Disquisitions & Deliberations
on the Reality of a Universal State of Civility
Along With Prescriptions Requisite to Obtain Such a Society
Perpetual Peace is a cogent and defensible concept that takes into consideration the realist view of the international environment while also proposing a potential and likely, to the point of inevitable, constitution to a universal state of civility that will secure peace perpetually. This analysis of contemporary international anarchy along with a prescription of a universal framework is based on the cosmopolitan worldview of history which, according to Kant, shows a history of societal development into larger institutions with the goal of securing and preserving peace for its constituents; this goal, being a part of human nature, is universal, ergo, a universal state is the end development of societal evolution.
Human nature is bound by the laws of nature; proven by indirect observation on human behavior and how stable it is at being unstable like the weather. Despite this assured instability, people in societies desire stability and peace which has been the motivation for the development of civilization. Individuals, however, think little about the end goal and yet act towards fulfilling it; this, according to Kant, is evidence for a shared human nature. An instinct that is inside every person like potential energy is in a rock on a hill that is about to start rolling. Since humans have a nature that is difficult to understand through direct observation, Kant suggests a series of theses from the observations of non human nature to help understand human nature. The first is that natural characteristics evolve to an end state through instinct and accident; that end state is peace.
That human reasoning is a species-wide phenomenon since reason is not instinctive but habitual and requires human capital which can be collected from one generation and granted to the next instead of every generation requiring to relearn the same lessons through trial and error.
That humanity has developed reason to learn more about the world than what is instinctively given by a simple biology. Our ancestors who built shelters and gathered food for themselves gave their next generation the surplus of those amenities which allowed them to gather and develop other things which were passed down their posterity as well.
That people congress into societies in order to secure themselves and to feel greater than being alone. However, there is the threat that a person may become disconnected from society; feeling opposed by everyone, they will act towards their natural inclinations such as power and violence. This threat is the reason for the development of culture. Culture refines the people in order to feel attached to their society by having social worth which discourages their natural disposition.
That the greatest problem for people is the creation of a universal civil state that has the capacity to enforce law. This civil state requires equality ensured to all its citizens. The reason being is that inequality breeds covetousness and discontentment. Why should someone be content with their status when there are others living with more rights and privileges? This discontent leads to the threat of the natural disposition as mentioned before but that can be restricted by culture and social order which disciplines people; Kant observes this phenomenon with trees disciplining each other to live cooperatively and with a noticeable order in a forest which is different to that of a lone tree which grows wildly.
Machiavelli hinted at this concept of human nature charting the path towards more security even without the knowledge or planning of people and that friction or conflict is the natural way in which a society develops to be better at securing itself. This is shown by the discord between the plebs and the senate which was unplanned and made the Roman republic more durable, powerful, and free. Charles Hill also points out the fact that “War is the father of all things,” and provides the example of the outcome of the Thirty Years War as proof that war can be what progresses society forward since after the war there was an increase in religious toleration. Kant would see this as a good thing but not the best thing; he suggests that reason, not war or accident, should be what progresses society forward in order to be more peaceful and less costly.
That this is the last issue for human society to solve. This problem can only be solved through reason not through instinct or else it would have already been solved. This reason, as mentioned before, has to be habituated by society. However, society, the culmination of human labor and reason, depends on the people. It is a mutual governance and an oscillation of development where the people add in their labor into society and society conditions the people to live better lives and recontribute for the next generation. If the society does not have a civil constitution then it cannot govern the people properly, and an improperly governed people will feel no need to invest in their society; this can oscillate to absolute destruction like an ouroboros.
That the same disposition that individuals have to secede from their society when feeling disconnected is not a phenomenon reserved to individuals but to all individual identities which includes entire states. If one state feels disconnected from their neighbor then there is the constant threat of war. A universal civil state will administer law and culture to ease every individual state in order to secure itself from constant revolution. War, as Kant observes, is the means or friction that grinds and hones society to this end. The creation of a universal state requires universal consent and where there is no consent there is war. People could unite as one now, but that requires a shared reason and identity of interest, which does not yet exist and so we are left with nature’s way of teaching us, that being war.
That the history of humanity is a history of societal development towards this universal state, where people can fulfill their capacities. This development is glacial and should only progress through enlightenment actions that amends current society to be more civil. That a cosmopolitan understanding of history is possible and requisite to reaching this natural and universal end rationally instead of having to rely on natural development. Although history is complicated and incomplete, we share the same nature and in turn the same end.
This universal cosmopolitan existence is the highest purpose of nature since it is the most encompassing state; the smallest minority is the individual not some group, and the largest majority is the whole population not some group. The individual and whole are universal while every other group identity is non-universal; a civil state will only include universal concepts and leave out group identity politics. It is requisite, however, that this probity must be held not only from the top down but also from the bottom up. The people must also hold universal values above group identity or else they will feel discontented, secede, and go to war. Similarly, the several states of the world must hold universal values and identity above any identity they have individually and historically developed for the same reason. Human nature being universal is the guarantor of perpetual peace among nations since it is human nature to secure peace and there can be no greater peace than universal peace.
This universal peace requires a universal constitution which Kant proposes. This constitution and general cooperation of nations has to address all issues in order for them to not become an issue later along with making sure that all nations are proper domestically by being a republic while also behaving properly amongst themselves by not invading each other’s sovereignty.
Christopher Browning agrees with Kant in that international relations, especially after WWII, has developed to be more universal with a code and the foundation of an institution that might be able to, in the future, create and enforce law, which is the United Nations. Browning also supports the idea of spreading more universal concerns such as human security instead of nations fixating on solely national security.
Morgenthau, understood by himself and others as a realist, proposes a revival of international diplomacy so that nations can pursue peace and order with parliamentary procedure among nations and not with the pursuit of power by each individual sovereign. He submits nine rules requisite for diplomacy to function. Diplomacy must be divested of a Crusading Spirit where the people and states are not fighting for a non-universal cause such as a particular religion or culture or ethnic identity. The objectives of foreign policy can only be defined through national security where it is the bare minimum that diplomacy has to offer in order to maintain cooperation of its participating states. Include all points of views in order to make sure that each state has social worth in the negotiations so that they do not become disconnected and veer away from diplomatic means.
Compromise on all non vital issues in order for negotiations to occur in the first place instead of every state dying on every hill. States need to give up rights for security in order to keep their priority straight and to keep negotiations smooth since more people can agree on a shared definition of security more so than a definition of rights. States need to get into positions with a pull-out plan and where you can advance with low opportunity costs. Being able to pull out has always been cheaper than staying in. That's true in love and war. They need to never allow weak allies to make decisions for you since the weak nation is willing to be more reckless when using their money and manpower. States need to understand that the military is an instrument of policy not its magistrate. Military governing policy is not likely to secure peace since the objective of war is to end the enemy’s will to resist while the objective of international diplomacy is cooperation and compromise. Government and law ought to override popular sentiments especially when those sentiments are against peace and stability.
Morganthau concludes by simultaneously criticizing Kant but also suggesting the very same thing that Kant does. Morganthau, in regards to the failure of diplomacy in the 150 years before his time, states that, “This has been the promise of such solutions as free trade, arbitration, disarmament, collective security, universal socialism, international government, and the world state.” He then states that “It is only when nations have surrendered to a higher authority… when they have given up their sovereignty– that international peace can be made as secure as domestic peace.” Morganthau is not impressed by the seemingly simple understanding Kant has on the international stage and yet realizes that Kant’s analysis of the end state is the end goal of societies.
Kant, however, addresses the need for states to give up their power when he talks about the universal state being able to enforce its laws. If sovereign authority exists then a universal law cannot exist. The universal law has to be supreme in order for the international polity to exist in harmony. Kant also addresses the issue that this international state will not exist in the near future and does not give a prediction of a date instead he lays down the framework necessary for such a society to exist. We could all adopt that framework today or we could take a million years to do so; Kant does not propose a time frame only the conditions that would bring about that state.
Tanisha Fazal and Paul Poast share a similar critique about Kant’s simplicity. They bring out the nuance of conflicts and how the development to broader peace is not occurring as predicted. Deaths may be declining but that is due to medicine and evac during combat not because there are less conflicts. They go a step further and say that the threat of war is a good thing and that complacency is the real danger since it distracts people from being aware of issues that can become wars. They point to WWI and WWII which was preceded by almost 100 years of European peace among large powers as evidence that Kant’s perpetual peace cannot work but the conditions Kant clearly states as being necessary for perpetual peace to occur were not existent before WWI or WWII. The very first preliminary article is that treaties must clear up any and all disputes to leave nothing for a future war which it is common knowledge that the treaties between European powers were not clear nor complete; an example is the territory of Alsace-Lorraine.
What is an interesting critique is that Kant simultaneously believes that the constitutions of nations ought not be interfered with by other states but also that all nations ought to have a republican form of government. Kant, could be suggesting that non-republican governments are free game for republics to destroy but given how Kant does not want nations fighting each other it makes it unclear how exactly all states have to be republics while also not stating how all states can be republics given the current environment of the world consists of monarchies, dictatorships, and theocracies, albeit they failing and declining.
Michael Doyle observes that good liberal democracies concern themselves with issues beyond national security such as human well being abroad, which is something Browning mentions in regards to human security. However, Doyle also observes that liberal democracies tend to not always act like liberal democracies. Instead of leaving other states alone like how Kant wants, liberal democracies interfere with other nations all the time. How they interfere could become a major issue for them since many of the policies they employ are not very liberal in nature. Some liberal democracies, like the United States, are willing to ignore human rights violations for its allies and economic partners while making a big fuss about human rights to her rivals. This seems to show that the realists like Morganthau are right since states, even those who claim to be liberal democracies, tend to still act Machiavellian as expected.
Kant’s understanding of history through a cosmopolitan perspective allows for both the realist understanding of the current environment and the optimistic predictions of a universal state that can secure perpetual peace. Nations act in their own self interests, realist approach; but using reason nations realize that universal cooperation can better secure themselves, optimist approach; but nations need to have their self interests be in line with universal interests, realist approach; but nations have been developing towards the adoption of universal values more and more, optimist approach. Eventually, either through war or reason human societies will develop into one society and secure peace.
Beck, White Lewis, et al. “Idea for a Universal History From A Cosmopolitan Point of View.” On History: Immanuel Kant, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, 1963.
Machiavelli Niccolò, et al. The Discourses. Penguin, 1983.
Hill, Charles. Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order. Yale University Press, 2011.
Kant, Immanuel, and Lewis White Beck. Perpetual Peace. 3rd ed., Liberal Arts Press, 1957.
Browning, Christopher S. International Security: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Univ. Press, 2013.
Morgenthau, Hans J. “Chapter 32 The Future of Diplomacy.” Politics among Nations, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1973.
Tanisha M. Fazal and Paul Poast. “War Is Not Over.” What the Optimists Get Wrong About Conflict, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2019.
Doyle, Michael W. “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs.” Immanuel Kant, 2017.