Ripstein, Kant and barbarism

by Chris Bertram on September 21, 2010

I’ve just completed Arthur Ripstein’s Force and Freedom, his rather excellent book on Kant’s political philosophy. When I say excellent, I mean that Ripstein is clear, precise and does his best to present Kant in an appealing light. I doubt that a better account of Kant’s views will be published in English. Clarity of exposition, however, has two sides to it. And in me it induced both the belief that this was what Kant believed and a revulsion at the implications of such a system. I detected rather more affection in Ripstein’s own response, in fact, I rather get the impression that he believes that something close to Kant’s views are true.[fn1] I, by contrast, have had my respect for Rousseau, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Mill and Nietzsche enhanced, especially insofar as they are all prepared to pay at least _some_ attention to welfare, anthropology, and psychology – all of which Kant (officially) disdains in favour of the sparse metaphysics of freedom-as-non-domination.

Ripstein’s final chapter is on revolution and deals with Kant’s frankly embarrassing views on the right to resist the sovereign authorities. Embarrassing because, of course, OMG teh Nazis!! Since Ripstein understandably doesn’t want to endorse (either on his own behalf or on Kant’s) the proposition that it is wrong to rise up and fight the Nazis, he invokes a distinction between a state of despotism and a state of barbarism. In the first of these, the state may be unjust and oppressive, but guarantees everyone’s property and personal security most of the time, whereas in the second, a bunch of gangsters are exercising arbitrary power via the state machinery. Under despotism you can petition the sovereign, but basically have to comply with his edicts; under barbarism there is no sovereign and you can rise up as a function of your obligation to compel those in proximity to you to enter into a rightful condition (i.e. a proper constitutional order).

The problem with OMG-teh-Nazis as the example, though, is that it leaves us all in the dark about a whole bunch of other regimes. Is a resident of Madrid circa 1950 bound to acquiescence? Moreover it suggests that there is an answer as to whether a given state or “state” is despotic or barbaric, whereas it may be that states are despotic (or better) with respect to some people within their power and barbaric with respect to others. Which raises a question about the duties of those subject to the powers of such partially barbaric states, including the duties of those who do not themselves experience their rule as barbaric. A few concrete examples may help to see what I have in mind. Take the United States before the Civil War (and quite possibly between Reconstruction and the 1960s). Is this a barbaric state or a quasi-constitutional one? Do its black subjects have the right to rise up during some of that period, or all of it? And what of a white citizen resident of New York – does that person have the right to rise up in solidarity with the victims of barbarism? Or are they required to comply with the laws of an imperfect but actual sovereign? Or take Palestine today: clearly Israel is a constitutional order with respect to its citizens (although an imperfect one), but it is not obviously one with respect to all those people over whom it exercises power within the territory it controls. I suspect, then, that the barbarism/despotism distinction will not do the work that Ripstein’s Kant wants it to do of cutting cleanly between states we should put up with and those may, indeed must, resist.

fn1. Much entertainment is provided as Ripstein attempts to explain apparently insane remarks of Kant about particular matters. Further entertainment is provided when you look up the embarrassing context in the Rechtslehre only to find that the remark is far from the nuttiest in the paragraph. A good example, is the bit where Kant talks about the duty of states dissolving themselves to execute all the murderers in custody before they do so, which occurs in close proximity to a passage explaining that infants born to unmarried mothers enjoy no protection against being done in.



Hidari 09.21.10 at 2:31 pm

FWIW Eichmann (acording to Arendt) quoted Kant in his defence at his trial: indeed he stated that Kant was where he got the idea for his ‘I vas only obeying orders’ defence. If memory serves (which it probably doesn’t) Eichmann used a particularly strong form of this argument (using Kantian language): he stated that, not only were his actions not immoral, but to have done anything else (i.e. resisted) would have been immoral as this would have brought the German legal system into disrepute (or something).

Incidentally: ‘a bunch of gangsters … exercising arbitrary power via the state machinery’ is definitely wrong as a description of Nazi Germany, unless one is speaking metaphorically (in which case, it is of course, completely correct). Hitler was very careful to observe the illusion of legality both in national and international law. He had legal precedents for many of his actions, some prominent legal theorists thought he was doing the right thing, and even his destruction of democracy was carried out within a legal framework.


mpowell 09.21.10 at 2:57 pm

It’s hard to avoid concluding that Kant’s philosophy doesn’t interact with the real world very favorably.


More Dogs, Less Crime 09.21.10 at 3:21 pm

I find the radical pacifist argument that there is never a right to rebel, nor a duty to comply, more interesting.

Hidari, I thought one of Carl Schmitt’s themes (used to justify the Night of the Long Knives) was that the executive had to go beyond the law. Granted, he was more of a boot-licking supplicant than representative of the regime’s philosophy.


burritoboy 09.21.10 at 3:46 pm

Further, just like depotism / barbarism doesn’t have sufficient explanatory power, resist/not resist doesn’t describe reality very well either.


Hidari 09.21.10 at 4:51 pm

#3 I am not (repeat NOT) an expert on Schmitt, but my understanding is that he thought that, in order to defend the law, the leader of a country sometimes has to bend or break the law (or in Richard Nixon’s deathless phrase ‘when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal’).

In Schmitt’s phraseology: ‘”The leader defends the law” (“Der Führer schützt das Recht”)’

But that’s very different from saying that there is, or should be, no law (or laws).

Remember, under Hitler, the Weimar Republic’s Constitution was never repealed or abrogated.


novakant 09.21.10 at 5:38 pm

they are all prepared to pay at least some attention to welfare, anthropology, and psychology – all of which Kant (officially) disdains in favour of the sparse metaphysics of freedom-as-non-domination.

Kant held lectures on anthropology for decades and published an “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View”. And the “Critique of Judgement” of course concerns itself with psychology and anthropology and presents us with an account of humanity and freedom that goes way beyond “sparse metaphysics”. Generally speaking it helps to take into account what Kant actually sets out to do and he tends to be pretty clear on that.


Chris Bertram 09.21.10 at 5:57 pm

No inconsistency novakant: the point is that Kant’s account of _right_ is (at least officially) independent of all such concerns, not that he had no interest in any of them elsewhere in his work.


Matt 09.21.10 at 6:06 pm

Chris- you might look at Robert Louden’s excellent _Kant’s Impure Ethics_ for a somewhat different view. I think it gives a more accurate account of how Kant’s various views and interests fit together than is given here.


Chris Bertram 09.21.10 at 6:23 pm

Not a fan of Ripstein’s book then Matt?


Jon Mandle 09.21.10 at 6:38 pm

I also doubt that a better account of Kant’s views will be published in English. But it seems to me important to emphasize that the reason why Kant neglects to pay attention to welfare, anthropology, and psychology is because his account of right is supposed to be an account of part of the “metaphysics of morals.” For Kant, once the metaphysical framework is in place – once we understand what we’re talking about when we’re talking about “right”, and the source of legitimate law, and the nature of property rights, and the grounds for coercion, etc. – then we will know when and how considerations of welfare, anthropology, and psychology become relevant in more concrete cases. Ripstein emphasizes repeatedly that the framework requires judgment to apply in specific circumstances – for example, in the determination of which specific laws would be legitimate or just. A similar point holds for determining the line between despotism and barbarism – although there is no doubt that a slave-holding society would count as barbaric. The point is to tell us which kinds of considerations are relevant in making that determination and why, not to give us a formula to apply. That said, I certainly agree that there is much more work to be done in exploring exactly these more concrete issues from within this framework.


mcd 09.21.10 at 7:09 pm

Can a state have a barbaric constitution?


Jeppe 09.21.10 at 7:25 pm

For another good treatment of Kant’s doctrine of right that goes some way towards explaining Kant’s position on revolution, I recommend Joachim Hruschka and Sharon Byrd _Kant’s Doctrine of Right: A Commentary_ (CUP, 2010). I think Ripstein’s book is great and so deserves the company of this splendid interpretation.


Neil 09.21.10 at 8:28 pm

Novakant, have you read Kant’s Anthropology? It contains a bit of Kantian epistemology, a bit of anthropology and a lot of Emily Post (except nuttier).


John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 9:42 pm

I come pretty close to Kant (as interpreted by Ripstein, as summarised by Chris) on consequentialist grounds. If a revolution is to have good consequences it must (a) succeed (at least in part) (b) replace the existing government with a better one (c) not cost too many lives in the process.

The odds against meeting those conditions seem very long to me, particularly if the existing government guarantees personal security and property most of the time. The successful examples mostly involve “pushing at an open door”.


Jack Strocchi 09.21.10 at 10:08 pm

Pr Q @ #14 said:

I come pretty close to Kant (as interpreted by Ripstein, as summarised by Chris) on consequentialist grounds.

I thought Kant was a “let justice prevail though the heavens fall” kind of guy? His deontological “intentionalism” is usually posed as an alternative to Mill’s teleological consequentialism.

Although I grant that Kantian liberalism and Millian liberalism notoriously boil down to the same ideological thing, although uttered in somewhat different accents. (Unctuous all the way down, though.)


enzo rossi 09.21.10 at 10:55 pm

I read in some historical account of the rise of Nazism that, after the Munich Bierhalle fiasco, Hitler realised that the German people would not back a revolution, and thus decided to attempt to seize power with a semblance of legality. Which of course he did, as pointed out by Hidari @ 1.

But that’s beside the point. Ripstein wants to say that Kant would support (indeed require) the overthrow of the Third Reich on grounds of barbarism, regardless of how they came to power. In fact there is a section in that chapter on the irrelevance of history to the issue of legitimacy: “The existence of a rightful condition can no more be conditional on the prudence of its current rulers than it can on the justice of its founders”. (p. 335) So Hitler’s concern for legality and due process (!) wouldn’t help him on Ripstein’s account of Kant’s position. But, as Chris pointed out, it’s far from clear how we can make sense–let alone use–of the barbarism/despotism distinction, so for once the reductio ad Hitlerum (internets version: ‘OMG teh Nazis!!’) doesn’t seem out of place.


Chris Bertram 09.21.10 at 10:56 pm

John Q., but I doubt that you think that people in unjust states have a duty simply to obey the unjust laws (whilst petitioning the sovereign respectfully).


John Quiggin 09.21.10 at 11:09 pm

Chris, indeed not. Petitioning the sovereign may have its place, and displaying (or feigning) respect is usually a good idea with sovereigns, but so does non-compliance with unjust laws. There are lots of instances of successful non-compliance, and the costs of failure are typically smaller than with failed revolutions.


novakant 09.21.10 at 11:19 pm

What John Mandle said in #10.


Tim Wilkinson 09.21.10 at 11:51 pm

Jack Strocchi @15: Mill and Kant are utterly different. Kant is, in my ever-so-humble opinion, doctrinaire and utterly unphilosophical when it comes to substantive ethics and politics (and, btw, hopelessly indeterminable when it comes to the formal and abstract end of things). Which, pace JQ, is not to say he is never stopped-clock-right at the level of casuistry. But this kind of thing springs to mind:

Because of this continuity, however, that which transfers what is mine to the other is not one of the two separate wills (promittensis et acceptantis), but their united will. So the transfer does not take place in such a way that the promisor first abandons (derelinquat) his possession for the other’s advantage, or renounces (renunciat) his right, and the other immediately takes it up, or the reverse. Transfer is therefore an act in which an object belongs, for a moment, to both together, just when a stone that has been thrown reaches the apex of its parabolic path, it can be regarded as, for just a moment, simultaneously rising and falling, and so first passing from its rising motion to its falling.

The method of deduction is literally (see Paul Guyer, can’t remember the title, in Deiter Henrich, Kant’s Transcendental Deductions) – and in the worst sense – legalistic. It’s all about advocacy – finding some formal basis or other for a claim presupposed to be correct. Which is why he never really justifies anything, just gives the Latin name of the species of tortoise the elephant is standing on. Which in turn is why his stuff has been given scant regard by political philosophers, and indeed by me, which is an admission of non-expertise if you like, but I prefer to think I can recognise a dud reasonably quickly and look elsewhere.

Mill, on the other hand, puts forward a brilliant conception of the relationship between the good, the right and the just, providing the best extant attempt at resolving the issue of deontology v consequentialism (see Brink, Brown, can’t remember more detail), and for good measure proposes that socialism might well be the best way forward (Principles Polit Econ, towards the end IIRC), though he is not willing to endorse it outright. Mill is fantastic.

BTW that wiki page is not too great. It has Ayn Rand in it, for one rather flippant thing. I expect the Stanford encyclopaedia of philosophy has a reasonable entry on deontology, but can’t be bothered to look.


novakant 09.21.10 at 11:51 pm

#13 Believe it or not, I actually did plough through Kant’s anthropological writings once for a comp-lit paper. And yes, there is definitely some hilarious stuff in there, but Kant is by no means unique in this regard and very much a child of his times. Yet, they cannot simply be dismissed and in fact should be read to get a more rounded view of his thinking.


Jack Strocchi 09.22.10 at 12:33 am

Pr Q @ #18 said:

There are lots of instances of successful non-compliance, and the costs of failure are typically smaller than with failed revolutions.

On the whole its more civilized, and safer, to advocate changing laws, rather than law-makers. The US government could handle the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but it drew the line at the Black Panthers.


Jack Strocchi 09.22.10 at 12:40 am

Tim Wilkinson @ #20 said:

Mill and Kant are utterly different.

They might be “utterly different” philosophically but you would probably find them coming down on the same side politically, nine times out of ten. Thats a good reason to be skeptical about difference that philosophical ethics makes at the level of practical politics

So far as I can tell, Millian liberalism is just Kantian liberalism without the hair shirt.


Tim Wilkinson 09.22.10 at 1:20 am

Jack Strocchi – Right, well if the one-in-ten are all things like the socialism bit (I’ve just realised that word gets through now), that is quite a difference.

Anyway, you seem to be talking about mammalian bipeds and what sort of sounds might be expected to come out of their faceholes. I’m talking about philosophy; political philosophy, to be specific.


John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 1:29 am

Tim, I’m a big admirer of Mill, so I’d be interested in more details on the piece to which you refer briefly.


Matt 09.22.10 at 1:46 am

Chris- I’ve only read about half of Ripstein’s book so don’t want to express a full opinion on it. (I liked what I read a lot, but just got too behind on other obligations.) My impression was much like Jon’s above, if I understand him, that what Kant (and Ripstein) are doing is pretty abstract, and that it’s at least compatible w/ Louden’s position, that the application to concrete situations involves a clear role for anthropology and the like. And, we don’t have to think Kant was right on the details (or even big parts) of his anthropology to see that the framework it useful.


Tim Wilkinson 09.22.10 at 1:50 am

Principles of Political Economy, Book II, Chapter I: Property It is really very favourable to socialism: Saint-Simonism and Fourierism are described as among the most remarkable products of the age, or something like that. He doesn’t actually recommend socialism – IIRC, he concludes as a good empiricist that the thing to do is (for someone) to try it.


John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 6:33 am

I’m familiar with that one, thanks. I actually meant the ref on deontology and consequentialism.


Chris Bertram 09.22.10 at 6:37 am

My strong impression, though ymmv Matt and Jon, is that despite all talk of there being no “formula”, taking circumstances into account in the appplication etc, the Kantian state can be perfectly just whilst being exceptionally inegalitarian. For example, there’s one place where Ripstein muses that the state can legitimately intervene in labour markets, enact health and safety laws etc to make it the case that no citizens are in a situation where they have to accept hazardous jobs with the sole employer in town. But it really did seem to me at that point that Ripstein was trying to squeeze more out of the tube than he could – he was edging from something like classical liberalism with a safety net in the direction of Elizabeth-Anderson-style democratic sufficiency – and that you could satisfy the (Kanti-Ripstein) non-domination condition simply by supplying the workers with a barely adequate alternative. The Victorian workhouse would have fitted the bill nicely.

To go further in a social-democratic direction, I think you need to plug welfarist considerations directly into the content of justice in a kind of impure hybrid theory … like Rawls’s in fact.


Chris Bertram 09.22.10 at 6:44 am

Incidentally, the reason I wrote about that Kant “officially” disdains welfarist considerations in determining right is that I (unlike Ripstein) think that there’s all kinds of unacknowledged anthropological infection there: the treatment of the assurance problem for property is one location of this.


Henri Vieuxtemps 09.22.10 at 7:14 am

If a revolution is to have good consequences it must (a) succeed (at least in part) (b) replace the existing government with a better one© not cost too many lives in the process. … The successful examples mostly involve “pushing at an open door”.

I imagine, quite often just a credible threat of uprising replaces the existing government with a better (in some aspects) one. That’s what creates “an open door”. But of course to be credible it has to be real. You have a chicken and egg dilemma here.


Jack Strocchi 09.22.10 at 7:44 am

[aeiou] To elucidate some philosophical distinctions without political difference, the two most famous political philosophers of modern times are:

– Rawls – a (Kantian) deontological contractarian.
– Singer – a (Millian) teleological utilitarian.

Yet both would probably concur on the same basic polity – a social-democratic welfare state. And both would vote for a the same political party – the GREENs.

To make matters worse, Nozick, like Rawls, was a Kantian deontological contractarian. Yet his politics were miles off Rawls.

So what difference do underlying distinctions in ethical philosophy make? Not much, as far as I can tell. Whatever it is that drives political conflict its not abstract disputes about ethics.


Chris Bertram 09.22.10 at 8:04 am

Ok Jack, that’s enough from you in this thread. Others: can we confine the discussion to Kant’s political philosophy and Ripstein’s (and others’ ) interpretation thereof and _closely_ related matters.


Tim Wilkinson 09.22.10 at 10:08 am

(CB, I hope you won’t mind this quick reply to JQ, on a point of order as it were:)

Yes sorry John, I should have realised you would not be asking for further info on that – it was late. I may be out of date by up to about 15 years, and may have misremembered (but don’t have time to check) but I had, for Mill on indirect utilitarianism, David Brink, Mill’s Deliberative Utilitarianism in Phil & Pub Affs, 1992. There’s also David Lyons’s book Rights Welfare and Mill’s Moral Theory, which is less sanguine. The other allusion was to D.G. Brown, Mill on Liberty and Morality but I now STR it was less relevant.


John Quiggin 09.22.10 at 10:55 am

Thanks, TW. The Brink paper gave me some new insights into Mill. Now, back to Kant and Ripstein.

Responding to Chris’ questions, from a position of near-complete ignorance, the one thing I thought I knew about Kant is that a moral duty/right for anyone is a moral duty/right for everyone. So, if American slaves should rebel against their masters, everyone else should help them (I’m not sure whether this is more appropriately cast in terms of rights or duties).


Anderson 09.22.10 at 11:58 am

apparently insane remarks of Kant about particular matters

I’m tempted to say that one should now read Ripstein’s Kant back into the three Critiques, on the theory that Kant did not put his insanity cap on/off depending on what book he was writing.

But then, Nietzsche had pretty much nothing useful to say about politics either.

(N. did say however that apparently absurd metaphysics should be explained by what morality the metaphysician was aiming at; surely someone has written a study of Kant’s moral philosophy, and maybe political as well, with this in mind?)


Chris Robinson 09.22.10 at 12:35 pm

I’m planning to read Ripstein, but I also want to make a pitch for Elisabeth Ellis’s excellent Kant’s Politics, and her development of provisional politics (and policy).


Jon Mandle 09.22.10 at 12:52 pm

Chris – Ripstein doesn’t make the case that the state *must* intervene in markets, regulate health and safety, etc. As you say (@29) he makes the case that it may legitimately do so. And I think you are right that this doesn’t rule out a very inegalitarian society. But I wouldn’t say that this shows they are equally just. What it shows is that they could both be (equally) legitimate. And that seems right to me.
The higher standard of justice requires that we address the question of which permissible scheme would be best for a legislator – and, more generally, citizen – to choose. Legislators must ask which laws best realize (or contribute to realizing) a system of equal freedom. Many considerations properly go into making such a judgment, certainly including welfare, psychology, anthropology, etc. This is the point at which there is a range of reasonable judgments (which is not to say that they are all equally correct). However, because public law is a form of mandatory cooperation, Ripstein argues that there is a presumption in favor of an equal distribution of burdens. (pp.258-259) Still, I agree, that the question of justice rather that legitimacy is exactly what needs more exploration within this framework – and you won’t be surprised that I think Rawls points in the right direction.


Chris Bertram 09.22.10 at 2:44 pm

But Jon, this doesn’t sound quite right to me. After all, equal freedom here simply means that no-one is subject to the domination of a particular other, and that condition can be met just in case everyone can subsist on their smallholding, or has access to welfare payments sufficient to keep body and soul together (together with adequate means to associate with others, hence the “roads to freedom” stuff). Since no-one has a claim on the means that properly belong to others in order to realize their mere wishes, no-one can have an entitlement that the state redistribute in their favour on welfarist grounds (and it would be _unjust_ for the state to do this). As to equal distribution of burdens, this could plausibly be realized by a poll tax to fund a minimal state ….

It all looks a very very long way short of Rawls.


bianca steele 09.22.10 at 4:02 pm

Chris Bertram @ 39
The world that includes the Victorian workhouse doesn’t have the same problem as the world that includes Nazi policies, though: you could have a world of smallholders behaving with complete justice among one another, and still have unjust laws that were unbearable for all or some of the population. For example–and this gets close to the Nazi example, though it isn’t exactly there–the state could make acceptance of support for smallholders, or for welfare recipients, or for both, contingent on acceptance of the majority religion. (This would arguably annoy members of that religion, as well as of the minority religions.) I don’t see how you could subsume the latter issue under questions of distribution, social justice, and so forth–“freedom” would seem to cover it better.


novakant 09.22.10 at 4:21 pm

[Sneering anonymous troll deleted. Novakant: if you want to keep on commenting here then you’ll have to provide a valid email address as per our comments policy. Otherwise, please go away.]


Jon Mandle 09.22.10 at 4:57 pm

I think Kant’s account looks far from Rawls’s account because it should be understood as an account of legitimacy (as opposed to the more demanding standard of justice). Understood in that way, it turns out to be not too far from Rawls’s own account of decent societies (which do not even accept, let alone realize, the principles of liberal justice that he endorses). For both Kant and Rawls, a society that has a very unequal distribution of resources, but in which everyone in guaranteed what is needed to keep body and soul together – and that includes what is necessary to participate in the political order – might still be legitimate (or decent). (As an aside, a minimal state in the strongly libertarian sense would fail this requirement.)
On this reading, Kant said little about which among the permissible, legitimate orders would be the most just precisely because that would depend on empirical considerations of welfare, psychology, and anthropology. He was interested in the metaphysics of a rightful condition. So in that sense, there is still a long way to go in order to justify a particular conception of justice, and it can’t be done in the purely a priori way that he wants to proceed in the “Doctrine of Right”. Still, if we assume certain facts about human needs and vulnerabilities, the fact of reasonable pluralism, and other very broad but empirical facts like these, and if we assume that in a legitimate political order, we aim to give justifications of our policies in terms that others can reasonably accept, you can see how elements start to fall into place that make a kind of Rawlsian construction look like an attractive path to take from an account of legitimacy to an account of justice.


bianca steele 09.22.10 at 5:05 pm

For a long time I thought the main issue regarding the problem of legitimacy was how to say that a regime like Hitler’s or Stalin’s was illegitimate. This is wrong, though, isn’t it? Should it be, rather, about the problem of justifying–or answering objections to–the constitution of an more or less good, but imperfect, existing state.


mdc 09.22.10 at 5:32 pm

Real quick, the Rechtslehre is from the beginning anthropological– or ‘anthroponomical’ in Kant’s odd formulation. It holds only for human beings with a given nature of a certain, determinate sort. It is applied metaphysics.

The antebellum US is an interesting case re: right to revolution. Frederick Douglass argued against Garrison that abolitionists were duty-bound to remain in the Union and pursue the destruction of slavery through legitimate political means. Of course, it was the South that rebelled. Kant’s account at least offers a way to understand that rebellion as treasonous.

Also, doesn’t Kant leave room for a passive resistance form of civil disobedience?


Tim Waligore 09.22.10 at 6:36 pm

Allen Wood has a good short discussion of this topic in Kantian Ethics (2008). For Kant, it has been suggested that one of the main (if not the only) legitimate purpose of the state is to secure the freedom of individuals by establishing and maintaining the conditions under which individuals may enjoy their rights. Kant thinks we are under no obligation (of right) to abstain from touching others possessions if we are given no assurance they will abstain from touching ours. Establishing the conditions for such assurance are important to protecting everyone’s rights (in external things). These conditions for a legitimate state are specified by Kant in the Rechtslehre. Certainly, legislation whose ultimate end is simply to promote the happiness of individuals do not fit this main purpose. However, the state may implement policies that aim to promote the welfare of the people if the state’s ultimate aim is to secure and maintain a legitimate condition of right. Kant specifically mentions policies such as intervening in the economy and taxing the rich so that the poor maintain themselves. Kant is very clear that nothing that he says rules out the “greatest inequalities” in material possessions (see Theory and Practice). Kant does not suggest a direct principle of distributive justice, like Rawls. But, as suggested above, you can see this in a similar manner as Anderson’s theory of democratic equality. Depending on the circumstances and ongoing relationships, Anderson’s principle may end up as an argument for sufficiency or elimination of most material inequalities. In order to ensure our freedom, equality, and independence as citizens, tax and economic policy may need to be changed. Further, it is important to note that Kant does not believe in Lockean or libertarian style property rights. While he does not seem to believe that property rights are merely a creature of the state, he thinks that property rights can only be conclusive in the state, and are only provisional in the state of nature.


Tim Waligore 09.22.10 at 6:52 pm

On Judgment: Jon Mandle wrote: “On this reading, Kant said little about which among the permissible, legitimate orders would be the most just precisely because that would depend on empirical considerations of welfare, psychology, and anthropology.” I haven’t read all of it carefully, but Alexander Kaufmann has a book on Kant and the welfare state that pertains to this. Using Kant’s writing on reflective judgment, Kaufmann develops an account of political judgment that argues that policy makers in a Kantian state should implement policies to promote welfare. However, Kaufman’s arguments about political judgment and (I think) Mandle’s arguments are not (or need not) be seen to be about legitimacy per se. At least, it is not about Kant’s main test of legitimacy, the idea of the original contract, which says that if a people could not possibly will something, the legislator cannot legitimately will it for the people either. Kant seems to think there are things a legislator cannot will, but I think he would leave it up to the legislator’s judgment whether policies promoted the purpose of securing right.


philofra 09.22.10 at 8:17 pm

What’s all this have to do with the “Crooked Timber of Humanity”? Perhaps it means that there will always be a lack of justice


Tom T. 09.24.10 at 2:38 am

or at least a lack of punctuation

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