Skip to main content

Kant, Mill, and Illiberal Legacies in International Affairs

  • Beate Jahn (a1)

While the revival of the concept of “imperialism” appears to be a reaction to recent political challenges, I argue that it has always been at the core of liberal thought in international relations. While liberal internationalism enlists the authority of Immanuel Kant, at its heart one finds the security dilemma between liberal and nonliberal states as well as the propagation of particularist law under a universal guise. This un-Kantian liberal thought, however, has a classical precedent in John Stuart Mill, with whom it shares the justification of imperialist policies. A historically sensitive reading of Mill and Kant, however, can explain the striking failures of liberal internationalism in spreading liberal institutions as well as reducing international conflicts.I am profoundly grateful for the encouraging and exceptionally constructive comments of the two anonymous reviewers as well as the editor of International Organization, which triggered a substantial further development of the initial argument. I would also like to thank Barry Hindess for his comments as well as for his articles on liberalism pointing out the parallels between domestic and international liberalism. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Culture and International History Conference, 2002, in Wittenberg, and I would like to thank Jessica Gienow-Hecht and Frank Schumacher for the organization as well as the participants for inspiring discussions. Special thanks are due to David Boucher for inviting me to speak about John Stuart Mill at a research seminar in Cardiff that gave me the opportunity to try out my interpretation of Mill on Political Theorists. Students and faculty at Cardiff University provided very interesting and fruitful suggestions. Thanks are also due to Robbie Shilliam, whose work as a research assistant in connection with another project turned up some of the literature for this article. Finally, as always, I am grateful to Justin Rosenberg for generously devoting his time to improving my English in style and grammar.

Hide All


Archibugi, Daniele. 1992. Models of International Organization in Perpetual Peace Projects. Review of International Studies 18 (4):295317.
Archibugi, Daniele. 1998. Principles of Cosmopolitan Democracy. In Re-Imagining Political Community: Studies in Cosmopolitan Democracy, edited by Daniele Archibugi, David Held, and Martin Köhler, 198228. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Barkawi, Tarak. 2001. War Inside the Free World. In Democracy, Liberalism, and War, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, 10728. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Barry, Brian. 1998. International Society from a Cosmopolitan Perspective. In International Society: Diverse Ethical Perspectives, edited by David R. Mapel and Terry Nardin, 144163. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Barry, Brian. 1999. Statism and Nationalism: A Cosmopolitan Critique. In Global Justice, edited by Ian Shapiro and Lea Brilmayer, 1266. New York: New York University Press.
Bartelson, Jens. 1995. The Trial of Judgment: A Note on Kant and the Paradoxes of Internationalism. International Studies Quarterly 39 (2):25579.
Beitz, Charles. 1979. Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Beitz, Charles. 1983. Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment. The Journal of Philosophy 80 (10):591600.
Beitz, Charles. 2000. Rawls's Law of Peoples. Ethics 110 (4):66996.
Brown, Chris. 1992. ‘Really Existing Liberalism’ and International Order. Millennium 21 (3):31328.
Brown, Chris, Terry Nardin, and Nicholas Rengger, eds. 2002. International Relations in Political Thought: Texts from the Greeks to the First World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bull, Hedley. 1977. The Anarchical Society. New York: Columbia University Press.
Carothers, Thomas. 2002. The End of the Transition Paradigm. Journal of Democracy 13 (1):521.
Cavallar, Georg. 1999. Kant and the Theory and Practice of International Right. Cardiff, U.K.: University of Wales Press.
Cavallar, Georg. 2001. Kantian Perspectives on Democratic Peace: Alternatives to Doyle. Review of International Studies 27 (2):22948.
Cohen, Raymond. 1994. Pacific Unions: A Reappraisal of the Theory that ‘Democracies Do Not Go to War with Each Other.’ Review of International Studies 20 (3):20723.
Cox, Michael. 2003. The Empire's Back in Town: Or America's Imperial Temptation—Again. Millennium 32 (1):127.
Czempiel, Ernst-Otto. 1996. Kants Theorem und die zeitgenössische Theorie der Internationalen Beziehungen. In Frieden durch Recht: Kants Friedensidee und das Problem einer neuen Weltordnung, edited by Matthias Lutz-Bachmann and James Bohman, 30023. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Doyle, Michael. 1983. Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs. Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (3):20535; and 12 (4):32353.
Doyle, Michael. 1996. Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs. In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 357. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Duvall, Raymond, and Jutta Weldes. 2001. The International Relations of Democracy, Liberalism, and War: Directions for Future Research. In Democracy, Liberalism, and War, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, 195208. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Farber, Henry S., and Joanne Gowa. 1996. Polities and Peace. In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 23962. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Franceschet, Antonio. 2000. Popular Sovereignty or Cosmopolitan Democracy? Liberalism, Kant and International Reform. European Journal of International Relations 6 (2):277302.
Franceschet, Antonio. 2001. Sovereignty and Freedom: Immanuel Kant's Liberal Internationalist ‘Legacy.’ Review of International Studies 27 (2):20928.
Gallagher, John, and Ronald Robinson. 1953. The Imperialism of Free Trade. Economic History Review 6 (1):115.
Gates, Scott, Torbjørn L. Knutsen, and Jonathan W. Moses. 1996. Democracy and Peace: A More Skeptical View. Journal of Peace Research 33 (1):110.
Held, David. 1996. Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hindess, Barry. 2004. Liberalism—What's in a Name? In Global Governmentality, edited by Wendy Larner and William Walters, 2339. London: Routledge.
Hoffmann, Stanley. 1959. International Relations: The Long Road to Theory. World Politics 11 (3):34677.
Hoffmann, Stanley. 1995. The Clash of Ideas: The Crisis of Liberal Internationalism. Foreign Policy 98 (Spring):15977.
Hurrell, Andrew. 1990. Kant and the Kantian Paradigm in International Relations. Review of International Studies 16 (3):183205.
Jackson, Robert H. 1990. Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jahn, Beate. 1999. IR and the State of Nature: The Cultural Origins of a Ruling Ideology. Review of International Studies 25 (3):41134.
Jahn, Beate. 2000. The Cultural Construction of International Relations: The Invention of the State of Nature. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave.
Kant, Immanuel. [1795] 1957. Perpetual Peace. Edited by Lewis White Beck. New York: Macmillan.
Kant, Immanuel. [1784] 1991. Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. In Kant: Political Writings, edited by Hans Reiss, 4153. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kubik, Timothy R. W. 2001. Military Professionalism and the Democratic Peace: How German Is It? In Democracy, Liberalism, and War, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, 87106. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Layne, Christopher. 1996. On the Democratic Peace. In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 35557. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Linklater, Andrew. 1996. Citizenship and Sovereignty in the Post-Westphalian State. European Journal of International Relations 2 (1):77103.
Linklater, Andrew. 1998. The Transformation of Political Community. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Long, David. 1995. The Harvard School of Liberal International Theory: A Case for Closure. Millennium 24 (3):489505.
MacMillan, John. 1995. A Kantian Protest Against the Peculiar Discourse of Inter-Liberal State Peace. Millennium 24 (3):54962.
MacMillan, John. 1998. On Liberal Peace. Democracy, War, and the International Order. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers.
Mann, Michael. 2001. Democracy and Ethnic War. In Democracy, Liberalism, and War, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, 6786. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Meek, Ronald L. 1976. Social Science and the Ignoble Savage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mehta, Uday Singh. 1999. Liberalism and Empire. A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mill, John Stuart. [1859] 1975. On Liberty. Edited by David Spitz. New York: Norton.
Mill, John Stuart. [1836] 1977. Civilization. In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 18: Essays on Politics and Society, edited by John M. Robson, 11747. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Mill, John Stuart. [1859]1984. A Few Words on Non-Intervention. In The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. 21: Essays on Equality, Law and Education, edited by John M. Robson, 10924. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Mill, John Stuart. [1861] 1987. Utilitarianism and Other Essays. Edited by Alan Ryan. London: Penguin.
Mill, John Stuart. [1873] 1989. Autobiography. Edited by John H. Robson. London: Penguin.
Mill, John Stuart. [1861]1998a. Considerations on Representative Government. In On Liberty and Other Essays, edited by John Gray, 203467. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mill, John Stuart. [1848] 1998b. Principles of Political Economy. Edited by Jonathan Riley. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood. 1998. The Republican Legacy in International Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Owen, John M. 1996. How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace. In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 11654. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Pogge, Thomas. 1989. Realizing Rawls. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Rawls, John. 1973. A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rawls, John. 2001. The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Rupert, Mark. 2001. Democracy, Peace: What's Not to Love? In Democracy, Liberalism, and War, edited by Tarak Barkawi and Mark Laffey, 15372. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Russett, Bruce. 1996a. The Fact of the Democratic Peace. In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 5881. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Russett, Bruce. 1996b. Why Democratic Peace? In Debating the Democratic Peace, edited by Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, 82115. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Souffrant, Eddy M. 2000. Formal Transgression: John Stuart Mill's Philosophy of International Affairs. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.
Sullivan, Eileen. 1983. Liberalism and Imperialism: J. S. Mill's Defense of the British Empire. Journal of the History of Ideas 44 (4):599617.
Teschke, Benno. 2003. The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations. London: Verso.
Varouxakis, Georgios. 1997. John Stuart Mill on Intervention and Non-Intervention. Millennium 26 (1):5776.
Vincent, R. J. 1974. Nonintervention and International Order. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Walzer, Michael. 1992. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 2d ed. New York: Basic Books.
Weber, Max. [1904] 1949. ‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy. In The Methodology of the Social Sciences, edited by Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch, 49112. New York: Free Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed