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§3. Sittlichkeit:War and Peace

§3. Sittlichkeit:War and Peace

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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

in war.

6. See A Theory of Justice, pp. f.

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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 .

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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” ().

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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

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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

religious understanding.

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-

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§3. Sittlichkeit:War and Peace

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