International and Cosmopolitan Political Obligations

  • Helga Varden
Part of the The Philosophical Foundations of Law and Justice book series (AMIN, volume 2)

Over the last few years, there has been intense political debate concerning the rightful use of coercion in the international sphere. Strong political forces have maintained that in addition to being inefficient, the current international authority, the United Nations (UN), is neither necessary nor desirable for the realization of international justice. This is seen not only in how recent efforts to improve and strengthen the UN are met with considerable resistance from powerful nations, but also by the fact that individual nations claim it rightful unilaterally to use coercion to solve conflicts in the international sphere. Though many other voices have argued that we need the UN, especially to enforce human rights internationally, there is little explanation why justice necessarily requires an international authority, rather than merely one or more just, strong nations. Therefore, current sentiment in favour of maintaining the UN is rarely supported by cogent justification that the UN is in principle necessary for international justice. From a philosophical point of view, the state of the contemporary debate is good evidence that we need to rethink the status of a distinctly international authority.

In this paper, I take a first stab at this task by arguing with Kant that international justice is in principle impossible without an international and cosmopolitan authority. The proposed account can explain why due respect for human rights and mutual respect of sovereignty among internally just states is possible only through the establishment of a transnational authority. The implication of this argument is that the liberal ideal of international political obligations is non-voluntarist in nature, meaning that states do not in principle have the right to resist the establishment of an international authority to regulate their international interactions. Moreover, the justification for an international authority is not linked to the typical aggressiveness of states. Even if all states are non-aggressive, I argue, they are still obligated to establish an international authority, since its establishment is a precondition for international justice. Only an international authority can enable rightful relations among states, because only it can put the interacting parties under universal laws and therefore also have standing to rightfully solve conflicts and use coercion with regard to states’ interactions. In addition, I explore Kant’s arguments that justice requires international trade as well as interactions between just states and visiting, alien private individuals to be regulated by a cosmopolitan authority. Both arguments strengthen the conclusion that the liberal ideal of transnational political obligations must be non-voluntarist, even if, as Kant argues, it is prudent to pursue the establishment of this authority voluntarily. A particular advantage of the position is its promise for solving several recalcitrant problems in current international politics, such as issues concerning rightful borders, trade—including the operation of multinationals in illegitimate and aggressive states, and the rights of stateless persons. The argument defends the conclusion that coercion in the international sphere is rightful only if authorised by an international and cosmopolitan authority.

Keywords

Europe Assure Arena Defend 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    I am grateful to Arnt Myrstad, Arthur Ripstein and Shelley Weinberg for their generous help in writing this paper. I would also like to thank the editors of this volume as well as the audiences at the 23rd Social Philosophy Conference at the University of Victoria (Aug. 2006), the faculty of law at the University of Oslo (Aug. 2006), AMINTAPHIL at Washington University and Southeast Missouri State University (Nov. 2006), the APA Pacific Division (April 2007), and the 1st annual conference of the Northwestern University Society for Ethical Theory and Political Philosophy (May 2007) for their useful comments. Special thanks go to my commentators John Harris at the Pacific APA and Kyla Ebels Duggan at the 1st annual conference at Northwestern University.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I believe that Kant’s account of the transnational public authority is non-voluntarist also in the sense that it does not consider the rights of an international authority as in principle co-extensive with those of individual nation states. Since I do not engage issues of legitimacy concerning the structure of the international authority here, but only the duty to establish it, I cannot engage this issue here.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    With Kant I will use the term ‘international’ authority when I talk about how the transnational, public authority regulates the relations between states (or nations), whereas ‘cosmopolitan’ authority refers to this authority when it regulates a relation that includes a private individual.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I refer to Kant’s work by means of the Prussian Academy Pagination (PAP) only. I have used Mary Gregor’s translation of The Metaphysics of Morals (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), (PAP 6:203–493). Other works cited include “On the Common Saying: “ ‘This may Be True in Theory, but It Doesn’t Apply in Practice’ ”, (PAP 8:273–313), and “Perpetual Peace—a Philosophical Sketch”, (PAP 8:341–386). Both are printed in T. Humphrey (trans./ed.), Perpetual Peace and Other Essays (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1983).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    I am grateful to Barbara Herman for encouraging me to make explicit the textual basis for utilising Kant’s arguments as presented in the sections on national justice in DR to understand his theory of international justice.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kant has parallel arguments in “Theory and Practice” (8: 307–313) and in “Perpetual Peace” (8: 341–386).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kant’s discussion of the ‘right to hospitality’ in his political essays should be seen as complementary to his discussion of visitors in DR.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    One may see this paper as a response to A.J. Simmons’s claim in Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations, Cambridge University Press, 2001, that Kant “never explains very clearly why I have an obligation to leave the state of nature and live in civil society with others, rather than just a general obligation to respect humanity and the rights persons possess (whether in or out of civil society)” (p. 140). In “Kant’s Non-Voluntarist Conception of Political Obligations” (Kantian Review, forthcoming) I provide Kant’s explanation of the obligation as it pertains to the national case, and here I explain the obligation in the international case. Together these papers argue why we should reject Simmons’s claim—as well as provide us reasons to reject the Lockean claim that private individuals and states in the international sphere have a natural executive right.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For an overview of prudential vs. non-prudential readings of Kant’s philosophy of right, see my “Kant’s Non-Voluntarist Conception of Political Obligations”.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Status relations are relations where one person has standing within another person’s private life, such as parental relations.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See “Kant’s Non-Voluntarist Conception of Political Obligations” for further explication of these points.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    As mentioned above, this discussion loosely corresponds to Kant’s discussion in DR of “The Right of Nations” (6: 343–351), which mainly concerns the issue of war (and so issues of assurance and border conflicts), and his discussion of “Cosmopolitan Right” in (6: 352–353), which focuses mainly on trade and visitors’ rights.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jürgen Habermas, “Kant’s Idea of Perpetual Peace, with the Benefit of Two Hundred Years’ Hindsight”, transl. by James Bohman, in J. Bohman and M. Lutz-Bachman, eds., Perpetual Peace, pp. 113, 116, also argues that the problem of application is of particular interest to Kant’s position, and he understands Kant to be arguing that even if states were to enforce reasonable conceptions of international law when interacting with other states the result is not rightful relations.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    This is why, in my view, Kant argues that “war is but a sad necessity of the state of nature (where no tribunal empowered to make judgments supported by the power of law exists), one that maintains the rights of a nation by mere might, where neither party can be declared an unjust enemy (since this already presupposes a judgment of right)” (8: 346). Moreover, it is important to note that passages such as the following seem to suggest that for Kant war is the only solution to conflicts in the state of nature: “[t]he concept of the right of nations as a right to go to war is meaningless (for it would then be the right to determine the right not by independent, universally valid laws that restrict the freedom of everyone, but by one-sided maxims backed by force)… Reason can provide related nations with no other means for emerging from the state of lawlessness, which consists solely of war, than that they give up their savage (lawless) freedom, just as individual persons do, and, to establish a nation of peoples… that (continually growing) will finally include all the people of the earth” (8: 356f).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Note that the international authority is constitutive of rightful assurance and rightful borders even if the world comprises only internally just states and individuals who happen not to want to travel or trade with one another.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kant argues that if two states choose to stay in the state of nature, they do not wrong each other, but staying in “this condition [the state of nature] is in itself still wrong in the highest degree and neighboring states are under an obligation to leave it” (6: 344). They do wrong in the highest degree because they remain in a condition where they are subject to one another’s arbitrary choices (consent) rather than being subject to universal law. We find this expression that staying in the state of nature is to do wrong in the highest degree several places in Kant’s texts, such as (8: 380) and (6: 308).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    In DR Kant treats the problem of visitors and hospitality only very briefly (6: 352f), whereas in “Perpetual Peace” it gets a more thorough treatment (8: 356–360). Both texts are utilized in my account below.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Of course, this does not entail that states are obliged to assist fleeing, international criminals, but that is beside the present point.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    We can make this point more strongly: Because a state assumes a right to exclude non-citizens from its territory, there arises an additional principled reason for establishing an international authority since the state must make the relation between itself and non-citizens rightful.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    International contract right is less strict in that it follows only under the assumption that international trade and travel is deemed desirable.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    A similar argument follows from Kant’s analysis of status relations, or relations involving married couples, families and servants, and parents and their children. When these relations are inherently international in nature, as for example in cases in which spouses are from different countries and when children are adopted or servants hired from a different country, rightful relations necessarily require a cosmopolitan authority with standing in the relationship.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    I believe that these relations are still only provisionally rightful, because there is no civil institutional structure in place to ensure true independence for the people. True independence requires not only that the national public authority is in charge of the economic and financial systems, but also that there is unconditional poverty relief and structures that make it possible for citizens to work their way out of poverty. Conclusively rightful relations require that the international trade is supported by legitimate national states, and so these relations between transnational companies and their employees in oppressive countries that are regulated by the cosmopolitan authority, are still only provisionally rightful. Unfortunately, I cannot engage these issues here.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Contrast this reading with much secondary literature on Kant, including most of the articles in Perpetual Peace (1997). It is also interesting to note that although Höffe agrees that Kant’s considered conception deems a world republic—and not only a voluntarist federation of nations—necessary to international justice, he claims that this is not Kant’s actual view (Höffe 2006: 16, 127, 140, 169–172, 197–201). Moreover, he quickly dismisses an interpretation somewhat similar to the one I suggest below. As will be evident, contra Hoffe, we can provide an interpretation that reconciles what Kant’s theory demands with the difficulties Kant acknowledges in actually instituting these demands.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    For example, after Kant emphasizes that states are under an obligation to leave the state of nature by establishing a league of nations, he argues that “[t]his alliance must, however, involve no sovereign authority (as in a civil constitution), but only an association (federation); it must be an alliance that can be renounced at any time and so must be renewed from time to time” (6: 344f). Similarly, after arguing that “[o]nly in a universal association of states (analogous to that by which a people becomes a state) can rights come to hold conclusively and a true condition of peace come about” (6: 350), Kant maintains that “[s]uch an association of several states to preserve peace can be called a permanent congress of states, which each neighboring state is at liberty to join…. By a congress is here understood only a voluntary coalition of different states which can be dissolved at any time, not a federation (like that of the American states which is based on a constitution and can therefore not be dissolved.—Only by such a congress can the idea of public right of nations be realized, one to be established for deciding their disputes in a civil way, as if by a lawsuit, rather than in a barbaric way (the way of savages), namely by war” (6: 350f). Finally, many pages after Kant states “each nation can and should demand that the others enter into a contract resembling the civil one and guaranteeing the rights of each. This would be a federation of nations” (8: 354), he refers us back to this federation of nations and explains that it must be understood as a free association: “There can be talk of international right only on the assumption that a state of law-governedness exists (i.e., that external condition under which a right can actually be accorded man). For as a public right, its concept already contains the public recognition of a general will that determines the rights of everyone, and this status iuridicus must proceed from some contract that cannot be founded on coercive laws (like those from which the nation springs), but can at best be an enduring free association, like the federation of different nations mentioned above. For in the state of nature, in the absence of a state of law-governedness, only private right exists” (8: 384). The controversy, in sum, may be seen as focusing on what ‘at best’ means here—and my suggestion below is that it refers to prudential considerations involved in establishing the international and cosmopolitan authority rather than an abandonment of the theory.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    The full argument runs like this: “Reason can provide related nations with no other means of emerging from the state of lawlessness, which consists solely of war, than that they give up their savage (lawless) freedom, just as individual persons do, and by accommodating themselves to the constraints of common law, establish a nation of peoples (civitas genitum) that (continually growing) will finally include all the people of the earth. But they don’t will to do this because it doesn’t conform to their idea of the right of nations, and consequently they discard in hypothesis what is true in thesis. So (if everything is not to be lost) in place of the positive idea of a world republic they put only the negative surrogate of an enduring, ever expanding federation that prevents war and curbs the tendency of that hostile inclination to defy the law, though there will always be constant danger of their breaking loose” (8: 356f).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Kant argues that “[o]nly in a universal association of states… can rights come to hold conclusively and a true condition of peace come about. But if such a state made up of nations were to extend too far over vast regions, governing it and so too protecting each of its members would finally have to become impossible, while several such corporations would again bring on a state of war. So perpetual peace, the ultimate goal of the whole right of nations, is indeed an unachievable idea. Still, the political principles directed toward perpetual peace, of entering into such alliances of states, which serve for continual approximation to it, are not unachievable. Instead, since continual approximation to it is a task based on duty and therefore on the right of human beings and of states, this can certainly be achieved” (6: 350).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Textual support for this pragmatic reading seems given by Kant immediately after he mentions the problem with “vast regions”. Here he emphasises the need for “continual approximation” to the “universal association of states (analogous to that by which a people becomes a state)” and he argues that the “permanent congress of states, which each neighbouring state is at liberty to join” (6: 350). He then gives an historical example to illustrate this point: “[s]omething of this kind took place (at least as regards the formalities of the right of nation for the sake of keeping the peace) in the first half of the present century, in the assembly of the States General at the Hague. The ministers of most of the courts of Europe and even of the smallest republics lodge with it their complaints about attacks being made on one of them by another. In this way they thought of the whole of Europe as a single confederated state which they accepted as arbiter, so to speak, in their public disputes” (ibid.). Viewing such more limited transnational efforts (as long as they do not unite into a superstate (8: 354) ) seems like a reasonable interpretation of Kant’s position.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hence, in my view, those passages where Kant apparently argues that the international public authority should not have coercive powers must be read in light of pragmatic considerations. For example, in (8: 383f), we find, “[t]here can be talk of international right only on the assumption that a state of law-governedness exists (i.e., that external condition under which a right can actually be accorded man). For as a public right, its concept already contains the public recognition of a general will that determines the rights of everyone, and this status iuridicus must proceed from some contract that cannot be founded on coercive laws (like those from which the nation springs), but can at best be an enduring free association, like the federation of different nations mentioned above. For in the state of nature, in the absence of law-governedness, only private right can exist” (8: 384). True, this passage tempts us to conclude that Kant conceives of international authority in voluntarist terms. Nevertheless, we should resist the temptation to be too quick. Instead, we should interpret this (and similar) passage in light of Kant’s general account of political obligations in combination with his prudential cautions. Thus, in this passage we must pay attention to how Kant argues that ‘at best’ the international authority is considered as a voluntarist project, where ‘at best’ is understood as referring to prudential considerations. Kant’s reference to the talk of a ‘federation’ above fits this interpretation. Indeed, he speaks of the voluntary federation in (8: 357) just after he points out that people reject in “hypothesis what is true in thesis. So (if everything is not to be lost) in place of the positive idea of a world republic they put only the negative surrogate of an enduring, ever expanding federation that prevents war and curbs the tendency of that hostile inclination to defy the law, though there will always be the constant danger of their breaking lose”. So again, Kant reiterates the strict necessity of the world republic, but emphasizes that people will proceed by voluntarist means.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helga Varden
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUSA

Personalised recommendations