Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch

by Immanuel Kant

Discussion Questions

1. What does Kant mean to suggest in his contrast of the worldly-wise politician and the philosopher in the introduction to his Perpetual Peace?

2. What are the "preliminary articles" of a perpetual peace. Kant says that, "objectively stated" they are "mere prohibitions." What does he mean? They are of two kinds - some must be immediately executed, others applied "in time"? What distinguishes these articles into type?

3. What reasons does Kant give for the illegitimacy of one State's interference in another state's affairs? Are there instances where such meddling is legitimate for Kant? What are they?

4. In preliminary article six, Kant discusses certain "acts of hostility" and "dishonorable" stratagems which must are strict prohibitions which must be immediately recognized and executed. What is wrong, for example, with the use of spies?

5.. In section II, Kant describes the "definite" (v. "preliminary") articles for a perpetual peace. What are they?

6. What is the natural state of men living side by side? What is the natural state among the states of the world -- war or peace?

7. What is the nature of the idea of compact from which republican constitutions derive? What is a republican constitution? How does it serve peace? What is the difference between a republican and democratic constitution? Why does Kant say that the "smaller the personnel of the government (the smaller the number of rulers), the greater is their representation and the more nearly the constitution approaches to the possibility of republicanism"? Why is sovereignty more important than the mode of government for the cause of peace?

8. Kant speaks of a "federation of states" or a "league of nations". How does this differ from a world government or single world nation?

9. What forms does barbarism take according to Kant. How does European barbarism differ from American barbarism? How does each reveal the "perverseness of human nature"? What restrains this perverseness? What else does Kant think about the European conquest of the new world?

10. Why doe states pay "homage... to the concept of law"? Why do they not argue rather that might makes right? What is the "law of nations"? What criticisms does Kant offer of traditional "law of nations" or just war theorists -- Vattel and Grotius among others.

11. What does Kant say about "reason" and war?

12. Kant calls for a league of peace. What is it? Is it practicable -- that is, can it be put into practice?

13. What is the law of world citizenship? What would Kant make of claims to particular territories? Are such present claims legitimate? Can they be derived from an original gift of a supreme being?

14. In the first supplement, Kant elaborates on his idea that a "community of the peoples of the earth has [already] developed... [such that] the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion."

15. Of nature, Kant says, "In her mechanical course we see that her aim is to produce a harmony among men, against their will and indeed through their discord…" How does Kant understand a perpetual peace coming into being among men who are in discord? What part do will and law play in the establishment of peace?

16. How is it the case, for Kant, that the problem of establishing a perpetual peace does not require the "moral improvement of men but only that we should know the mechanism of nature in order to use it on men, organizing the conflict of the hostile intentions present in a people in such a way that they must compel themselves to submit to coercive laws."
17. How do commerce, trade and human passions have to do with nature's guarantee of a perpetual peace?

18. What is Kant's "secret article for perpetual peace" found in the second supplement? How does it reprise the consideration in the preface of the relationship between the statesman and the philosopher? Why is it secret? What will philosophers add? Does Kant, like Plato, consider the establishment of philosopher/kings? Does peace require the rule of reason?

Paper Topics

1. Is politics a noble profession for Kant? Is generalship? What about philosophy?

2. Compare Kant with the other authors on how wars are fought -- in their means and ends.

3. Compare Kant's idea of a perpetual peace with Augustine's understanding of earthly peace? How are their ideas complementary? How are they in tension?

Kant ReadingGuide to unit 5back to unit 5