The Ends of politics : Kant on sovereignty, civil disobedience and cosmopolitanism

In Paul Formosa, Tatiana Patrone & Avery Goldman (eds.), Politics and Teleology in Kant. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pp. 37-58 (2014)
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A focus on the presence of unjustified coercion is one of the central normative concerns of Kant’s entire practical philosophy, from the ethical to the cosmopolitical. This focus is intimately interconnected with Kant’s account of sovereignty, since only the sovereign can justifiably coerce others unconditionally. For Kant, the sovereign is she who has the rightful authority to legislate laws and who is subject only to the laws that she gives herself. In the moral realm (or kingdom) of ends, each citizen is both a member of that realm and an equal co-sovereign of its categorically binding laws (GMS, 4:433-34, Reath 2006, p. 5). As such, each citizen is 'subject to the moral law' only insofar as she is 'at the same time lawgiving with respect to it and only for that reason subordinated to it' (GMS, 4:440). But when Kant comes to think about sovereignty in the political sphere, a number of tensions emerge. These tensions emerge because a doctrine of absolutist popular sovereignty, according to which the people are the ultimate holders of sovereignty, seems to be implied by Kant’s underlying normative theory. However, Kant also makes numerous explicit statements which seem to imply a doctrine of absolutist ruler sovereignty, according to which the ruler is the ultimate holder of sovereignty. And this seems inconsistent. However, despite the appearance of inconsistency I shall argue, by exploring the issues of civil disobedience and cosmopolitan peace, that Kant consistently defends an account of absolutist popular sovereignty which is compatible with his core normative commitments. Exploring these issues will also illuminate Kant’s political teleology by showing us the political ends towards which we should work and the means by which we should pursue them.

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Paul Formosa
Macquarie University


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