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Kant, Race, and Cosmopolitan Law: Towards an Account of Institutional Racism

jordan Pascoe
Manhattan College
jordan Pascoe
Manhattan College
Open Panel

Abstract

This paper traces Kant’s writings on race against the emergence of his cosmopolitan philosophy, and it argues that Kant’s account of cosmopolitan law relies heavily on assumptions carried over from the theory of race. The introduction of cosmopolitan law suggests a radical transformation of the possibilities of law: because it is designed to level the field between states and individuals, and to traverse borders, the rubric of cosmopolitan law creates new opportunities for commerce, capitalism, and the transformation of previously closed societies. Thus, although Kant criticizes the colonial practices of the 18th century, his republican cosmopolitan universalism presages many of the imperialist arguments that would emerge in the 19th century (particularly in colonial Africa), and offers a new model of international law with a unique capacity to radically reorder the social, legal, and political practices of nonEuropean societies. This paper argues that the account of race that motivates the development of Kant’s cosmopolitanism in the 1780s – namely, the unique capacity of whites to settle anywhere in the world and his repeated proscription against race mixing -- suggest that the “cosmopolitan hospitality” developed in the 1790s is normatively raced. By contrasting the colonial-cosmopolitanism of the 1784 Idea for a Universal History with the more inclusive but still racially normative model developed in the 1795 Perpetual Peace, it reframes Kant’s mature vision of republican cosmopolitanism as a form of institutional racism. Cosmopolitan law’s emphasis on the universal adoption of a republican constitution entails that non-Europeans must emulate and participate in the institutions central to Kant’s conception of Right. In requiring that non-Europeans must consent to having their lands settled, Kant is not advocating a pluralist worldview; he is universalizing the market-based institutions central to his account of law. This entails that non-Europeans recognize the institutions central to right: contract, property, and (surprisingly perhaps) marriage.