Multipolarity and Connectivity
What’s Perpetual Peace Got to Do with RUBIO?

Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace, long considered one of the jewels in the Enlightenment’s crown imagining true, well-founded and lasting peace, provides the philosophical basis of the war that the West is today waging against the World Majority, specifically against Russia, with China also in its sights, in the name of the Rules Based International Order (RUBIO), writes Radhika Desai, Professor of the Department of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba (Canada), for the Valdai Club session at the International Kant Congress, titled “Reason and Progress? History of Civilisations Turned to the Future”

It may seem absurd and even sacrilegious to claim. Did Kant not speak of the universality of the categories with which he dealt – subjecthood or reason or nation-hood? Did he not actively oppose colonialism? Did he refer, in Perpetual Peace, to 

the inhospitable conduct of the civilised states of our continent, especially the commercial states, the injustice which they display in visiting foreign countries and peoples (which in their case is the same as conquering them) [which] seems appallingly great. America, the negro countries, the Spice Islands, the Cape, etc. were looked upon at the time of their discovery as ownerless territories; for the native inhabitants were counted as nothing. In East India (Hindustan) foreign troops were brought in under the pretext of merely setting up trading posts. This led to oppression of the natives, incitement of various Indian states to widespread wars, famine, insurrection, treachery and the whole litany of evils that can oppress the human race. (1991b, p. 106)

Did he not, further, opine, that such forms of conquest undertaken by “powers who make endless ado about their piety” did not benefit from the violence they inflicted? (107)

Notwithstanding these facts, a closer look at Perpetual Peace reveals a surprisingly snug alignment with the Western aggression today. 

Three Hundred Years of Progress and Reason
Andrey Bystritskiy
The original, Kantian, if you like, anthropology will be common to everyone. If this is so, we have the grounds for building a new world order, one which is organically acceptable for the entire planet. It remains for us, also in the Kantian way, to hope for this.
Message from the Chairman

The modus operandus of the West today is simple. There is, it is claimed, a ‘rules-based international order’. Those who comply with the rules are within the pale, or the inner and privileged circle that enjoys good relations with one another, including the most powerful economies in the world. However, those outside the pale are not only to be excluded; every attempt must be made to force them to accede to the so-called RUBIO. The West reserves for itself the freedom to use all weapons, including the most illicit and illegal, from sanctions to assassinations to declarations of war for no greater cause than that the adversary refused to conform to this or that element of the RUBIO. It is, of course, additionally egregious that the so-called rules based international order is unwritten and when anything is unwritten, there is no saying what it’s content might be and anything can be put in its place. This only means that the West can, and does, make it up as it goes along. 

How is this related to Perpetual Peace? Contemptuous of the Catholic natural law tradition in which international law had hitherto been conceptualised, from the days of Francisco de Vitoria, Hugo Grotius and John Locke, Kant sets international law on a new, secular and, one must add, specifically bourgeois basis, arguing that subjecthood in modern society can only belong to a propertied member of civil society; that is, by one who has already acquired private property. Previously John Locke had already set the legal basis of private property in a way that justified the appropriation of North America from its inhabitants and advanced the conception of civil society in which alone its unfettered use is possible. For Kant, moreover, only private property provides the owner with the ‘independence’ to permit him to legislate. This not only leaves out all the unpropertied as those who do not rule but must be ruled, but has a grave and major implication for international affairs. 

After Vitoria argued for the property and political rights of the indigenous peoples only to reserve for Europeans the right to wage war against them for violating their ‘right’ to proselytise, after Grotius had introduced the right of free agents to inflict private punishment on those outside his society, and after Locke, who critically introduced the element of (a certain kind of) labour, to justify property, we find Kant facing a new problem to resolve: one arising ‘subsequent to seventeenth-century European expansion. His subject was tasked with the problem of justifying a moral order commensurate with inter-state commerce, not just intra-national or intra-imperial trade’

The international relations of the capitalist world, what Marx called the ‘relations of producing nations’, had already led to the earliest absolutisms to colonise much of the world in the interests of the long-distance commercial interests that were already incubating in their wombs by the 18th century. When Kant wrote, the matter was advanced by the beginnings of the ‘expansion of England’, kicking off the process of the dominant industrial capitalist countries colonising much of the world so as to find markets, raw materials and eventually investment outlets and cheap labour.

In this context, while Germany was not in in this imperial fray to any measurable extent, remaining disunited and industrially backward, German philosophy, as Marx would point out a century later, thought in advance of its European counterparts and Kant now produced a justification for how to treat nations that do not permit European style capitalist commerce.

Kant argues that the rule that ‘one cannot take hostile action against anyone unless one has already been actively injured by them’ only applies to situations where ‘both parties are living in a legal civil state’. 

But man (or an individual people) in a mere state of nature robs me of any security and injures me by this very state in which be co-exists with me. He may not have injured me actively (facto), but he does injure me by the very lawlessness of his state (statu iniusto) for he is a permanent threat to me and I can require him either to enter into a common lawful state along with me or to move away from my vicinity. (98n. Emphasis added) 

Any state deviating from the ‘pure’ state of unfettered rights or property can be considered to be a version of this state of nature. As a long line of thinkers, from Marx through Lenin to the likes of Polanyi, Keynes and the development state theorists of our time have underlined, there can be no development, industrialisation or improvement in the standards of living of the people of any country without a hefty dose of state intervention interfering with the rights of property. The number of such states has inevitably multiplied, and nearly every state can be accused of being part of the alleged ‘state of nature’. Indeed, even the homelands of capitalism in the West feature heavy degrees of state intervention, exclusively on the side of corporate capital these days, of course. So, the US and Western insistence on international aggression to require the rest of the world to open up its economies to US and Western corporations and their needs wielding of this sort of justification for international aggression has given Western aggression the paradoxical character of being both systematic and arbitrary. 

The rules of the RUBIO cannot be clearly stated. If they were, it would become clear that the rules are those that preserve the power and privileges of Western corporations around the world, notwithstanding their lack of competitiveness, productive power or innovative dynamism. Since that cannot be said without arousing universal ridicule, not to mention the stink of profound illegitimacy, the rules are left undefined. What is incontrovertible, however, is that the basic principle that Kant elucidated, that a country with a different system is fair game in a just war is what continues to underline Western aggression against the world majority today.  

Multipolarity and Connectivity
300 Years of Immanuel Kant. A Reason to Believe
Ivan Timofeev
It appears that humanity is once again approaching a significant turning point, where the cumulative impact of the costs associated with progress may lead to further calamities and disruptions. These events could serve as a powerful impetus for the human mind to reflect upon its limitations, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.