Immanuel Kant (International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought). Edited by Arthur Ripstein
Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 2, pages 339–340, March 2009
How to Cite
Carroll, A. J. (2009), Immanuel Kant (International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought). Edited by Arthur Ripstein. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 339–340. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00460_24.x
- Issue published online: 16 FEB 2009
- Article first published online: 16 FEB 2009
Pp. xxiv, 556 , Aldershot , Ashgate , 2008 , $275.00.
The noble intention of this collection of essays on Kant's political philosophy is to draw attention to an area of his work that has been somewhat neglected, at least in the English-speaking world. Whilst a great deal of work has been given over to Kant's metaphysical, epistemological, moral, and aesthetical writings, due to a scarcity of reliable translations, the complexity of the Doctrine of Right, and the at times unpalatable views expressed in his political philosophy, this important area has not received the attention it deserves. For this reason alone the collection is well-worth having in the University library, and it should facilitate the access of students and scholars to an important selection of the secondary literature in this area of Kant scholarship.
The collection is divided into four parts, each focussing on a particular theme that the ensuing essays develop in contrasting directions. It begins with a framework-setting essay by Julius Ebbinghaus from 1953 in which the issues surrounding Kant's political philosophy and their relation to what happened in Germany from 1933 until 1945 are tackled through an investigation of the violation of the law of humanity by the German State. This essay will help to highlight, especially for an English-speaking readership, the importance of reflection on the limitation of state power for Post-World War II Kant scholarship, an area that has been forcefully developed in Germany by Jürgen Habermas in the latter part of the twentieth century. Further essays in this introductory part consider issues such as the relation between Kant's political and his moral philosophy, and to more general issues in liberal thought. Of particular note is Thomas W. Pogge's 2002 piece which rejects the Rawlsian view that Kant presents a doctrine of ‘comprehensive liberalism’. For scholars of both Rawls and Kant this essay is a useful one to have at one's finger tips and is a welcome inclusion in this collection.
The Second Part is concerned with Kant's treatment of private rights. The contribution by Joachim Hruschka is particularly interesting because it situates Kant's reflections within the tradition of Gottfried Achenwall's account of the permissive law of practical reason that is important in many new legal issues facing us today, such as e-commerce rights, intellectual property rights, condominium ownership rights, and their appropriate recognition in legal institutions. Hruschka grounds his claims on the principle that acts that are simply permissible come under the law of freedom, rather than being required or forbidden. In contrast to Katrin Flikschuh, he argues that in Kant's understanding of permissive law the acquisition of property is itself an act establishing a right to it. This section with its contrasting approaches to the law of property, contract, and ‘status’ will also be of interest to scholars working on disputes over land ownership in many countries around the world today.
The Penultimate Part is concerned with issues connected with the exercise of public law in the liberal state. Onora O'Neill's important 1989 essay on ‘The Public Use of Reason’ defends the systematic precondition of toleration within the Kantian political framework as the necessary means of achieving a just political constitution. She argues, following Kant's famous ‘What is Enlightenment?’ essay, that it is in the free exercise of our reason without interference from authoritarian bodies of any kind that the basic conditions for an in principle universal communication can be found. It is this public modality of modern enlightenment reason that she holds permits collective political debate to take place on a truly rational basis. It is a pity that limitations of space prevented the remarkable recent essay by B. Sharon Byrd from being included in the essays of this part on the question of punishment. Furthermore, one might argue that in the general selection of this collection certain authors appear too frequently, whilst other important authors such as Jürgen Habermas, Otfried Höffe, Matthias Lutz-Bachmann, Hans Michael Baumgartner, Hauke Brunkhorst, and Heinhard Steiger, to name but a few obvious examples, are surprisingly absent. No doubt hard decisions had to be made in the composition, and perhaps copyright issues contributed to certain conspicuous absences; it is, nevertheless, a question this reader is left with, and one which other readers may also have their opinions about.
The Final Part is the least satisfactory. It is concerned with the important question of ‘The Rights of Nations and Cosmopolitan Right’, but is limited in its choice of contributions. Important work by Pauline Kleingeld is included, but the reader is left with a sense of the collection running out of steam. Perhaps this is understandable at the end of a lengthy volume that overall is a fine tool for student and scholar alike. Moreover, as we already have an excellent collection of essays edited by Matthias Lutz-Bachmann and James Bohmann on this topic, the editor may have seen less need in this final section to shed light on an otherwise dimly lit aspect of Kant's philosophy.
One can only be grateful to the editor for having collected so many fine essays between these covers. Endless hours spent rummaging around libraries for these essays can now be more profitably spent reading Kant's texts on political philosophy themselves.