Fragment on Kant and Revolutionism

The Revolutionism embodied in the work of Martin Wight and Hedley Bull by Kant is not wholly made manifest in Kant’s normative prescriptions for international life. This we see in On Perpetual Peace as an attempt to overcome the scourge of human conflict through the critical reason he had already plotted and investigated across his critiques; now applied as normative judgement to the international realm. Famously encapsulated in the six preliminary and three definitive articles of perpetual peace, Kant ascertains that the only mechanism for overturning the statist condition of conflict is to transform the essential qualities of the order within which states interact.

Such a holistic transformative schema is the very bedrock of Revolutionism that makes Wight and Bull recognise Kant – rather than Comte, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, or even Marx – the basis for the Revolutionist tradition. What Kant constructs is a comprehensive and impermeable schematic by which: (a) a theory of international order as it stands is expounded; (b) the chief undesirable quality of such an ordered condition is located in conflict; (c) the means such a quality may be expunged, remaining absent or ideally repressible and as such reprehensible, are articulated; (d) points a-c are the prognosis of a wider epistemological project that is an extension of the rational human mind, latched to both ethical and normative claims concerning universal justice.

It is not the content of a-d that makes Kant the revolutionist. It is not that he happens to advocate for an international society that characterises itself by the ‘thickening’ – to use a Buzanian term – of international society to the precipice of a world state as part of liberal internationalism by focus on the broader humanitas of the norms underpinning the civitas maxima. Rather it is because of his comprehensive approach to the transformation of international society out of its current mode, through a shift in epistemological, ethical and ontological thinking, that makes Kant the Revolutionist par excellence. Kant is not the revolutionist of International Society because he embodies the universalist humanitarian ethics that are symbolised in a theological dove of peace, nor the comprehensive wisdom of the mythical owl of Minerva. Rather, it is that Kantianism follows in the footsteps of a phoenix – seeking to transform condition to one more just out of the residual ashes of that which stands, of the world as it is, in all its crookedness.