Kant’s theory of international relations
Kant’s theory of international relations is the foundation to modern idealist thought and the ultimate criticism of realism. “A true system of politics cannot… take a single step without first paying tribute to morality. And although politics is in itself a difficult art, no art is required to combine it with morality. For as soon as the two come into conflict, morality can cut through the knot which politics cannot unite. “1 Immanuel Kant’s confidence in this passage stems from his belief that politics must and will give way to morality.
Kant believed that the empirical evidence of the maturation of reasoning beings from barbaric beings gives promise to his belief: man can progress, by way of reason, from the sinning individual to a moral state and to a further extent, a moral community of states. 2 Immanuel Kant’s theory on international relations is founded upon a few idealist assumptions. For idealist, human nature was sinful and driven by self interest. However, idealist also believed that human nature could become the center of genuine, peaceful, and cooperative relationships within the anarchic international system of states.
Idealist, like Kant, assume that a strong basis of education on good habits and morality with strong institutions within the state will develop a moral state of human beings. 3 The state’s laws, or principles, bring about the maturation of the moral civil society. As Kant writes, “the civil state, regarded purely as a lawful state, is based on the following a priori principles: 1. The freedom of every member of society as human being. 2. The equality of each with all the others as a subject. 3. The independence of each member of a commonwealth as a citizen. “4
Kant’s theory on the moral development of the state weighs heavily on the idea that the civil state will uphold these principles. As Kant further explains man’s freedom, he writes: “No one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of others to pursue a similar end which can be reconciled with the freedom of everyone else within a workable general law-i. e. he must accord to others the same right as he enjoys himself. “5
Kant’s idealist thought of human nature transformation is transparent in this quote. His civil society, or state, encompasses an equality and freedom afforded to all men that does not inhibit any other man. He believed there was a “original contract” among men of the civil society. 6 The development of this original contract, as Kant does recognize, is out of “sheer necessity” for all man to maintain his freedom. 7 He believed that man would reason toward this contract to uphold his complete freedom because in an anarchic state, boundaries on one’s freedom simply can be overstepped.
The “original contract” present in the moral state, Kant believed, would carry over to the international system of states. 8 He believed the international system of states, despite the lack of government that is ever present in the international system, would become a transparent representation of the new moral civil society within the state. 9 Kant held a vision of a confederation of states, driven by their constant worry and annoyance with “universal violence,” that would displace the anarchic system with a “cosmopolitan constitution.
“10 Thus, Kant’s very distinct separation from realist thought is his belief that peace was not a break in war but rather an end. 11 Taken as a whole, Kant’s theory can be explained in three phases. There was an incorporation of the selfish and power hungry individual human being into a moral, equality and freedom promoting, collective society establishing the new civil society, or state. He writes, “just like individual men, they [the states] must renounce their savage and lawless freedom, adapt themselves to public coercive laws, and thus form an international state, which would grow until it embraced all people of the earth.
“12 Thus, Kant believed the new moral state would become disgusted by the violence and war in the international system. Thirdly, the moral states within the system would develop a system of security and peace by way of a cooperative understanding that, for Kant, would be understood as a “cosmopolitan constitution. ” Underlying these phases is Kant’s belief in man’s capacity to reason from one phase to the next. Thus, Immanuel Kant’s confidence in this particular line, “although politics is in itself a difficult art, no art is required to combine it with morality,” stems from Kant’s belief that morality and politics ultimately will unite.
13 The passage, in relation to Kant’s whole approach to international relations and the states, is representative of complex understanding that man would reason politically and morally to the creation of the lawful state, and the states would reason politically and morally to peaceful and lawful international system of states. Man creates a state that is arranged to put their “self-seeking energies” against each other, thereby neutralizing any damaging effects of the rest. 14 The a priori principles are the basis to the laws of this state.
As Kant writes, “the problem of setting up a state can be solved even by a nation of devils (so long as they possess understanding). “15 The “understanding” for Kant is a moral understanding that the a priori principles must be upheld for all men. Thus, the creation of the moral state is the unity of politics and morality. There is the politics of self-interest neutralization and the moral understanding that man’s freedom as well as the other a priori principles must be upheld.