It’s Not about Race: Good Wars, Bad Wars, and the Origins of Kant’s Anti-Colonialism
This article offers a new interpretation of Kant’s cosmopolitanism and his anti-colonialism in Toward Perpetual Peace. Kant’s changing position has been the subject of extensive debates that have, however, not recognized the central place of colonialism in the political, economic, and military context of the Europe in which Kant was writing. Based on historical evidence not previously considered alongside Perpetual Peace, I suggest that Kant’s leading concern at the time of writing is the negative effect of European expansionism and intra-European rivalry over colonial possessions on the possibility of peace in Europe. Because of the lack of affinity between the character of colonial conflict and Kant’s philosophy of history, I argue that he has to adjust his concept of antagonism. In particular, while conflict among European states is indirectly virtuous, colonial conflict in which Europeans fight other Europeans in the colonies, or do so with the help of mercenaries and trading companies, is not conducive to progress. Finally, conflict between Europeans and colonial peoples is excessively violent, and pernicious for character and the maintenance of trust. I examine the implications of this argument for Kant’s system of Right and conclude that his anti-colonialism co-exists with his hierarchical view of race.