Saturday, 26 May 2018

Hannah Arendt On Immanuel Kant’s Political Philosophy

In her lecture on Immanuel Kant’s political philosophy (Hannah Arendt: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, Edited by: Ronald Beiner), Hannah Arendt notes that after 1789, the year of the French Revolution, when Kant was sixty-five years old, his attention turned towards constitutional law. He became concerned about how a body politic should be organized and constituted. He wanted to investigate the concept of “republican,” which is a constitutional government, the issue of international relations, etc.

Kant took great interest in the American Revolution and commented on it in his the Critique of Judgement (1790): "In a recent complete transformation of a great people into a state the word organization for the regulation of magistracies, etc., and even of the whole body politic, has often been fitly used. For in such a whole every member should surely be purpose as well as means, and, whilst all work together to­ wards the possibility of the whole, each should be determined as regards place and function by means of the Idea of the whole."

Arendt's lecture offers a really engrossing view of Kant's preoccupation with political theory during the final years of his life:
It is precisely this problem of how to organize a people into a state, how to constitute the state, how to found a commonwealth, and all the legal problems connected with these questions, that occupied him constantly during his last years. Not that the older concerns with the ruse of nature or with the mere sociability of men had disappeared altogether. But they undergo a certain change or, rather, appear in new and unexpected formulations. Thus we find the curious Article in Perpetual Peace that establishes a Besuchsrecht, the right to visit foreign lands, the right to hospitality, and "the right of temporary sojourn."And, in the same treatise, we again find nature, that great artist, as the eventual "guarantee of perpetual peace.” But without this new preoccupation, it seems rather unlikely that he would have started his Metaphysics of Morals with the "Doctrine of Law." Nor is it likely that he would finally have said (in the second section of The Strife of the Faculties, the last section of which already shows clear evidence of his mind's deterioration): "It is so sweet to plan state constitutions [Es ist so suss sick Staatsverfassungen auszudenken]"-a "sweet dream" whose consummation is "not only thinkable but… an obligation, not [however] of the citizens but of the sovereign." 
Kant turned his attention to political matters rather late in his life, when he was running out of strength to work on a new line of philosophical thought. Arendt points out that in his political thinking Kant faced the problem of reconciling his view of morality with the organization of the state. Here’s an excerpt:
Kant's problem at this late time in his life—when the American and, even more, the French Revolu­tion had awakened him, so to speak, from his political slumber (as Hume had awakened him in his youth from dogmatic slumber, and Rousseau had roused him in his manhood from moral slumber)—was how to reconcile the problem of the or­ganization of the state with his moral philosophy, that is, with the dictate of practical reason. And the surprising fact is that he knew that his moral philosophy could not help here. Thus he kept away from all moralizing and understood that the problem was how to force man "to be a good citizen even if [he is] not a morally good person" and that "a good constitution is not to be expected from morality, but, conversely, a good moral condition of a people is to be expected under a good constitution."

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