Perpetual Peace | Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant
22 April 1724
Königsberg, Prussia
(now Kaliningrad, Russia)
12 February 1804 (aged 79)
Königsberg, Prussia
Famous in:
Transcendental Idealism
German idealism
Main Interests:
Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics
Categorical imperative
Act only according to that maxim whereby you will that it should become a universal law.
Kant sees in Jesus Christ the affirmation of a
"pure moral disposition of the heart" that "can make man well-pleasing to God"
18th century philosophy
Famous Works:
1. Critique of Pure Reason (1781)
2. Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
3. Critique of Judgment (1790)
4. Metaphysics of Morals (1797)
5. Perpetual Peace (1795) etc.
Works Online:
1. Perpetual Peace


Although Kant’s essay was written in 1795, its substantial value is practically unimpaired.

Anyone who is acquainted with the general character of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the famous German philosopher of 18th century,

will expect to find in him sound common-sense, clear recognition of the essential facts of the case and a remarkable power to demonstrate analytically the conditions on which the facts necessarily depend:

These characteristics are manifest in the essay on Perpetual Peace.

Kant is not pessimist enough to believe that a Perpetual Peace is an unrealisable dream or a consummation devoutly to be feared,

nor is he optimist enough to fancy that it is an ideal which could easily be realised if men would but turn their hearts to one another.

For Kant perpetual peace is an ideal, not merely as a speculative Utopian idea, with which in fancy we may play, but as a moral principle, which ought to be, and therefore can be, realised.

Yet he makes it perfectly clear that we cannot hope to approach the realisation of it unless we honestly face political facts and get a firm grasp of the indispensable conditions of a lasting peace.

To strive after the ideal in contempt or in ignorance of these conditions is a labour that must inevitably be either fruitless or destructive of its own ends.

Thus Kant demonstrates the hope­lessness of any attempt to secure perpetual peace between independent nations:

Such nations may make treaties; but these are binding only for so long as it is not to the interest of either party to denounce them:

To enforce them is impossible while the nations remain independent.

There is only one way in which war between independent nations can be prevented: and that is by the nations ceasing to be indepen­dent.

But this does not necessarily mean the establishment of despotism, whether autocratic or democratic:

Kant maintains that just as peace between individuals within a state can only be permanently secured by the institution of a “Republican” (that is to say, a representative) government,

so the only real guarantee of a permanent peace between nations is the establishment of a federation of free “republican” states:

Such a federation he regards as practically possible:

“For if Fortune ordains that a powerful and enlightened people should form a Republic - which by its very nature is inclined to perpetual peace –

this would serve as a centre of federal union for other states wishing to join, and thus secure conditions of freedom among the states in accordance with the idea of the law of nations.

Gradually, through different unions of this kind, the federation would extend further and further.”

Readers who are acquainted with the general philosophy of Kant will find many traces of its influence in the essay on Perpetual Peace.

Perpetual Peace

by Immanuel Kant
(22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804)

A Philosophical Essay, 1795.

"Perpetual Peace" -
We need not try to decide whether this satirical in­scription, (once found on a Dutch innkeeper's sign­board above the picture of a churchyard) is aimed at mankind in general, or at the rulers of states in particular, unwearying in their love of war, or per­haps only at the philosophers who cherish the sweet dream of perpetual peace.

The author of the present sketch would make one remark, however:

The practical politician stands upon a definite foot­ing with the theorist:

with great self-complacency he looks down upon him as a mere pedant whose empty ideas can threaten no danger to the state (starting as it does from principles derived from experience),

and who may always be permitted to knock down his eleven skittles at once without a worldly-wise statesman needing to disturb himself.

Hence, in the event of a quarrel arising between the two,

the practical statesman must always act consistently, and not scent danger to the state behind opinions ventured by the theoretical politician at random and publicly expressed.

With which saving clause the author will herewith consider himself duly and expressly protected against all malicious misinterpretation.


Section 1

The Preliminary Articles of a Perpetual Peace between States

1. ‘No conclusion of Peace shall be held to be valid as such, when it has been made with the secret reservation of the material for a future War.’

2. ‘No State having an existence by itself—whether it be small or large—shall be acquirable by another State through inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation.’

3. ‘Standing Armies shall be entirely abolished in the course of time.’

4. ‘No National Debts shall be contracted in connection with the external affairs of the State.’

5. ‘No State shall intermeddle by force with the Constitution or Government of another State.’

6.  ‘No State at war with another shall adopt such modes of hostility as would necessarily render mutual confidence impossible in a future Peace; such as, the employment of Assassins or Poisoners, the violation of a Capitulation, the instigation of Treason and such like.’

Section 2

The Definitive Articles of a Perpetual Peace between States

I. ‘The Civil Constitution in every State shall be Republican.’

II. ‘The Right of Nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States.’

III. ‘The Rights of men as Citizens of the world in a cosmo-political system, shall be restricted to conditions of universal Hospitality.’

Supplement 1

Of the Guarantee of Perpetual Peace.

Supplement 2

Secret Article relating to Perpetual Peace.

Appendix 1

On the Discordance between Morals and Politics in reference to Perpetual Peace.

Appendix 2

Of the Accordance of Politics with Morals according to the Transcendental Conception of Public Right.