Balancing the Powers: Kant’s Key Contribution

  • Laurence Peters


In this chapter we address Kant’s doctrine regarding his critical balance of power theory that formed the basis for his vision for a federated group of governments that would govern the world. In Chapter Eight, where we discuss the rise of the human rights movement, we will address the great German philosopher’s ideas about the treatment of all human beings, regardless of their citizenship, as he develops his doctrine of cosmopolitanism. Kant’s contributions in these two areas are nothing short of seminal in the conception of the United Nations (UN).


United Nations Collective Security State Article Point Speech Perpetual Peace 
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    I. Kant, Practical Philosophy: Perpetual Peace (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 342.Google Scholar
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    A. Perreau-Saussine, “Immanuel Kant on International Law,” in Philosophy of International Law , ed. S. Besson and J. Tasioulas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 6.Google Scholar
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    The Constitution of 1791 reads: “The French Nation forgoes the undertaking of any war of conquest, and shall never use force against the freedom of any people.” M. Ceadel, The Origins of War Prevention: The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1730–1854 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Reinhold Bernhard Jachmann, Immanuel Kant geschildert in Briefen an einen Freund (Koenigsberg, 1804), pp. 29, 141. As Jachmann also notes in the memoirs published in the year of the philosopher’s death, “Kant was so keen on having the newspapers in those critical moments that he would have queued for hours in front of the post-office; there was no greater pleasure we could give him except for bringing the latest and authentic news from France.” See also Jacques Droz, L’Allemagne et la Révolution Française (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949), pp. 156–157. The revolution, he reports, “occupied him entirely; he linked everything to it and never lacked instructive observations on the progress of the movement and the character of its protagonists.”Google Scholar
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    Kant’s contempt for monarchs who are not prepared to make the “slightest sacrifice so far as banquets, hunts, pleasure palaces and court festivals are concerned” and viewed war as a kind of amusement, is scathing. I. Kant, Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 100.Google Scholar
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    See I. Kant, “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch,” section 1, paragraph 2, As Rauber points out, Kant’s own explanatory notes elucidate that even more: “It [i.e. the state] is a society of men, which no-one other than itself can command or dispose of.” The right of self-determination is enshrined in the charter following Kantian principles: “All peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.” See J. Rauber, “The United Nations—a Kantian Dream Come True? Philosophical Perspectives on the Constitutional Legitimacy of the World Organisation,” Hanse Law Review 5.1 (2009): 49–75.Google Scholar
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    See A. Ripstein, Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 327.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 16. 16. See M. Mazower, No Enchanted Place: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), p. 21.Google Scholar
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    As Bosco points out in Five to Rule Them All , although the United Nations first appears as a military defense organization in 1942, FDR employs a team at the State Department to flesh out plans for the new organization before the United States formally entered the war. See David L. Bosco, Five to Rule Them All (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp 13–14.Google Scholar

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© Laurence Peters 2015

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  • Laurence Peters

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