Kant and the Liberal Democratic Peace Theory - the Cases of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan

Essay, 2010

9 Pages, Grade: 1.7


Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan being the wars discussed most controversial in the last decade are also an important subject matter for the political theory (Kugler et al., 2004; Mearsheimer/Walt, 2003). Especially their use as falsifying cases against the liberal notion of democratic peace theory is prominent – though questionable (Panke/Risse, 2007). Kant and his successors in the tradition of the liberal democratic peace theory can to a certain extent be defended even considering the recent wars – at east on the surface; these were fought between despotic states and democracies and therefore do not stand in opposition to the liberal peace theory in its ‘narrow form’. Nevertheless, closer analysis reveals that the recent conflicts can be used as examples of severe violations of part of Kant’s predictions and arguments. These arguments will be exposed within the first part of the essay formulated by Immanuel Kant already in 1795 (Kant, 2007). Afterwards the theoretical discussion will be expanded towards contemporary followers, such as Doyle (1983). They form what is often stated as the liberal democratic peace theory. Subsequently, the cases of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan as possible points of falsifications against the trustworthiness of the theoretical arguments presented beforehand will be analysed.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant being known and prominently discussed for his achievements in the area of ethics and epistemology was one of the first modern philosophers to formulate a liberal peace theory in 1795 as well. In his “Perpetual Peace” (Kant, 2007), he builds on the basis of Dante Alighieri (Reichberger et al., 2007), Gottfried Leibniz (Leibniz, 1715) and Abbé de Saint Pierre (Abbe de Saint Pierre, 1713) setting up a ‘plan’ towards eternal peace. He is, however, not following the example of his predecessors in building a utopian view, but rather tries to give a detailed convertible ‘roadmap’. His argument is subdivided into two parts, the six preliminary articles and the three definitive articles. The former can be seen as six ‘immediate action items’ for politicians who want to reach out for peace whereas the latter are the long-term goals necessary in order to achieve peace perpetually. Generally, the preliminary articles are addressed to his time being concerned with for instance principles of fair war and the forbiddance of a standing army. They include for example a statement of non-interference being of importance for many scholars in the liberal tradition as well. This essay, however, will concentrate on the “three pillars of liberalism” (Doyle, 2005), which are the matter of discussion in modern liberal peace theory as well (Danilovic/Clare, 2007).

Before discussing them, however, Kant’s assumption about the ‘world system’ needs to be considered in short. The states in Kant’s sense are not different from states in a realist perspective: international anarchy is the predominant feature. As Kant expresses (2007:13): “The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state (status naturalis); the natural state is one of war. {…} at least an unceasing threat of war.” There is no world government ruling the system and so one is confronted with a lack of international binding law as well (Doyle, 1997:255). Nevertheless, Kant sees a rational possibility for states to ‘flee’ from this situation – even a certain kind of historical predestination. To reach a state of perpetual peace, Kant depicts three definite articles leading to it.

The first of these definitive articles contains the ‘republican argument’. It is stated, that “the Civil Constitution of Every State Should Be Republican” (Kant, 2007, 13). Kant argues, that the constitution of a state should be republican because in this way, a declaration of war is hindered effectively. If citizens bearing in mind all the consequences of war have to consent on it - and that is, what Kant sees as a republican state -, war will not be fought regularly. By ‘republic’ Kant understands a form of state slightly different from our usage of the term: he defines it by “civil liberties, legal equality, and the separation of powers” (Danilovic/Care, 2007:399; Ellis, 2005). Especially his emphasize on individual freedom is restated within many of his major political writings (e.g. 1793/1996: 291) and thus of particular importance. This definition of a republic coincides with what is in modern terms called ‘liberal democracy’ with a majority rule within a representative state. This argument is often called “Domestic Liberal Constitutionalism” (Danilovic/Care, 2007:397) or ‘Domestic Republicanism’; so to speak a source of peace brought forward in each state individually at the domestic level. This ‘home-grown’ condition is then supported by the following two articles labelled ‘Internationalism’ and ‘Cosmopolitanism’ contributing equally to the goal of perpetual peace (Jahn, 2005).

Within the second article, Kant claims the unavoidability of a federation of states for perpetual peace: “The Law of Nations Shall Be Founded on a Federation of Free States” (Kant, 2007:16). Russett and Oneal (2001) call this notion of a federation of states a “pacific union” or a ‘foedus pacificum’ between democracies. Kant imagined a federation similar to the League of Nations or the contemporary United Nations (UN): a loosely coupled federation of liberal states tying them together. Such a union can be seen as at first a stabilizing form for the joined republicans only but at last as a certain kind of ‘role model’ encouraging other states to become republican and take part. States participating solve conflicts not on a military way but through ‘soft power’ and the rule of law linking the different nations together. Nevertheless, the federation should be loosely coupled keeping the sovereignty and not turning into a “world government” (Kant, 2007:17). Kant predicts a gradual spread of this union and the principles accomplished with it and thus of “secure freedom” and “the law of nations” (Kant, 2007: 17/18). This second article can be called the ‘Internationalism’ argument being, however, linked to the first rather domestic article as well as to the next more cosmopolitan one.


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Kant and the Liberal Democratic Peace Theory - the Cases of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan
Royal Holloway, University of London
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Liberal Theory, Kant, Democratic Peace Theory, Political Theory, Iraq War, Afghanistan War, Kosovo War, Liberal Peace, Utopian Peace, Perpetual Peace
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Johannes Lenhard (Author), 2010, Kant and the Liberal Democratic Peace Theory - the Cases of Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/147664


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