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Democracy: the Key to Avoiding Future Wars? (3)

This post is the last part of a short series reflecting upon Democracy, especially its link to war, in the framework of current events (Syria, Egypt, the “Arab Awakening,” the European and American opposition movements). If you have missed the beginning, the first post can be read here and the second one here.

In this post we shall finish investigating the second level of analysis of the Kantian framework, i.e. how states in their relationships with one another and also with their citizens should behave in their pursuit of democracy and if this leads to war or not, as could happen in the case of Syria, and finally look at the third level, humankind.

The states in their relations with one another and in their relations to their citizens (2)

Having to face the difficulty to pursue democracy in a war-prone and unlawful international environment, despite the imperative necessity to try solving this problem in terms of international law (see last post), states having embraced democratic principles might be tempted to intervene in the affairs of other states to push them on the democratic path.

Such an action is what is decried by Morgenthau as sentimentalist, and dangerous, because it is blindly committed to a single moral value.[21] From it stems one of the three failures of liberalism “in guiding foreign policy outside the liberal world” that Doyle identified: “imprudent vehemence.”[22] Such covert or open interventionism does not respect the democratic principles. The 5th preliminary article of Perpetual Peace is very clear about it:

“5. No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state” (p. 96)

DPRK launch padEven without this article, how might a state genuinely committed to “negative freedom” (a freedom limited by the freedom of others so that “the freedom of each can coexist with the freedom of all the others.” see post 1 ft 8) interfere with the freedom of others? Such interventionism is despotism not republicanism. Furthermore, states that find themselves on a less advanced stage of democracy or not committed at all to its principles, would resent acutely this despotism, grow insecure, and walk the “path of war” all the more easily that they have no institutional restraints, as, for example, show the perpetual tension and crises between DPRK and most of the world. If such war-prone failures of liberal states are evident, they do not stem from a pursuit of democracy but from a lack of pursuit of its principles.

The second failure Doyle underlined, “careless and supine complaisance”, is denied by the active pursuit of democratic principles, which implies, as seen above, a real commitment to international law and its enforcement.[23]

Note that immoral economic actions from democratic states, either in the sense of intervention, or in the sense of careless complaisance can produce similar effects in terms of rising insecurity and calcification of differences. This might account partly for the third failure described by Doyle as “the moral ambiguity of the liberal principles which govern the international distribution of property.”[24]

The difficulties met by those states who truly pursue democracy must not be underestimated. As Russett points out, “Non-cooperative strategies typically force cooperative strategies to become non-cooperative.”[25] The failure of the appeasement policy of Great Britain and France towards Hitler’s Germany, and the final recourse to war is an example of this phenomenon. As a matter of fact, a true obedience to democratic principles threatens those states that deny their rights to their “subjects,” because a doubt is cast on the legitimacy of their attitude.[26] It is not the legitimacy of the state, per se – except if acting purely from expediency – which is questioned, but the way state power is exerted.

The door is open here to more future wars for the short and medium term: on the contrary from individuals, a state cannot use passive resistance if aggressed or witnessing aggression as it has to protect the life and freedom of its own citizens, as well as the principles of international rights.

This explains why the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 was a conundrum for the international society of states: all, including Russia and China, knew that an action that was questioning international law (“since 1968, Syria has been a party to the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of War, better known as the Geneva Protocol.” (Zilinskas, National Interest, 6 August 2012) and thus order, could not be allowed to remain unsanctioned. However, the absence of direct evidence regarding the perpetrator, as well as the existence of two governments representing Syria in terms of international legitimacy (Bashar al Assad on the one hand for Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, and, on the other, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces recognized by many Arab and Western nations) made any armed intervention almost impossible internationally, as one side or the other would then look at it as an aggression on Syria, that would in turn need to be sanctioned, leading potentially to a world war. Hence, the use Russia made of US Secretary of State Kerry’s comment, transforming it in a practical and actionable – however complex and difficult – strategy, according to which “the Bashar al-Assad regime could avoid a strike by “agreeing to give up his chemical weapons” (for a resume see Gordon and Lee Myers, New York Times, 9 September 2013, among others), was an extremely smart move, which took the whole international order out of a very dangerous quagmire. Arab and Western nations will certainly pay the utmost attention to the way the whole matter is handled, all the more so because any international document signed with one side of the Syrian conflict, here the Bashar al-Assad regime, could enhance anew its international legitimacy.

The hope to reduce these wars linked to the duty states have to intervene in some cases, is to see the non-democratic states embracing democratic principles.[27] This will be caused either by the fear rulers have to be overthrown, if the state is Hobbesian, or by the cosmopolitan forces, as we shall see below.

Human beings being what they are, morally autonomous but also self-interested, rational but also emotional and above all fallible, how can democratic states protect themselves from a slow and insidious fall towards a lessened commitment to democratic principles, as well as from being used and abused by “political moralists” (“i.e. one who fashions his morality to suit his own advantage as a statesman”), with disastrous consequences for interstate relationships and for the democratic principles themselves?[28] Democratic states must also pursue democratic principles internally. As democratic principles are grounded in the freedom and moral capability of the individual, states must help their citizens develop these capabilities. They must contribute to educate them and give them the possibility to progress toward an “enlightened” state.[29] “Political moralists”, as well as those who believe that individuals are untrustworthy and sinful, have no (real) interest in promoting such public right to enlightenment. Yet, ultimately, they do not have much choice: as seen previously, to promote a “Hobbesian world” is to allow oneself to be overthrown by force. This casts an interesting light on ideas and theories of “neo-medievalism”.[30] For example, fortified neighborhood in California or elsewhere, where people begin to refuse to pay their taxes, the widespread internal violence – including rising inequality, economic insecurity and poverty – known by democratic states, the multiple protests movements, can be seen as stemming from a genuine or willed forgetfulness by the states and their citizens of the democratic principles.

The cosmopolitan level

This is the level of humankind. Here are located the reasons for progress, the sense of history, the notion of providence and of “nature’s secret design,” as all of them concern humanity as a whole.

First, Kant assumes – and hopes – that there is an aim for the existence of the human race. This is the “cosmopolitan goal,” i.e. the development of all natural capacities.[31] Because this goal exists, because nature has a purpose, nature will have a purposeful activity:

“Although we are too short-sighted to perceive the hidden mechanism of nature’s scheme, this idea may serve as a guide to us in representing an otherwise planless aggregate of human actions, as conforming, at least when considered as a whole, to a system.”[32]

Second, the human species can only progress towards this goal if “an internally and externally perfect political constitution” (i.e. embodying perfectly the democratic principles) is implemented.[33]

Thus, to achieve its goal, Nature will compel us through its mechanism to enter such a constitution. Henceforth democracy is also pursued at the cosmopolitan level. The absence of war stems from the cosmopolitan goal and both are the reasons for the pursuit of this perfect constitution: At the stage of warfare and strife, human beings develop their survival capabilities and only these. Now, the goal is to develop all natural capacities, therefore humanity must reach a stage where war and strife will disappear.

Doyle distinguishes two dynamic paths toward the realisation of this perfect political constitution: the transnational and international paths.[34]

The transnational path is incentive. It includes trade, free communication between human beings, and right to hospitality.[35] Through this cosmopolitan transnational process, non-democratic states will become more and more inclined to embrace democratic principles because of the advantages they procure, especially in the domain of economic development and trade.

The international path is punitive. It operates through war, death and subsequent fear and insecurity. Nuclear deterrence is an example of this punitive systemic force: Human beings have not been wise enough to stop armament races and have increased their destruction power to such a tremendous level that they can now destroy the planet and its species. Nature, by allowing them to create such a power of doom compels them to be wiser, more respectful of others, to obey international laws. Through nuclear deterrence, might becomes wrong.

At each level of analysis, the pursuit of democracy, a real democracy meaning respect of democratic principles and not respect of elections or any superficial attribute, is the key to progressively avoid future wars. However, this path is fraught with difficulties and walking  it is a slow process. As human beings are free and morally autonomous, it is ultimately their choice to determine the length and the challenges of their path toward a peaceful future.


[21] Mac Elroy, Morality and American Foreign policy, p. 24-25.

[22] Doyle, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs , p323

[23] See Doyle Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, quoting Hume p 323 and development pp.337-338.

[24] ibid p323;  and development pp. 338-343. The study of International Political Economy in the light of a normative theoretical framework should be an interesting axis of research.

[25] Russett,  Grasping the democratic Peace, p. 33

[26] Doyle , Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs p324-325

[27] It cannot be a global return to embracing non-democratic principles because this would negate the moral autonomy and freedom of human beings.

[28] Kant, Perpetual Peace, Appendix I, p. 118.

[29] this is the policy adopted by the modern liberal school, see  Mc Elroy. Morality and American Foreign Policy. p.10.

[30] see Pierre Hassner, “Beyond the Three Traditions: the Philosophy of War and Peace in Historical Perspective,” International Affairs, 1994, 70, 4, pp. 753-754

[31] Kant, Idea for a Universal History, 9th Proposition, p. 52. This can be seen as an optimistic – but logical in its argument – answer to the distressing eternal question of “Why are we on Earth?”

[32] Kant Idea for a Universal History, 8th proposition, p.51.

[33] ibid., see also Kant, Perpetual Peace,  First Supplement,  pp. 108-114.

[34] see Doyle Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Second Addition p. 351.

[35] For this right, see Kant, Perpetual Peace,  3rd Definitive Article, pp. 105-108

Democracy: the Key to Avoiding Future Wars? (2)

This post is the second part of a short series reflecting upon Democracy, especially its link to war, in the framework of current events, notably regarding Syria, Egypt and the “Arab Awakening” but also the European and American opposition movements. If you have missed the beginning, the first post can be read here ( and the next and final one here)

In the Kantian framework, different kinds of agents pursue democracy at three levels: the individuals within a nation, the states in their relationships with one another and also with their citizens, and humankind. In this post we shall look at how individuals within a nation should behave if they want to truly abide by democratic principles. Should they rebel and when? Should they support war, and which type of war if any?

The individuals within a nation

We have two cases: individuals living in a political system that already has democratic institutions and those living in a different type of political system.

Syria, Democracy, propagandaIn the first case, individuals are free to pursue and further democracy, as it goes in the direction of their political system. As morally autonomous individuals and as citizens, they will try to improve their understanding, “To emerge from their self-incurred immaturity.”[10] They will be interested in the policies of their government and exert their right of freedom of speech and pen. By such progress, they will lessen their risks to be the victims of propaganda and manipulation, which are the best tools of those who want to have a war-prone public opinion.[11] The latest media war surrounding Syria reminds us the importance of this point (AFP, Beirut, 16 September 2013). Moreover democratic citizens are reluctant to accept war because they have to pay the cost for it.[12] Note that this unwillingness may be currently active in the US. The “cost awareness” is likely to be heightened by education and the habit to think for oneself. Democratic citizens will thus progressively contribute to avoid wars, except in the cases of true self-defense.

This pending danger of needing to defend oneself will prompt our “enlightened” individuals to wish to reduce this permanent insecurity. As they expect their democratic fellows from other states to pursue democracy as they do, the threat would logically come mainly from non-democratic states. Thus they may wish those states to become democratic. May they, in this case, be proponents of intervention, whatever its form, in another state? On the contrary, the principles of democracy and freedom are such that they cannot be imposed upon a nation, but must be entered willingly. Thus intervention to promote a democracy should be opposed. To intervene to change a constitution would be equivalent to despotism, which is contrary to the commitment of our democratic individuals. They cannot either advocate rebellion: Such violence would imply the collapse of the state and bring back chaos and the unlawful state of civil strife. It would increase the instability in the country, in the region and thus heighten the probability for war, as exemplified by the situation in Iraq.[13] The only action that is opened to our individuals is to contribute to educate the inhabitants of other states in the principles of “negative freedom,” to make them aware of their moral autonomy while still respecting the lawful state, however imperfect, in which they live – as sole protector against domestic anarchy.[14]

This leads us to our second case: how can an individual living in a non-democratic state pursue democracy if s/he cannot violently rebel. Kant rules out specifically and clearly such a rebellion:

“And even, if the power of the state or its agent the head of the state has violated the original contract by authorizing the government to act tyrannically, and has thereby, in the eyes of the subject, forfeited the right to legislate, the subject is still not entitled to offer counter resistance.”[15]

If individuals were morally justified to rebel in their pursuit of democracy then they would create more wars. The only way is non-violent protest, passive resistance and disobedience, for example through speech and writing.[16] This cruel tension between a true pursuit of democracy and hope for any achievement may explain the intense fear felt by democratic citizens towards non-democratic states, as well as the resignation of  individuals in non-democratic states. Individuals know that to obey democratic principles, they have to forego their happiness. They ought to be unselfish to the point of accepting to never see the fruit of their actions.[17] The violent death of people such as the Mahatma Gandhi, who have decided to follow such a path, can only increase their fear. Yet, some people still choose the difficult but unique path of true democratic pursuit.

Egypt, Tamarod, Anti-Morsi, DemocracyRebellion can take place only when the state acts purely from expediency, when human beings are considered as “incapable and unworthy to be treated as their rights demand.”[18] There, individuals can use violence because the state is unlawful. If we wanted to judge the Egyptian events of June and early July from a democratic principle point of view, as so many did so rapidly during July and August, then rather than to focus on elections, or claim a “righteous outrage” (from a comfortable far away) at the military support given to the 30 June Tamarod movement, then we would have to try answering the difficult questions specified by Kant: Under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime, did the state act purely from expediency? Were human beings and more particularly Egyptians (men and women) considered as “incapable and unworthy to be treated as their rights demand?” Were such trends starting to appear, which begs the question at which point is it democratically acceptable to rebel? Those questions would most probably lead us to wonder if the understanding of human beings and rights held by the Muslim Brotherhood is compatible with the understanding of rights held by Kant as explained in the previous post. Those are difficult questions that may not be answered lightly.

Kant answers to Hobbes and to the vision of human beings held by Realists when he states the case of a “democratic rebellion”.[19] Far from helping to avoid more wars, to be solely committed to power and to refuse to see any morality and the good in human beings can only multiply all types of wars.

The states in their relations with one another and in their relations to their citizens

As a democracy is essentially concerned with domestic political institutions, we may wonder how it can have an influence from one state to another. According to Kant, the link comes, first, from the difficulty to pursue democracy in a war-prone and unlawful international environment:

“The establishment of a perfect civil constitution is subordinate to the problem of a law-governed external relationship with other states, and cannot be solved unless the latter is also solved.”[20]

The threat is increased by the existence of non-democratic states, which may use war more easily than democratic states, hence the first article of Perpetual Peace “The civil constitution of every state shall be republican.” Yet, as such progress toward democracy can be accomplished only in a lawful international environment, we must solve the problem of international law first.

democracy, UN, Future, Kant, Our past history provides us with this international right, would it be only in its minimalist form of respect for the sovereignty and political independence of states, as embodied in the art. 2 of the charter of the UN. Moreover, the United Nations can be seen as the start of the implementation of the “Federation of Free States”, recommended in the second article of Perpetual Peace. We thus find ourselves in a situation where the external relations between states are beginning to be regulated in a democratic manner and where, because of this regulation, states can pursue democracy. We are in an iterative process where laws trying to abolish or at least regulate wars allow for more democracy, which in turn diminishes the risk of war, which makes states more likely to enforce the laws, etc. Here, it is obedience to laws (and not a pursuit of democracy) that helps to progressively avoid wars. However, as a “Kantian republic” is the only political system that is possible if one is committed to the principles of universal right and morality, we can infer that the pursuit of democracy helps to avoid wars.

Nevertheless, states having embraced democratic principles might be tempted to intervene in the affairs of other states to push them on the democratic path. What does that imply and is that a proper democratic behaviour? To be followed next week



[10] Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?,” p. 54

[11] Edward Mansfield & Jack Snyder,“Democratization and War,” Foreign Affairs, (May/June 1995), Vol. 74, No. 3, p.87 and also Robert W. McElroy, Morality and American Foreign Policy: The Role of Ethics in International Affairs. (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1992, quoting  Alfred Zimmern, p. 10.

[12] Kant, Perpetual Peace, First Definitive Article, p.100

[13] For the increase of war due to transitions see Mansfield & Snyder, Democratization and War. For the incompatibility between rebellion and democracy, see Kant, On the Common Saying: ‘This may be True in Theory but it does not Apply in Practice:  II On the relationship of Theory to Practice in Political Right., pp. 73-86.

[14] Note that individuals can act in such a way because of the cosmopolitan right which allows for transnational contacts. For the demonstration against rebellion, see Kant, In theory and Practice II.

[15] Kant, In theory and Practice,  II . p. 81.

[16] see Reiss, Kant: Political Writings, footnote referring to the treatise Religion within the limits of Reason Alone. p. 31.

[17] Kant, In Theory and Practice, III On the relationship of Theory to Practice in International Right p.89

[18]Kant, In theory and Practice, II p. 86.

[19] Kant, In Theory and Practise II, is an answer to Hobbes. See in McElroy, Morality and American Foreign Policy, pp. 13 -21, the anthropological vision of man held by Niehbur (The drive for transcendence leads to God but also to sinfulness and pride – p. 14) and Morgenthau (“the drive for transcendence leads only to selfishness and lust for power” – p.20) – pp. 13 -21.

[20] Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, Seventh Proposition, p. 47.

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No24, 1st December 2011

No24, 1st December 2011

A few thoughts regarding #OccupyWallStreet

More than a structured post, here are a few thoughts regarding the #OccupyWallStreet movement, including the arrests in NYC on Saturday 24 September 2011, related effects on the treatment by media, and the articles and blogs I have read lately not only on this specific operation but also on linked previous movements and protests. Indeed, for this episode of the age-old struggle against those who hold the key to liquidity (cash), the origin of the idea to fight bankers and the power of markets can be traced back to the Spanish Manifesto of the Indignados (published at the latest by May 17 2011), and to the recent events in Iceland.

Media, attention and … “martyrs”

It is good that mainstream media start paying attention to what is happening, but, as previously underlined, where were they in May, June, etc. for Spain, Greece, and the various movements that started then, not only Europe but also throughout America?When the #occupywallstreet demonstration started on #sept17, only CNNmoney and Al Jazeera were there and reported. Again, where were they for Europe? Obviously arrests in a symbolic place were needed to see wider coverage. As any student of political mobilization and revolution knows, getting “martyrs” – everything being equal – is a crucial time for movements to develop, getting support, coverage, attention, etc.

Thomas Jefferson against Leftist labels?

It seems that an interesting – still – low key struggle is emerging, at the level of ideas and legitimacy.

Some – the majority? – absolutely want to categorize the operation with what could be qualified of usual categories: anti-capitalist, left, leftist, etc. Yet, shouldn’t we wonder if those categories are not also or rather old, corresponding  to the word of the end of the 19th and 20th century and to the Cold War, and thus most probably outdated? Note that this categorization, very interestingly, is done both inside and outside the movement – the most vocal being maybe Tea Party supporters and established Marxist/leftist elements.

Meanwhile, within the “movement,” other participants either do not pay attention or start looking for legitimating references, e.g. Jefferson on private banks (legitimacy is seen here in the American framework, but Jefferson, as a child of the Enlightenment, could very easily be adopted elsewhere, notably in Europe). The stream of tweets on Jefferson started on September 17 with some favored quotes and also sometimes with mention of  blog posts, e.g. “A Den of Vipers and Thieves” by Scott Johnson, Sept 15, with no direct affiliation between posts and “movement.”

Towards an emerging new normative setting?

My take is that we are seeing here many things unfolding and coalescing: recuperation and hope for a renewal, thinking habit, fear to see part of one’s rhetoric and thus partisans stolen away, plain fear of what is happening, and, first and foremost, something new being created. We are most likely witnessing the first weak signals of the making of a new normative system. Hence, this ideological evolution must be followed. Even if this specific protest recedes, it does not mean it will completely die. It is most likely to come back again, transformed, stronger, better and differently defined, elsewhere. This is exactly what has already happened with the European movements of the Spring and Summer (although hardly documented), which, after the Arab (Winter-)Spring, and in conjunction with the markets’ evolution create the right conditions for transmission and mutation of ideas and their corollary, actions.

Very interestingly, right now, it would seem that all actors (from movements to institutions, including governments and international organizations) are unable to think clearly anything else than “less state” – in American parlance “less government,” although to think in these terms is fraught with complication. If this hypothesis is correct, then it would mean that all, probably unconsciously, abide, on the one hand, by the ultra-liberal ideology according to which less state is needed and that has dominated the world since the end of the Cold War and, on the other, have an ultimate faith in a Democracy that would not need a state (despite all the research done depicting a much more complex picture).

Shall we see with real life and concrete threats, with practical needs for mobilization and organization, with interactions within the “new opposition nexus” and between the latter and political authorities, ideas change, evolve and being re-imagined?