policy of the submitted nations. The Ottoman Empire was a loose entity that preserved the local customs. Soviet Russia attempted close control over its Soviet Republics and East Europe, but the communist empire dissolved after only 40 years of existence.

Standing armies shall be gradually abolished . This is the third postulate. Why? Because they are source of constant threat. They also create an environment of competition in armament, which leads to a situation when the war is a better choice insted of peace. This argument was proved many times, and especially with the First World War. This war was a pure result of accumulated tensions, it was a psychological explosion reflecting decades of armament, suspicion, and competition among the European powers. We were lucky that the Cold War did not produce a real military conflict between the superpowers.

"Of the three sorts of power: the power of an army, the power of alliance, and to power of money, the third is the most reliable instrument of war," writes Kant. True. Germans lost the First World War because of exhaustion. The United States won three monumental wars in the 20 th century, because of money (in addition to other factors too). And we know that Soviet Russia collapsed with big army and stable alliances.

Increase of national debt for foreign affairs shows the country's preparation for war. This is another postulate from the Perpetual Peace. America bogged down in the last years, shaken by internal economic crisis and unacknowledged exhaustion from the conflict in Iraq. The citizens must be careful in their expectations to a government that increases war expenses and armament.

No nation shall interfere with the constitution and government of another. In the recent years the American government did a number of mistakes especially in the Middle East. The wars in the Middle East did not bring real peace, perhaps because of the violation of this postulate. The West must have good intentions (such as export of democracy and preventive military actions), but it has no right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, according the Kantian postulate. Here we return to the idea of political moralism and its difference with moral policy. Last year in Iran, there was a revolt against the ruling regime. Many suggested that the West has moral duty to support the Iranian opposition. Obama administration was clever to stay away, because as Kant would say the active actions of the West in the internal affairs of Iran would "violate the rights of an independent people struggling with its internal ills", it would be against Iranian autonomy.

War of punishment is also illegal, says Kant, because there is no legal system that regulates the international system.

In few paragraphs I showed that Kant's ideas for perpetual peace (exposed only partially) are not chimerical or some illusion of mind. The perpetual peace is possible. It was possible also many wars and stupid actions to be avoided, if the politicians were consulted more often with the principles and truths of political philosophy and theory.


Related articles:

Perpetual peace | Kant | Foreign Policy | Political Theory |


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