Monday, 5 April 2010

Coercion and the Social Contract

In a recent posting Tim Waligore has replied to an earlier posting of mine. In that earlier posting I was myself responding to a debate in the journal Political Theory that had specifically focused on questions of whether immigration controls were coercive but my posting prescinded from the specific debate over immigration controls to raise what I took to be a prior question about the nature of political justification and in that posting I suggested a contrast between "liberal" views and "republican" ones. In some respects, although this is not the point of Tim's reply, I now think the contrast wasn't entirely correctly described in that posting. As I pointed out in that earlier posting there was a model of political authority derived from Robert Nozick at work in the debate in Political Theory so it would make more sense to describe it as a contrast between "libertarian" and "republican" views rather than "liberal" and "republican". As I will explore on some other occasion there are good reasons for thinking that libertarian views are very far from being "liberal" in inspiration.

In any event, the contrast I was intending in this earlier posting was between a view of political authority that regards coercion as requiring specific additional justification over and above the basic rights of states and one that instead sees coercion as built in to the very nature of the right of states and this was the basis for my claim that the views in the Political Theory debate shared an underlying commitment to the same kind of political notions despite disagreeing over the question of whether immigration controls constituted a "coercive" act or not.

Tim's posting responds to this earlier one of mine in effectively two different ways. The first is to suggest that I moved rather too easily from the view of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right to the account of the social contract (which is part of "Public Right") whilst the second response concerned instead the specific question of whether I had not, in my earlier posting, left aside the justification by which states relate to each other, left aside, that is, an important question of cosmopolitanism in my desire to prescind from the debate concerning immigration controls. I will tackle this question concerning cosmopolitanism and immigration controls in the next posting, concentrating in this one merely on the relationship between coercion and the state contract.

Tim is right that I was drawing on the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right when I discussed coercion in the earlier posting. In the "Introduction" Kant makes clear that right is connected to authorization to use coercion arguing: "if a certain use of freedom is itself a hindrance to freedom in accordance with universal laws (i.e., wrong), coercion that is opposed to this (as a hindering of a hindrance to freedom) is consistent with freedom in accordance with universal laws, that is, it is right" (Ak. 6: 231). So the central message that coercion is understood as a basis of right provided it meets the conditions given here is allowed.  Subsequently Kant goes on to talk about this "reciprocal coercion" in terms of strict right, so much so that he writes: "Right and authorization to use coercion...mean one and the same thing" (Ak. 6: 232).

Tim's point, however, is that it is a long way from this argument to construction of Kant's view of the social contract since the opening of the Doctrine of Right proper is with private right and that there is only one reference to the notion of a "social contract" in the province of private right. The context of the discussion of the contract in private right is the penultimate paragraph of Kant's account of acquisition in which it is made clear that any acquisition that occurs in the state of nature is only provisional. Here Kant does also add: "even if it is solved through the original contract, such acquisition will always remain only provisional unless this contract extends to the entire human race" (Ak. 6: 266).

This point connects to the question of cosmopolitanism to which I will return in the next posting. However it is worth pointing out, as a general matter of political theory, that the basis of the notion of the state was already given in the argument of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right on which I was drawing in my earlier posting. This is made specifically clear in paragraph 45 of the Doctrine of Right where Kant writes that "insofar as" the laws of the state "are a priori necessary as laws, that is, insofar as they follow of themselves from concepts of external right as such" then its form is "the form of a state as such", the state in idea, the state "as it ought to be in accordance with pure principles of right". Hence the concepts of external right as such are sufficient to give us the norm by which we can test the behaviour of actual states. This being so I don't take it to be the case that the move I made from the argument of the "Introduction" to the Doctrine of Right to the notion of the social contract was, in itself, one that involved a conflation of levels. It is, however, a different matter whether some legitimate cosmopolitan replies to the argument I made in the earlier posting are not, all the same, available.

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