Kant's Second Thoughts on Colonialism

In Katrin Flikschuh & Lea Ypi (eds.), Kant and Colonialism: Historical and Critical Perspectives. Oxford University Press. pp. 43-67 (2014)
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Kant is widely regarded as a fierce critic of colonialism. In Toward Perpetual Peace and the Metaphysics of Morals, for example, he forcefully condemns European conduct in the colonies as a flagrant violation of the principles of right. His earlier views on colonialism have not yet received much detailed scrutiny, however. In this essay I argue that Kant actually endorsed and justified European colonialism until the early 1790s. I show that Kant’s initial endorsement and his subsequent criticism of colonialism are closely related to his changing views on race, because his endorsement of a racial hierarchy plays a crucial role in his justification of European colonialism. He gave up both in the mid 1790s while he was developing his legal and political philosophy, and he adopted a more egalitarian version of the cosmopolitan relationship among peoples.
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