Notes on Politics in a Disenchanted World
On the Centenary of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”
Max Weber wrote – at the end of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1904-1905) and later in his famous lectures on “Politics as a Vocation”, “Science as a Vocation” and on “Socialism” (all three delivered between 1917 and 1919) – about what it means to live for and off a calling, for and off (business, science) politics in a disenchanted world. In addition, he argued for the separation of science and politics, for different roles for experts and politicians. Finally, he is famous for his study of bureaucracy. He did not contribute too much to the theory of democracy and indeed his theories of political authority and legitimacy are not motivated by democratic governance, although he adopted a liberal approach to rule of law and provided a penetrating analysis of façade constitutions. Also, he did not go beyond power politics in international relations and was mostly concerned with the interests of a nation state. Thus, his is a mixed legacy. Here, some of these Weberian themes will be applied to the politics in countries in transition and also to the influence of the European Union (EU) on them.
The Iron Cage
Rereading “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, it is striking how critical of Protestantism and capitalism it is. Contrary to the widespread understanding, rather than being a celebration of the uniqueness and the great success of Western civilization, of its specific religion and institutions, it is critical both of the protestant ethic and of the spirit of capitalism. The former is criticized in the way similar to Keynes’ criticism of utilitarianism: it prefers saving over consuming, calling over living, accumulating over enjoying. The latter, the spirit of capitalism, is criticized for transforming Kant’s kingdom of ends to mindless kingdom of instruments. This is not for the reasons that were to be put forward later by Schumpeter to argue for the inevitable rise of socialism. Weber was an Austrian in that respect arguing that socialism is infeasible even if it is capable of presenting itself as desirable. The iron cage of market capitalism is feasible, though it is clung to for reasons that have long been forgotten. Socialism is just not feasible, politically as well as an economy, whatever its desirability.
In his series of lectures and especially in that on “Politics as a Vocation”, Weber draws the consequence from his conclusion that rather than supporting freedom capitalism locks up everybody in an iron cage of this self-perpetuating system, and he puts hope on the re-emergence of ethics of responsibility, of ideological politics. In both the analysis of capitalism and in the advocacy of ideological politics his most famous and brilliant book is rather less than satisfactory.
Death of Ideology
After the collapse of communism, ideological politics has indeed come to an end throughout Europe. This has consequences for the political process and for political entrepreneurship.
It may be interesting to start with the observation about the political entrepreneurship in the post-communist Europe, especially in the so-called New Europe in Central and Eastern Europe. Clearly, the early opposition to communism was ideological as much as anything else. It indeed meant living for politics rather than off politics: that was the “politics of truth”. This of course changes once there is a regime change. Even more so because of the disappearance of ideological politics. There are, to be sure, some remaining opportunities for ideological entrepreneurship. There are some communists left (e.g., in the Czech Republic where the Communist Party is one of the strongest), there are nationalists everywhere and there are some attempts to revive the role of religion in politics. But, they are all mostly searching for the non-existent ideological space rather than competing within it. Clearly, when something becomes scarce, its value increases, but for the moment no market for ideological entrepreneurs has emerged.
Thus, political entrepreneurship draws on other resources. One is simply to enhance political competition. In emerging democracies, it is important for the electorate to learn that its vote counts. That learning is most efficient through doing. Thus, there is significant turnover in power in most post-socialist countries. Indeed, reelection of incumbent parties is rather rare. Thus, mobilizing the negative vote is the key.
In some cases, there was an opening for those who argued that stability is more important than political competition. Thus, in some cases, authoritarian leaders emerged. Those are now being brought down in country after country. The final test in Europe, of course, will be Russia. In several other cases, some kind of consensual system developed. For instance, in Slovenia, a political entrepreneur has to appeal to other political entrepreneurs in order to succeed. Similarly, in the Czech Republic, power is distributed and re-distributed among the same set of parties and their leaders without too much of a change in the overall distribution of power.
In the third type of cases, political entrepreneurs have drawn on non-political and non-ideological resources. They have been able to argue that they want to live for politics rather than off politics. There are different types of resources that they can draw on. One example is Bulgaria where the former Tsar was able to combine monarchical motives with the democratic process and got elected against all odds. In other cases, it is successful businessmen that have tried to assert themselves as political leaders (e.g., in Hungary, Poland, Croatia), in most cases unsuccessfully so far.
In the final type of cases, entrepreneurs have been able to draw on their outside support. In Central and Eastern Europe this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it is not uncommon in Europe as a whole. The most interesting cases are to be found in the Balkans, where internal and international politics are not very distinct. I will come back to this issue later.
Parties without Ideologies
Weberian theory of parties was certainly quite developed, but it was not very satisfying. Some thought that parties were oligarchies, others thought that they would disappear in a world without ideologies, while some saw them as machines that promoted political entrepreneurs and connected lobby groups and electorates. All of that is interesting, but it is not directly applicable to post-communist countries. In those, three processes are perhaps the most important.
One is the rejection of the presidential system and the revealed preference for parliamentary democracy. Early on, there were attempts to set up strong presidents or populist leaders, e.g., in Poland, Slovakia, Romania and elsewhere, but those did not endure. Authoritarianism of any kind – liberal, nationalist, populist – seems to be deemed to be too risky in post-communist countries. That, over time, works against leadership parties or parties run by demagogues, which Weber pretty much associated with democracy.
The other is the rejection of the majoritarian system and the revealed preference for proportionate representation or for coalitions in government. The reason, it seems to me, is the specific risk-aversion that develops in countries that have been under one party rule. Though the electorate needs to vote the government down to prove to itself that its vote counts, it does not want to risk to entrust power to one party only. It is prone to diversify rather than to specialize. Proportionate representation favors post-election rather than pre-election coalitions, which is why the number of parties tends to be large.
Finally, there is the process of transformation of the former-communist parties. Initially, those survived, somewhat unexpectedly. Over time, however, they have been disintegrating. With no ideology to prop themselves on and with the decreasing fear from instability, post-communists are bound to face serious problems even if they transform themselves into socialists, social-democrats or liberal-democrats. Their main asset is the fact that significant number of people have collaborated with them during the communist period. So, the party has been their insurance agency. In time, the party will disappear with the disappearance of its clientele. That will help the process of the democratization of the parties together with the democratization of the political system as a whole.
Bureaucratization and the European Union
Weber saw the rationalization of the world leading to increased bureaucratization. His ideal-type bureaucrat is not necessarily similar to the technocrat and bureaucrat that is to be found in the European Union today. His idea was that an ideal bureaucrat will not need an outside authority, a political principal, to know what his job is and how to execute it. Indeed, in the disenchanted world, instrumental rationality leads to the rationalization of the ends while the choice of the most efficient means is a technical matter. Thus, it is the expert and the bureaucrat that take over when ideologies stop to matter.
The influence of the European Union on bureaucratization has been twofold: one has to do with the influence on the member states and the other with that on the institutions of the European Union.
In the case of the Old Europe, the influence has not been significant, because those are highly bureaucratized societies as it is. However, in the case of the New Europe, the need to adopt the legislation and institutions that are to be found in the EU have contributed significantly to the transformation of the public administration in these countries. It has been professionalized, which means depoliticized, and its skills have been significantly upgraded. There is of course downside to that, but that is not different from the problems that bureaucratization brings about everywhere.
In the case of the EU itself, it cannot be considered to conform to the Weberian idea of bureaucracy. It consists of a strong political element, the Commission, and of the administration, both being run by their principals, who are the member states. Thus, the idea that the EU bureaucracy is an independent agent is not accurate. When it comes to the Commission, political economy plays quite a role, while in the case of the administration it is the member states that set up their agenda.
For instance, the idea that it is Brussels’ bureaucracy that is responsible for the increased regulation in the EU is not very realistic. The member states have an interest in regulating and that interest is that much more enhanced the smaller is the EU budget. Regulation is a substitute for fiscal centralization, mostly, though the lack of constitutional framework plays a role too, of which later.
Finally, the role of bureaucracy is constrained by the role of technocracy in the EU. The key example is the monetary regime and policy, but there are other areas where that is the case, e.g., in competition policy, trade policy and in the areas of technology and education. The relation between experts and bureaucrats is a very interesting one and is yet to be explored. Weber thought that living for science rather than off science is quite important, but that is not what technocracy is really about.
Belief in the Just (or Rather Unjust) World
The difference between the life for politics or science and off politics and science is connected with the fate of ideology and the latter is somewhat connected with the belief in the just world, which for Weber was not unconnected with the deepest ethical motivations. It is often noted now, as it was by Weber at the time, however, that people in Europe, unlike the United States, do not believe in the just world. This is true not only of the Old but also of the New Europe. Though for different reasons.
In the New Europe, the belief in the just world was killed by the communists. These states were never legitimate, but whatever supremacy their ideology had, it disappeared very soon after they took over the power. Thus, New Europe emerged with a belief in unjust world. In the last fifteen or so years, a belief in the just world is yet to emerge.
In the Old Europe, a growing number of studies find that it is the belief in the need to protect oneself from injustice rather than the belief in just world that is constitutive of its institutions and politics. This is not very surprising. Indeed, classical liberal idea of negative freedom is probably the main reason for that. Weber was certainly aware of that. He is probably one of the main inspirers of what is now being called relativism. There are irreconcilable conflicts between ultimate values in varies areas of human activities. Truth, good, beauty, justice, are conflicting values. Older liberal idea was similar: they are all competing values. There are tradeoffs between these ultimate values. In political sense, there is a tradeoff between freedom and equality, between justice and efficiency. There is no just world, at least not the one that is attainable by means of politics.
Nationalism against European Constitutionalism
Weber worked as an adviser on the German Weimar constitution, which turned out to be a weak barrier against the ideological debates and civil strife that gripped the country in the inter-war period. It turned out to have been pretty much a façade constitution, something Weber wrote about analyzing the early attempts at constitutionalism in Russia. A façade constitution is a basic law which has the name but not the content of a constitution, and has not been brought about through a proper constitutional procedure and thus does not command popular support, in other words lacks the necessary legitimacy. Because of that, the power does not spring from the constitution, rather the constitution is the way to facilitate the use of power.
One problem with façade constitutions was expressed in the famous statement by Carl Schmitt: “The concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political”. In other words, internal strife, ideological and civil, has to have ended for the rule of law to be possible. The other problem is to be found in the later writings of John Stuart Mill and John Rawls: to have citizens in the constitutional sense, there has to exist a society, a people.
In the recent rejection of the “Constitutional Treaty establishing a Constitution of the European Union” by popular votes in France and Netherlands, it is this second rather than the first problem that has pointed to the fact that the proposed was a façade constitution. Arguably, the first, Schmittian problem, with no ideological and territorial conflicts left, has been solved and the sphere of the political has been established in Europe. The second has remained, because not only the procedure was not the one appropriate for writing up a constitution, but the procedure chosen reflected the fact that there is no people of Europe, there is no European society: an increase in social uncertainty, due to economic stagnation, for instance, does not lead to an increase in social cohesion, but rather to problems with social integration. That pushes for the return to nation states and to the protection it is believed it could provide.
How about ideological competition? There is some hope for ideological entrepreneurs to profit from the current debate over the European constitution. One should be perhaps cautious in labeling this debate as ideological. The main difference is between the nationalists and the (con)federalists. These are not necessarily ideological issues. One could here draw a difference between Weber, a nationalist, and Friedrich Hayek, a con-federalist (or, in a different sense, between Schmitt and Hans Kelsen), but, that is a separate issue. It is important to see that the debate is not so much about left and right ideologies but between those who fear that the distribution of power will change significantly both in the nation states and in the EU.
Thus, the left in France is against the Anglo-Saxon, free market, Europe that they find institutionalized in the EU constitution. The right in Great Britain as well as in a number of other countries argues that the EU constitution will install socialism in Europe. Similar arguments can be heard in the New Europe. It is unclear, at the moment, where will this debate go let alone end.
It is, however, to be noted that this is really about the future of nationalism in Europe rather than about ideological differences between socialists and conservatives or the left and the right. In the New Europe, that debate is not so intense simply because it looks to the EU for stability and prosperity. The latter is increasingly politically significant. If one looks at trade, investments, foreign ownership and practically all the indicators, the New Europe is, to a greater or smaller extent, economically integrated with the Old Europe and its growth depends significantly on whatever happens in the EU. Thus, the choice is to join and influence or to stay out and be a policy taker.
Beyond Balance of Power
Weber’s idea of authority and legitimacy did rely on the premise that security was the main political good and thus security services were important political resources. The influence of international relations came in mainly through the maintenance of the balance of powers. That kind of politics does not make too much sense in Europe of today as the recent experience in the Balkans shows. Relying on armies and the other security forces has led the politicians there nowhere. A general turned politician, or the other way around, is not a promising carrier project. In today’s Europe, the traditional distinction between the friend and the enemy, so forcefully argued for by Carl Schmitt, Weber’s disciple, makes little sense.
In the more general sense, the concerns with the external balance of power have changed in such a way that home and foreign affairs are not that easy to separate not only in the European Union but in its ever widening neighborhood. The bases of legitimacy have changed to include external as well as internal support. The situation in the Balkans is somewhat extreme, but it is an example of a more general state of affairs. In the end, in post-socialist transitions in Europe, democracy is the only source of internal legitimacy. The security concerns, however, lead to a greater or smaller reliance on the specific international legitimacy, which is as complex as the security arrangement in Europe is. It has little to do with the balance of powers, however. Indeed, the doctrine of the balance of powers depends on the specific national and ideological conflicts that have ended, at least for the moment, in Europe. This is being learned rather slowly in the Balkans and to the lesser extent in other areas in Europe, both in the New and in the Old Europe and in their European and perhaps even Mediterranean neighborhood.
Business of politics in the post-communist Europe is not about ideology, not about the conflict over the different concepts of justice, but it is also not being carried on in an increasingly bureaucratized European Union, in the iron-cage of the EU – it is about mobilizing resources to influence political decisions given national and international constraints. If the EU project were not to succeed, chances are that the politics of ideology would not be resurrected, but rather that of nationalism, as can be seen during the current EU crisis. Of course, ideological revival, the re-enchantment of the world, is always a possibility, but it is not predictable at this point in time.
written in 2004.
A Kantian Idea of Sovereignty
The Kantian motivation to study international relations is to answer the question, “Is elimination of wars possible?” The answer is that it is possible in the same way that all social relations can be pacified, i.e., through the introduction of the rule of law. International rule of law should be based on the protection of individual rights as much as the domestic rule of law. Indeed, the two – cosmopolitan and constitutional – laws should define the content of the sovereignty of states, which is defined within the idea of negative freedom: sovereign states have duties towards their own citizens, other states, and their citizens as those emanate from the constitutional and cosmopolitan laws.
This I take to be a Kantian idea of sovereignty. It needs to be argued for on three different grounds all of which are also Kantian in inspiration. One is theoretical: is it conceivable? The other is pragmatic: how can it work? The third is empirical: do we see it emerging? I will take up these three questions in that order. Some conclusions end this short paper.
A Hobbesian Argument
In “The Contest of Faculties” Kant says: “… (I)n so far as human beings can themselves accomplish anything or anything can be expected of them, it can only be through their negative wisdom in furthering their own ends. In the latter event, they will find themselves compelled to ensure that war, the greatest obstacle to morality and the invariable enemy of progress, first becomes gradually more humane, then more infrequent, and finally disappears completely as a mode of aggression. They will thereby enter into a constitution based on genuine principle of right, which is by its nature capable of constant progress and improvement without forfeiting its strength.”1
Kant consistently uses this Hobbesian argument from anarchy to arrive at the solution that entails the existence of perpetual peace. As in Hobbes, the solution is a contractarian one. There are then two questions to answer. First, how Hobbesian is Kant? Second, how Kantian is Hobbes? The interesting answer to the first question is the one that emerges through the answer to the second question.2
Probably the extreme interpretation of Hobbes’ theory of sovereignty, which is however very often accepted, usually with some qualifications, is that developed in the work of Carl Schmitt.3 Essentially, in this interpretation, Hobbes argued that internal security has to be purchased at the expense of the perpetuation of external anarchy. Thus, the need to face the external enemies determines the absolute power of the sovereign over the citizens of the state. In a sense, politics is the continuation of war by other means.4 In the context of the discussion of the concept of sovereignty, the external, international, sovereignty determines the internal, constitutional, sovereignty.
This interpretation can be sustained as Hobbesian only if it is accepted that Hobbes contradicted himself. Because he certainly argues that citizens are not obliged to obey the sovereign if that implies that they may have to sacrifice their lives or put them at risk, for instance in wars. This goes against the very reason that compels people to enter into a social contract that establishes the sovereign power: the motivation for the establishment of civil society is the elimination, in principle and institutionally, of the risk of violent death. It, the sovereign power, is justified as long as it supplies security in return. If it does not, it does not have to be obeyed. Leo Strauss draws the following conclusion from this inconsistency. “The only solution to this difficulty which preserves the spirit of Hobbes’s political philosophy is the outlawry of war or the establishment of a world state.”5 This latter conclusion follows perhaps in the sense that Hobbes did not believe in the division and separation of powers: for him, sovereignty had to be one and could not be shared – a federation does not seem to be an option for him and, thus, a world federation seems inconceivable within the Hobbesian political philosophy.6 But, it is questionable whether this concept of sovereignty belongs to the spirit or to the letter of Hobbes’ political philosophy, i.e., to his argument or to his explicit claims. Kant, it can be maintained, showed that Hobbes’ way of arguing, though not his wording, does not entail the conclusion that sovereignty is either one and indivisible or altogether non-existent.
This, however, will lead to the change in the definition of sovereignty. Here, again, Carl Schmitt could be helpful. He thought that sovereignty belonged to the state of nature. It is defined as the right to make the incontestable decision in exceptional situations: for instance, in the state of war. The sovereign is the one who can send out people to kill and be killed. This clearly belongs to the state of nature, not to the state of civil society. Thus, the concept of sovereignty is that of a right that those in power have in the state of nature. Kant looks at sovereignty as the obligation or a duty that a state takes on itself as a subject of international law. These duties are both external and internal. Externally, the state gives up the right to wage war, while internally it accepts the duty to respect individual rights, in other words to be constrained by a constitution.
Carl Schmitt thought that the constitution cannot constrain the sovereign, because its power is required precisely in those instances when the constitution is either inapplicable or breaks down. In a sense, the sovereign is in the same position in which every individual is in the state of nature. Hobbes, however, deduces natural rights of people in the state of nature, which are in fact all those duties that they are ready to take up in order to live in the civil society. They are ready to sign a compact that makes it possible for them to enjoy the security of the civil society. The reason that they want to do that is that they prefer peace to war. This preference is based on the interest in self-preservation, but is also moral, which is what Kant also says. Kant thinks that wars are the most immoral things imaginable. Though he disagrees with Hobbes on the foundation of morality, they are in agreement that there is no morality in the state of war, which does not mean that there are no moral rights but only that there is no way to enforce them. War is immoral because it breaks all moral rules and, Kant thought, cannot be made into a moral activity by the adoption of the laws of waging wars. It follows from that, I think, that there are no just wars and that the whole idea of justice in wars is a misguided one.
It could be argued, then, that Kant was a Hobbesian, because Hobbes was in fact Kantian. In other words, Kantian cosmopolitan conclusions were implied in the Hobbesian concept of sovereignty. Once the state of nature is rejected not only among friends but in every respect, the same mechanism that displaces the sovereignty of the individual with the sovereignty of the state displaces the latter with the rule of international law. Both are conceivable only if individualism is accepted. Hobbes, in clear break from Aristotle and most classics, thinks of human beings as being unsocial. Kant starts with the same premise and reaches the same conclusion: people join societies in order to live in peace, theirs is an unsocial sociability. The optimal size of that society from the individualistic point of view is clearly the cosmopolis. This is so precisely because of the individualist assumption, or of the specific unsocial sociability that characterises human beings. To stop short of the cosmopolitan conclusion would mean to abandon the way of arguing from the state of nature that Hobbes introduced.7
Hobbes’ insistence on the unsocial character of human beings has been interpreted as being based on his specific anthropology and psychology. But, that is not really necessary. It is enough to assume individualism.8 Individualism is necessary to assume if a contractual theory of morality and politics is to be defended. This is because the costs of social relations cannot but fall on individuals, thus they have to be parties to the contract. Thus, if it is not to be assumed that “man is by nature a social animal”, i.e., if social relations are contractual, then individualism is unavoidable. This is independent of specific anthropological or psychological assumptions about human beings that one may want to make or accept. All the differences between Hobbes and Kant in these respects are thus irrelevant for the way they see the basis on which civil society is constructed: the basis is always individualism, which in contrast to the Aristotelian or other communitarian theories in political philosophy and ethics can be called “unsocial sociability”. It is simply the allusive way of expressing the fact that the assumption of individualism is being made. That has next to nothing to do with the particular view of human nature that one is prepared to take or accept.
The precise political organisation of the cosmopolis is of course a different matter. In “Theory and Practice” Kant says: “On the one hand, universal violence and the distress it produces must eventually make a people decide to submit to the coercion which reason itself prescribes (i.e., the coercion of public law), and to enter into a civilconstitution. And on the other hand, the distress produced by the constant wars in which the states try to subjugate or engulf each other must finally lead them, even against their will, to enter into a cosmopolitan constitution. Or if such a state of universal peace is in turn even more dangerous to freedom, for it may lead to the most fearful despotism (as has indeed occurred more than once with states that have grown too large), distress must force men to form a state which is not a cosmopolitan commonwealth under a single ruler, but a lawfulfederation under a commonly accepted international right.”9
The solution consistent with the Hobbesian argument is that of a cosmopolitan republic. However, it, the cosmopolitan state, could turn out to be despotic. This is an empirical possibility, it is not a necessity. Clearly, Kant thinks that a republican world state is possible. But a despotic world state is also possible.10 The republican constitution could be subverted and it could then be hard to see how the world republic could be restored. To forestall such a possibility, he suggests another solution: a world federation. In the case of the world republic, only one centre of power would be sovereign and that only internally, as there are no other states and thus there is no external sovereignty. In the case of the world federation, sovereignty is preserved, but it is decentralised and defined within the international law.
There is a debate about how deep or thick this world federation could be. It is often pointed out or argued that Kant had in mind only a very loose or limited confederation of states. This does not seem likely for two reasons.
On the one hand, the main aim of legalisation of international relations is to get rid of power politics, because the final aim is to get rid of the use of violent means and especially to remove the possibility of wars once and for all. This is a historical end, but not the end of history. It is also not the end of politics, as Schmitt thought. It is a fulfilment of an end, one that politics aims at. There are any number of other aims that remain. The elimination of power politics is also thought to be Kantian, but not Hobessian. This is again not correct. Hobbes argued that there can be no supreme power, no one person or a coalition of persons that is stronger than any other person or a coalition of persons. Indeed, in the Hobbesian world, everybody is weak in the state of nature. That goes for individuals, but also for groups of people, i.e., for states. In addition, there is no balance of weakness and thus there is no balance of power. Thus, power politics can only lead to a war of every state against every other state, to international anarchy.11 This is essentially the point that Kant makes, and I think he draws it from the consistent interpretation of Hobbes’ concept of power,
which is essentially that of the symmetry of weakness rather than of balance of power.
On the other hand, this federation has to be based on law, and the nature of law, any law if it is to be law, is that it has individuals as subjects. This is because of the formal and the substantive character of law. Formally, because it is a rule and thus has to apply to those that can follow the rule and those are ultimately the individuals. Substantively, because all the costs are individual, and thus all the duties have to be individualised. Thus, if law has to have any relation to the idea of justice, it has to distribute duties justly and that implies that it has to individualise liability.
The elimination of power politics and the need to individualise duties lead to a rather deep integration of member states of the world federation. Kant himself discuses only certain aspects of this integration. But the structure of the argument is such that it suggests an integration that essentially means that the world republic would have one legal system, though it would be sustained and implemented in a decentralised way, i.e, by a federation or a confederation.
Kant does not give other reasons for preferring world federation over a world republic. He leaves an impression that the former is a second best solution. That may not be the case, however. There are reasons to prefer federations over centralised states and those carry over to the international commonwealth. Some of the reasons can actually be deduced from what Kant says about the territoriality of states, the spread of markets and the limitation of public debt.
Before going into these issues, it is perhaps useful to look into the frequently mentioned fact that Kant does accept that people differ in culture and in other ethnic or national characteristics. He also treats states as self-sufficient and self-contained. How are these aspects of his theory to be reconciled with his cosmopolitanism? Here a contrast with Rawls’ theory of international relations may be useful.12
Though Rawls echoes almost all Kant’s statements, he does not accept either world federalism or cosmopolitanism. Rather, he starts with the assumption that societies are closed and self-sufficient with no international relations whatsoever. Then they enter into an international compact with the aim to coexist peacefully. Among them there are some “burdened societies” that need aid and outside of this community remain outlaw states that present the residual security risk.13 Now, on the face of it, this theory does not differ fundamentally from Kant’s. However, it does not rely on the Hobbesian argument and is not individualistic in the Kantian sense.14
Hobbes sees the state as primarily a security arrangement. Other values and goods are not necessarily to be supplied by the state. Kant in essence adopts the same approach. Rawls, however, sees the society and the state as the suppliers of mutual benefits and of their just distribution. Political obligation springs from these facts. International law lets peoples, societies and states live in peace. There are no Hobbesian reasons that drive the creation of societies and of states, at least not in his later work which is the relevant one when it comes to international issues and affairs.
For Rawls, the key problem is the inevitable political pluralism both domestically and internationally. It is really the ideological conflict rather then the conflict between the individual and the public that is the key political problem for Rawls. There is no doubt that ideological, i.e., religious conflicts are important and that those have been neglected by almost all political philosophy until the early nineteenth century. Still, one way to see these conflicts resolved, both domestically and internationally, is to adopt an individualistic point of view rather than a communitarian one.
Kant indeed takes into account cultural differences and the reality of cultural pluralism.15 He also takes a state to be self-sufficient. However, he still argues that all states will adopt a republican constitution and that these republics will enter into a world federation based on international law. Clearly, he dissociates culture from politics. His acceptance of the existence of certain social homogeneity and of self-sufficiency cannot be understood as providing external sociological and economic reasons for the determination of the extensionality of a concrete state. It is not to be taken to have any additional significance for the solution of the basic political problems, especially not those that are connected with security.
This can be seen from the way that Kant treats the above mentioned issues of territoriality, markets, and public debt. Rawls argues that the specific people own the territory they occupy and can thus regulate movements of people and the working of the labour market. Rawls’ justification invokes a questionable analogy of states with private firms.16 In essence, he basically argues that citizens are shareholders and the government the management of a certain state on a certain territory because, otherwise, the value of the territory and thus of citizenship would tend to deteriorate. Thus, a state is, in this respect, one large firm.
Kant thought that the public ownership was only formal, while every piece of property was distributed to individual persons. The responsibility was thus decentralised too. So, the territoriality of the state was to be seen purely in terms of security and legal jurisdiction, it had nothing to do with the value of the land or of the citizenship. Also, territory was not to be seen as being coextensive with the distribution of cultures. Thus, state had no role in maintaining the culture and certainly could not claim that it was responsible for its development in order to maximise the value of the citizenship it offered or secured.
Kant also thought that trade replaces war and makes it obsolete. That was the belief of other liberals, e.g., of Constant. Though he did not treat the role of financial and labour markets, it is to be assumed that in the circumstances in which he was writing, the type of nationalistic protectionism that emerged later on would have most probably been rejected by him.17 In any case, his endorsement of trade could be extended to include freedom to invest and move. Thus, it can be argued that Kant indeed, anticipated the four freedoms endorsed by the European Union; those of ideas, goods, capital and labour.
Kant famously argued that states should be prohibited from accumulating public debt. He thought that the ability to run fiscal deficits, especially those externally financed, enabled states or induced them to go to war. Thus, he argued for the prohibition of public debt. It could be argued that Kant was advocating the constitutional provision of balanced budgets for any state, republican or any other. He clearly did not want to allow states to be able to bail themselves out of recessions or out of accumulated debts by going to war.
Thus, the world federation would be run by a common legal system, would consist of free republican states, which would be based on private property, would entertain free markets and would forbid the states to accumulate public debt. The latter requirement would probably imply the use of common currency. Thus, the sovereignty of a state would be limited to the implementation of the international and constitutional law.
Argument from Globalisation
Kant argued that providence reveals the historical necessity of perpetual peace. Rawls, as already mentioned, speaks about realistic utopia. Clearly, perpetual peace cannot be found in the past, so it has to be anticipated in the future. But it has to be discernible in the present. Kant’s argument is detailed and well known, so it will not be summarised here. The key issue is not so much the justification or the content of the international and cosmopolitan law. There are essentially two questions of interest: first, whether states will ever develop an interest to abandon power politics and adopt international law and, second, even if they adopted it, why should they implement it?
The first issue, of the replacement of the law of power by the power of law, has become rather hotly debated recently. Probably the most notorious is the argument to be found in the recent book by Robert Kagan.18 There he argues, as does Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic and the knave in Hobbes’ Leviathan, that power is justice (that might makes right) and only the weak have an interest in the law that constrains the powerful. Kant essentially argues, similarly, to Hobbes, that wars will get more frequent and more bloody and will thus become too costly for the powerful as well as for the weak. Thus, Kant argues that certain symmetry of power or rather weakness will lead states to gradually adopt the rule of law and give up the reliance on power politics.
Kant also notices that the world has become interdependent and that everybody has an interest in the implementation of international law. Thus, he links the emergence of the international legal order to the process of globalisation, as would be called today. In the same way in which local markets get regulated and practically for the same reasons, it will be in the interest of everybody to regulate global markets. Thus, it is the interest in the benefits that the functioning of the elements of the civil society on a global scale brings that will support the gradual development of the international legal order and of the cosmopolis. Clearly, this interest strengthens with the increase of the costs of conflicts, which grow together with the growth of benefits that global markets bring. That rule of law in the global market should be as beneficial as in the national markets seems too obvious to require any additional argumentation. There is just the issue of the particular way that the required international action should take. Kant thought international contract is the preferred alternative. In that context he upheld the concept of national sovereignty: states need to be sovereign to be able to take over the obligations under the international law: they should be sovereign in order to create international obligations and implement them.
These ideas could be supplemented with those that are to be found in the work of liberal federalists, for instance in Hayek.19 Two arguments could be mentioned. World federation is superior to a unitary world state because it enables, first, competition of legal practices and, second, it gives people the possibility to vote with their feet. This is analogous to the freedom of entry and exit into a market that facilitates the efficient allocation of resources. It is often argued, in this context, that Kant restricts obligations towards foreigners to those of hospitality. Rawls, thus, looks quite unfavourably on migration. This interpretation, however, is both incomplete and probably false. It is incomplete because Kant’s states can be hospitable in different ways and Kant does not deny that. For instance, it may mean that foreigners can expect that the host country will pay their medical bills or care about their welfare in whatever way that country thinks is hospitable. How wide or restricted these obligations are is not prescribed by Kant. It is also false to conclude that Kant thought that foreigners can only be guests, they cannot migrate. These are clearly two different things. Migration is up to the market and laws that regulate them. I do not see Kant arguing that labour markets should be closed down at state borders. The correct interpretation is probably that Kant obliged states to be hospitable to the guests from other states and let everything else to the markets and the civil society. At least, I think that is a Kantian argument that can be found in, for instance, Hayek.
Thus, cosmopolis would be decentralised and would consist of free individuals and sovereign states. Sovereign in the sense that they would be responsible for the legal order and for the implementation of the international law.
Kantian idea of sovereignty is that of the political centre of responsibility under the international law. In addition, it is internally constrained by the republican constitution. It is a device to prevent the occurrence of wars, an instrument of pacifistic politics. It will emerge because people will learn from the horrors of the ever more terrible wars and because of the globalisation of individual interests. Its stability has to be additionally assured by the privatisation of property, freedom of trade and the restriction on the accumulation of public debt. In the final analysis, this cosmopolis should have only one goal: freedom of the individual. It could be argued, though it indeed is not in this paper, that the European Union could be such a cosmopolis in the making.
written in 2005.
Beitz, Ch., Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton University Press, 1999 (revised edition).
Bobbitt, Ph., The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Hayek, F., “The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism” in Individualism and Economic Order. The University of Chicago Press, 1948.
Hobbes, Th., Leviathan.
Kagan, R., Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
Leibniz, G. W., Political Writings. Edited by Patrick Riley. Cambridge University Press, 1988 (second edition).
Malcolm, N., “Hobbes’s Theory of International Relations“ in Aspects of Hobbes. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Rawls, J., Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press, second edition, 1996.
Rawls, J., The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press, 1999.
Reiss, H., Kant’s Political Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Schmitt, C., The Concept of the Political. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Schmitt, C., Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1985.
Strauss, L., Natural Right and History. The University of Chicago Press, 1953.
Strauss, L., “Notes on Carl Schmitt: The Concept of the Political“ in Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Tuck, R., The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Weiler, J. H. H., “Federalism and Constitutionalism: Europe’s Sonderweg” in Kalypso Nicolaidis and Robert Howse (eds.), The Federal Vision: Legitimacy and Levels of Governance in the US and the EU. Oxford University Press, 2001
Williams, H., Kant’s Critique of Hobbes: Sovereignty and Cosmopolitanism. University of Wales Press, 2003.
- Reiss (1970), p. 189. In other places Kant argues that wars will get worse over time approximating the state of war of all states against all states before it becomes clear to citizens of all states, including those that are big and powerful, that peace is to be preferred. Both processes – gradual disappearance of wars and the adoption of the rule of law to avoid an overall world conflict – are consistent with the Hobbesian argument for pacification through the rule of law.
- The standard interpretation of the history of international relations theory contrasts Hobbes’ realism with Kant’s idealism (see, for instance, Beitz, 1999). Kant’s Hobbesianism is, however, underlined by Tuck (2001). Williams (2003) is ambivalent on this point. Malcolm (2003) shows that Hobbes was not a realist he is taken to be, though his interesting essay is not altogether clear and does not discuss the relationship with Kant, though he seems to be arguing that Hobbes was quite Kantian in his reliance on international law.
- Underlying, for instance, his The Concept of the Political and Political Theology and indeed all his writings. For a criticism relevant for this paper see Strauss’ review of The Concept of the Political.
- This is one way to understand the significance that Schmitt puts on the contrast of friends with enemies for political science.
- Strauss (1953), p. 198. In his criticism of Schmitt, Strauss points to the main difficulty that interpreters of Hobbes who take him to be the originator of the theory of power politics face: Hobbes either thinks that politics starts where the state of nature ends or he does not. If he does, then Kantian conclusion of the necessity of the international rule of law is unavoidable. Schmitt, of course, thought that without the constant presence of the state of nature, there is no politics either in theory or in practice. Malcolm (in 2003) argues that natural right in Hobbes applies universally and thus leads to the existence and acceptance of international law. This is another way to argue, I think, that Hobbesian argument does not lead to the conclusion that power politics is the natural state of affairs in international politics.
- Early criticism of Hobbes’ rejection of the separation of powers can be already found in Leibniz (1988), 118-120.
- Again, Strauss is certainly right to point out, as Constant did in the well-known lecture on modern and ancient freedoms, that individualism underlies the whole modern political philosophy. He is also certainly right in arguing that all the problems that modern political philosophy faces have also to be traced back to individualism. That does not mean, however, that there are solutions to be found in the ancient political philosophy or in any other alternative approach to politics. He seems to have thought, as did Schmitt, that political philosophy faces always the same set of problems that it tries to understand and explain rather than to solve once and for all. Of course, he differed from Schmitt in the definition of these problems: Schmitt thought that those were associated with the difference between friends and enemies while Strauss saw them, as did practically all political philosophers, liberal or others, in the western tradition, in the tension between the individual and the public. In that sense, Schmitt was not only contemplating the exception, he was, as a political philosopher, truly exceptional, perhaps together with Marx or perhaps some Marxists. Because, though for different reasons, they believed that politics is an instrument of war and not the other way around.
- This is standard in the game theoretical and social choice based interpretations of Hobbes’ political philosophy. This is also the starting point of Rawls in his A Theory of Justice and of most political philosophy that his work revived. Thus, the often discussed differences between Hobbes and Kant on the role of rationality and of moral incentives (and ethics in general), is not really relevant for their respective political philosophies and their comparisons. The key assumption is that of individualism, everything else can be debated separately and on its own merits.
- Reiss (1970), p. 90.
- At least, Kant writes that way. However, the Hobbesian concept of sovereignty could perhaps imply that. As the sovereign is above law, that could perhaps lead to despotic consequences if there were only one state in the world. The reasons could be those that indeed can be observed to be supporting despotism in large and populous states.
- There is, it seems to me, a general misunderstanding of Hobbes’ idea of power. Strauss argued that the idea of power is the key to understanding Hobbes’ and modern political philosophy. It is, however, striking that Hobbes in fact starts with the state of nature in which everybody is weak and nobody powerful: there is no balance of power in the state of nature. And as far as states are permanently in the state of nature, international relations cannot be based on the balance of power. In other words, there is no equilibrium solution to power politics.
- Especially relevant are Political Liberalism and The Law of Peoples. His A Theory of Justice is also relevant but mainly because of his shift from a Hobbesian and Kantian kind of an argument to be found there to a more communitarian one that is to be found in his more recent work. Especially when it comes to international law and relations, Rawls adopts liberal nationalist point of view rather than the individualistic and rational approach to be found in Kant.
- He also adds the fifth type of states: benevolent absolutisms. He says very little about those, however.
- Also, Rawls’ theory is almost exclusively normative. It is especially hard to understand his contention that his is a “realistic utopia” as it is both too realistic to be utopian and too normative to be meaningfully realistic if that entails some role for the empirical facts.
- In that he seems to have been of the same opinion as Herder.
- In The Law of Peoples.
- A Kantian argument for a market state, I think, could be made. For a recent treatment of the changing nature of states with the discussion of the contemporary “market state”, see Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles.
- Of Paradise and Power.
- In his Individualism and Economic Order.