Sunday, 19 July 2009

International Right and Pre-Emptive Action

The second example of international right that Kant discusses in regard to publicity concerns pre-emption. The basic case, like with the example of promising, concerns the adoption of a maxim that is said to be impossible to sustain in the light of publicity.

The example is that there is a neighbouring power that has grown to such a size that should it take action against the countries surrounding it then it would easily defeat any one of them in a one-to-one combat. Given that this is so the question arises whether these surrounding smaller states can act on the assumption that they are in danger and thus pre-emptively join together in an alliance against the larger state even though the larger state has not as yet injured them? The example of pre-emption being considered is peculiar to an audience in the twenty-first century as to us the question appears to arise not with regard to smaller countries combining together against a larger one but rather with regard to larger countries asserting that there are good reasons for less powerful nations to be treated as a hazard. 

In this case when the maxim of the smaller states' pre-emptive alliance is put to the test of publicity Kant makes clear that the test would be one where the maxim underlying their alliance was affirmatively made known. In describing the case in this way Kant is not diverging from his treatment of the promising example as in that case also it was the fact that the maxim of the head of state was divulged that led to the counter-productive result. Similarly, in the case of the pre-emptive alliance, it is the making known the maxim underlying it that leads again to a counter-productive result. Should the maxim underlying the alliance be made known then the greater power will act first and will also, as a greater power, have means to break the alliance.

So the adoption of the maxim by the smaller states will prove counter-productive and it is the fact that it will that leads it to being described by Kant as unjust. The failure to meet the standard of publicity is indicated again to reside in the fact that the publication of the maxim will ensure that acting in accordance with it will defeat the purpose enunciated in it. It still appears somewhat curious to describe this as an indication that the maxim is "unjust" unless the implied suggestion is that there is some kind of equivalence between publicity and justice. If so, what kind of equivalence is this? The nature of the relation between publicity and justice is still somewhat elusive and will have to be returned to in future postings.

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