Democracies around the world are being tested in ways that we would never have expected. There comes a question of what more do states need to do or could we have done to make the rule of law last? Most legal theories are influenced by Hobbes’ Leviathan in some form or another. The central question for Hobbes, after travelling around King’s court to King’s court as a secretary was why some states last and some do not. His resulting theory was greatly inspired by his travels and his thoughts show this. Kant’s theory of right, which is very rich, was influenced by Hobbes.. However, the practical, political, and potential real life ways to apply this theory of right were lacking, granted he was doing philosophy not politics.
Kant’s theory had a lot more tools and details of rights, freedom, and human nature than Hobbes which resulted in a more complex theory. What I just want to think about is what are the Achilles’ heels of the Kantian state and what might be missing from Kant’s theory or at least its practice. To answer the more pragmatic question that Hobbes was after : how do you make a state stable and last for centuries? What I will claim is that, using an idea inspired more recently and in a more concrete form than I have been thinking of, is from Charles Mills “Radical Black Kantianism”. He points out that theorists, the extreme majority at least, have ignored the existing injustices in a state too much and ignored how these might affect the state. I think he is right, and I think he and Lucy Allais are right that we should take note of the current injustices we are given in a society. For Kant, as racist as he was, he may have glossed over the impact of what racism would do to a state, either by explicit or implicit bias.
For Kant, it is not necessary to examine how a legitimate state arose to power. I will not go into too much detail in this, but it can be similar to the movement by MLK which I will cite later on as well. A nonviolent revolution is within the power of the people of a state, a violent revolution would mean that some people besides the state are right in their use of force. However, the state is already designated as the universal will of the people, the violent revolutionaries represent a unilateral, potentially organized, mob. The difference between war and revolution is that if a state satisfies the postulate of public right then revolution by violent means is unjust. This postulate is that as long as there is freedom of the pen and people are able to have rightful property relations, in some sense, it is a minimally rightful state. It could be said that even before 1968 in America, it was still a rightful state besides being outrageously racist, even in our solidified law.
The ideal state is something that might never be achieved given the messiness of reality, but it can come close. To conform to right, a state needs to properly enforce private property laws, status right, contract right, public right, international right, and cosmopolitan right. Additionally, this is not something that the state can just do without its people. To quote Habermas
A genuine global legal order requires support not just from states but also from their citizens, who regard themselves as members of a cosmopolitan world order, and who understand themselves as members of a community of global solidarity.
I think that this holds true for any sense of right. People must care about everyone’s right to private property if they are to care about their own. People must care about everyone’s status right (gay marriage for example) if they are to care about their own. People must care about public right and the supremacy of law (unconditional poverty relief ;) ) if they are to say they care about the rule of law for all. As Kant so brilliantly wrote as well, ahead of his time, international and cosmopolitan right are two of the three parts of a well functioning republic state, and people must see themselves in this way too as Habermas said.
This is cognitively difficult and just hard to do in general. If we think about the responsibilities and different modes of being that humans may find themselves in Kant’s ideal, there are a lot. We as humans act as our individual self, we act as a husband and wife, we act as a member of a certain city, we act as a citizen of a state, we act as a member who has power in international right, we act as just a cosmopolitan human, we act as a moral and rational being, we act as a worker, we act as a religious worshipper, we act as family members. All of these carry different and yet important responsibilities. But this is the part of education and moral growth of humanity that is important for the flourishing of our species and planet.
What might stop the moral growth of humanity? Well, one large thing is that we just refuse to take responsibility for certain actions. If you lie to your spouse and do not own up to it, your relationship is going to suffer down the road. Part of a good relationship is the moral aspect, is that we have faults, but as morally responsible beings we need to own up to them and be better. This analogy hits humanity and especially certain areas of humanity hard. Since I am an American, and we have so many “original sins” that we refuse to own up to, I will discuss and critique the moral failure of our citizens to address these original sins. I use this Christian phrase because I found it funny when used in literature that babies were somehow sinners, but it seems appropriate when discussing the sins that our nation was founded on. In a sense, America was not born with a blank slate.
There are obvious original sins that would take an entire book to fill of American history, however, I want to focus on one particularly prevalent one that has directly affected our nation and one I feel more educated to discuss. America was most definitely founded by committing genocide on the people who already lived here, however, the moral and political impacts of this I do not feel like I can confidently talk about. Additionally, America has massive problems with sexism and the discrimination of any gender/sex that is not straight. There are two more original sins that I think have intertwined into one massive one, that has affected the moral growth of our nation. It is the one that is and has become so easily seen in front of us, yet somehow ignored. This is the fact that we came into being into a nation founded on the inequality of blacks and whites and the poor and rich.
Warning : My history might be a bit off the mark
Referring back to the postulate of public right, we have held tightly to freedom of the pen ever since the start. Even when challenged or when groups had it taken away, it was not ever entirely eliminated for longer periods of time. What is important is that certain groups of people were eliminated from owning property universally. It could not be said that black people in the United States were given rights until after the civil war. Maybe this would consider the United States to be a minimally rightful state in Kantian terms. However, which is what I think Mills is onto, this is not enough. Just because under law, for every race X, they all have the same rights, does not mean the problem is done. This is where there should be space for some transitional justice, to move parts of a state from despotic towards a republic.
We know that banning slavery did not just fix the problem of race in our country. We fought a civil war because of it. Thousands were lynched by mobs. Areas of the country systematically denied black people from any upwards social mobility. Martin Luther King Jr. let a movement of transitional justice and died for this movement. These are all in the past tense. In the present tense, voting rights are systematically being taken away from black people. Black people are still discriminated against in the work force and in education. Black communities have less social goods and opportunities. Black people get shot and arrested for being in their own home. Black people get decades in prison for selling weed while people who almost brought the global economy to its knees because of greed plus being dumb are still in power and still wealthy and still not in prison. Black people compared to white people own a drastic amount of less wealth. The incarceration rate for a black male is egregiously higher than any other demographic. We have four of the six Democratic candidates on stage that have been justifiably accused of racism in their past, the supposed progressive party that is on the side of minorities. Zoning laws in white (and wealthy) areas after 1968 were made stricter for the sole purpose of restricting black residents from living next to them.
There is a plausible model of the United States that is where you read it not as based on freedom, but on capitalism. The “neoliberal” hate is since these people view the state second to capitalism, the state’s job is just to reign in monopolies and oligarchies who end up being anti-competitive. I don’t know how this started and has continued, maybe it is because of Adam Smith or John Locke, Ayn Rand, or the Tea Party. Most libertarians when they think of the role of government it works from capitalism as the foundation to find out where it fits in, if at all. This is where people think that during 2008, we should have not given any money to the banks or the economy. The fact that millions if not billions of people are going to go below the global poverty line around the world played no role in their decision calculus. They say, “let the banks fail”, when they are given the response that “millions will possibly die”, they might say “that sucks, but that’s capitalism”.
This capitalism first mentality is seen in the “moderates” of the democrat debates and in their policies. The moderates / neoliberals say “I am a capitalist” as if Bernie is not, that these are two competing ideologies. Capitalism, at least in the US, is on some fictional spectrum of capitalism to socialism to communism. Most of the republicans and apparently the democrats are capitalism first. They equate capitalism with freedom and choice, socialism with the the lack of choice and lack of freedom. However, we have many “socialist” policies that are in favor of the rich. As MLK so brilliantly observed,
This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.
The laws of this country are written in the favor of the wealthy, that is, the wealthy first. The wealthy can get taxed at lower rates. The wealthy are able to get wealthier quicker than anyone else. The ancient twitter proverb “it’s expensive to be poor” is ever so true. If you put off minor health care now, it becomes major health care later on. You cannot afford to go to school or take time to learn a new skill for a higher paying job in the future since the risk is too high, you are forced to stay in your low paying job for the short term security. Poor people have to commute farther to work, taking time out of their day. They may have to even work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
The problems of racism and capitalism in the United States seem to be started from generations before us, they are distant, and we are less responsible (people think) for them. However, there are a lot of new democracies around the world that had to deal with moral growth and how it affects their state really fast. Places like Rwanda or South Africa may actually in the long run be more stable, since they started out with moral responsibility. Having it be the default that you own up to the past, you are aware of its effects now and in the future, a people may be in a better position for stability and conforming to right. This might depend on the way transitional justice was done though. It might be too soon to find out if these were the proper methods of transitional justice, if they achieved their purpose. One thing is for certain though, is that America is extremely resistant to owning up to any moral wrongs and we can see the problems it has given us today.
As represented by the concerns of MLK and Bernie Sanders, these two original sins are keeping our country from being more just. As I am arguing in my series on Bernie Sanders, he has policies addressing these issues. One major problem is the wealth and unbounded capitalism, which he has plans for. Medicare for all will help all races in the US, for example. He incorporates race into his Green New Deal, his College for All, his Housing for All, Public Education, and other issues. I think that most of these plans are consistent, if not required, of a Kantian theory of right and what the state ought to do.
But legislation is not enough. The people need to address these issues head on in the way we treat other people. We need to show and treat everyone with the respect they have as humans in our own nation. If all of America can admit that something should be done about the racial and wealthy inequality and the disrespect these groups face inside and outside of the law, we might start the moral growth. It is not enough that parts of our nation, or even all of it accept the past. To truly own up to it, we need to change the way our state works and the way we treat these groups. This is one of the more confusing things about many Americans, is that they will admit the facts of slavery, civil rights injustices, maybe more modern problems and statistics of them, but they do not think we should really do anything about it and/or the state should not.
This lack of truly owning up to our faults is what might be a major cause of instability in our nation. If we cannot own up to our faults and our unjust origins, to help our system conform to right, I think the foundation of our nation might collapse in the future. The foundation being the drive to improve the state. This might be the case for India, for example. The lack of respect and especially hatred makes it easier to deceive ourselves and use the power of the state to hurt others.
If we can respect our own citizens at least, I think we would be well on our way with respecting the rights of other citizens and the rights of humanity in general, which America refuses to do (we rarely sign on to international treaties/laws and even more rarely enforce them, we would rather be the despot of the world before we join into equal relations, and we are currently eroding any sense of us being bound equally as other allies or enemies). This is the slippery slope of moral responsibility. We wanted to recognize the Armenian genocide, but doing that would force us out of consistency to recognize the genocide of Native Americans. We want to call the Nazis the worst regime, but they were inspired by our own racist laws. If we don’t morally “grow up”, problems like genocide, extreme poverty, systemic atrocities, and the like will not go away. If we are not actively striving towards rightful conditions, we are either stagnating or going backwards. If the citizens see the state as not attempting to conform to right, the stability of the state might be threatened, one way or another.