PAULINE KLEINGELD | Kant and Cosmopolitanism: The Philosophical Ideal of World Citizenship | Cambridge University Press 2012


By Robert Hanna

What is cosmopolitanism? Notoriously, there is no comprehensive, analytic definition of the term as it is used in either ordinary or specialised (say, legal, political, or scholarly) language, covering all actual and possible cases. It is variously taken to refer to globe-trotting sophistication; to nihilistic, rootless, world-wandering libertinism; to the general idea of ‘world citizenship’; to a single world-state with coercive power; to a tight federation of all nation-states, again with coercive power; or to a loose, semi-coercive international federation of nation-states and related global institutions concerned with peace-keeping, criminal justice, human rights, social justice, international money flow and investment, or world-trade, like the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the (plan for a) World Court of Human Rights, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organization.

Nevertheless, the term ‘cosmopolitanism’ has an original, core meaning. As Anthony Appiah correctly and insightfully points out in his same-named 2006 book:

Cosmopolitanism dates at least to the Cynics of the fourth century BC [and especially to Diogenes of Synope], who first coined the expression cosmopolitan, ‘citzen of the cosmos’. The formulation was meant to be paradoxical, and reflected the general Cynic skepticism toward custom and tradition. A citizen—a politēs—belonged to a particular polis, a city to which he or she owed loyalty. The cosmos referred to the world, not in the sense of the earth, in the sense of the universe. Talk of cosmopolitanism originally signalled, then, a rejection of the conventional view that every civilized person belonged to a community among communities. (Appiah 2006:iv)

In short, the original, core meaning of cosmopolitanism expresses a serious critique of existing political communities and states; a thoroughgoing rejection of fervid, divisive, exclusionary, loyalist commitments to convention, custom, identity, or tradition; and a robustly universalist outlook in morality and politics, encompassing not only the Earth but also other inhabited worlds if any, and also travelling between worlds, and, finally, the entire natural universe.

Of course, over the millennia since the Cynics, many philosophers have discussed cosmopolitanism. But after Diogenes, the next most important philosopher in the history of cosmopolitanism is Kant. Indeed, it is not going too far to say that all discussions of cosmopolitanism since the late eighteenth century have, in effect, been a series of footnotes to Kant’s views on cosmopolitanism, whether explicitly discussed, merely implicitly taken into account, or intentionally ignored.

More specifically, Kant fused the inherently important moral and political concept of cosmopolitanism with his universalist, dignity-based, autonomy-based ethical theory in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and The Doctrine of Virtue (1797); with his neo-Hobbesian liberal republican statist political theory in ‘Idea of a Universal History With a Cosmopolitan Aim’ (1784), Toward Perpetual Peace (1795), and The Doctrine of Right (1797); with his moral theology in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1792); and with the equally important moral and political concept of enlightenment in ‘What is Enlightenment?’ (1784).

In her thoroughly excellent, prize-winning 2012 book, Kant and Cosmopolitanism: The Philosophical Ideal of World Citizenship (henceforth, Kant and Cosmopolitanism),[1] Pauline Kleingeld argues this:

[I]mportant aspects of Kant’s position have been misunderstood. Kant did not deny that citizens have special obligations to their own state. He did not defend a mere voluntary leage of states on the basis of an inconsistent capitulation to realism. He did not defend free trade as an intrinsic ideal. He did not repudiate feelings of attachment. The significance of these and other misunderstandings of Kant’s position is not merely historical. His work still contributes to current debates, and so it is important to establish what his positions were and which arguments supported them.

On the account I have presented […], Kant’s mid-1790s cosmopolitan theory is itself more nuanced than is usually recognized. Kant combines his defense of the ideal of a cosmopolitan moral community with an argument that the citizens of a state have an imperfect duty of civic patriotism. He defends the establishment of a voluntary league of states with an eye to the gradual emergence of a federation of republics with coercive force, while attributing great importance to the political autonomy of peoples. He argues that cosmopolitan right should govern the interactions of states and foreigners anywhere on earth, and holds that there is one moral principle that is valid for all humans, yet his theory also allows for attributing genuine value to cultural pluralism. He defends the feasibility of his cosmopolitan ideal in terms of human nature as we know it, and he insists on there being grounds for hope even in the face of evil. These features are not examples of indecisiveness or confusion, but integral parts of a rich conception of cosmopolitanism. (p. 200)

Kleingeld also critically and frankly, but at the same time charitably and even-handedly, discusses Kant’s racism and sexism:

[U]ntil the early 1790s [Kant] openly and explicitly defended a racial hierarchy according to which ‘whites’ were the only non-deficient race. His 1780s theory of race was forcefully attacked by several of his contemporaries, most notably by Georg Foster, who had sailed around the world with Captain Cook and who regarded Kant’s race theory as empirically mistaken and his racial hierarchy as morally odious. It took Kant until the mid 1790s to change his mind and shift to an egalitarian position on race […]. [T]he fact that he had second thoughts on race in the mid 1790s has gone entirely unnoticed. A proper understanding of Kant’s theory of race, especially his embrace of a racial hierarchy in the 1780s, sheds new light on his cosmopolitanism of this period, because his racial hierarchy also informs his ideal of the ‘cosmopolitan condition’. Kant’s change of mind on race, in the mid 1790s, leads to a more egalitarian and more consistent form of cosmopolitanism that allows him to create more room, within the parameters of morality and right, for cultural diversity. (pp. 7–8, boldface added)

[U]ntil the very end of his writing life, Kant insisted that women should be denied full and active citizenship status because of their “natural” inferiority and the “mental deficiences in their cognitive power” […]. In other words, despite Kant’s gender-neutral description of the world citizenship  of all human beings (Menschen), he does not envision women as being on a par with men. (p. 183)[2]

In the same critical and frank, but also charitable and even-handed spirit, I will add that Kant was personally prejudiced against blind people, and therefore an ableist. For example, a blind student of Kant’s, A.F.J. Baczko, wrote that

Kant, who—I do not know for what reason—had an aversion to blind people, was so good to visit me. He confessed this aversion to me, adding that I was not blind because I possessed sufficient concepts from intuition and instruments, which overcame the lack of sight. (Kuehn 2001:213)

But even if Kant was indeed personally biased in several ways—which of course makes him a morally bad and flawed, ‘human, all-too-human’ person in those respects—it simply does not follow that his metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, or moral theology are in any way morally bad or objectively false. That would be an obvious instance of the classical ad hominem fallacy of illegitimately arguing from facts about a person to facts about the views held by that person. I shall come back to this crucial point in the next section.

1. Why Reconsider Kant and Cosmopolitanism?

In short, in Kant and Cosmopolitanism, Kleingeld presents a wonderfully well-argued, historically and philosophically well-informed, original, and critically nuanced interpretation of Kant’s views on cosmopolitanism. Moreover, Kant and Cosmopolitanism has already been widely reviewed and critically studied.[3] Why, then, should anyone want to reconsider it now?

I have three individually good and jointly sufficient reasons.

First, an extremely striking and also highly regrettable feature of recent professional academic philosophy is its multiculturalist critique of Western philosophy in general, and of Kant’s philosophy in particular (see Z 2017a, b, c). I hasten to point out, moreover, that it is highly regrettable not because it is strongly philosophically critical of Kant—that is merely par-for-the-course since the eighteenth century, and especially since the beginning of the Analytic tradition (see Hanna 2001). Instead, the multiculturalist critique of Kant is highly regrettable simply because its moral and political critique of Kant, even despite its current popularity, is based entirely on a special version of fallacious ad hominem reasoning that the iconoclastic Z at Against Professional Philosophy has dubbed The Multi-Culti Ad Hominem Fallacy (2017a, b, c). As applied to Kant, it looks like this:

(i) Immanuel Kant is a philosopher.

(ii) Immanuel Kant is male, white, European, short, prone to frequent chest pains, and personally biased against women, non-white races, non-Europeans, and blind people.

(iii) Therefore, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, and moral theology are all morally bad and objectively false.

So ‘multi-culti is anti-Kanti’, but without any adequate rational or moral justification.

By sharp contrast, and greatly to her credit, Kleingeld not only carefully avoids any such fallacious reasoning, but also, as I mentioned above, succeeds wonderfully in critically and frankly, but also charitably and even-handedly, discussing Kant’s racism and sexism.

Therefore, in the current cultural and political philosophical climate, Kant and Cosmopolitanism shines out as an exemplary work in scholarly history of philosophy in general and Kant-studies in particular, that contemporary historians of philosophy and Kant scholars, especially younger ones, should most certainly now be re-reading and reconsidering.

Secondly, I believe that the very idea of cosmopolitanism is not only inherently important, but also especially important in the current cultural, social, and political context, both in the USA and worldwide. And here’s why.

I think that it is self-evident that the fundamental problems of political life in the early twenty-first century are (1) the manifold depredations and oppressions of advanced, large-scale capitalism, especially including neoconservatism and neoliberalism, including worldwide starvation, poverty, and the brutal exploitation of workers at the lower end of the economic scale, as well as ‘bullshit jobs’, alienation, and anomie at the higher ends, (2) the global refugee crisis, including internally displaced people, economic refugees, and of course political refugees, (3) the emerging natural disasters of planetary climate change, (4) the ever-present threat of apocalyptic, global nuclear annihilation, (5) the inevitably fervid, divisive, exclusionary, hate-producing, violent ‘Us vs. Them’ implications of classical, loyalist nationalism (“my country, right or wrong”), and also of more recent identitarianism of all kinds (“my group identity, right or wrong”), and above all, (6) the all-pervasive, spirit-crushing, and morally corrosive belief in statism, which says that governments have the right (aka ‘political authority’) to force their citizens to obey their commands and laws, whether or not these commands and laws are rationally justified and moral—hence, even and especially when they are rationally unjustified and immoral—merely because governments also have the power to coerce their citizens. Notice, particularly, the fundamental analogy between these two self-evidently fallacious arguments:

Divine Command Ethics

(i) God commands that X is good and that you ought to do X, and has the power to send you to hell if you don’t do X.

(ii) Therefore, X is good and you ought to do X.

Statist Command Ethics

(i*) The government commands that X is good and that you ought to do X, and has the power to send you to prison or execute you if you don’t do X.

(ii*) Therefore, X is good and you ought to do X.

But I believe that cosmopolitanism, as I understand it, is in sharp opposition to many if not all of these problems and the mind-controlling ideologies that lie behind them. Therefore, critically reconsidering cosmopolitanism in general and Kant’s cosmopolitanism in particular now is of the utmost philosophical, moral, and political importance.

Thirdly, and following on from that second point, even despite the many virtues and original features of Kleingeld’s interpretation of Kant’s cosmopolitanism, in the end, she defends a mainstream liberal democratic (aka ‘republican’ in the classical sense) capitalist statist account, centred on Kant’s neo-Hobbesian liberal republican statist political theory in The Doctrine of Right. She thereby systematically overlooks an alternative, and unorthodox, but, I also think, morally and politically important, and extremely timely, way of reinterpreting Kant’s cosmopolitanism, that flows directly from his ethics, his theory of enlightenment, and his moral theology in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, and ultimately vindicates the original, core meaning of cosmopolitanism in the Cynics.

More specifically, I mean a reinterpretation that construes Kant’s moral cosmopolitanism in terms of social anarchism. For convenience, I call this Kantian cosmopolitan anarchism, aka KCA.

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? For that reason, and also because this is specifically a reconsideration of Kant and Cosmopolitanism and not a standard, traditional review or critical study of it, I am going to reverse the usual order of such things, by first presenting and defending KCA, in Section 3, before returning, in section 4, to a presentation of the chapter-by-chapter details of PK’s argument, and then finally, in section 5, by way of conclusion, moving onto a brief synoptic critique of her overall argument from the standpoint of KCA.

2. Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism[4]

And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:20–2, KJV)

Our age is the genuine age of criticism, to which everything must submit. Religion through its holiness, and legislation through its majesty commonly seek to exempt themselves from it. But in this way they excite a just suspicion against themselves, and cannot lay claim that unfeigned respect that reason grants only to that which has been able to withstand its free and public examination. (KrV, Axi n.)

Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his own self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s own understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! is thus the motto of Enlightenment. (WA, AA 8:35)

That kings should philosophize or philosophers become kings is not to be expected, but is also not to be wished for, since possession of power unavoidably corrupts the free judgment of reason. (ZeF, AA 8:369)

When nature has unwrapped, from under this hard shell, the seed for which she cares most tenderly, namely the propensity and calling to think freely, the latter gradually works back upon the mentality of the people (which thereby gradually becomes capable of freedom in acting) and eventually even upon the principles of government, which finds it profitable to itself to treat the human being, who is now more than a machine, in keeping with his dignity. (ZeF, AA 8:41–2)

I think that there is a fundamental difference between

(i) what I call enlightenment lite (EL)


(ii) what I call heavy-duty enlightenment (HDE), or ‘radical enlightenment’ in the specifically Kantian sense (see Hanna 2016).

EL says: Argue and write as much as you like, provided that you still obey and “render unto Caesar”, that is, “render unto” coercive political authority, the government, the State, and also obey and “render unto” other State-like institutions. But HDE says: You must exit your self-incurred immaturity, dare to think/know for yourself (Sapere aude!), and then dare to act for yourself.

The confusion between EL and HDE has had huge, dire cultural and political implications. EL is deeply misguided, because it presupposes instrumental rationality, and leads to rationality-nihilism if it is not ultimately grounded on a deeper, non-instrumental, categorically normative conception of rationality. The rationality-nihilist believes not only, along with Hume, that “reason is the slave of the passions”, but also that reason is ultimately otiose and eliminable in the face of brute coercive power. Worst of all, then, EL is deeply complicit with coercive authoritarianism, or statism, right up to totalitarianism, and equally deeply complicit with technocratic, large-scale capitalism and its valorisation—or what we now call neoconservatism or neoliberalism—as Adorno and Horkheimer carefully spell it out in Dialectic of Enlightenment (Horkheimer & Adorno 2002).

Unfortunately, the primary historical source of the dire EL/HDE confusion is Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment?’, which is really about HDE, but superficially appears to be about EL. And this is mostly Kant’s own fault. In ‘What is Enlightenment?’, he is philosophically super-cagey, and indeed duplicitous about what he really meant, due to (in fact, well-justified) fears about censorship and political repression.

Now according to Harry Frankfurt’s (1988) highly insightful analysis, ‘bullshit’ is a philosophical quasi-technical term, meaning inauthentic verbiage or actions, put forward as if authentic, strongly tending to undermine the pursuit of truth and the highest good alike. In other words, in ‘What is Enlightenment?’, Kant is philosophically bullshitting us. Above all, his deeply conflicted and ultimately incoherent doctrine of “the private use of reason” vs. “the public use of reason” in that essay epitomises this philosophical super-cageyness, duplicity, and bullshitting.[5]

To his credit, however, Kant finally said what he really meant about enlightenment, ethics, and politics in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason in 1792. Religion is in fact a treatise in HDE and a defence of philosophical and political anarchism, more precisely Kantian cosmopolitan anarchism, aka KCA. In turn, KCA says:

There is no adequate rational justification for coercive political authority, the government, the state, or any other state-like institution, and we should reject and exit the state and other state-like institutions, in order to create and belong to a real-world, worldwide ethical community, that is, the worldwide web of humanity, in a world without any states or state-like institutions. (see Hanna, forthcoming)

It is deeply philosophically and politically ironic that virtually no one has ever recognised the moral and political radicalism of Religion.[6] This, I think, is in part because Religion is much too long and because its surface rhetoric is far too Christian/religious for Enlightenment philosophers to stomach, especially twentieth and twenty-first century Kantians.

A second part of the problem is its title, Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft. When Kant placed ‘mere’ or ‘bloßen‘ right in front of ‘reason’ or ‘Vernunft‘, it made his basic point about religion almost unrecognisable. What is “mere reason”? No one knows. But as he makes clear in the Preface to the second edition of Religion, responding to everyone who complained they could not understand the original title, what he is actually trying to say is: religion is possible only within the limits of pure practical reason.

But the third and most important part of the problem about recognising that Religion is actually a treatise in HDE and a defense of KCA, is the fact that Kant’s neo-Hobbesian liberal republican political philosophy in the first part of the 1797 Metaphysics of Morals, The Doctrine of Right, is really nothing but a scandalous philosophico-political red-herring.

Here is my argument for that claim.

In the Notes and Fragments, aka the Reflexionen, in the late 1770s, Kant says that “an axiom is an immediate intuitional judgment a priori” (Refl 3135, AA 16: 673), and in 1771 that among “all immediately certain propositions”, the axiomata are “objective principles of synthesis, space and time” (Refl 4370, AA 17:522).

One paradigm of axioms is the straight-line law in Euclidean geometry, that is, “[t]he principle: a straight line is the shortest line between two points”, which Kant in the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics explicitly describes as one of the “simplest axioms” of pure mathematics (Prol, AA 4:301). Correspondingly, in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explicitly includes “the Axioms of Intuition” (A161/B202) in his Principles of Pure Understanding. In that connection, he says that “axioms [are] synthetic a priori propositions” and also that “the axioms that properly concern only magnitudes (quanta) as such” include, for example, that “between two points only one straight line is possible” and that “two straight lines do not enclose a space” (A164/B204–5). Hence there are also axioms in the transcendental metaphysics of human experience, the prime examples of which are the Axioms of Intuition (governing first-order synthetic a priori truths about extensive quantity) and the Anticipations of Perception (governing first-order synthetic a priori truths about intensive quantity).

But in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant also speaks of the synthetic a priori “axiom of right” (MS, AA 6: 250), and in ‘On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy’, he says that the axiom of right is “an apodictically certain proposition that issues immediately from the definition of external right” (VRML, AA 8: 429). All axioms of any kind are necessarily true, general, primitive, non-hypothetical, synthetic a priori propositions that we can know with immediate certainty or self-evidence. Since axioms are synthetic, they are consistently deniable and intuition-based, hence grounded in human sensibility. Now just as the scope of axiomatic rationality extends from mathematics to transcendental metaphysics, so too it extends to the metaphysics of morals via pure practical axioms. Kant says, for example, that every immediately certain synthetic a priori proposition about “right” (Recht) is a pure practical “axiom of right” (MS, AA 6:250) or “axiom of outer freedom” (MS 6:267–8). Correspondingly, there must also be pure practical axioms of virtue (Tugend), that is, axioms of inner freedom or autonomy, moral principles flowing directly from the Categorical Imperative, which would be the ultimate axiom of virtue, although Kant never says this explicitly. In the metaphysics of morals, pure practical axioms are sensibly grounded in egoistic human empirical desires (for outer freedom) and non-sensibly grounded in the non-egoistic a priori feeling of respect (for inner freedom).

The mutual incompatibility, and indeed outright inconsistency, between egoistic axioms of right and non-egoistic axioms of virtue is one of the deepest and hardest problems in Kant’s political theory (RGV, AA 6:95–102). Here is how it unfolds. Kant’s neo-Hobbesian liberal republican political theory in The Doctrine of Right, the doctrine of right (Recht) starts from an assumption he calls “the axiom of right”:

Now, in order to progress from a metaphysics of right (which abstracts from all conditions of experience) to a principle of politics (which applies these concepts to cases of experience) and, by means of this, to the solution of a problem of politics in keeping with the universal principle of right, a philosopher will give I) an axiom, that is, an apodictically certain proposition that issues immediately from the definition of external right (consistency of the freedom of each with the freedom of everyone in accordance with a universal law); 2) a postulate (of external public law, as the united will of all in accordance with the principle of equality, without which there would be no freedom of everyone); 3) a problem of how it is to be arranged that in a society, however large, harmony in accordance with the principles of freedom and equality is maintained (namely, by means of a representative system); this will then be a principle of politics, the arrangement and organization of which will contain decrees, drawn from experiential cognition of human beings, that have in view only the mechanism for administering right and how this can be managed appropriately. Right must never be accommodated to politics, but politics must always be accommodated to right. (VRML, AA 8:429)

But the axiom of right (the axiom of external freedom, or negative freedom) is directly contradictory with what I have called “the ultimate axiom of virtue” (the ultimate axiom of internal freedom, or autonomy, namely, the Categorical Imperative). This is because on the one hand, the axiom of right says

(i) that we ARE essentially self-interested and need to be protected from each other by the coercion of the State, which secures external freedom,

whereas on the other hand the ultimate axiom of virtue says

(ii) that we are NOT essentially self-interested, but on the contrary we are essentially capable of acting in a non-egoistic way, autonomously, for the sake of the Categorical Imperative, and indeed we are morally REQUIRED to do this.

As I mentioned above, the synthetic a priori axiom of right is grounded on the empirical fact of human egoistic self-interested desires, whereas the ultimate axiom of virtue is grounded on the a priori feeling of respect. Hence the axiom of right is to the ultimate axiom of virtue as natural science, grounded on the empirical intuition of matter, is to mathematics, which is grounded on the pure intuition of space and time. And just as no truth of natural science can trump a truth of mathematics—for example, if natural science showed that 2+2=5, nevertheless, this would be trumped by arithmetic—so too, no obligation in the doctrine of right can trump an obligation in the doctrine of virtue.

But unlike the science-mathematics relationship, right and virtue are not only asymmetric, they are actually contradictory. In still other words, then, Kant’s political philosophy starts from an enabling assumption, the axiom of right, which in effect says that we are all essentially egoistic/self-interested, that is, decision-theoretic animals, indeed, essentially decision-theoretic ‘biochemical puppets’, natural machines. As he himself says, “the problem of establishing a state, no matter how hard it may sound, is soluble even for a nation of devils (if only they have understanding)” (ZeF, AA 8:366), and that the state-establishing problem

goes like this: “Given a multitude of rational beings all of whom need universal laws for their preservation but each of whom is inclined covertly to exempt himself from them, so to order this multitude and establish their constitution that, although in their private dispositions they strive against one another, these yet so check one another that in their public conduct the result is the same as if they had no such evil dispositions.” Such a problem must be soluble. For the problem is not the moral improvement of human beings but only the mechanism of nature, and what the task requires one to know is how this can be put to use in human beings in order so to arrange the conflict of their unpeaceable dispositions within a people that they themselves have to constrain one another to submit to coercive law and so bring about a condition of peace in which laws have force. (ZeF, AA 8:366)

Since the “the problem is not the moral improvement of human beings but only the mechanism of nature”, the external freedom of the devils and essentially egoistic/self-interested human beings alike is only that of a compatibilistic/soft-deterministic “turnspit”, as Kant puts it in the Critique of Practical Reason (KpV, AA 5:97).

Slavoj Žižek aptly observed that “liberalism [is] politics for a race of devils” (Žižek 2011). But even more to the point, liberalism is politics for a devilish race of biochemical puppets. Therefore, we need to be protected from arbitrarily coercing/compelling each other (= external freedom), lest we fall back in the Hobbesian war of all against all/state of nature, and w/hack each other to death, Mad-Max style. So state government is nothing but an executive control mechanism, plus a centralised power to coerce (for example, the police, the army, the NSA, etc.), designed for guaranteeing mutual external freedom in the universal pursuit of egoism/self-interest by all the state’s citizens, a Hobbesian ‘leviathan’,  a decision-theoretic mega-machine State, made out of human beings.

On the contrary, however, Kant’s ethics starts from a primitive assumption—the ultimate axiom of virtue, the Categorical Imperative–which directly implies that the highest good is a good will, acting for the sake of the Categorical Imperative, and also that we freely can do so, because we ought to do so, hence that we are NOT essentially egoistic or self-interested, and that we are practically free or autonomous and NOT machines. So, as we saw earlier, there is a direct contradiction between Kant’s axiom of right and Kant’s ultimate axiom of virtue. It is as if physics were to ‘discover’ empirically that actually, 2+2=5 (cf. the axiom of right), as opposed to what the pure mathematics, that is, the basic arithmetic of the natural numbers (cf. the ultimate axiom of virtue), says about that. Therefore,  just as pure mathematics trumps physics, since Kantian ethics trumps Kantian neo-Hobbesian liberal republican statist political theory, the enabling assumption of Kant’s own political philosophy in the Doctrine of Right is false by virtue of Kant’s own ethics.

In this way, again, just as in ‘What is Enlightenment?’, Kant is being highly philosophically duplicitous and seriously bullshitting us in The Doctrine of Right. 

Now traditionally, it was held by Kant scholars—and this is reaffirmed by Kleingeld—that the doctrine of right is somehow entailed by the doctrine of virtue; and some recent Kant scholars have managed to recognise that the doctrine of right and the doctrine of virtue are logically independent of one another.[7] But the amazing fact is, that 200+ years of Kant scholarship on The Metaphysics of Morals and Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason has been completely taken in by Kant’s bullshit, and and no one,[8] until now, has ever recognised either

(i) the outright contradiction between Kant’s axiom of virtue and his ultimate axiom of right,


(ii) the further fact that Kant’s ethics directly falsifies his political philosophy.

Surely, only the hegemony of classical (neo-)Hobbesian and Millian (neo)liberal political theory in mainstream post-WW II European and Anglo-American political philosophy can possibly explain this stunning example of apparently permanent professional academic philosophical mental slavery. Since the end of WW II, mainstream Anglo-American professional academic political philosophy has all been about (neo)liberalism, from Rawls and Nozick to yesterday[9]. Yet if I am correct, then the true philosophical children of Kant’s Religion are the Frankfurt School Critical theory neo-Marxists, excluding Habermas but especially including Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Axel Honneth (see Honneth 2009), and social anarchists, including Thoreau, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Noam Chomsky, Robert Paul Wolff, and Murray Bookchin. Nevertheless, the impact of the Frankfurt School (save Habermas) and social anarchists on mainstream twentieth and twenty-first century Anglo-American professional academic political philosophy, not to mention their impact on mainstream Anglo-American political life since the McCarthy era, except for the very brief New Left flare-up period during the late 1960s and early 70s, alongside the Vietnam War protests, has been effectively zero.[10]

Now in an unintentionally very revealing passage in Kant and Cosmopolitanism, Kleingeld says that “there is no direct textual evidence in support of [any] interpretation [of Kant’s Religion]” which makes “the claim that we cannot act morally in the ethical state of nature” and furthermore that “[this claim] would also make Kant’s argument run counter to the unconditionality of morality” (p. 170). But in my opinion that is simply a double mistake on Kleingeld’s part, for the conceptual, inferential, and Kant-interpretative reasons I have already given, and for the textual reasons I present directly below.

Here are the key texts in Part 3, Division 1, Sections I–III of Religion (RGV, AA 6:95–102): 




What Kant is explicitly saying in Religion, Part 3, Division 1, Sections I–III, is that the “juridico-civil community” (= the state) is inherently contradictory with the existence of an “ethical community”, and also with our exiting “our self-incurred immaturity” and daring to think/know and act freely, for ourselves, and thereby NOT thinking/knowing and acting like a machine—as Kant explicitly states in the amazing last sentence of ‘What is Enlightenment?’. This is because, since we are citizens of the state, and therefore must play this designated functional role within the Leviathan-machine of the State, it requires us all to be civil functionaries, in accordance with “the private use of reason”. That is: as citizens of the state, we are juridico-civil machines who can argue and write as much as we like, but must ultimately obey and “render unto Caesar”, that is, coercive political authority, the government, the state; and in so doing, we must also “render unto God,” that is, religious authority, the priests, the social institution of the Church, aligned with the State. Hence the state stands to the autonomy-driven ethical community as an “ethical state of nature” stands to authentic ethics and morality, which is why we morally must exit the state in order to join a cosmopolitan ethical community, the real-world, worldwide realm of ends, that is, the true Church, not the actual social institution of the Church, that is in reality always aligned with the state, even despite hollow official phrases about the separation of church and state. (In contemporary USA, this shows up in The Pledge of Allegiance, memorised and intoned by all school-children: “one nation, under God, etc.”)

So, essentially, Kant’s real view is that if you assume, as an axiom, that everyone is always and necessarily motivated by psychological and ethical egoism or self-interest and needs to be protected from everyone else in order to pursue her own self-interest, according to the axiom of right, aka the axiom of external freedom, then and only then do you need the (neo-)Hobbesian liberal state. And in this state, as per EL, you can argue and write as much as you like, provided that you obey and “render unto Caesar”, namely, Frederick William II, that is, coercive political authority, the government, the state, and other coercive state-like institutions like the social institution of the Church. Nevertheless, this axiom is objectively false, even despite its epic and mythic popularity.

So if you realise that actually we are not nothing but mutually antagonistic, decision-theoretic, self-interest machines, but, on the contrary, we are all inherently capable of inner freedom and autonomy, obligated by and for the sake of the Categorical Imperative, and all normatively driven by the teleology of our rational human nature, according to the ultimate axiom of virtue, aka the axiom of internal freedom or autonomy, then you morally must exit your mental slavery and also you morally must exit the (neo-)Hobbesian liberal republican state, in order to join a cosmopolitan ethical community, the real-world worldwide realm of ends on earth, the true Church. Or as Kant puts it explicitly in the titles of Religion, Sections II and III:



In this real-world, worldwide ethical community, namely, humanity, the rational idea of God is nothing more and nothing less than the rational idea of the highest good: the good will, with happiness proportioned to moral virtue, extended over all of humanity, on this Earth, which because of its spherical, finite-but-unbounded shape, we all must share together, in an indefinitely extended future. Therefore, in order to join this ethical community you must exit your self-incurred immaturity, and dare to think or know (sapere aude!), and also to act for yourself (according to HDE), and then you should reject and exit the state and other state-like institutions, in order to create and belong to a real-world, worldwide ethical community, humanity, in a world without any states or state-like institutions (according to Kantian cosmopolitan anarchism, aka KCA), for God’s (= the highest good’s) sake.

Finally, if that were not already enough, I also want to make it fully explicit that I am construing KCA in the radically larger Cynic-inspired sense of the politics of the cosmos, such that what is being advocated is a Kantian “cosmopolitan moral community” (RVG, AA 6:200) that is beyond all states, and encompasses not just Earth, but also any other habitable worlds, if any, and also travelling between worlds, and ultimately the entire natural universe.[11]

3.  Back to Kant and cosmopolitanism, Chapter-By-Chapter

Kant and Cosmopolitanism comprises an Introduction and seven chapters.

In Chapter 1, ‘Kant and Wieland on Moral Cosmopolitanism and Patriotism’, Kleingeld

discuss[es] the moral cosmopolitanism of [Christoph Martin] Wieland and Kant […][and] examine[s] the relation between cosmopolitan commitments and particular allegiances. The key question here is whether (and if so, how) one’s membership in a cosmopolitan moral community can be reconciled with special obligations stemming from particular relationships […]. Hardly any authors have examined Kant’s defense of patriotism in depth […] and to this day Kantians are said to be unable to defend duties towards one’s country. Wieland, for his part, is often regarded as inconsistent because he defends both cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Contrary to these assessments, [Kleingeld] show[s] that there are several ways to combine cosmopolitanism and patriotism, by bringing out the theoretical structure of the—interestingly divergent—arguments that Kant and Wieland present. (pp. 5–6)

In Chapter 2, ‘Kant and Cloots on Global Peace’, Kleingeld discusses political cosmopolitanism, as opposed to moral cosmopolitanism, and explicitly concedes that

whereas in the case of moral cosmopolitanism, the term ‘world citizenship’ is used metaphorically, [in the case of political cosmopolitanism] it is taken more literally as requiring certain kinds of world-wide political institutions. A core issue for political cosmopolitanism concerns the role and importance of states […]. [Anacharsis] Cloots argues, on the basis of social contract theory demands the abolition of all states and the establishment of a ‘Universal Republic’. Kant, by contrast, advocates the ideal of a federation of states, and this raises the question of whether he does so consistently […]. On the most common interpretation, Kant is thought to defend the establishment of a non-coercive league of states on the grounds that the normatively preferable stronger international federation with coercive powers is an unrealistic or dangerous idea; and Kant is then commonly criticized for scaling down his normative ideal to what is feasible in practice. [Kleingeld] argue[s] that this widespread interpretaion is fundamentally mistaken. Kant has good reasons to avoid a Clootsian approach and defend a plurality of (federated) states. Furthermore the voluntary league should be understood as the first step in a process toward an international federation that is much stronger than a loose federation of states. [Kleingeld] show[s] that Kant started defending this position only during the mid 1790s, whereas in the earlier decade he defended the establishment of a strong international federation with coercive powers much like a state. Kant’s reasoning behind his advocacy of a voluntary league makes clear that his change of mind was well founded. (pp. 6–7)

In Chapter 3, ‘Kant’s Concept of Cosmopolitan Right’, Kleingeld

turn[s] to Kant’s theory of cosmopolitan right (Weltbürgerrecht), which he first introduces in Toward Perpetual Peace. Cosmopolitan right, which Kant discusses in terms of a ‘right to hospitality’, is concerned with the juridical relation between states and foreign individuals (or groups) whom he regards as citizens in a single all-encompassing juridical realm. As such, it provides a necessary complement to Kant’s mid-1790s discussion of the proper relations among states, and it represents an important part of his theory of right. Often read too narrowly as concerned merely with commercial trading relations, cosmopolitan right deals with topics such as colonialism and the rights of refugees, attributing equal juridical standing to humans on every continent. (p. 7)

In Chapter 4, ‘Kant and Forster on Race, Culture, and Cosmopolitanism’, Kleingeld, as I mentioned above, critically and frankly, but at the same time charitably and even-handedly notes “that Kant did not always hold this egalitarian position” (p. 7). More precisely, she shows that up to the early 1790s, Kant defended a white supremacist doctrine. Nevertheless, as I also mentioned above, Kleingeld also shows that in the mid 1790s, Kant officially changed his view on race and adopted an egalitarian position that is smoothly in line with his universalist, dignity-based, autonomy-based ethics. The plain fact that Kant did indeed radically change his mind on race is, as we know from contemporary multiculturalist-driven debates about the philosophical canon, not widely known amongst professional academic philosophers and non-philosophers alike, even in the six years since Kant and Cosmopolitanism first appeared, but certainly deserves to be.

In Chapter 5, ‘Kant and Hegewisch on the Freedom of International Trade’, Kleingeld

discuss[es] cosmopolitanism in relation to economic justice and free trade […] start[ing] with a discussion of the views of a champion of free-trade cosmopolitanism, Dietrich Herman Hegewisch. Kant’s claim that international trade promotes peace is often read as an implicit defense of the thesis that global trade should be ‘free’ trade. A comparison between Hegewisch’s and Kant’s views on the issue, however, reveals that this inference is not correct. Rather, Kant’s legal and political theory (especially his republicanism, his theory of property, and his defense of state-funded poverty relief) implies that trade first of all should be just, and that it can be ‘free’ trade only within the bounds of justice. (p. 8)

In Chapter 6, ‘Kant and Novalis on the Development of a Cosmopolitan Community’, Kleingeld

discuss[es] kant’s account of the feasibility of the cosmopolitan ideal. Cosmopolitans are often criticized for being ‘unrealistic’, and Kant is no exception. For example, key figures in Romantic cosmopolitanism, such as Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, criticized Kant for relying on enlightened self-interest as conducive to peace and for disregarding the importance of feelings. They developed an alternative cosmopolitan ideal that revolved around the emotional and spiritual unity of humankind. By contrasting their views with Kant’s, [Kleingeld] show[s] how Kant conceived of the emergence of cosmopolitan attitudes and moral dispositions. Kant incorporated the natural affective dimensions of human motivation into his cosmopolitan approach, as essential components of his account of the practicability of the moral cosmopolitan ideal. (p. 8)

Finally, in Chapter 7, ‘Kant’s Cosmopolitanism and Current Philosophical Debates’, Kleingeld

discuss[es] the relevance of [the results of the first six chapters] for current philosophical discussions, such as debates over the compatibility of cosmopolitanism and patriotism, the philosophical justification of a plurality of states, global economic justice, [and] the continuing impact of the history of racism and colonialism in cosmopolitan political theory. (p. 9)

4. By Way of Conclusion

Now that the full sweep of Kleingeld’s overall argument is in front of us, I would like to close by making a few synoptic critical remarks about it, from the standpoint of Kantian cosmopolitan anarchism, aka KCA.

The many philosophical virtues of Kleingeld’s argument, from the standpoint of her liberal capitalist democratic statist interpretation of Kant’s political theory, should be obvious. But it should also be equally obvious that, from the standpoint of KCA, we must take everything that Kleingeld says about Kant’s cosmopolitanism to hold valid and true only under the (false) assumption of the axiom of right, which assumes that human nature is essentially egoistic, mutually antagonistic, at best externally free, and capable only of EL.

But then we can discharge that (false) assumption and think about Kant’s cosmopolitanism instead under the (true) assumption of the axiom of virtue, which assumes that human nature is essentially capable of respect for human dignity, mutual benevolence or kindness, internal freedom or autonomy, and HDE, and follow out the radical implications of this, that Kant himself partially spells out in the Religion. Then in effect we will have radically Gestalt-shifted, in late-Wittgensteinian fashion, from the ‘duck’ of Kantian statist (aka ‘political’) cosmopolitanism to the ‘rabbit’ of Kantian anarchist (aka ‘moral’) cosmopolitanism. And in so doing, we have thereby undergone a moral and political Copernican revolution in our thinking about cosmopolitanism, and this changes everything. What I mean is this.

KCA is resolutely against the existence of nation-states. Hence under KCA there is no question of patriotism, the fervid love of nation-states. It is perfectly acceptable to love the geographical place where you live, and also to love any and all social institutions designed in accordance with respect for human dignity, mutual benevolence and kindness, perfecting our talents, and autonomy or internal freedom, and HDE. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fervid love of nation-states or any other state-like institutions.

KCA is resolutely anti-coercion. And coercion is the use of violence or threat of violence in order to treat people as mere means or mere things, for example, wars. Hence KCA is also resolutely pacifist. But non-coercive, dignity-based, pacifist social institutions under KCA would also be permitted, in extreme cases or crisis-cases, to use minimally sufficient, respectful, defensive force for the purposes of preventing violations of human dignity, including physical cruelty, torture, murder, and other brutal, violent forms of oppression; for protecting innocent people more generally; and for self-defence.

KCA is resolutely against coercively-protected national or state-like borders of any kind. Hence under KCA there would be absolutely ‘open’ borders—that is to say, no legal or political statist borders at all—and all immigrants or refugees of any kind would be provided with sufficient aid and protection by relevant local dignity-based social institutions, wherever they chose to live.

KCA is resolutely universalist and anti-identitarian. Hence under KCA, not only would all forms of racism and arbitrary discrimination and prejudice against women, other-gendered people, LGBTQ people, polyamorous people, physically or mentally disabled people, people of large or small size, aged people, non-Christian people, non-white people, foreign people, poor people, etc., etc., be morally ruled out, but there would also be a thoroughgoing rejection of all fervid, divisive, exclusionary, loyalist commitments to convention, custom, identity, or tradition.

Nevertheless, at the same time, under KCA, there would also be a resolute effort to cultivate our innate capacity for what Kant, in the otherwise much-excoriated (for its racism and sexism, not to mention its supposed xenophobia) pre-Critical essay, ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime’, calls the feeling of the beauty and the dignity of human nature:

True virtue can be grafted only on principles, and it will become the more sublime and noble the more general they are. These principles are not speculative rules, but the consciousness of a feeling that lives in every human breast and that extends much further than to the special grounds of sympathy and complaisance. I believe that we can bring this all together if I say that it is the feeling of the beauty and the dignity of human nature. The first is a ground of universal affection, the second of universal respect; and if this feeling had the greatest perfection in any human heart then this human being would certainly love and value even himself, but only insofar as he is one among all to whom his widespread and noble feeling extends itself. Only when one subordinates one’s own particular inclination to such an enlarged one can our kindly impulses be proportionately applied and bring about the noble attitude that is the beauty of virtue. (GSE, AA 2: 217)

[W]hat if the secret language of his heart speaks thus: I must come to the aid of this human being, for he suffers; not that he is my friend or companion, or that I hold him capable of repaying my beneficence with gratitude. There is no time for ratiocination and stopping at questions: He is a human being, and whatever affects human beings also affects me. Then his conduct is based on the highest ground of benevolence in human nature and is extremely sublime, on account of its inalterability as well as the universality of its application. (GSE, AA 2:221)

Surely this is very close indeed to what Kleingeld, in Chapter 6, aptly calls Novalis’s romantic cosmopolitanism.[12] Nowadays, we would call it empathy. Or in other words, KCA resolutely endorses romantic empathetic moral cosmopolitanism. You can engage in and express all kinds of friendship, love, hope, faith, respect, and/or reverence, whether directed towards intimate companions, family, locals, or distant strangers, or even aliens, anywhere on the Earth or on any other habitable world, if any, or travelling between worlds, or even directed towards the entire natural universe (“the starry heavens above me”), provided that this affective-emotive engagement also fully heeds human dignity and autonomy.

Indeed, from the standpoint of KCA, I have infinitely more good reason to be faithful, loving, respectful, and reverential towards the starry heavens above me than I do to be patriotic towards any state.[13]

And here is one final, parting shot: not at Kleingeld’s argument, but instead inspired by it. In her discussion of the relation between Kant’s political cosmopolitanism and just international trade, Kleingeld very correctly and insightfully points put that

[i]f the state is the condition of the possibility of private property and trade, and if the ideal aim of the state is a condition of secure individual freedom, then Kant’s [neo-Hobbesian liberal republican statist political cosmopolitan] theory enables him to defend the legitimacy of legislation that prohibits monopolies on the production or sale of of necessary goods. (p. 145, boldface added)

Let me now take up Kleingeld’s important thought here, especially the boldfaced part of it, and run with that.

I think that it is generally overlooked, or at the very least insufficiently appreciated, by classical Marxists and neo-Marxists alike, that advanced or ‘big’ (that is, global, corporate, technocratic) capitalism requires statism as a constitutive a priori presupposition. Property, money, trade, markets, market-expansion, and technocracy in advanced or big capitalism all essentially require a coercive state, or a coercive federation of states, in order to assert, police, protect, and perpetuate their interests. Even gung-ho libertarian capitalists, when they talk about a ‘minimal state’, mean a minimal coercive state.

In short, big capitalism essentially needs the state’s or states’ big guns. Otherwise, all the people everywhere who are alienated, exploited, and oppressed by big capitalists—which is massively most people, worldwide—would simply rise up and take all, or anyhow most, of the big capitalists’ property, money, trade, markets, and technology away from them, and redistribute or otherwise use whatever is left over in order to satisfy their real human needs.

Therefore, to devolve and/or exit the state—or ‘states’ in the plural, in the case of Kant’s federalist statist cosmopolitanism—is thereby to devolve and/or exit advanced or big capitalism. And in that way, the ideal and also real-world, ‘human, all-too-human’ cosmic moral community envisioned by KCA will also be a post-capitalist cosmic moral community. This is the elective affinity of KCA and classical Marxism/neo-Marxism. Moreover from our historical vantage point, 135 years after the death of Marx, it is very difficult indeed to see how post-capitalism could ever come about in any other way. So all classical Marxists and neo-Marxists should immediately sign up for Kantian cosmopolitan anarchism.

Thank you so much for inspiring that thought, Pauline Kleingeld.

Received: 20 February 2018.


[1] See also Kleingeld & Brown (2014).

[2] See also Kleingeld (1993).

[3] See e.g. Shell (2012).

[4] Most of this section is lifted, with some minor revisions, from the first three sections of Hanna (2017d). See also Hanna (2017e).

[5] See Louden (2016).

[6] As far as I have been able to determine, the only recent Kant-commentator who has also clearly recognised this radicalism is Ebels-Duggan (2009). But even so, at least for the purposes of her essay, she construes it strictly as a moral radicalism, and does not spell out its anti-statist, anarchist political implications. Interestingly and revealingly, Kleingeld briefly considers Ebels-Duggan’s argument, but rejects it in a single sentence (p. 170).

[7] See e.g. Guyer (2002), Pogge (2004), Willaschek (2009), and Wood (2002).

[8] Except for Kyla Ebels-Duggan, who has explicitly recogniaed point (i), directly below this note in the main text, although not point (ii); see note 6 above.

[9] See e.g. Finlayson (2015).

[10] See e.g. Kazin (2012), chs 6–7.

[11] See Hanna (2017).

[12] See also Kleingeld (2008).

[13| See Hanna (2017).


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Ebels-Duggan, K. (2009), ‘Moral Community: Escaping the Ethical State of Nature’, Philosophers’ Imprint 9): 1–19.

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Hanna, R. (2001), Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

—— (2016), ‘Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, With a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscipt’, in D. Heidemann & K. Stoppenbrink (eds), Join, Or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 63–90.

—— (2017a), ‘Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature‘, Con-Textos Kantianos 5

—— (2017b), ‘Why the Better Angels of Our Nature Must Hate the State‘, Con-Textos Kantianos 6 (2017).

—— (forthcoming), Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise, The Rational Human Condition, Part 5.

—— (MS), ‘How To Be a Citizen of the Cosmos: The Starry Heavens Above Me, the Starry Heavens Inside Me, and the Oppressive State Around Me’.

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—— (2008), ‘Romantic Cosmopolitanism: Novalis’s Christianity or Europe’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 46: 269–84.

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Pogge, T. (2002), ‘Is Kant’s Rechtslehre a “Comprehensive Liberalism”?’, in M. Timmons (ed.), Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretative Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 133–58.

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—— (2017b), ‘Canon Wars, Round 2: The Multi-Culti Critique of Western Philosophy‘, Against Professional Philosophy (6 November).

—— (2017c), ‘Multi-Culti Is Anti-Kanti‘, Against Professional Philosophy (23 November).

Žižek, S. (2011), ‘Liberalism as Politics for a Race of Devils‘, ABC Religion and Ethics (22 November).

© Robert Hanna, 2018.

Robert Hanna is the Director of the Contemporary Kantian Philosophy Project. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1989, and has held research or teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, the University of Luxembourg, PUC-PR Brazil, Yale, and York University, Canada. His work has a broadly Kantian orientation, and he also has strong interests in the history of modern philosophy from Bacon/Hobbes/Descartes to contemporary philosophy, in the philosophy of nature and natural science, and in critical meta-philosophy. He has authored or co-authored six books and has recently completed a five-part, four-book series on the nature of human rationality, entitled The Rational Human Condition.