Perpetual Peace/Appendix I

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Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant
Appendix I
Discordance between Morals and Politics in reference to Perpetual Peace
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On the Discordance between Morals and Politics in reference to Perpetual Peace.


The Science of Morals relates directly to practice in the objective sense, inasmuch as it is a system of unconditionally authoritative laws, in accordance with which we ought to act. It is therefore a manifest absurdity, after admitting the authority of this conception of duty, to assert, notwithstanding, that we cannot so act; for, were it so, this conception would have no value. 'Ultra posse nemo obligatur.' Hence there can be no conflict between Political Philosophy as the practical science of right, and Moral Philosophy as the theoretical science of right; and consequently there can be no opposition in this relation between practice and theory. An opposition can only arise between them when the science of morals is regarded as a general doctrine of prudence, or expediency, or a theory of the maxims by which we are to choose the means most conducive for the attainment of useful and advantageous objects; and this amounts to denying generally that there is a Science of Morals. Politics may be regarded as saying, 'be wise (i.e. prudent) as serpents'; Morals adds as a limiting condition, 'and harmless (i.e. guileless) as doves.' If the two maxims cannot co-exist in one commandment, there is really an incongruity between Politics and Morals: but, if the two can be combined throughout, any idea of antagonism between them is absurd, and any question about harmonizing them, as if they were in conflict, need not be even raised. It is true that the saying, 'Honesty is the best policy,' contains a theory which unhappily is very often contradicted by practice; and yet the equally theoretical proposition, 'Honesty is better than policy,' is infinitely removed above all objection, and it is even to be held that honesty or honour is the indispensable condition of all true policy. The tutelary divinity who is the guardian of the boundaries of morals, does not yield to the Jupiter who is the limiting divinity of force, for he still stands under the sway of fate. In other words, reason is not sufficiently enlightened to foresee the series of the pre-determining causes, which, with certainty, would enable it to predict the happy or unhappy consequences that would follow from the conduct of men according to the mechanism of Nature, however much our wishes and hopes may be directed to it. But what we have to do in order to continue on the path of duty according to rules of wisdom, reason shows us everywhere clearly enough in the light of the final End which we have to pursue.

The practical man, however, who regards morals as a mere theory, rejects our generous hopes of attaining to that end, even while admitting the distinction between what ought to be and what can be. He founds his unbelief specially upon the fact that he pretends to be able to foresee from the nature of man that men will never resolve to do what is required to bring about the result that leads to Perpetual Peace. Now it is admitted that the voluntary determination of all individual men to live under a legal constitution according to principles of liberty, when viewed as a distributive unity made up of the wills of all, is not sufficient to attain to this end, but all must will the realisation of this condition through the collective unity of their united wills, in order that the solution of so difficult a problem may be attained; for such a collective unity is required in order that civil society may take form as a whole. Further, a uniting cause must supervene upon this diversity in the particular wills of all, in order to educe such a common will from them, as they could not individually attain. Hence, in the realisation of that idea in practice, no other beginning of a social state of right can be reckoned upon, than one that is brought about by force; and upon such compulsion, Public Right is afterwards founded. This condition certainly leads us from the outset to expect great divergences in actual experience from the idea of right as apprehended in theory. For the moral sentiment of the lawgiver cannot be relied upon in this connection to the extent of assuming that, after the chaotic mass has been united into a people, he will then leave it to themselves to bring about a legal constitution by their common will. This amounts to saying that, when anyone has once got the power in his hands, he will not allow the people to prescribe laws for him. Similarly, a State which has once entered into possession of its power so as to be subject to no external laws, will not bring itself to submit to the judgment of other States as to how it shall seek to maintain its rights in relation to them; and even a continent, when it realises its superiority to another which may not be at all in its way, will not neglect to use the means of strengthening its own power, even by spoliation or conquest. Thus it appears that all the theoretical plans relating to the realisation of the ends of right, whether it be National Right, or International Right, or Cosmopolitical Right, dissolve into empty unpractical ideas. And on the other hand, a mode of practice, founded upon the empirical principles of human nature and considering nothing in the world too low for furnishing guidance for its maxims, seems as if it alone could hope to find a sure foundation for its system of political expediency.

Now, certainly, if there is no freedom nor any moral law founded upon it, so that all that happens or can happen is mere mechanism of nature, this would hold true, under that supposition; and Politics viewed as the art of applying the mechanical arrangements of Nature to the government of men, would constitute the whole of practical wisdom, and the conception of right would be an empty and unreal thought. But, on the other hand, it may be the case that it is indispensably necessary to combine the arrangements of nature with the method of politics, and even to raise them to the position of conditions limiting its practice, and on this ground the possibility of uniting them must be admitted. I can thus easily enough think of a moral politician, as one who holds the principles of political expediency in such a way that they can co-exist with morals; but I cannot conceive of a political moralist who fashions a system of morality for himself so as to make it subordinate and subservient to the interest of the statesman. The moral politician will adopt the following as his principle: 'If certain defects which could not be prevented, are found in the political constitution, or in the relations of the State, it becomes a duty especially for the heads of the State to apply themselves to correct them as soon as possible, and to improve the constitution so that it may be brought into conformity with natural right, which is presented to them as a model in the idea of reason.' Now it would manifestly be contrary to that political expediency which is in agreement with morals, to destroy the existing bonds of National and Cosmopolitical Union before there was a better constitution ready to take their place; and hence it would be absurd to demand that every imperfection in the constitution should be at once violently removed. It may, however, be reasonably required that the maxim of the necessity of such an alteration should be consciously recognised by the supreme Power, in order that it may continue to make constant approximation to the end of realising the constitution that is best according to the laws of right. A State may thus govern itself even in a republican manner, although it may still possess a constitution grounded upon despotic power. And this may go on until the people gradually become capable of being influenced by the mere idea of the authority of the law, as if it possessed the physical power of the State; and consequently came to be capable of legislating for themselves, which is the mode of government originally founded upon right. But if, through the violence of a revolution caused by the evils in the constitution, a more lawful constitution were attained even in a wrong way, it would no longer be proper to hold it permissible to bring back the people again to the old constitution, although every one who took part in the revolution by violence, or intrigue, may have been subjected by law to the penalties attached to rebels. As regards the external relations of the States, however, one State, cannot be called upon by another to give up its constitution, although it may be a despotic one, and is likely therefore to be the stronger in relation to external enemies, so long at least as that State runs a danger of being suddenly swallowed up by other States. Hence when any such proposal is made, it must at least be allowed to defer the execution of it till a more opportune time.

It may well be that those moralists who are inclined to despotism and who are deficient in practice, may often come into opposition with political prudence, by measures which have been precipitately adopted and overestimated; but experience will gradually bring them from this position of antagonism to nature into a better groove. On the other hand, those politicians who are guided by morality, may make improvement impossible by embellishing principles of government that are contrary to right, on the pretext that human nature is not capable of realising good according to the idea prescribed by reason, and thus they may do their best to perpetuate violations of right. Instead of dealing with practice in this prudential way, they take up certain practical measures and only consider how these are to be impressed upon the ruling Power in order that their private interest may not be baulked, and how the people, and, if possible, the whole world, may be delivered up to this interest. This is the manner of the mere professional jurists (acting after the fashion of a tradesman rather than of a legislator), when they betake themselves to politics. For, as it is not their business to refine upon legislation itself, but only to carry out the existing laws of the country, every legal constitution as it exists, and any subsequent one taking its place, when it is altered by the higher power, will always appear to them to be the best; and everything will be regarded as in proper mechanical order. This dexterity of being able to sit upright on any saddle, may fill them with the conceit that they are likewise able to judge about the principles of a political constitution which will be in accordance with the ideas of right, and which, therefore, will be rational and not merely empirical in itself. And, in addition to this, they may put much importance upon their knowledge of men, which may indeed be expected, because they have to do with many of them, without their yet truly knowing the nature of man and what can be made of it, for which a higher standpoint of human observation is required. Now, if, provided with such ideas, they address themselves to the subject of political and international right as prescribed by reason, they cannot do otherwise than carry the spirit of chicane with them in thus stepping beyond their sphere. For they will naturally continue to follow their usual method of mechanically applying compulsory laws that have been despotically laid down, whereas the conceptions of reason will only recognise a lawful compulsion which is in accordance with principles of freedom and by which a rightly existing political constitution only becomes possible. The politician, who thus professes to be wholly practical, accordingly believes that he is able to solve the problem in question by ignoring this rational idea, and proceeding merely by experience seeing that it shows how the previously existing constitutions have been established and in what respects even the best of them may have been contrary to right.

The Maxims which he adopts for his guidance, although he may not give them open expression or avowal, run out into something like the following sophistical propositions:—

1. Fac et excusa. Seize the opportunity that is favourable for taking into your own possession what is either a right of the State over the people, or over a neighbouring State; and the justification of the act will be much more easily and gracefully presented after the fact so as to palliate its violence. This holds especially in the first case, where the supreme power in the State is also the legislative authority which must be obeyed without reasoning about it, as it is not held that it is desirable to think out convincing reasons first and then to await the counter reasons afterwards. This very hardihood gives a certain appearance of internal conviction of the rightfulness of the act, and the divinity of success (bonus eventus) becomes then the best advocate of the cause.

2. Si fecisti, nega. What you may have wrongly done yourself, such as may even bring the people to despair and to rebellion, should be denied as being any fault of yours; and, on the other hand, assert that it was owing to the refractoriness of the subjects; or, in the case of an aggression upon a neighbouring State, say that it was the fault of human nature; for, if others are not anticipated by violence, we may safely calculate that they will anticipate us and appropriate what is ours.

3. Divide et impera. That is to say, there are certain privileged heads among the people who have chosen you merely for their sovereign as primus inter pares. See, then, that you embroil them with each other and put them at variance with the people; next, work upon the latter by holding out the prospect of greater liberty; and everything will then depend upon your absolute will. Or again, if it be a question about other States, then exciting of suspicion and disagreement among them, is a pretty safe means of subjecting them to yourself, one after the other, under the pretence of assisting the weaker.

It is true that nobody is now taken in by these political maxims, as they are universally understood. This is not so because men have become ashamed of them, as if their injustice was much too evident. The Great Powers are never put to shame before the judgment of the common people, as they are only concerned about one another. And as regards these principles, it is not the fact of their becoming known, but only their failing of success that causes shame; for, as regards the morality of their maxims, they are all at one. Hence there is nothing left but the standpoint of political honour upon which they can safely count; and this just comes to a question of the aggrandisement of their power in whatever way they may be able to do so.

With all these serpentine windings of this immoral doctrine of expediency, the idea is still maintained of educing a state of Peace among men from the warlike elements of the state of Nature. And so much at least becomes clear that men can as little escape from the conception of right in their private as in their public relations; and that they do not venture to found politics openly on the mere manipulations of expediency, or to renounce all obedience to the conception of public right, as is most strikingly seen in the sphere of international right. On the contrary, they allow all proper honour to this conception in itself, although they may have to devise a hundred evasions and palliations in order to escape from it in practice, and to attribute to a subtle state-craft the authority of the origin and the bond of all right. It will be well to put an end to this sophistry, if not to the injustice it veneers, and to bring the false advocates of the mighty ones of the world to confess that it is not in the interest of Right but of Might that they speak, and in a tone, too, as if they had themselves acquired the right to command. In order to do so it is necessary to point out the deception by which they mislead themselves and others. In their attempt to discover and exhibit the supreme principle from which the tendency towards a Perpetual Peace takes its rise, they try to show that all the evil which comes in the way of it, springs from the fact that the political moralist begins just where the moral politician properly ends; and thus by subordinating their principles to their end—or as the common saying goes, by putting the cart before the horse—the politician frustrates his own intention of bringing Politics into accordance with Morals.

But in order to bring practical philosophy into harmony with itself, it is necessary first of all to decide a preliminary question. That question is: Whether, in dealing with problems of the Practical Reason, we ought to begin from its material Principle, as the end which is the object of the activity of the will, or from its formal Principle, as that which is founded merely upon freedom in its external relation. This formal principle is expressed as follows: 'Act so that thou canst will that thy maxim shall become a universal Law whatever may be its End.'

It cannot be doubted that the latter principle must take the precedence; for, as a principle of right, it has unconditional necessity, whereas the former is obligatory only under the presupposition of the empirical conditions of the proposed end so existing that it can be realised; and if the end, as in the case of Perpetual Peace, should also be a duty, the duty would itself have to be deduced from the formal Principle which regulates external action.—Now the material principle is the principle of the political moralist, and it reduces the questions of national, international, and universal Right to the level of a mere technical problem. On the other hand, the formal principle is the principle of the moral politician, and the question of right becomes with him a moral problem. Their different methods of procedure are thus wide as the poles asunder, in regard to the problem of bringing about Perpetual Peace which, in the view of the moralist, is not merely to be desired as a physical good, but also as a state of things arising out of the recognition of duty.

The solution of the problem in question by the method of political expediency, requires much knowledge of nature in order to be able to employ her mechanical arrangements for bringing about the end in view, and yet the result of them is wholly uncertain so far as regards the realisation of Perpetual Peace. This holds true whichever of the three departments of public right we consider. It is uncertain under any circumstances, whether the people would be better kept in obedience, and at the same time, in prosperity, by severe treatment or by alluring baits of vanity; whether they would be better kept in order by the sovereignty of a single individual or by a combination of several heads; whether this would be best secured merely by an official nobility or by the exercise of popular power within the constitution; and also whether any such result, if attained, could be upheld for long. There are examples of the opposite result presented in history by all the different forms of Government, with the exception of genuine Republicanism only, which system, however, can alone be accepted by a moral politician. A form of International Right professedly established upon statutes devised by foreign ministers, is still more uncertain; for it is in fact but a thing of words without substantial reality and it rests upon compacts which, in the very act of their ratification, admit the secret reservation of the right to transgress them. On the other hand, the solution of the problem by the method of true political wisdom presses forward, so to speak, of itself; it becomes apparent to every one; it brings all artifice to nought; and it leads straight to the proper end. However, it must be accompanied with a prudent warning that it is not to be brought about in a precipitate manner, nor with violence, but it must be unceasingly approached as the favour of circumstances will allow.

All this may be summed up in the exhortation: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of pure Practical Reason and its righteousness, and then will your object, the benefit of Perpetual Peace, be added unto you.' For the principle of morals has this peculiarity in itself, and it applies to the principles of public right, and it consequently pertains to the system of politics that is knowable a priori, that the less it makes the conduct depend upon the proposed end and the physical or moral advantage related to it, so much the more does it nevertheless coincide in general with these. The reason of this is that it is just the universal will as it is given a priori whether in one people or in the relation of different peoples to each other, which alone determines what is just and right among men. This union of the will of all, however, when it proceeds in practice consistently, and, according to the mechanism of Nature, may at the same time be the cause of bringing about the effect intended, and of thus realising the ideas of right.—Thus it is a principle of moral politics that a people ought to unite into a State only according to conceptions of liberty and equality as forms of right, and this principle is not founded upon prudence but upon duty. Political moralists, on the other hand, deserve no hearing, however much they may rationalise about the natural mechanism of a multitude of men conjoined in society, which, if a fact, would weaken those principles and frustrate their purpose; or however much they may seek to prove their assertion by adducing examples of badly organised constitutions in ancient and modern times, such as democracies without a system of representation. And this has to be particularly noted, since such a pernicious theory tends of itself to bring about the evil which it foretells; for, according to it, man is thrown into one class with the other living machines, which only need the consciousness of their not being free creatures to become, in their own judgment, the most miserable of all beings.

Fiat justitia, pereat mundus. This proverbial saying may indeed sound somewhat pompous, and yet it is true. It may be popularly rendered thus: Let righteousness prevail though all the knaves in the world should perish for it. It is thus a bold principle of Right cutting through all the crooked ways that are shaped by intrigue or force. It must not, however, be misunderstood as allowing anyone to exercise his own right with the utmost severity, which would be contrary to ethical duty. It is to be understood as signifying the obligation incumbent upon those in power, not to refuse anyone his right, or to take from it, out of favour or sympathy towards others. This requires above all, an internal political constitution, arranged according to pure principles of right, and further, the union of it with other neighbouring or distant States, so as to attain a legal settlement of their disputes by a constitution that would be analogous to a universal State. This proposition just means that political maxims must not start from the prosperity and happiness that are to be expected in each State from following them, nor from the end which each of them makes the object of its will as the highest empirical principle of politics; but they must proceed from the pure conception of the duty of Right or Justice, as an obligatory principle given a priori by pure reason. And this is to be held, whatever may be the physical consequences which follow from adopting these political principles. The world will certainly not perish from the fact that the number of the wicked thus becomes less. Moral evil has this quality inseparable from its nature that, in carrying out its purposes, it is antagonistic and destructive to itself, especially in relation to such others as are also under its sway; and hence it must give place to the moral principle of goodness, although the progress to this may be slow.

There is therefore objectively in theory no antagonism at all between morals and politics. But subjectively, in consequence of the selfish propensity of men (which, however, as not grounded upon rational maxims cannot properly be called practice) such an antagonism is found and it will perhaps always continue to exist, because it serves as a whet to virtue. According to the principle tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito, the true courage of virtue in this case does not consist so much in setting itself with fixed purpose to meet the evils and sacrifices which must thus be encountered, but rather in facing and overcoming the wiles of the far more dangerous, lying, treacherous, yet sophistical principle of evil in ourselves, which holds up the weakness of human nature as a justification of every transgression of right.

In fact, the political moralist may say that the ruler and people, or nations and nations, do no wrong to each other if they enter on a mutual war by violence or cunning, although they do wrong generally in refusing to respect the conception of right and justice which alone could establish peace for all time. For since the one transgresses his duty towards the other who cherishes just as wrong a sentiment towards him, it may be said that nothing but what is just happens to both of them when they exhaust each other, yet so that there still remains some of their race to carry on this play of force to the most distant times that the latest posterity may take a warning example from them. In all this, indeed, there is a justification of the Providence that rules the course of the world; for the moral principle in man is never extinguished, and his reason, pragmatically trained to realise the ideas of right according to this principle, grows without ceasing through its constantly advancing culture, while the guilt of such transgressions also comes more clearly into light. Yet the process of creation, by which such a brood of corrupt beings has been put upon the earth, can apparently be justified by no theodicy or theory of Providence, if we assume that it never will be better, nor can be better, with the human race. But such a standpoint of judgment is really much too high for us to assume, as if we could be entitled theoretically to apply our notions of wisdom to the supreme and unfathomable Power. We shall thus be inevitably driven to a position of despair in consequence of such reasonings, if we do not admit that the pure principles of right and justice have objective reality and that they can be realised in fact. Accordingly, we must hold that these principles are to be treated from the standpoint of the people in the State, and likewise from the relations of the States to one another, let the advocates of empirical politics object to this view as they may. A true political philosophy, therefore, cannot advance a step without first paying homage to the principles of morals; and, although politics taken by itself is a difficult art, yet its union with morals removes it from the difficulties of art. For this combination of them cuts in two the knots which politics alone cannot untie, whenever they come into conflict with each other.

The rights of men must, therefore, be regarded as holy, however great may be the sacrifice which the maintenance of them lays upon the ruling power. We cannot divide right into halves, or devise a modified condition of right intermediate between justice and utility. Rather must all politics bow the knee before the principle of right; but in doing so it may well cherish the hope that it will yet attain, however slowly, to that stage of progress at which it will shine forth with lasting splendour.