Kant, Habermas and Democratic Peace
38 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2010
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
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