Friday, 30 October 2009

The Moral Politician

The next stage of Kant's discussion of the conflict between morals and politics in the appendix of Perpetual Peace is to invoke the idea of the "moral politician". Such a figure has as his mission the connection of principles of prudence with morals so that they can best coexist. So this person will think about the defects in constitutions in relation to the principles of natural right even though the latter are based fundamentally in ideas of reason. However, the principles of prudence will come in by reference to the need to keep maintained the bonds of civil and cosmopolitan union that already exist. Given this prudential disposition it would follow that this politician does not seek immediate remedy for all the defects found. This clearly reverts back again to the rationale for the division of the preliminary articles to the effect that not all principles that can be shown to be clearly right are, by virtue of that alone, to be the ground of political action in the interim.

An indication of the application of this notion of moral politicians follows. This concerns the fact that a state could have a republican mode of government despite the fact that its form of sovereignty (to use the distinctions made in the third definitive article) is despotic. The mismatch between the two could justifiably continue, suggests Kant, until the conception of the rule of law becomes popularly understood. In relation to the rights of states relative to each other this further supports the claim, made in the fifth preliminary article, that no state has a right to claim that another state change its constitution. However the basis of this specific claim is now tied to a condition which is that such a claim has no basis in right if enforcement of it would be prudentially bad (i.e. would lead to the collapse of the state).

This discussion next leads to a further footnote on permissive laws. In this footnote Kant now describes permissive laws as ones that allow a situation of public right that is afflicted with injustice to continue "until everything has either of itself become ripe for a complete overthrow or has been made almost ripe by peaceful means" (Ak. 8: 373n). Revolutions are subsequently referred to as like a "call of nature" that indicate a need for change.

The permissive law here refers us to the ripening of conditions for right. In so doing it adds a rightful point to the prudential one concerning the question of changing the constitution of other states. There is a prudential ban on altering externally someone's constitution if this would threaten the existence of their state as such. To it we now have added a condition of right in terms of allowing the other state to reach its own point of need for change whether this will arise for them either violently or peacefully. However, what is not addressed in these points is the claim made earlier in the 3rd definitive article that some states of themselves are more likely than others to produce war (republican peace thesis). Given this claim there are grounds in right to think that changes in constitutions of states would be beneficial and it is unclear how to reconcile this with the permissive law now set out that gives a ground in right that underpins the fifth preliminary article.


Stendhal said...

But is the distinction between the moral politician and the political moralist not extremely unstable and deconstructible? Because of the morally undecidable appeal to "prudence" by both characters? (Cf. Bennington, *Frontières kantiennes*, pp. 134 ff.)

Gary Banham said...

Thanks for the comment Stendhal. Don't know the work you refer to or what it argues. On one level distinctions are generally deconstructible though there are, according to the work of the late Derrida, clear limits to the method of deconstruction. Cf. the claim that justice is "undeconstructible". I am not clear why the appeal to "prudence" alone dislodges the difference since the appeal to it has quite a different range for the two figures of "moral politician" and "political moralist" and the former has the advantage of the appeal to the difference between preliminary and definitive articles established earlier in *Perpetual Peace* as I set out in this posting. This doesn't mean that there aren't problems with the figure of the moral politician since the appeal to him as a figure is clearly meant to underscore the fifth preliminary article, something in tension with the republican peace thesis. But making that point was the key to the posting.