[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]: Behnke on Molloy, 'Kant's International Relations: The Political Theology of Perpetual Peace'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Oct 27 11:00:41 MDT 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: October 27, 2018 at 7:46:10 AM EDT
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Diplo]:  Behnke on Molloy, 'Kant's International Relations: The Political Theology of Perpetual Peace'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Seán Molloy.  Kant's International Relations: The Political
> Theology of Perpetual Peace.  Ann Arbor  University of Michigan
> Press, 2017.  270 pp.  $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-472-13040-5.
> Reviewed by Andreas Behnke (University of Reading)
> Published on H-Diplo (October, 2018)
> Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
> "God is dead," Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science, "but
> given the way people are, there may still for millennia be caves in
> which they show his shadow. - And we - we must still defeat his
> shadow as well!"[1] The presence of this shadow alludes to the
> frequently visible but often poorly understood role of religion in
> politics. Modern Western political theory usually assumes that
> religion and politics are two different realms of human experience,
> to be kept separate. Politics is based on rationality and reason to
> deal with mundane matters, while religion requires belief and faith
> in a transcendental world. While democratic politics consider
> political pronouncements the contingent outcome of the contest of
> power and interest, or the result of rational public discourse,
> Christianity takes a divine truth as its starting point. For liberal
> philosophers, this reference to a metaphysical source of truth cannot
> be allowed in a democratic discourse based on rationality, reasoning,
> and an open outcome. And yet, as contemporary politics demonstrate in
> many countries, religion is a significant part of the political
> discourse, be it in the form of Christian parties in Germany or the
> powerful influence of religious groups in the formulation of domestic
> and foreign policies in the United States.
> While the academic field of Political Theory has recently paid
> increased attention to Political Theology, the same cannot be said
> about the field of International Relations (IR). It is therefore to
> Seán Molloy's credit that we finally have a detailed and in-depth
> critical investigation into one of the central yet so far
> unacknowledged examples of Political Theology in IR, that is,
> Immanuel Kant's philosophy of humanity and the possibility of its
> salvation in a state of "perpetual peace."
> The concept of Political Theology is most often associated with Carl
> Schmitt's writing and his succinct statement that "all significant
> concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized
> theological concepts not only because of their historical
> development--in which they were transferred from theology to the
> theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God becomes
> the omnipotent lawgiver--but also because of their systematic
> structure.... The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the
> miracle in theology."[2] For Schmitt, the reference to theology and
> its structural remnants in modern politics serves as a diagnostic
> tool to investigate the alleged secularized and rationalized
> foundations of the modern state in terms of their continued debt to
> theological and metaphysical tenets.
> The continuing echoes of theological principles in the modern state
> provide in a sense the receptive backdrop for a more radical and much
> more literal Political Theology that Kant introduced and which
> resonates to this day, if in a significantly truncated fashion. For
> Kant, the biblical struggle between good and evil is transposed into
> a struggle on earth between good and evil forces, fighting over the
> fate and salvation of humanity. As Molloy demonstrates in a
> compelling fashion, Kant took his cues from the eschatology and
> soteriology straight out of the Bible, while at the same time
> rationalizing and modernizing religion by linking it to reason and
> right, and extracting it from its involvement with traditions, rites,
> and rituals, stripping away "the dogmatic assertions and cultural
> accretions of the ecclesiastical religions" (p. 148). What is left is
> the faith in a God as the creator of all things and that it was in
> humanity's ability to be the fulfilment of his creation.
> Kant's project of mankind's salvation and establishing a state of
> perpetual peace based on the moral conduct of humans is based on an
> offer mankind cannot refuse. The choices are bleak and structured in
> a "Manichaean" dualistic fashion. The structure of his argument is
> based on the opposition of the phenomenal versus the noumenal, human
> beings versus humankind, understanding versus reason, necessity
> versus freedom, happiness versus duty, desire versus reason, and
> might versus right. In Kant's view, human beings are caught in the
> miserable condition defined by the first part of each of these
> dualities. Kant's project hence consists in facilitating the
> transition from this state of affairs to a world in which humanity is
> driven by reason rather than instincts, desires, and power, and in
> which moral law and right replaces the dominance of might.
> As creatures existing within nature and its laws, existing human
> beings are barely above animals. As Molloy summarizes Kant's
> attitude, "at best, human beings are characterized as 'domestic
> animals,' 'placid creatures' and infants in 'walking carts'" (p. 41).
> Evil enters their character when reason is subordinated to instinct
> rather than the moral law. How to transpose these fallen creatures to
> the realm of morals and right, as imagined in the epistemic sphere of
> the noumenal, is Kant's main concern. While human beings are evil
> creatures, humanity as a species still has a chance. Simplifying
> Kant's complex argument and Molloy's intricate analysis, the main
> principles that Kant employs to make this happen are the belief in a
> God as the creator of the world, in a purposeful nature provided by
> this creator, and in providence that pushes mankind forward despite
> its own shortcomings. How, in other words, does _Weltgeschichte
> _(world history) become _Heilsgeschichte _(salvation history)?
> God, or the belief in him, are necessary for Kant to maintain the
> validity of all moral law. People must believe in God to understand
> the origins and authority of the moral order that is supposed to
> guide us. Crucially, this is a practical issue, not an ontological
> one. People cannot know if God exists, as this is beyond the limits
> of our knowledge. But for Kant, these limits of knowledge provide the
> space for faith as a constitutive element in the moral order he
> identified. "God must be believed to act as the author of nature;
> otherwise, although the moral law would still be valid in itself as
> an idea, it would have no chance of being actualized or approximated
> by human beings" (p. 48). God, in Kant's words, must be omniscient,
> omnipotent, holy, and just in order to induce fallible human beings
> into acting in a moral fashion.
> Nature on the other hand plays a more complex role, both as the state
> humanity has to leave behind, and as a helpful "great artist" or
> "midwife" that in fact facilitates humanity's move from technical
> practical reason to pure practical reason in which prudence gives way
> to reason. Ultimately, the final leaps of faith into the moral realm
> previously only imagined in the noumenal domain require the belief
> in, and operation of, providence as the ultimate foundation of
> perpetual peace. "Only by embracing the moral and providential" can
> we hope to reach this final stage in the development of humanity and
> the supersession of the political by the moral (p. 161). In Kant's
> (anti-)political philosophy, human salvation is achievable by
> unwavering faith only.
> In effect then, the philosopher of the Enlightenment who shouted
> _Sapere aude--Dare to know!--_at humanity and dared it to emerge from
> its self-imposed nonage immediately subjects the liberated human
> being to the restrictions imposed by a noumenal, unknowable, and
> imagined realm. This dramatic move is in a sense preordained by
> Kant's apocalyptic vision of humankind: it will either find salvation
> by any means conceivable or perish in a war of annihilation. While
> human history certainly is full of catastrophes, we might still
> reject this biblical narrative of doom and gloom and search for
> political rather than moral solutions to mankind's predicament on
> this side of paradise. We might remember Nietzsche's ironic takedown
> of the "thing-in-itself." "By the way: even in the Kantian concept of
> 'intelligible character of things' something of this lewd ascetic
> ambivalence lingers, which likes to turn reason against reason:
> 'intelligible character' means, in Kant, a sort of quality of things
> about which all that the intellect can comprehend is that it is, for
> the intellect--_completely incomprehensible_."[3] Yet at the same
> time, Kant's insistence on the role of God in human affairs should
> also lead to questions about whether we have yet learned to live up
> to Nietzsche's exhortation and live without God or his shadow. As
> Molloy points out, this question requires a critical investigation of
> the relationship between contemporary politics and morality. And in a
> sense, as Paul Saurette argued in 1996, Kant's attempt at limiting
> and finally superseding politics is part of a larger Western
> onto-theology, in which politics is reduced to the crafting of a
> social reality based on a moral and epistemic commitment to Ideals
> and Truths.[4] In other words, realism, usually considered the
> antidote to liberalism and cosmopolitanism, has its own Gods and its
> own Truth and Reason. Arguably, the critical investigation that
> Molloy rightly seeks, therefore, needs to be conducted while casting
> a wider net and addressing the question of how to do politics without
> Truth or Reason, that is, without metaphysical or transcendental
> warrants. Can we negotiate a path between "foundationalism" and
> "anti-foundationalism" without making one or the other the foundation
> of our knowledge and morals? In this regard, one might wish that
> Molloy's reading of Carl Schmitt was as careful and close as his
> reading of Kant. The worn clichés of _"Kronjurist _of the Third
> Reich" and his _"_decisionism" might obscure the argument that it is
> precisely his insistence on the link between sovereignty and decision
> that helps us move forward. If indeed the sovereign is he who decides
> on the exception, then we have at least a reversal of the order
> between the transcendental and the mundane, in that the claim to
> sovereignty depends on the actual implementation of the decision. The
> grounds for any transcendental claim are in fact contingent, leading
> to what one might call non-foundational foundations.
> Ironically, Kant himself might help us on the first steps of this
> endeavor. His main contribution might not be the idea of how to
> achieve perpetual peace but rather the intricate discussion of what
> is needed to take us there, and with that a clear idea that this is
> well-nigh impossible. Molloy's deconstruction of liberalism and
> cosmopolitanism clearly demonstrates that the contemporary
> _"_scietificized" version of Kant's ideas fails to address these
> issues in a coherent fashion. In this sense, Kant serves as the most
> powerful critic of current Kantians. His intricate reasoning toward
> the insight that without God and providence we shall never make it to
> the promised land serves as a powerful reminder of both what is
> missing from their reasoning and why their best-laid plans will
> likely come to naught. Kant, in effect, understood politics better
> than his contemporary disciples. He was acutely aware of the
> contradictions within modern politics in which the "unfolding of a
> universalizing _telos_ within modern subjects" conflicts with the
> fact that "individualized modern subjects depend on the external
> conditions provided by sovereign states, the autonomy of which
> depends in turn on ... the system of states."[5] Molloy's recovery of
> Kant is therefore an invaluable contribution to the necessary debate
> about the crisis of modern politics.
> Notes
> [1]. Friedrich Nietzsche, _The Gay Science _(1882; Cambridge:
> Cambridge University Press, 2001), 109.
> [2]. Carl Schmitt, _Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept
> of Sovereignty _(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 36.
> [3]. Friedrich Nietzsche, _Zur Genealogie der Moral _(1887;
> Munich/Berlin: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag and Walter de Gruyter,
> 1988), 364. My translation.
> [4]. Paul Saurette, "'I Mistrust All Systematizers and Avoid Them':
> Nietzsche, Arendt and the Crisis of the Will to Order in
> International Relations Theory," _Millennium: Journal of
> International Studies _25, no. 1 (1996): 1-28.
> [5]. R. B. J. Walker, _Out of Line: Essays on the Politics of
> Boundaries and the Limits of Modern Politics _(New York: Routledge,
> 2016), 290.
> Citation: Andreas Behnke. Review of Molloy, Seán, _Kant's
> International Relations: The Political Theology of Perpetual Peace_.
> H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. October, 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52602
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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