The Locker Room

February 29, 2004

Immanuel Kant and the Iraq war

Posted by Kory Swanson at 5:18 PM

In his most recent reply to Erik Root re civil unions, John Hood invoked the secular Kantian maxim that we are commanded by reason to treat a rational being as an end and not as a means only. To do otherwise is immoral and unjust.

John’s invocation of Kant is timely since the bicentenary of Kant’s death occurred on February 12.

A further implication of the Kantian maxim is that states in which this command is not obeyed by the rulers, or made impossible to be obeyed by anyone else, are states that violate the moral law.

And so we come to a secular Kantian justification of the war in Iraq.

In his political philosophy, Kant is, perhaps, best known for supporting the idea of a League of Nations. Hence, one would think that Kant would be pro negotiation and assigning precedence to international law over national interest whenever the two conflict. But, British philosopher and conservative, Roger Scruton, provides a subtle reading of Kantian principles that proves otherwise. Kant and the Iraq War

“States that violate Kant’s maxim also fail to conform to the version of the social contract that Kant derived from his vision of morality,” Scruton says. “Such states [for Kant] are intrinsically illegitimate, which means that their disappearance is good in itself, and the aim and desire of all rational beings.” Ergo, with or without WMDs, a country that conforms to Kant’s moral maxim—and for Kant these are republics like the U.S.—may be justified in going to war against states that violate the maxim such as Iraq.

I have greatly oversimplified Scruton’s fine article. If you are interested in seeing how a Kantian argument can be constructed to justify the war in Iraq, I urge to read Scruton’s piece.

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