Kantian Journal

2020 Vol. 39. No. 1

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Inadvisable Concession: Kant’s Critique of the Political Philosophy of Christian Garve



The starting point of my study is Kant’s remark to the effect that Garve in his treatise on the connection between morality and politics presents arguments in defence of unjust principles. Recognition of these principles is, according to Kant, an inadvisable concession to those who are inclined to abuse it. I interpret this judgement by making a detailed comparison of the texts of the two treatises. I demonstrate that Garve’s work is an eclectic attempt to combine in one concept the lessons of historical experience with the ideas drawn from British empiricism and German rationalism. These ideas were criticised by Kant in his “critical” period. There is a consensus among researchers that Garve condoned the expansionist policy of Frederick II of Prussia, totally denied that legality in international relations was possible and in general deserved the reputation of an (ultra-)conservative. From that point of view the key values for Garve were the security and well-being of the state. I offer an alternative interpretation of Garve’s position because I believe that the value of political stability plays an important role in it. Such an interpretation makes it possible to treat Garve’s narrative as it was assessed by Kant, i.e. as a concession to the common principles of political practice as a result of a failure to find the guiding theory. My study has established that the role of Garve’s work in the writing of Kant’s treatise Toward Perpetual Peace was more significant than Kant’s own words suggest. Besides, I show that it was under Garve’s influence that Kant turned to the problem of excessive complexity of the principles involved in the search for concrete political decisions. Garve obviously laments this complexity and yet makes these principles still more complex. Kant offers a simpler solution of the problem on the basis of his theory of morals and right.


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