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Political Research Exchange

Supreme Power: A Neglected Source of Tension in Kant's Views on Political Resistance

Political Theory
State Power
Stefano Lo Re
University of St Andrews
Stefano Lo Re
University of St Andrews

The paper begins by singling out two families of views in the vast literature on Kant's views on political resistance. Most Kantians attempt to limit the prohibition on resistance. This often take the form of arguments according to which individuals resisting illegitimate states (as distinguished from merely unjust ones) simply exercise their right and comply with their duty to exit the state of nature (e.g. Ripstein, 2009; Byrd and Hruschka, 2010; Maliks, 2014; Weinrib, 2017). On the contrary, some interpret Kant as issuing an unrestricted prohibition on resistance. They ground the prohibition on the practical necessity to assume the legitimacy of any given regime (Spaemann, 1976, Meckstroth, 2015). After comparing the two views, the paper introduces a neglected issue that affects both. According to Kant, supreme de facto power is at least a necessary condition for legitimacy (RL 6:319.22.24; decisively, ZeF 8:382.36-383.1). However, it is doubtful whether such supremacy is ever conclusively established. If so, power is less stable a basis onto which concepts and relations of Right can be grafted than one might think (or, at least, than Kant seems to assume). Notably, this problem is prior to concerns over wrongful exercises of power. I conclude by suggesting further directions of inquiry regarding the elusive nature of power and related notions, and their role within Kant’s theory.
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