a philosophy blog

When justice comes on a pretty pass

Notes on Kant, “Theory and Practice,” part 2

From the concluding section:

It thus follows that all resistance against the supreme legislative power, all incitement of the subjects to violent expressions of discontent, all defiance which breaks out into rebellion, is the greatest and most punishable crime in a commonwealth, for it destroys its very foundations. This prohibition is absolute. And even if the power of the state or its agent, the head of state, has violated the original contract by authorising the government to act tyrannically, and has thereby, in the eyes of the subject, forfeited the right to legislate, the subject is still not entitled to offer counter-resistance. The reason for this is that the people, under an existing civil constitution, has no longer any right to judge how the constitution should be administered. For if we suppose that it does have this right to judge and that it disagrees with the judgement of the actual head of state, who is to decide which side is right? Neither can act as judge of his own cause.

For this function, we might appeal to a notion of a “government of laws,” implying ultimately (even Kant must agree) moral laws. And morality, properly understood, cannot be on anyone’s side in a dispute except adventitiously: for it must assume ubiquitous corruptibility, if not outright corruption. It must set us one against another in a delicate balance that may minimize, but never exterminate, our depravity. I cannot act as judge in my own case, nor you in yours, but neither can I, with the full knowledge you have, act as your judge, nor you of me. Nevertheless, I can offer you advice that you would be wise to take on what you look like before a moral mirror, as you may do for me. This is as good as the authority of judgment ever gets.

Thus there would have to be another head above the head of state to mediate between the latter and the people, which is self-contradictory. —Nor can a right of necessity (ius in casu necessitatis) be invoked here as a means of removing the barriers which restrict the power of the people; for it is monstrous to suppose that we can have a right to do wrong in the direst (physical) distress. For the head of state can just as readily claim [82] that his severe treatment of his subjects is justified by their insubordination as the subjects can justify their rebellion by complaints about their un-merited suffering, and who is to decide? The decision must rest with whoever controls the ultimate enforcement of the public law, i.e. the head of state himself. Thus no-one in the commonwealth can have a right to contest his authority.

No one individually but collectively then may—and not by right, since justice is a lost cause if things have reached this dire pass. Justice will have to abide meekly the coming of quieter times. (Morality—not to be confused with the ends of justice—on Kantian terms is not “a cause” at all.)

Posted by luno in political philosophy, Deontology, Kant, Moral Theory (Friday December 15, 2006 at 5:20 pm)

No comments for When justice comes on a pretty pass»

No comments yet.

Leave a comment


(required but not published)

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Creative Commons License