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Philosophers of Peace: Hobbes and Kant on International Order *

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In their theories of international order, Hobbes and Kant are not as far apart as earlier interpreters have claimed. Both consider peace between states and mutual respect for their sovereign independence to be necessary for securing domestic order. For both Hobbes and Kant, order arises from the very “independency” of states in a manner that is different from the independence of individuals in a state of nature. Both regard the independency of states and their commitment to the prosperity of their subjects as principles that support a long-term orientation toward peaceable cooperation. The most significance difference between Hobbes and Kant concerning international order arises from Kant’s attributing to individuals a cosmopolitan right that makes the international order more subject to potential conflict concerning the rights of individuals, but also gives his theory a stronger normative framework for the development of shared norms than what is found in Hobbes’s political theory.

1. fn1* Sadly Professor Anderson-Gold died before this special issue was ready and the final technical revision of the text was done by the special guest editor-in-chief Professor Gary Herbert and the associate editor Dr Juhana Lemetti.
2. fn21 Pauline Kleingeld, “Kant’s Arguments for the League of States”, in Kant’s Perpetual Peace: New Interpretative Essays, ed. Luigi Caranti (Roma: Luiss University Press, 2006), 55-74.
3. fn32 Theodore Christov, “Beyond International Anarchy: Thomas Hobbes on the Laws of Nations”, unpublished paper available on the web, quoted with permission of the author, 1-31 [, accessed 16th Feb 2012].
4. fn43 Christov, “Beyond International Anarchy”, 3.
5. fn54 While Hobbes argues that it may be irrational to be the first performer in a contractual situation in the state of nature, he clearly holds it to be rational to reciprocate when another has performed first. This makes it difficult to imagine how alliances ever “take off” but Hobbes imagines that they do since this possibility is part of what makes individuals in the state of nature roughly “equal”, i.e. they can always find partners.
6. fn65 Norberto Bobbio, Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law Tradition translated by Daniela Gobetti (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993) Bobbio makes clear that although individual norms derive their authority from civil law, civil law as such is founded in natural law. Bobbio argues, that because Hobbes maintains that the laws of nature operate as a source of all law he is neither a legal positivist (for whom all law would be merely factual in origin) nor a realist in international relations. Yet Hobbes clearly leaves the issue of how the law of nature operates in international affairs under theorized.
7. fn76 Michael Williams, The Realist Tradition and the Limits of International Relations, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) Chapter I (“Sceptical States: Hobbes”), 19-51.
8. fn87 Although power must accompany authority, political authority is conceptually distinct from power and cannot survive the wide spread withdrawal of consent.
9. fn98 Very likely one of the views supporting the idea that Hobbesian sovereigns are inherently aggressive is the notion that power corrupts and that therefore absolute power corrupts absolutely. But the power of the sovereign as internally absolute does not translate onto the international stage. On the international stage there is only relative power offset by the possibility of making alliances. Also it is assumed that having internally absolute power simply corrupts the sovereign’s understanding of his/her role and brings about a disconnect between the interests of the sovereign and the interests of the subjects. This notion of absolute corruption, although not without some historical confirmation, is of course not a part of Hobbes “ideal” theory. Hobbesian sovereigns may tragically misread particular situations but they are not bound by objectivist ideologies. For my purposes I investigate and assume the implication for the international order of a set of “ideal” Hobbesian sovereigns.
10. fn109 Williams, The Realist Tradition, 46.
11. fn1110 The idea that a modern sovereign could publically justify a call to war in order to support “the military-industrial” complex or to “reduce the population” however popular among conspiracy theorists would never fly with the general population.
12. fn1211 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley, (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994), 218.
13. fn1312 Immanuel Kant, “The Metaphysics of Morals,” in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant:Practical Philosophy, ed. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 456[6:313].
14. fn1413 Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History,” in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 47.
15. fn1514 Sharon Anderson-Gold, “Cosmopolitanism and Democracy: Global Governance without a Global State,” in Social Philosophy Today, ed. John Rowan, volume 25, 2009. In this article I argue that the principle of cosmopolitan right gives to the federation a new constitutional principle that provides for peace and universal rights without recourse to a world state. This federation has a different character than the federation discussed in “Idea for a Universal History”. Therefore there has been a change at the level of theory but that change does not generate any internal contradictions.
16. fn1615 Immanuel Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, ed. Mary Gregor, 327 [8:355]. The members of the voluntary league are all republics but this does not mean that they all share the same “form” (monarchy, aristocracy or democracy). Ibid., 324 [8:352]. The important distinction in determining republican status for Kant is the separation of legislative function from executive function. Lawmakers (whoever they may be) should not execute the law. The supreme executive then must “represent” the law as a matter of the public will and not as a matter of his private will. This is a fairly broad notion of a republic. A despotic state then is a state where the supreme executive rules without delegation as a matter of decree. It would appear that such states are ineligible for membership in the federation. Such a state has not in the relevant sense established “rightful internal relations” and presumably does not have a moral personality. While Hobbes argues against the separation of legislative and executive functions, he defines law in such a manner that civil law and natural law “contain each other”. Hobbes, Leviathan, 174. Civil law is thereby defined in terms of a general will that the sovereign “represents”.
17. fn1716 In this context, states that enter the federation must already be internally well ordered and have already given up despotic rule. How such a federation should deal with states unwilling to enter is another very complex question.
18. fn1817 Hobbes, Leviathan, 233.
19. fn1918 The collapse of the Soviet Union has been conceptualized as just such a collapse of internal authority. A collapse of the belief in the fundamental legitimacy of the political order. Because under realist principles, the Soviet Union was perceived primarily through its projected “power”, many were caught off guard and did not predict this development.
20. fn2019 Hobbes, Leviathan, 163.
21. fn2120 Hobbes, Leviathan, 153.
22. fn2221 Hobbes, Leviathan, 95.
23. fn2322 Hobbes, Leviathan, 160.
24. fn2423 Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace, 329 [8:358].
25. fn2524 One could of course refine this inference about individuals’ responses in the state of nature to say that one should never violently reject an approach without reason, after all the laws of nature do counsel peace, but it is fundamentally a matter of individual judgment in the context of the state of nature.
26. fn2625 It is important not to view “commerce” as simply economic exchange. It is important that this right be invested in individuals and not states as this right while not a matter of philanthropy is also not a “positive” right.
27. fn2726 Cosmopolitan right is supported by several distinct lines of reasoning about the nature of right, including the idea that the rights of nations with respect to their territory are “provisional” and are derived from an original common right of possession of the earth. In particular those areas of the globe that constitute the “approaches” of one territory to another, particularly the seas, have been hotly contested in the history of international law. Such approaches were widely regarded, especially by commercial nations, as not part of national right and to be held open or “in common”. Kant comes down on the side of this tradition. Access to what in the commons then cannot be denied to individuals who are operating in their capacity as inhabitants (citizens) of the globe rather than as representatives of states must be also “regulated” by law, i.e. the law of hospitality.
28. fn2827 Kant, “Idea for a Universal History”, 51.
29. fn2928 Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace, 329 [8:358].
30. fn3029 Hobbes, Leviathan., 163.
31. fn3130 Kant approved of the restrictions placed on European commercial access to their territories by the Chinese and Japanese precisely because of the noxious effects of some of the European trading practices.
32. fn3231 There is much disagreement in the literature as to whether or not Hobbes’ laws of nature are genuine moral laws. I will not go into that discussion in this paper. But to the extent that the binding character of political obligation in Hobbes is derived from consent, it is not a priori. Although according to Kant we “give the (moral) law to ourselves”, it is not as a matter of consent. The moral law “imposes” itself and although we could act contrary to the law we could not rid ourselves of it.

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