Josh Dunigan |||

Bernie Part Three : Republic vs Despotic States

There are different ways we can categorize a polity”, which can be described in a loose sense as a group of people who identify together. This is some hard metaphysics to really nail down, so I will just use an example. The German polity went through massively different governing bodies, the Weimar to the Nazis, but were the same people. One was considered the pinnacle of legal jurisprudence and the other is the archetypal evil government, yet the polity is the same.

Types of polities

To understand the types of polities, we need to understand a few definitions. Freedom can be considered the ability to do what you want. However, as we know from before, freedom unbounded could be considered more properly under the term license. Kant does not seem to differentiate at this point in his writings, but he says that law is what limits freedom. Just to put the innate right to freedom back on the board

Freedom (independence from being constrained by another’s choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with universal law.

Law is what constrains freedom, as we learned in the first post about why people can only be truly free in the civil condition. The last element that is necessary is force. Force is required in a civil condition to enforce the law and at the same time uphold the freedom of everyone. So there are four different conditions a polity can find themselves in.

  • Anarchy - law and freedom without force
  • Despotism - law and force without freedom
  • Babarism - force without freedom and law
  • Republic - force with freedom and law

Anarchy and barbarism are conditions that cannot be considered a civil condition. Without force, freedom and the laws that are consistent with it are not actually enforced. Without force, there is no punishment which is a necessary part of justice. Barbarism is similar in that there is no freedom and law, it is just violence. Despotism still has some sort of law and force that upholds that law. However, the law must still be minimally rightful (more on this later). The last condition is the republic, which is where force is used in the name of freedom and law. This is the true civil constitution”.


In reality, every state would be a despot. It may be impossible to be a republic. For one, it may not be possible for a state to have a true monopoly on coercion. The ideal of a republic is a high bar, but it is something we should be constantly striving for and use to compare and reform the current state. A state can be considered minimally rightful, a despot, if it does not violate the postulate of public right. This postulate is twofold, one there must freedom of the pen and two, what belongs to each can be secured to him against everyone else”.

Freedom of the pen shows that even if there was a monarch, the monarch still cares about the effects of the laws on its people and that they at least conform to right in some sense. The other is that if people are not allowed to own anything external as theirs, then they are made serfs or slaves, which means they are categorically being denied freeom as we have defined it (the opposite of being free is being a slave). So it could be argued that the United States was just organized barbarism or it had a very large pocket of barbarism” before slaves were free. It can also be argued that once Nazi Germany wrote into law that Jewish people were not allowed to own property and what they owned already could be taken, Germany ceased to be called a minimally rightful state.

As long as a ruler(s) try to maintain the postulate of public right and show that it is trying to transition to a republic, the people do not have a right to revolution, it would be a criminal act to bring the polity into the state of nature. The people definitely do have the right to nonviolent protests to make their case. For example, the nonviolent method of protest that marked the Civil Rights Movement in America. As I argue in this post, I think that it is in the prudential interest of a state for the sake of stability as well to make sure they are conforming to right when they are pressed to, otherwise the despot seems like they are going in the wrong direction, one towards a barbaric condition.

The republic

The republic is an idea of reason. What this means, I do not know entirely. However, I think it means that it is an ideal that is given to us a priori, by reason alone. Just like the condition of anarchy is one that is an ideal of reason. It seems entirely unlikely that humans will be able to live in a condition of true anarchy, it may be a lot of anarchy and a little barbarism. Similarly, a state may not be able to live in a condition of a perfect republic, maybe a lot of republic and a little bit of despotism.

The republic is key to Kant’s political philosophy, it is the foundation to understanding how all other parts of his theory of right is to make sense. The republic is characterized by self-legislation of the people and supremacy of the law. Self-legislation is what we all know and love today. Invented by Rosseau, it represents the universal will of the people and yet no one in particular. The self-legislation is what makes a state or polity sovereign. A despot may be pseudo-self-legislating if people have freedom of the pen, but the republic is literally self-legislating by having a branch of government that represents the universal will. In a republic, the executive branch is distinct from the legislative branch, in that, the executive branch is tasked with enforcing the laws. The legislative branch has checks on the executive branch, but the legislative branch cannot punish the executive, it can only remove the executive from their office.

The republic is also characterized by supremacy of law. I touched on this in part one, in that, the people need to have unconditional poverty relief if the state is to claim supremacy of law and to uphold freedom. The poor people cannot depend on their bosses, charity, or the churches for their survival. This is also where punishment comes in. For the law to reign supreme, there needs to be be punishment. Punishment is the assurance to law breakers that violating the law will be pointless. It announces in advance to deter law breakers and it goes through with that threat to also make sure that if an unjust deed was done, the state corrects it such that it is like the deed never occured. Punishment is where the force” part of the characterization of a republic comes into effect.

Kant presents a case why the republic is only an ideal of reason and it makes more sense after having discussed punishment. He brings up the case of a sailor who finds themselves in a storm at sea. To live, the sailor must push their mate over board, effectively killing them. In this situation, the law cannot serve as an incentive to the sailor since he is facing imminent death now, so probable death later on does not override that incentive. In this case, even if the sailor tells the state his deed, he cannot be punished. The reason is that in certain scenarios the law serves as no incentive. This is where interesting edge cases occur of what people can do and how something like the use of force by a citizen can be justified in self-defense. But as this shows, there will be cases where the supremacy of the law does not reach and people find themselves in a pocket of barbarism”, but this does not mean that since the ideal is impossible in practice we should abandon it. This would amount to being a skeptic of normativity since most normative theories are ideals that we strive for, but can never reach. Even worse, it would amount to being a skeptic in areas like science or epistemology or metaphysics as well.

Bernie as the leader of a republic

It is not a very hard case to make that Bernie is the person who wants to strive towards an ideal like this. His enemies, on the right or the left or somewhere else, call his ideas too idealistic” (despite them being achieved in practice on the planet). A common argument is that they like his policies, but they are not possible. This just amounts to skepticism that the elites of America have made us believe through years of propaganda. It is possible to stop fighting wars. It is possible to fight and win against climate change. Eliminating radical poverty in the wealthiest nation is possible. But one particular case I would like to highlight for Bernie is his stance on war.

Bernie is not a pacifist, Bernie does not think war is no option, it is just the last option and must be gone about rightfully. In a republic, the people decide if they want to go to war. Along with other areas where the executive branch has been accumulating more power in our country, they seem to own the power to go to war. Every war post WW2 seems to be based on lies. How we are doing and what we are doing gets covered up along the way. You can go read the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War and the Afghanistan Papers about the War on Terror there. The administration and war leaders would lie about how we are doing. They covered up war crimes. They spent trillions of dollars. If we are to go to war, we should be honest with the people who fund it and are fighting it. If we go to war, we should try to do it in the most ethical way possible (Trump said we should use landmines again !). If we go to war, it should be after exhausting all other options of avoiding it. If we go to war, we should not give people any good reasons to be angry. Our unethical actions in the Middle East were perfect for ISIS recruiting videos, to make people rightfully angry with us (obviously not right in joining ISIS or doing what they have done).

Bernie has it as one of his policies to be more responsible in our foreign policy. Bernie opposed the Iraq War. Bernie advocates ending support for the war in Yemen, in which millions of noncombatans have died. Combat this with the way Trump views the military. Trump has viewed this as an old-fashioned we will fuck you up if you mess with us” style of commander-in-chief. Trump abandoned the Kurds, which pissed off actual military folk. Trump bragged about selling troops to Saudi Arabia, making the greatest military in the world” just mercenaries for hire. He almost plunged the US into a war by killing a high ranking leader in a UN recognized nation (Iran).

Trump seems to not understand how to fight war. The right way to fight war is to never do it in the first place and if you do, it should only be the last resort to a disagreement while doing no more or less than doing what you think is the right solution to that disagreement. This is what is echoed in the The Art of War and Towards Perpetual Peace.

It is telling of a leader whether or not they are despotic by looking at how they will treat other people not in their own nation. If you are so easy to demonize and hurt other humans, do not be suprised when that person turns it on their own nation. Trump seeks to make anyone who disagrees with him an enemy, whether it is outside of our nation or inside of our nation. Bernie seeks to make rightful conditions for all, internally and externally, which is the sign of a person who wants to make great bounds in transition to a republic.

Up next Moral growth as necessary for perpetuity of the state Bernie Part Four : Moral Politicians vs Political Moralists
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