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§3. Sittlichkeit:War and Peace
end of the political society cannot reasonably be viewed as the security of
the life and property of individuals as individuals in civil society.4 That would
be, as he says, a grave miscalculation. He is correct in saying this. However,
only a very limited idea of a liberal society would see it as involving only
relations of property and economy and the more material features of life.
This limited idea is not true of a liberal society which contains churches,
universities, the spiritual activities of art, religion, and philosophy. Hegel
also gives a strong statement of and fully afﬁrms toleration and liberty of
conscience going beyond the views of his day (§).
When a liberal society engages in a war in self-defense, it must do so to
protect and preserve the freedom of its citizens and its democratic political
institutions. Only then is it acting in accordance with a liberalism of freedom
and engaging in war for the right reasons. Indeed, a liberal society cannot
justly require its citizens to ﬁght to gain economic wealth or to acquire
natural resources, much less to win power and empire.5 Trespass on citizens’ liberty by conscription or other such practices in raising armed forces
may be done, on a liberal political conception, only for the sake of liberty
itself, that is, as necessary to defend constitutional democratic institutions
and civil society’s many religious and nonreligious traditions and forms of
life.6 In this way, liberal political institutions perform the work of bringing
civil society back to the universal. Once again there is no conﬂict here with
liberalism and the right to war only in self-defense.
. Now we do come to an important difference with liberalism. This
difference concerns the two traditional powers of sovereignty and why
Hegel asserts them. One power is the state’s right to go to war in the
rational (not necessarily reasonable) pursuit of its own national interests—
Clausewitz’s pursuit of politics by other means. The other power is the
state’s internal autonomy: the state has full control over the population
(including minorities), resources, and land within its own recognized territory. Hegel thinks these rights are essential aspects of the state conceived
as a substantive individual, for he thinks that states, as spiritual substances,
4. This view of liberalism is from Hegel’s seeing it as founded on its idea of the social contract.
See Philosophy of Right, §§, .
5. Of course, so-called liberal societies sometimes do this, but that only shows they are unjust
6. See A Theory of Justice, pp. f.
require the recognition of other states, just as much as persons require the
recognition of other persons (PR §). This recognition by other states is
part of the process whereby a state as a spiritual substance becomes and
endures as a state.
A liberal conception of freedom will conﬂict with Hegel’s view here in
two ways. First, in order to establish reasonable norms of right and justice
to govern international law, a liberal conception will deny that states have
the two traditional powers of sovereignty: the right to war to pursue their
own rational interests and the right of internal autonomy. To allow the
ﬁrst risks perpetuating war. To allow the second threatens basic human
rights. A state is not at liberty to abuse its own people or minorities among
them with impunity; serious cases may justify some kind of sanction, even
The second way in which a liberal doctrine of freedom will conﬂict
with Hegel’s view is by not accepting his idea of the state as a spiritual
substance needing the recognition of other states as such substances. I shall
not, however, discuss the idea of the state as a substance, except to say
that a liberalism of freedom doesn’t understand the state in this way. A
state is simply a people living within an established framework of political
and social institutions and making its political decisions through the agencies of its free constitutional government. A state as a political actor is a
body of citizens, an electorate, organized by and acting through its political
Hegel’s view of international relations is based on his seeing these relations as founded on treaties alone, with there being no superior power to
enforce them (PR §§–). These treaties are marked by contingency and
can be violated at any time should a state wish to do so, with the issue to
be settled if necessary by war. While Hegels vernuănftige state engages in
war only in self-defense, it needs its own military estate to defend it when
attacked. For Hegel, war results from the necessarily anarchistic nature of
the relations between states. By contrast, the liberal view, exempliﬁed by
Kant’s “Perpetual Peace,” sees the cause of war as rooted in the internal
nature of states and not mainly in the anarchistic nature of their mutual
relations. Going back to Montesquieu,7 the liberal tradition has proposed
7. See The Spirit of Laws (), Bk. , Chapters and .
the idea of a democratic peace and held that peace will reign between democratic and commercial peoples organized by their free constitutional governments and engaged in trade. They are peaceful among themselves since
they have no reasons for attacking one another. As constitutional states,
they insist on freedom of religion and liberty of conscience; they do not
seek to convert other nations to their dominant religion, if they have one.
Industry and commerce meet their social and economic needs. Like Hegel’s
state, they engage in war only in self-defense.
§. A Third Alternative
. In Zusatz §, Hegel says that “there are always only two possible viewpoints in the ethical realm: either one starts from substantiality, or one
proceeds atomistically and moves upward from the basis of individuality.
The latter viewpoint excludes spirit, because it leads only to an aggregation,
whereas spirit is not something individual, but the unity of the individual
and the universal.”
I suggest that there is a third alternative. Hegel opposes his viewpoint
to one that starts with single individuals as atoms and builds up from them
as a basis. Then the state and its institutions are nothing over and above
the individuals they serve as a means. Hegel wants us to see the state as
a concrete whole—a whole articulated into its particular groups. The member of a state is a member of such groups; and when we are dealing with
the state, members are considered only as so characterized. The third alternative I have in mind is found in Rousseau and Kant. Earlier I said a bit
about Kant’s political view in connection with his doctrine of reasonable
faith. So I brieﬂy consider it here.
. Kant’s political thought contains these main ideas, among others:8
the essential political role of free public reason;
the idea of the social, or of the original, contract;
the idea of citizens as co-legislative members of the state;
8. These elements of Kant’s political thought are found in a set of political essays: “Universal
History” (), “What Is Enlightenment?” (), “Theory and Practice” (), “Perpetual Peace”
(), and “Contest of the Faculties” ().
the rejection of the principle of happiness as a criterion of basic public law;
the freedom of religion and the right to pursue our happiness
in our own way free of state interference, provided we respect the rights of others.
As for Kant’s practical hopes, the content of his reasonable faith, he
looked forward to the day when mankind would be organized into a society
of societies, each of which has its own representative constitutional regime.
Each regime would be a member of a confederation of peoples joined together to prevent war ﬁrst of all. Underlying this hope is Kant’s belief that
a world state would be either a soulless despotism or else torn by civil war
as separate regions tried to gain autonomy, as well as his further belief that
democratic governments do not go to war with one another. A society of
peoples, all with constitutional regimes, would, he thought, be peaceful and
progressive in culture and the arts (“Perpetual Peace,” Ak. VIII:).
. The key to seeing Kant’s view as a third alternative lies in his interpretation of the social, or the original, contract. There are two crucial features
of this idea.
(a) The ﬁrst feature is the special nature of the social contract. All contracts involve an agreement to pursue an end by joint effort or constraint
(as when I agree not to prevent you from advancing your end, and reciprocally, you agree not to prevent me from advancing mine). Here we do
not share these ends. The social contract, however, is a union of many
individuals—of all citizens—for a common end that they do all share (“Theory and Practice,” Ak. VIII:). Now this very same end is not only an
end they do share but an end that they ought to share. This is because
Kant thinks that the ﬁrst decision we are obliged to make is to abandon
the state of nature and to unite with everyone else whom our actions may
inﬂuence in order to submit together to a system of public law that may
be enforced against us (Metaphysik der Sitten, I:§). Thus a state is a union
of people under the principles of public right (§).
(b) A second distinctive feature of the social contract is that it is an idea
of reason (“Theory and Practice” :). One thing Kant means by this is
that we are not to search for such a contract in the past, or to worry about
whether there ever was one or what its terms were. None of those inquiries
is to the point, since the idea of this contract is an idea of reason and as
such it is nonhistorical. We understand the social contract the right way
when we understand it as the highest criterion of constitutional and basic
law. As the highest criterion, it obliges every legislator to frame laws in
such a way that they could have been produced by the united will of the
whole people and so to have the consent of each subject in the general
will. Kant says: “This is the touchstone of any public law’s conformity with
right. . . . [I]f a public law is so constituted that a whole people could not
possibly give its consent to it, . . . it is unjust” (ibid.). And at another place:
“for what the whole people cannot decide upon for itself, the legislator
cannot decide for the people” (MdS :–).
. As an example of the application of this principle, Kant says that the
law cannot establish a certain class of subjects as a privileged and hereditary
class (“Theory and Practice,” :), nor can it declare a religion the religion
of the state with appropriate sanctioning powers (MdS :–). “No people can decide never to make further progress in its insight (enlightenment)
regarding beliefs, and so never to reform its churches, since this would be
opposed to humanity in their own persons and so to the highest Right of
the people.” Any such law would be invalid, since it would violate our
descendants’ rights by preventing them from making further progress in
The two distinctive features of the social contract mean that the contract formulates the highest principle in political matters, and honoring
that principle fulﬁlls the ﬁrst duty that everyone has as a reasonable and
rational person to enter into a social union with everyone else in which
the rights of all citizens are guaranteed by the principles of right. Everyone
has this duty. Thus in entering society by the social contract, each of us
achieves the very same end, an end we all share and ought to share. Hence
the ﬁrst special feature of the contract. The second feature of the contract—
its being the highest criterion of basic law—follows from what reasonable
and rational persons could agree to as the test of basic law. This is enough
of Kant’s political doctrine to indicate that it is a third alternative. It is
different from starting with single individuals as atoms independent from
all social ties and then building up from them as a basis. And it does not
use the idea of the state as spiritual substance and individuals as mere acci-