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  • Kant's Nonideal Theory of Politics by Dilek Huseyinzadegan
  • Paul T. Wilford
HUSEYINZADEGAN, Dilek. Kant's Nonideal Theory of Politics. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2019. xii + 204 pp. Cloth, $99.95; paper, $34.95

Kant is often depicted as the preeminent idealist, the foremost representative of an a priori and abstract mode of reasoning—the exemplary instance of what is often called "ethics-first political theory." In this guise, Kant provides a convenient foil for the realist tradition of International Relations and for empiricist and historical thinkers concerned with defending national traditions and local identities (see, for example, Yoram Hazony's The Virtue of Nationalism). According to Dilek Huseyinzadegan, however, this standard view presents a parody of Kant's thought by emphasizing "the principle of Recht as a discourse on rights and institutions" while neglecting Kant's sustained attention to the empirical realities and "contingent variables of politics." Huseyinzadegan's careful, scholarly, and detailed study corrects this distorted caricature of Kant's political philosophy.

Huseyinzadegan's book is not only an apologia for Kant, however, but also a work of political theory in its own right—a contribution to the development of "an ideal theory of cosmopolitanism, which attempts to incorporate an actual diversity of historical, cultural and geographic perspectives." Huseyinzadegan espies in Kant the conceptual resources for keeping ideal theory tethered to the real world through "a robust nonideal theory" that provides "a nondogmatic account of our current circumstances." The key to Kant's nonideal theory, however, is the often overlooked systematic "role of teleology in Kant's political philosophy." Hence, Huseyinzadegan defends the twofold thesis that "the regulative principle of purposiveness is the underlying principle of a nonideal theory of politics" and that for Kant "purposiveness as a regulative principle guides our inquiries into diverse and contingent particulars by means of a hypothetically lawful universal and unifying concept." For Huseyinzadegan, teleology serves the heuristic purpose of negotiating "the gap between a lawfulness that we must presuppose in all theoretical inquiry and a contingency that our intellect cannot render fully meaningful." Thus, teleology proves essential for understanding the complexity, subtlety, and even the realism of Kant's political philosophy. Teleology is the conceptual bridge between the ideal and the real, between [End Page 612] the moral imperative to reform our world and the often recalcitrant and even intractable realities of the concrete empirical world.

Huseyinzadegan's book is divided into three parts, each of which explores a domain of inquiry where regulative teleology is decisive. Part I, History and Politics: Political History and Cosmopolitanism, explores the conceptual framework for Kant's philosophy of history. Chapter 1, "A Matter of Orientation," illuminates the epistemic reasons for why "a systematic investigation of diverse particulars in the world requires that we use our reason hypothetically" by employing "the subjective principle of purposiveness." While the "epistemic-metaphysical status of regulative principles is weak and fallible," we cannot do without them if our inquiry into a set of particulars, "for which no universal concept is readily given," is to be directed "toward unity and systematicity." Chapter 2, "Historical Patterns, Political Aims," explores the postulation of the cosmopolitan intent of history as "a teleological way of orienting oneself in thinking about world history." By identifying "the direction or aim (Absicht) of history" we can chart a middle course "between the extremes of nihilism and unwarranted optimism" as we take our bearings from "a universal concept that both adequately describes particular historical events as part of a whole and provides a rule for judging them." While critical of Kant's eurocentrism, Huseyinzadegan affirms his "methodological or meta-theoretical point, that a particular view of history is crucial for developing a political agenda"; "a rational guiding thread (Leitfaden)" for interpreting history and orienting ourselves practically remains indispensable.

Part II, Nature, Culture, and Politics: Political Anthropology and Cosmopolitanism, focuses on Kant's use of organic metaphors to describe sociopolitical progress. Chapter 3, "Organisms, Bodies Politic, and Progress" begins by adumbrating Kant's account of reflective teleological judgment in the Critique of Judgment, showing how the distinct logical structure of biological entities, especially the relation of parts to wholes, provides normative criteria for evaluating the body...


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