Idealism, Realism, and the Categorial Imperative in Kant's Perpetual Peace


  • Gordon P. Henderson



Immanuel Kant's philosophical system is devoted to reconciling the "anti-nomy" between freedom and determination. In Perpetual Peace, this becomes the related antinomy between morality and politics. This article reinterprets Kant's political essays as efforts to reconcile the modern dichotomy in international politics between idealism and realism. Kant's application of his famous moral rule, the categorical imperative, to the problem of war and peace captures the tension between these contradictory approaches to international relations. The reconciliation he achieves allows contemporary practitioners to be guardedly hopeful in their peacemaking efforts. Proponents of the "democratic peace" thesis, which Kant originated, would do well to control their enthusiasm; yet critics should contain their cynicism.