Kant, Habermas and Democratic Peace

38 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2010

See all articles by Robert J. Delahunty

Robert J. Delahunty

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

John Yoo

University of California at Berkeley School of Law; American Enterprise Institute; Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace


Philosophers of great stature rarely write about international law or international relations. When they do, their writing, though often illuminating, tends to be brief, episodic and marginal to the rest of their work. Major exceptions include the towering eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant and the contemporary German thinker Jürgen Habermas, much of whose highly influential work is devoted to international affairs. The relationship between Kant and Habermas is an extremely close one, and few later thinkers have done as much as Habermas to demonstrate the continuing importance and relevance of Kant’s political thought for the contemporary world.

Briefly stated, our argument is this: two characteristically Kantian theses need to be distinguished. The first thesis we call the idea of “world federalism,” in other words the creation of some form of global governance structures as a solution to the problem of war. The second thesis is what has come to be called the “democratic peace.” The first idea envisages the creation of a “cosmopolitan constitution,” or a set of legal and political arrangements on a global scale that would entrench peace between and within states, partly through extending world citizenship and human rights protections to all human beings. Kant also discovered what later expositors have come to call the “democratic peace thesis.” Supporters of the democratic peace thesis often believe that the surest and best method of securing global peace, protecting human rights and reducing the incidence of mass atrocities is to promote democracy successfully throughout the world.

Our core claim is this: Habermas conceives the “Kantian project” to be one of securing global peace and upholding basic human rights through strengthening and expanding supranational and transnational institutions. In substance, he is offering a kind of Kantian world federalism as the way forward for the global community of states. We consider that approach fundamentally mistaken. In our view, democracy-promotion is clearly the better path. It recognizes the necessity and desirability of a plurality of independent nation states. It is more protective of both the freedom of individuals and the cultural identities of peoples. It is far more likely to yield a durable global peace. And it can form the basis of a foreign policy that serves the national security interests of the US and its leading allies.

Keywords: international law, world peace, kant, habermas, international security, democratic peace

Suggested Citation

Delahunty, Robert J. and Yoo, John Choon, Kant, Habermas and Democratic Peace. Chicago Journal of International Law, 2010, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-01, UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 1544063, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1544063

Robert J. Delahunty (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

John Choon Yoo

University of California at Berkeley School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-600-3217 (Phone)
510-643-2673 (Fax)

American Enterprise Institute ( email )

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Washington, DC 20036
United States

Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.hoover.org/profiles/john-yoo

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