Saturday, March 3, 2018

Immanuel Kant and The French Revolution

Immanuel Kant enthusiastically endorsed the French Revolution. He defended the Revolution in public and in his private dealings, and openly proclaimed that he was a republican. Here’s an excerpt from Manfred Kuhen’s Kant: A Biography (Chapter: “Problems with Religion and Politics”):
Some major intellectual figures in Germany, such as Goethe and Moser, were opposed to the Revolution from the beginning. Still, most — at least at the beginning — supported it enthusiastically. Older writers such as Klopstock and Wieland endorsed its goals. Younger authors — such as Herder, Schiller, and Fichte (all three of whom were influenced by Kant) wrote enthusiastically for the cause of the Revolution. Kant himself was just as inspired by it as were his students. As one of his acquaintances said, trying to correct Fichte's mistaken view that Kant took no notice of the French Revolution, “He lived and moved in it; and, in spite of all the terror, he held on to his hopes so much that when he heard of the declaration of the republic he called out with excitement: ‘Now let your servant go in peace to his grave, for I have seen the glory of the world.’” 
The politics of the French Revolution was a favorite topic of conversation for Kant. He showed great interest for news on how the Revolution was progressing. In his political writings, Kant has asserted that there is no right to rebellion. But he saw no contradiction between his enthusiasm for the French Revolution and his rejection of the right to rebellion, because he believed that Louis XVI had in effect abdicated when he called the Estates-General (a general assembly representing the French estates of the realm) in 1789. So, legally speaking, the French Revolution was not rebellion.

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