Kant's Rational Freedom: Positive and Negative Peace

In Sanjay Lal (ed.), Peaceful Approaches for a More Peaceful World. Leiden: BRILL. pp. 230-238 (2022)
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World peace was a common theoretical consideration among philosophers during Europe’s Enlightenment period. The first robust essay on peace was written by Charles Irénée Castel de Saint- Pierre, which sparked an intellectual debate among prominent philosophers like Jean- Jacques Rousseau and Jeremy Bentham, who offered their own treatises on the concept of peace. Perhaps the most influential of all such writings comes from Immanuel Kant, who argues that world peace is no “high- flown or exaggerated notion” but rather a natural result of the rational progression of the human species. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the mastermind behind the formation of the League of Nations in 1920 that provided the scaffolding to today’s United Nations, read Kant’s philosophy while he was a student at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Some have argued that it is no coincidence that the per-son responsible for embarking upon the first serious political pursuit of world peace on a global scale was familiar with Kant. Indeed, William Galston claims that “Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points [for world peace] were a faithful transcription of both the letter and spirit of Kant’s Perpetual Peace.”3 Historical connections aside, the question remains as to whether Kant’s philosophy is a viable conception of peace in a contemporary context. Using the conceptual distinction of positive and negative peace provided by Johan Galtung, I argue that Kant’s philosophy does provide the scaffolding for a viable conception of peace. In particular, I provide particular examples as to what social rights must be included in a Kantian model of peace.

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Casey Rentmeester
University of South Florida (PhD)


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