Does Kant's rejection of the right to resist make him a legal rigorist? Instantiation and interpretation in the rechtslehre
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Kantian Review 13 (2):107-140 (2008)
It is generally acknowledged that Kant's political philosophy stands on a par with the great works of the Western liberal tradition. It is also a matter of agreement that the rational principles on which it rests represent an adequate philosophical expression of the progressive agenda that was inaugurated by the Enlightenment and fulfilled, with varying degrees of success, by the French Revolution. Yet Kant's philosophical position is ambiguous when it comes to evaluating that momentous event in modern history. We know, from anecdotal evidence, some surviving letters, several cryptic references in his published works, as well as a number of posthumously published reflections, that Kant was enthusiastic about and strongly approved of the changes that were taking place in France at the time. He certainly condemned, in strong and unequivocal terms, the execution of Louis XVI. But this did not translate into a repudiation of his support for the revolution. And he seems to have found even in this case mitigating circumstances that explained the revolutionaries' decision to execute the monarch, thus in fact excusing their action. Moreover, he argued that all post-revolutionary governments ought to command the same kind of loyalty from their subjects as the ones they replaced, which appears to justify Kant's contention in the Idea for a Universal History that political violence can be a vehicle of progress. Furthermore, in the Contest of Faculties Kant went so far as to identify in the enthusiastic response of the ‘spectators’ to the French Revolution a clear sign of the moral disposition of humankind.
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