The Perpetual Peace Project realized a special republication of Immanuel Kant’s foundational essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795). Complementing this project’s more public initiatives, this publication makes possible a more intimate mode of participation. Reprinted in the french fold tradition of Kant’s time, this publication invites the reader’s active participation to access the text concealed within. Blank pages interspersed throughout the book offer a space for contemplation and individual contribution. The pamphlet format, which the design of this publication also references, acknowledges the rich history of printing political tracts whose compact size and inexpensive production enabled widespread distribution.
Below you can read the six preliminary articles of Kant’s Perpetual Peace, and here you can download a digital version of the full publication.
Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace (1795) as published here is based on the 1891 W. Hastie translation. Footnotes are based on the 1903 M. Campbell Smith translation. With a curatorial essay by Aaron Levy, Gregg Lambert, and Martin Rauchbauer.
Published by Slought Foundation, Philadelphia and the Syracuse University Humanities Center (2010).
Graphic design by Project Projects, New York.
Typeset in Black, Aurele Sack and printed by Shapco Printing, Inc., Minneapolis. ISBN-13: 978-0-9815409-9-3
Six Preliminary Articles of Kant’s Perpetual Peace
Article I. ‘No conclusion of Peace shall be held to be valid as such, when it has been made with the secret reservation of the material for a future War.’
For, in that case, it would be a mere truce, or a suspension of hostilities, and not a Peace. A Peace properly signifies the end of all hostilities; and to qualify it by the addition of the epithet ‘perpetual’ or ‘eternal’ is pleonastic and suspicious. All existing causes for a future war — although they were perhaps unknown to the contracting parties at the time — are to be regarded as entirely removed, or annihilated by the Treaty of Peace, even if they could be picked out by the dexterity of an acute interpretation from the terms of documents in the public Archives. There may be a mental reservation of old pretensions or claims with the view of asserting them at a future time, of which, however, neither party makes any mention for the present because they are too exhausted to continue the war, while there remains the evil will to take advantage of the first favourable opportunity for this purpose; but this is illegitimate and belongs to the Jesuitical casuistry of Politics. If we consider the subject of reservation in itself, it is beneath the dignity of the Rulers of States to have to do with it, and, in like manner, the complacent participation in such deduc-tions is beneath the dignity of their Ministers. But if the true glory of the State is placed in the continual increase of its power, by any means whatever—according to certain ‘enlightened’ notions of national policy—then this judgment will certainly appear to those who adopt that view, to be impractical and pedantic.
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Article II. ‘No State having an existence by itself—whether it be small or large—shall be acquirable by another State through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation.’
A State is not to be regarded as a property or patrimony, like the soil on which it may be settled. It is a society of men, over which no one but itself has the right to rule or to dispone. Like the stem of a tree it has its own root, and to incorporate it as a graft in another State, is to destroy its existence as a moral Person; it is to reduce it to a Thing, and thereby to contradict the idea of the original Compact without which a Right over a people is inconceivable.1 Everyone knows what danger the prejudice in favor of thus acquiring States has brought to Europe, for in the other parts of the world it has never been known; and that this has gone on even up to our own times. It was considered that the States might marry one another; and hence, on the one hand, a new kind of industry in the effort to acquire predominance by family alliances, without any expenditure of power; and, on the other hand, to increase, in this way, by new possessions the extent of a Country. Further, the lending of the troops of one State to another on pay, to fight against an enemy not at war with their own State, has arisen from the same erroneous view; for the Subjects of the State are thus used and abused as Things that may be managed at will.
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Article III. ‘Standing Armies shall be entirely abolished in the course of time.’
For, they threaten other States incessantly with War, by their appearing to be always equipped to enter upon it. Standing armies (miles perpetuus) excite the States to outrival each other in the number of their armed men which has no limits. By the expense occasioned thereby, Peace becomes in the long run even more oppressive than a short war; and Standing Armies are thus the cause of aggressive wars undertaken in order to get rid of this burden. Besides, it has to be considered that for men to be hired for pay to kill or to be killed, appears to imply the using of them as mere machines and instruments in the hand of another, although it be the State; and that this cannot be well reconciled with the Right of humanity in our own person. It is quite otherwise, however, as regards the voluntary exercise of the citizens in arms at certain appointed periods; for the object in view is thereby to protect themselves and their country from external attacks. The accumulation of treasure in a State would have the same sort of influence as regular troops, in so far as, being regarded by other States as a threat of war, it might compel them to anticipate such
a war by an attack upon the State. For of the three powers known in the State as the Power of the Army, the Power of external Alliance and the Power of Money, the money-power might well become the most reliable instrument of war, did not the difficulty of determining its real force stand in the way of its employment.
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Article IV. ‘No National Debts shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the State.’
No objection can be taken to seeking assistance, either without or within the State, in behalf of the economical administration of the country; such as, for the improve-ment of highways, or in support of new colonies, or in the establishment of resources against dearth and famine. A loan, whether raised externally or internally, as a source of aid in such cases is above suspicion. But a Credit System when used by the Powers as a hostile antagonistic instrument against each other, and when the debts under it go on increasing to an excessive extent and yet are always secured for the present (because all the creditors are not to put in their claims at once), is a dangerous money power. This arrangement—the ingenious invention of a commercial people in this century—constitutes, in fact, a treasure for the carrying on of War; it may exceed the treasures of all the other States taken together, and it can only be exhausted by the forthcoming deficit of the taxes, which, however, may be long delayed even by the animation of the national commerce from the reaction of the system upon industry and trade. The facility given by this system for engaging in War, combined with the inclination of Rulers towards it (an inclination which seems to be implanted in human nature), is, therefore, a great obstacle in the way of a Perpetual Peace. The prohibition of it must be laid down as a Preliminary Article in the conditions of such a Peace, even more strongly on the further ground, that the national bankruptcy, which it inevitably brings at last, would necessarily involve many other States that are without debt in the loss; and this would be a public lesion of these other States. And, consequently, the other States are justified in allying themselves against such a State and its pretensions.
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Article V. ‘No State shall intermeddle by force with the Constitution or Government of another State.’
For what could justify it in doing so? Mayhap the scandal or offence given by that State to the subjects of another State? Then the offending State should much rather serve as a warning by the example of the great Evils which peoples have drawn upon themselves through their lawlessness; and generally a bad example given by one free person to another (as a scandalum acceptum), is not a lesion of his Right. But it is a different case where a State has become divided in two by internal disunion, and when each of the parts represents itself as a separate State laying claim to the whole; for, to furnish assistance to one of them under these circumstances might not be reckoned as the intermeddling of an External State with the Constitution of another, as that other is then in a condition of Anarchy. Yet so long as this internal strife is not decided, such an interference on the part of external Powers would be a violation of the Rights of an independent people that is only struggling with an external evil. It would, therefore, itself be a cause of offence, and would make the Autonomy of all other States insecure.
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Article VI. ‘No State at war with another shall adopt such modes of hostility as would necessarily render mutual confidence impossible in a future Peace; such as, the employment of Assassins (percussores) or Poisoners (venefici), the violation of a Capitulation, the instigation of Treason and such like.’
These are dishonorable stratagems. For there must be some trust in the habit and disposition even of an enemy in War, otherwise no Peace could be concluded, and the hostilities would pass into an internecine war of exter-mination. War, however, is only a melancholy necessity of asserting Right by force—where, as in the state of Nature, there is no common tribunal with the rightful power to adjudicate on causes of quarrel. In such circumstances neither of the two parties can be declared to be an unjust enemy as this presupposes a judicial sentence: but the issue of the conflict—as in the so-called ‘judgments of God’—has to decide on which side is the Right. As between States, however, a punitive war, according to the principle of punishment, is inconceivable; because there is no relation of subordination between them, as between Superior and Inferior. Hence it follows that a war of extermination, in which the process of annihilation would strike at both parties,
and likewise at all Right at the same time, would reach Perpetual Peace only on the final Golgotha of the human race. Such a war, therefore, as well as the use of such means as might lead to it, must be absolutely unallowable. And that the means referred to inevitably lead to that result, is apparent from the fact that when these hellish arts, which are debasing in themselves, are once brought into use, they are not kept long within the limits of war. Such, for instance, is the employment of Spies.
In this case it is only the dishonesty of others that is employed, and as such practices and habits cannot be exterminated at once, they would be carried over into the state of Peace, and thus its very purpose would be entirely frustrated. The Articles thus indicated, when viewed objectively, or as to the intention of the Powers, represent merely Prohibitive Laws. Some of them, however, are Strict Laws (leges strictæ); that are valid without distinction of circumstances, and press immediately for the abolition of certain things. Such are Nos. 1, 5, 6. Others, again—as Nos. 2, 3, 4,—have a certain subjective breadth (leges latæ) in respect of their application. Although they present no exceptions to the rule of Right, they imply a regard to circumstances in practice. They include permissions to delay their fulfilment without, however, losing sight of their end; for their end allows such delay. Thus, for instance, in regard to the restoration of certain States to the Liberty of which they have been deprived, it is allowable, according to the Second Article, to postpone it—not, indeed to ‘the Greek Kalends,’ as Augustus was wont to say, so that its time would never come; but only so as not to precipitate its coming, and thus by overhaste to act contrary to the very purpose in view. The prohibition in question, bears only upon a mode of Acquisition which is to be no longer valid, but not upon the state of possession which, although it may not hold the requisite title of Right, was, nevertheless, regarded as rightful and valid by all the States at the date of the putative acquisition, in accordance with the public opinion of the time.