Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wikileaks, Publicity and International Relations

A posting I have been reading at New APPS has prompted me to address some of the implications for the understanding of the Wikileaks controversy for Kantian theory of international relations. The author of this posting has, unfortunately, engaged in a conflation though one for which he is not signally responsible since it is widely found.

The theory of republican peace that is found within the pages of Perpetual Peace is here conflated with the adaptation of it presented by Michael Doyle who coined the term "democratic peace" and based his view on an empirical study of relations between democracies, a theory that depends in part on certain contested views of what constitutes a "democracy". This conflation of Kant's theory with Doyle's leads the author to suggest that whilst the account of international relations presented by the latter is broadly accurate that the publication of the Wikileaks material presents a number of problems with the view that the conduct of foreign policy by democracies is fundamentally different to that of dictatorships.

So, putting the record straight, I'd like to present the following points:

1. The countries that we think of broadly as "democratic" are like Kantian republics in the sense that they allow for a separation of powers and have a general commitment to the rule of law. However, whilst this similarity is the basis of Doyle's theory there remain significant problems with the conduct of the "democracies" from a Kantian point of view and these are not newly revealed by the Wikileaks material.

2. The general conduct of "democracies" in Doyle's sense includes colonial empires (since he includes Britain and France from an early period in his criteria), the pursuit of mass aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the development and use of chemical warfare (e.g. in Vietnam) and decided use of concealment in violation of Kantian principles of publicity.

3. The lack of fit between the Kantian republic and the contemporary "democracy" is most graphically illustrated in the failure of the latter to commit to affirmative principles of publicity in their conduct towards each other, let alone towards non-democracies. Wikileaks material does illustrate this but doing so undermines Doyle, not Kant.

All the above suggest problems with viewing Doyle as having correctly distilled the Kantian view and also show that whilst there are indeed a number of interesting elements to the Wikileaks material one that should not be being pursued is the idea that they require amending the Kantian analysis of international relations. The author of the piece is, however, right that the criterion of publicity that Kant does up-hold is reinforced by this material as operating in ways that are at variance with it is sure to produce continuing problems. It would, though, be useful to add that we should distinguish as well between the two criteria of publicity used in Perpetual Peace and, whilst advocating the negative criteria as a minimum, should seek to advance the positive criteria as what is truly the desirable way to regulate international relations.


Timothy said...

Very interesting post, Gary.

Another thought occurs to me about Wikileaks, governmental transparency and Kant.

First, Kant talks how the foul spot on human nature, and how we can not know the depths of other people's (or even our own) soul. We cannot be assured that humans are virtuous - that is not the sort of thing that can be made public. Some interpretors of Kant have suggested that the situation is different with states, or more precisely with republics (or democracies if you prefer), because their processes of deliberation are public and in the open (in a parliament, for example). For this reason, peace might be possible between nations without entering into a coercive state (whereas humans have to enter into a coercive state in order to leave the state of nature with each other). I wonder if Wikileaks is a way to establish transparency BUT not just between republics, but Doyle-democracies and perhaps states more generally. Perhaps technology, combined with a global public sphere, can help make clear the decision-making procedure of a whole array of states, republic or not.

Of course, you might say that transparency doesn't mean peace if it shows hostile intentions or you find out bad things. I was interested to read in The New Republic an article about perhaps diplomacy requires hypocrisy and veneer of civility. Similarly, I thought about how Kant says that respect requires distance (in the doctrine of virtue) and more generally that it is hard to respect someone if we see his innermost thoughts.

Gary Banham said...

Thanks for your comments Tim. Taking your points in turn:

1. This question about transparency is an interesting one since I have been thinking about this of late. I wonder whether Kant's remarks about intentions are over-stated in relation to his general theory. He is right to claim that intention in the full sense is not available given that it would require an understanding of the noumenal self. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't an empirical sense in which intentions are revealed. They have to be revealed in a certain way in actions and actions are capable of being evaluated in a sense as expressive of certain intentions. So although there is one way in which intentions are not available, there is another sense in which they are.

2. The point I was generally making about publicity in relation to states is that the affirmative formula of *Perpetual Peace* requires so to adopt ends that are not merely compatible with publicity but which actively require it. Simple transparency of the Wikileaks kind doesn't have, on its own, the capacity to create better conditions for peace because, as you state, it could just reveal hostile intent. Further, the more powerful a state, the more open it can be about such intent given that others will be that much less able to restrain it. This is why we need the affirmative principle of publicity as only that indicates that principles are to be followed that require publicity as such in order to be adopted so that all covert forms of holding-back are outlawed. It is true this would require a revolution in the running of states and is, as Rawls would put it, a form of ideal theory. In some respects, more work needs doing here on non-ideal theory but this end of ideal theory needs to be some form of guide for non-ideal theory.