Immanuel Kant And His View On International Relations

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Table of contents

  1. Kant’s view of the international system
  2. Kant’s view of progress to a peaceful world
  3. Kant’s statist or cosmopolitan
  4. Conclusion

Hurrell Andrew, 1990: ‘Kant and the Kantian paradigm in international relations, review of international studies, pg 183 to 205, vol 16, no 3.

Hurrell Andrew begins by saying that Kant has been off great influence in international relations and philosophy especially his book called perpetual peace, which introduced ideas of federalism, world order and pacifism. There has been a 2 stand interpretation of kant’s view, those who say kant is against a world government and non intervention on the one hand, and statist on the other who says progress can be attained if states grow internally and reject the view of a cosmopolitan law.they say kant’s meaning of a federation of states doesn’t mean a world government, but simply republican states coming together for a common aim of stopping wars between them. Thus to them, the solution to war is not bringing states together but simply creating a loose league of republican states (that is, a free federation).

However, there are some who see kant’s stands in a different dimention. They have viewed kant as the paradigm, that is, there exsist a universal or cosmopolitan tradition in international relations. Thus, Hurrell says his article is aimed at looking at the balance or areas where there exsist statist and areas where they exsist a universal element in Kant’s ideology in international relations.

Kant’s view of the international system

To kant, insecurity is always present and this is the state of nature. States are very lawless as well as the individuals in the state, and it is for this reason that insecurity exsist and not necessarily because there exsists fights. So to kant, freedom can only be gotten if the nature of states is changes and characterised by laws. Such a society is what should be put in place if moral progress is needed. A state of lawlessness is what makes morality incapable of being archived and thus this leads to war. To kant, as Andrew explains, domestic and international societies are connected, and as such, if anarchy continues at the international scene, so too it will be difficult to get domestic political liberty. Thus, the second need to be solved, for there to be total freedom and perfection. As Andrew puts it, to kant, total life or free life is possible only if the aspect of international state or war is treated. This is what distinguished kant from the traditional western political thinking of resolving anarchy domestically by creating states.

Kant’s view of progress to a peaceful world

To Kant, a guarantee of Perpetual Peace between states means 'Standing armies (miles perpetual) should gradually be abolished altogether. This is so because their presence (standing armies) constantly threatens the other states with war by the very fact that they are always prepared for it. Thus these armies are in themselves the cause of wars of aggression, which in turn set out to end burdensome military expenditure.

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Kant explains in his Preliminary Articles of a Perpetual Peace between States that, No conclusion of peace shall be considered valid if it was made with secret reservation of the material for a future war. Thus by 'peace', Kant means an end to all hostilities and to attach the adjective 'perpetual' is close to pleonasm. Thus a conclusion of peace nullifies all existing reasons for a future war. He also says, No independently existing state, whether large or small, may be acquired by another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase or gift. In Kant’s Second Definitive Article of a perpetual peace, he emphasized on the Right of Nations shall be based on a Federation of Free States. Kant explains we ought to consider the right of nations in relation to one another in so far as they are a group of separated states. He goes ahead to declared in his Third Definitive Article of a perpetual peace: Cosmopolitan Right Shall be limited to conditions of Universal

Hospitality. By hospitality, Kant explains it as the right if a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else's territory. He goes further to explain that if he (the stranger) can't be accepted there, he can indeed be turned away without causing his death but all in all, he must not be treated with hostility so long as he behaves in a peaceful manner. The stranger may claim a right of resort and not rights of a guest, for all men are entitled to present themselves in the society of others by virtues of their right to communal possession of the earth's surface. Thus since the earth is a globe, we must tolerate one another's company.

Kant’s statist or cosmopolitan

Andrews in this article takes a stand that Kant is more of statist than cosmopolitan. Aspects of his statist have to do with the way he rejects the idea of creating a world government. He prefers the stand that, states can protect themselves by increasing their military, economic and political strength. To kant, wiping away a society or federation of states is not his goal but rather creating a system where states do not struggle and its stability depends on each other’s respect of the other sate’s independence and legitimacy. So kant does not reject international law but simply says the law should respect the autonomy of states. A critical look at this, one will think kant is in faivour of universalism as he points to the international order.

But Kants’s view on mon intervention on state’s sovereignty shows him as more concerned with the state’s order and thus a statist. Also, his concern for individual freedom and a need for a system which is interstate makes him statist.

However, there are places where Kant brings in universalism or cosmopolitanism especially in his idea of a universal history where kant holds that, he has hopes of the emergence of a global society in the future. His makes him more universal or cosmopolitan. Also, Kant believes mankind’s coming together as one as well as the importance of this coming together of mankind. In perpetual peace as seen above, Kant says in other to archive peace there is a need for universal hospitality.


We can thus conclude from the above that, Kant was more of statist as Andrew and his co writer postulates. Kant held that the state system has 2 functions and cannot be changed. However, there are aspects of him that shows him as cosmopolitan as he encouraged universal hospitality of individuals. However, deciding on wither Kant’s philosophy was statist or cosmopolitan still remains an issue to be resolved.

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