Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Affirmative Principle of Publicity

The examples discussed in the previous three postings concerning international right are followed by a discussion which effectively transforms the terrain, a discussion that is oddly entirely omitted in Axel Gosseries' article on publicity. That this omission is very odd should become clear through critical exposition of the concluding paragraphs of Perpetual Peace.

The whole direct discussion of publicity in Perpetual Peace is included in the final section of the work, a section concerned with the agreement of politics and morals. The discussion of the negative formula of publicity is intended to demonstrate that some maxims that politicians might be tempted to adopt disagree with morals where morals is understood as doctrine of right. However the problem that we found of understanding the relationship between the negative principle of publicity and justice is one that Kant himself explicitly recognizes when he states that: "one who has decisively superior power has no need to conceal its maxims" (Ak. 8: 385).

If power is sufficient in strength then considerations of counter-productivity fail to apply since the actor in question cannot be subjected to sanction. Since this is so then they can freely and openly express maxims which are completely at variance with demands of justice as, indeed, it is apparent frequently takes place. What does this indicate?

It shows that there is not a rightful condition in existence, rather, internationally, there exists a state of nature. Whilst the state of nature is not conceived by Kant in the manner of Hobbes, as equivalent to a state of war, it is nonetheless true that the only right that operates in such a condition is a private right. For a public right to exist internationally would require the formation of something analogous to the state on a domestic level. In Perpetual Peace the image of what fits this analogue is the federation of states together, a federation whose formation would have to be compatible with the freedom of the states that have so federated.

Kant does not give any further picture of the federation in question but does state now the affirmative principle of publicity as that which would ground a true international public right. This principle is stated as follows: "All maxims which need publicity (in order not to fail in their end) harmonize with right and politics combined" (Ak. 8: 386). The point here is that if a maxim requires publicity to be successfully implemented then it has a structurally different relation to ends in general than a maxim that merely complies with publicity. A maxim that needs publicity to succeed must be one that can relate to the general end of the public, the end of their welfare. If welfare is understood as a condition of contentment then the basic question would be how to ensure that this is attained in such a way that politics becomes trustworthy.

The unity of the ends of politics with the general ends of the public is attainable, on this argument, through the adoption of maxims which, in their form, require maximum publicity. In so requiring publicity they must be related to the general end of the public as otherwise partial or complete secrecy would more clearly match their end. Since this is Kant's argument it follows that the negative formula of publicity that has been considered up to this point can give no more than private right but cannot secure the passage to public right, that is, the negative formula of publicity is structurally incapable of ensuring justice. For justice to be assured there has to be the adoption of the affirmative formula as it is the only one that can be the basis of ends worthy to be adopted. Given this argument the focus on the negative formula is false. Hence Gosseries' general article has selected the wrong formula for general testing of Kant's approach to publicity.

What follows from this argument is that the relationship between the affirmative principle of publicity and the supreme principle of right needs to be grasped for a clear sense of the manner in which Kant's political philosophy can be seen to be a philosophy of publicity. That is, it is not a political philosophy that has concerns with publicity as one topic amongst others. It is rather a political philosophy that is centred on publicity.

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