Friday, April 21, 2017

Immanuel Kant and The League of Nations

John David Lewis in Nothing Less Than Victory says that the ideas that Immanuel Kant has developed in his essay "Perpetual Peace" (1795) served the purpose of creating an intellectual climate to support the creation of the League of Nations in 1920.

Woodrow Wilson, the US President at that time, was a former president of Princeton University with a Ph.D in political science. When Wilson stressed that the creation of the League of Nations would facilitate the development of a relationship between equals within an international whole, he was articulating ideas that he had received from intellectual predecessors like Kant.

In "Perpetual Peace", Kant says that the sovereign republics exist in a lawless state of nature. This state of nature is a “state of war,” because there are no standards of justice and institutions to resolve the disputes between nations. When there is no single international authority, each nation is unrestrained and can prey upon other nations.

According to Kant, international peace can be achieved only when the nations subordinate their foreign policy to an international authority, which he calls “league of peace” (foedus pacific). Here’s an excerpt from "Perpetual Peace":

“For states in relation to each other, there cannot be any reasonable way out of the lawless condition which entails only war except that they, like individual men, should give up their lawless (savage) freedom, adjust themselves to the constraints of public law, and thus establish a continuously growing state consisting of various nations [civitas gentium], which will ultimately include all the nations of the world.”

In Nothing Less Than Victory, John David Lewis writes:

“The League of Nations put the Kantian ideal into practice, in a new world order that eschewed the competitive nationalism of the previous century. Wilson’s ideals—equality, national self-determinism, and collective security—were the League’s foundation, were derivable from Kant’s ideas, and were highly influential. These ideals promised an effect alternative to the unpredictable actions of unrestrained sovereign nations. They became the moral compass that shaped the decisions of British leaders.” 

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