No Right to Resist? Elise Reimarus's Freedom as a Kantian Response to the Problem of Violent Revolt


  • Lisa Curtis-Wendlandt


One of the greatest woman intellectuals of eighteenth-century Germany is Elise Reimarus, whose contribution to Enlightenment political theory is rarely acknowledged today. Unlike other social contract theorists, Reimarus rejects a people's right to violent resistance or revolution in her philosophical dialogue Freedom (1791). Exploring the arguments in Freedom, this paper observes a number of similarities in the political thought of Elise Reimarus and Immanuel Kant. Both, I suggest, reject violence as an illegitimate response to perceived political injustice in a way that opposes Locke's strong voluntarism and the absolutism of Hobbes. First, they emphasize the need to maintain the legal state as a precondition for the possibility of external right. Second, they share an optimistic view of the inherently “just” nature of the tripartite republican state. And finally, Reimarus and Kant both outline an alternative, nonviolent response to political injustice that consists in the freedom of public expression and a discourse on the moral enlightenment of man.