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Emmanuel Kant's definition of The Republic

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2016 2:26 pm    Post subject: Emmanuel Kant's definition of The Republic Reply with quote

I quoted from this elsewhere - it is well worth reading the complete essay, but here I would have just taken the middle paragraph but that the context is important.

This is for those who think that " Republicanism is a posh word for Democracy " - it is not, and here is an example of a political theorist saying so.


Kant's Social and Political Philosophy - Frederick Rauscher

First published Tue Jul 24, 2007; substantive revision Thu Apr 19, 2012

4. Republics, Enlightenment, and Democracy

Kant was a central figure in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. One of his popular essays, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” discusses Enlightenment in terms of the use of an individual's own reason (8:35f). To be Enlightened is to emerge from one's self-incurred minority (juvenile) status to a mature ability to think for oneself. In another essay, “What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thought?” Kant defines Enlightenment as “the maxim of always thinking for oneself” (8:146). “What is Enlightenment” distinguishes between the public and private uses of reason. The private use of reason is, for government officials, the use of reason they must utilize in their official positions. For example, a member of the clergy (who in Kant's Prussia were employees of the state) is required to espouse the official doctrine in sermons and teachings. The public use of reason is the use an individual makes of reason as a scholar reaching the public world of readers. For example, the same member of the clergy could, as a scholar, present perceived shortcomings in that very same doctrine. Similarly, military officers can, using public reason, question the value or appropriateness of the orders they receive, but in their functions as military officers, using private reason, they are obliged to obey the same orders. Since the sovereign might err, and individual citizens have the right to attempt to correct the error under the assumption that the sovereign does not intend to err: “a citizen must have, with the approval of the ruler himself, the authorization to make known publicly his opinions about what it is in the ruler's arrangements that seems to him to be a wrong against the commonwealth,” writes Kant in “Theory and Practice” (8:304).

One might expect from this emphasis that Kant would insist that the proper political system is one that not only allows individuals to think for themselves about political issues, but also contains a mechanism such as voting to translate those well reasoned opinions into government policy. One would be wrong. Kant does not stress self-government. In his discussion in “Perpetual Peace” of the traditional division of the types of government Kant classifies governments in two dimensions (8:352). The first is the “form of sovereignty”, concerning who rules, and here Kant identifies the traditional three forms: either rule by one person, rule by a small group of people, or rule by all people. The second is the “form of government” concerning how those people rule, and here Kant offers a variation on the traditional good/bad dichotomy: either republican or despotic. By “republican,” Kant means “separation of the executive power (the government) from the legislative power”. Despotism is their unity such that the same ruler both gives and enforces laws, in essence making an individual private will into the public will. Republics require representation in order to ensure that the executive power only enforces the public will by insisting that the executive enforce only laws that representatives of the people, not the executive itself, make. But a republic is compatible with a single individual acting as legislator provided that others act as executives; for example, a monarch would issue laws in the name of the people's will but the monarch's ministers would enforce those laws. Kant's claim that such a government is republican (see also 27:1384) showcases his view that a republican government need not require actual participation of the people in making the laws, even through elected representatives, as long as the laws are promulgated with the whole united will of the people in mind. Kant does, nonetheless, think that an elected representative legislator is the best form of a republic (8:353). Whether elected or unelected, the moral person who holds legislative power is representative of the people united as a whole, and is thus sovereign. The people themselves are sovereign only when they are electing a new set of representatives.

When Kant discusses voting for representatives, he adheres to many prevailing prejudices of the time (8:295). The right to vote requires “being one's own master” and hence having property or some skill that can support one independently. The reason given for this, that those who must acquire something from another to make a living alienate what belongs to them, is so vague that Kant himself admits in a footnote “It is, I admit, somewhat difficult to determine what is required in order to be able to claim the rank of a human being who is his own master.” Kant also leaves women out of the voting populations for what he calls “natural” reasons which are left unspecified.

Kant's state, then, does not require that actual decisions are made by the people at large, even through elected representatives. He holds that a single individual or small group can themselves adequately represent the people at large simply by adopting the point of view of the people. Insistence on a representative system (8:353) is not insistence on an elected representative system. Nonetheless it is clear that Kant holds that such an elective representative system is ideal. Republican constitutions, he claims, are prone to avoid war because, when the consent of the people is needed, they will consider the costs they must endure in a war (fighting, taxes, destruction of property, etc), whereas a non-republican ruler may be insulated from such concerns. In the “Doctrine of Right” he also notes that a republican system not only represents the people but does so “by all the citizens united and acting through their delegates” (6:342). These indications are not definitive but do point toward Kant favoring elected representatives.

Rauscher, Frederick, "Kant's Social and Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/kant-social-political/>.



Immanuel Kant (/kænt/; German: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl kant]; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher who is considered the central figure of modern philosophy. Kant argued that fundamental concepts of the human mind structure human experience, that reason is the source of morality, that aesthetics arises from a faculty of disinterested judgment, that space and time are forms of our sensibility, and that the world as it is "in-itself" is unknowable. ... Politically, Kant was one of the earliest exponents of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation. He believed that this eventually will be the outcome of universal history, although it is not rationally planned. ... Kant argued that our experiences are structured by necessary features of our minds. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience so that, on an abstract level, all human experience shares certain essential structural features. Among other things, Kant believed that the concepts of space and time are integral to all human experience, as are our concepts of cause and effect. One important consequence of this view is that our experience of things is always of the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses: we do not have direct access to things in themselves, the so-called noumenal world. ... In Kant's essay "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?", Kant defined the Enlightenment as an age shaped by the Latin motto Sapere aude ("Dare to be wise"). ...


The political philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) favoured a classical republican approach. In Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), Kant listed several conditions that he thought necessary for ending wars and creating a lasting peace. They included a world of constitutional republics by establishment of political community. His classical republican theory was extended in Doctrine of Right (1797), the first part of Metaphysics of Morals. At the end of the 20th century Kant's political philosophy had been enjoying a remarkable renaissance in English-speaking countries with more major studies in a few years than had appeared in the preceding many decades. ... In a Rechtsstaat, the citizens share legally based civil liberties and they can use the courts. A country cannot be a liberal democracy without first being a Rechtsstaat. German writers usually place Immanuel Kant's theories at the beginning of their accounts of the movement toward the Rechtsstaat.[7] The Rechtsstaat in the meaning of "constitutional state" was introduced in the latest works of Immanuel Kant after US and French constitutions were adopted in the late 18th century. Kant’s approach is based on the supremacy of a country’s written constitution. This supremacy must create guarantees for implementation of his central idea: a permanent peaceful life as a basic condition for the happiness of its people and their prosperity. ...

... Critics of the European Union assert that the Union's relative inability to establish itself as an influential external policy entity in the international level stems from the fact that the EU's institutions function on Kantian premises and are therefore ill-equipped to face the more primitive non-Kantian world outside. ... Kant opposed "democracy" – which, in that era, meant direct democracy – believing that majority rule posed a threat to individual liberty. He stated, "… democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which "all" decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, "all", who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom." ... A distinctive feature of Kant's political philosophy is his conviction that the university should be a model of creative conflict: the philosopher's role within the university should be to "police" the higher faculties (which in his day were theology, law and medicine), making sure their teaching conforms to the principles of reason; likewise, the goal of perpetual peace in society can be achieved only when the rulers consult with philosophers on a regular basis. ... Like Y Repwblic is supposed to be ... but Y Senedd never consult with us ...
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