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the French Revolution



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									           AYLTON BARBIERI (Univ. Estadual de Londrina)

            Kant’s interpretation of the French Revolution represents one of the most intriguing problems of his political and
legal politics, when, by expressing his strong denial of the right of subjects to resist to sovereigns, even in case of an unfair
decision, he also manifests his deepest admiration for the French Revolution.
            Kant’s denial of the right to resist comes from his innovative conception of sovereignty. While modern
contractualists understand sovereignty as a sum of all natural rights individual human beings have to resign to enter into a
new society, the civil society, Kant sees this state of nature as a non-judicial state, in which man has only one innate natural
right to his innate external freedom, which gives him empirical possession over objects external to the choice he detains
physically. Although in the original contract, the individual has to resign to this wild and unlawful freedom to regain it
integrally as legal freedom, and since this dependence is the result of his own legislating will, Kant argues that the
fundamentals of sovereignty lie not on this resignation, but on the passage from a private and particular will present in the
nature state to a community and public will present in people living under a civil state, considering that anyone who legislates
in the name of others can be unfair to them, thus concluding that only a unified people can always be fair to everyone.
Consequently, resistance to sovereign power is impossible since sovereignty was instituted by the will of a unified people, a
theory Kant puts forth based on a series of arguments: (1) the right to rebellion institutes a right that denies all other rights,
and, consequently, the right to rebellion itself; (2) the right to rebellion is not evaluated by a categorical imperative since, on
one hand, it represents a maxim that cannot become universal for if all citizens could resist to any sovereign decision, both
civil union and the right to rebellion would not exist, on the other hand, it could not become public in the original contract and
in the constitution, contradicting the transcendental principal of public right, according to which all actions based on principles
that cannot be published are considered unfair; (3) the unconditional submission of people’s will (disunited and unlawful) to a
sovereign will (which unites all citizens through laws) is an act that begins with the overtaking of the supreme power and the
establishment of a public right, and any resistance that limits this absolute power becomes a contradiction in itself; (4)
although subjects resistance to an unfair decision does not constitute a materialiter injustice against a supreme ruler, it
constitutes an injustice of a higher degree, once formaliter destabilizes every man’s right.
            Although the definition of sovereignty, understood as the unified will of the people, originates from practical reason,
thus becoming immutable, its forms change according to the history of philosophy. Firstly, in the state of nature there are no
people with a unified will, therefore the contractualist thesis that argues that the state was constituted by a social contract is
unacceptable, once this would involve a principle petition which presupposes the presence, in the nature state, of both a
unified will and a people able to draw a social contract as the basis for their civil state, in which this unified will begins to
exist. According to Kant, the will of all individuals (distributive unit of the will of all) living under a constitution is not sufficient;
it is necessary for the whole people (collective unit of a united will) to want to belong to a civil society so that its first
sovereign will become an usurper who will gather a wild crowd into a group of citizens. Next, this sovereign turns into an
enlightened despot which will rule under the republican banner as if laws were the result of a unified people people’s will,
since he, the ruler, cannot pass laws which the people themselves have never considered or authorized when consulted.
However, although the letter of the law, the forma of sovereignty, does not coincide with the spirit of the law, the form of
government, which allows for the sovereign to rule under the republican banner as if the law came from the people
themselves, Kant affirms that the spirit of the law must identify itself with the letter of the law, so that the enlightened despot
may rule according to the unified will of the people until they are gradually enlightened to develop the necessary conditions
to issue a legislation for themselves, considering that the republican constitution, the only one through subjects (which law
obeying) are simultaneously citizens (law making), constitutes a regulative idea which allows for a respublica phaenomenon
to constantly get close to the respublica noumenon. Once installed, the real republic, the people’s representative system, the
sovereign (the unified people) exercises its sovereignty through the legislative power represented by the citizens through
their delegates, deputies, who make laws, by the executive, through a prince, who rules according to his ministers decrees,
and by the judiciary, in which the judge judges the people, since only people, upon judging themselves, cannot be unfair to
anybody. Thus, although Kant considers that the unsociable sociability by means of wars and revolutions is responsible for
the constant approximation to the republican constitution, in the case of a sovereign that is not provided with the necessary
political caution, again, from a history of philosophy standpoint, he prefers that the sovereign carries out reforms in the
deficient constitution, since one revolution can destitute personal despotism and end political and economical oppression,
and which, besides being always unfair, never conduces to a change of thinking but merely substitutes old prejudices by new
ones, since it does not lead to informing people.
            Kant’s admiration for the French revolution arose, in the first place, from his view of the event not as a revolution
but as a constitutional reform carried out by Lois XVI himself, who made the great judging mistake of calling the National
Assembly to solve the state debt problem, transferring the sovereignty to the people, constituting a republic. In addition, as
the republican constitution represents the first definitive article for perpetual peace, once luck gave this strong and
enlightened people the opportunity to create a republic, it turned into the center of a federal association for the estates. Thus,
Kant stresses, from an a priori historical perspective, there is a time event capable of showing that humanity is in constant
progress towards its improvement, including morally, which is not exactly the French revolution, but an universal and
disinterested enthusiasm manifested by public in general, once it touches all of those who have heard about the revolution
and the majority of those do not share the interest in participating in it due to the ills it has afflicted all the involved, in special
the Prussians. Living one hundred miles away from the revolution, they have a constitution that, although defective for
allowing an enlightened despot to rule under the republican banner, represents the only instrument to avoid the dangers
posed by its powerful neighboring estates. This enthusiasm of the people reveals two morals aspects of human being: it
shows the right of any people to give themselves a more adequate constitution and to draw a good legal and moral
republican constitution, the only one that can put an end to all wars. Thus this true enthusiasm, embedded in a purely moral
and unselfish ideal, shows as a historical sign of the moral character of human beings who are constantly progressing
towards their betterment.

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