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Peace and War in Moses Maimonides and Immanuel Kant: A Comparative Study

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Abstract Francesca Y. Albertini (1974–2011) compares Maimonides’ idea of peace, as developed in MT Sefer shofetim (Book of Judges), with Kant’s work on the notion of “eternal peace” (Zum ewigen Frieden). Both authors develop a historical vision pointed against the use of force and war in light of a framework not limited by historical time (messianic age, eternity). Despite all differences in method and historical context, the authors agree on the notion that universal ethics provides the basis of a determination of right grounded in the will. Maimonides’ universal messianism as well as Kant’s universal history emphasize the pivotal role and decisive responsibility of the human being in realizing, through reason, the reign of peace and prosperity on earth first envisioned by the biblical prophets. These utopias continue to challenge us, especially in this day and age.

1. FN11 There is no evidence that Kant read Maimonides, as some scholars have claimed, but he was clearly familiar with the works of Spinoza and Leibniz and hence was at least indirectly familiar with the medieval Jewish sage.
2. FN22 Moses Maimonides, Sefer Shofetim: The Book of Judges (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), 235ff. Immanuel Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden, in: Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer et. al., 1900–), vol. 8, 341ff.
3. FN33 Al-Fārābi, Fuʾûl al-Madanî. Aphorisms of the Statesman, ed. and trans. D. M. Dunlop (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961).
4. FN44 Ibid., 50.
5. FN55 See also Bassam Tibi, “War and Peace in Islam,” in Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism and Conflict, ed. Sohail H. Hashmi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 177–8.
6. FN66 For an orientation to the concept of war in medieval Islam, see Tibi, “War and Peace in Islam,” in Islamic Political Ethics, 175–93; Sohail H. Hashmi, “Interpreting the Islamic Ethics of War and Peace,” in Islamic Political Ethics, 194–216; G. T. Scanlon, A Muslim Manual of War (Cairo: American University at Cairo Press, 1961); J. T. Johnson, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997); A. Morabia, Le gihad dans l’Islam médieval (Paris: Albin Michel, 1993); John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson, eds., Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991); John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson, eds., Cross, Crescent, and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990); H. H. Biesterfeldt, “Heiliger Krieg? Zur Theorie und Praxis des Jihâd im mittelalterlichen Islam,” in Krieg und Frieden im Altertum, ed. Gerhard Binder and Bernd Effe (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1989), 150–70.
7. FN77 Al-Fārābi, Fuṣûl al-Madanî, 50.
8. FN88 Ibid., 57.
9. FN99 Ibn Kaldhûn, Al-Muqaddima (Beirut, 1937), 35. Translation mine.
10. FN1010 m. Sanhedrin 1:5.
11. FN1111 b. Sanhedrin 2a.
12. FN1212 See b. Sanhedrin 97b; b. Sota 21b; b. Berakhot 17a, 61b; b. Yoma 39b; b. Kiddushin 40a.
13. FN1313 Maimonides, “Laws of the Kings,” 217. See also Gerald J. Blidstein, “Holy War in Maimonidean Law,” in Perspectives on Maimonides: Philosophical and Historical Studies, ed. Joël L. Kraemer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 209–20.
14. FN1414 Maimonides, “Laws of the Kings,” 240.
15. FN1515 The reference here is to the first part of al-Fārābi’s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, ed. and trans. Muhsin S. Mahdi (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 13–50.
16. FN1616 Maimonides, “Laws of the Kings,” 242.
17. FN1717 See also Menachem Lorberbaum, Politics and the Limits of Law: Secularizing the Political in Medieval Jewish Thought (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 81–2.
18. FN1818 Aviezer Ravitzky, Religion and State in Jewish Philosophy: Models of Unity, Division, Collision, and Subordination (Jerusalem: The Israel Democracy Institute, 2002), 29–30.
19. FN1919 Eugene Korn, “Gentiles, the World to Come, and Judaism: The Odyssey of a Rabbinic Text,” Modern Judaism 14, no. 3 (1994): 265–87, beginning at 267.
20. FN2020 Maimonides, “Laws of the King,” 241.
21. FN2121 Hannah Arendt, Das Urteilen: Texte zu Kants politischer Philosophie, ed. Ronald Beiner (Munich: Piper, 1985), 94ff.
22. FN2222 Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden, 65. Translation mine.
23. FN2323 b. Sotah 19b.
24. FN2424 Volker Gerhardt, Immanuel Kants Entwurf “Zum ewigen Frieden” (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), 75: “Poiesis des Prozesses, aus dem der Friede entsteht.”
25. FN2525 Mishneh Torah was written for the Jewish community, but the aim of Jewish law (as of every revealed system of law) is an absolute rather than relative truth.
26. FN2626 Monika Sänger, Die kategoriale Systematik in den metaphysischen Anfangsgründen der Rechtslehre (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1982); Patrick Riley, Will and Political Legitimacy: A Critical Exposition of Social Contract Theory in Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); Wolfgang Kersting, Wohlgeordnete Freiheit: Immanuel Kants Rechts- und Staatsphilosophie (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1984); Otfried Höffe, Ethik und Politik: Grundmodelle u. -probleme d. prakt. Philosophie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979); Georg Cavallar, Pax Kantiana: Systematisch-historische Untersuchung des Entwurfs “Zum ewigen Frieden” (1795) von Immanuel Kant (Vienna: Böhlau, 1984); Ulrich Sassenbach, Der Begriff des Politischen bei Immanuel Kant (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1992).
27. FN2727 Zum ewigen Frieden, 357/B 37f.
28. FN2828 Ibid.
29. FN2929 Jonas recounted this episode during an interview broadcast by Israeli National Radio on January 23, 1966.

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