- Kant's Political Legacy: Human Rights, Peace, Progress by Luigi Caranti
In all three areas of Kant's political philosophy that Luigi Caranti covers, he offers compelling and persuasive accounts that sharpen our understanding of Kant and show the value of close study of historical texts for today's philosophy. Recent political philosophy inspired by Kant often draws from his more general moral writings, as exemplified by Rawls's use of the categorical imperative as a procedure. Others, however, cite Kant's works more directly concerned with political philosophy. Caranti assesses these readings in two areas—the foundations for human rights and the conditions for international peace—and adds an assessment of Kant on progress toward a just political order. [End Page 352]
The first two topics receive parallel treatment. Caranti devotes one chapter each to reviewing Kant's position, to assessing recent political philosophy on the topic, and to showing how the proper understanding of Kant leads to a better contemporary position. He is clearly at home in both the historical and contemporary worlds and, even better, moves smoothly between them to the benefit of both.
Human rights, for Kant, consist in fact of the sole innate right to freedom together with the other rights that it implicitly contains, such as formal equality and being one's own master. While some contemporary theorists would simply base these rights on other goods, or see them as built into the political culture already, or assert without further ground that humans have dignity deserving these rights, Caranti argues that Kant requires that any basis for human rights must show why humanity has value. Caranti sees Kant as insisting that the value of humanity lies not in an end-setting capacity, but in the capacity to have a good will. For contemporary application, he suggests that Kant's own conception of good will as one willing the categorical imperative is too narrow, and that a broader conception of a good will as one that wills some version of a moral law is universal and can serve as the explanation of humanity that grounds human rights. I am skeptical of this solution for two reasons. First, historically, I think that Kant grounded humanity on rational self-governance in general more than on the specifically moral self-governance of the good will. Second, I suspect that broadly acceptable contemporary rights claims must be based on individual value as a basis of moral value rather than moral value, in the guise of the capacity for being moral, as a basis for individual value.
Caranti's second main topic, international peace, comprises in my opinion the most successful part of the book. He details the main features of contemporary Democratic Peace Theory (after a thorough assessment of its many variations and critics), which essentially claims that democracies will not war against one another, particularly when they are involved in international institutions with other democracies and are interdependent economically through trade. The resulting "zone of peace" would set these peaceful states off from the remainder of the world; as the zone expands so would overall peace. Kant's explanations of the conditions for peace, however, require not democracy per se but states governed by representatives with a republican (civic) ethos. The international institutions must not be limited to these kinds of states but include all states. Economic interdependence is not alone reflective of the required cosmopolitan conscience that individuals need to develop. Democratic Peace Theory and Kant's actual model offer divergent policy implications. Carenti successfully shows not only that contemporary Democratic Peace Theory has misunderstood Kant's position, but also that what it neglects in Kant would improve its overall position.
Since the third main topic, a proof of the inevitability of progress, has not been taken up in contemporary political philosophy, Carenti focuses on a close reading of Kant, with chapters covering Idea for a Universal History and Toward Perpetual Peace. He argues that Kant's history essay provides an empirical argument that stands independently of any regulative or providential claims...