Kant and Standing Armies

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Samuel Ivan F. Ngan
Article Review August 31, 2012

Forced to be Free, Not Free to be Slaves by J. Gabriel

“Paying men to kill and be killed is inconsistent with the rights of humanity. Paying men to kill and be killed for the maintenance of a standing army results in an inconsistency in the concept of a person. The inconsistency in turn undermines the possibility for the only form of government that is consistent with possibility of perpetual peace, a republican government.” - J. Gabriel

The Article by J. Gabriel, aims to present Rousseau and Kant’s argument that having to pay for standing armies deprives humans of their freedom. The cause for the need of standing armies is that even with the presence of the social contract, there exist no binding contract among nations, and thus Kant seeks to solve violence, yet again, to result in a “peaceful federation among all the peoples of the earth”. Kant, as he always is not fond of inconsistencies, writes that paying soldiers to kill or be killed is against human rights, as it clearly violates the rights of the one killed, it also violates the one being paid to do so.

J. Gabriel writes about two concepts in order to help explain Kant’s arguments. He gathers these concepts from David Thoreau and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s, Civil Disobedience and On the Social Contract which illustrate how paying human beings to kill leads to a contradiction of these concepts. First is the concept of a human being. Human beings are by nature should be free of any constraint in choosing for themselves, whether to eat or not to eat, or whether killing an animal is humane or not, or maybe to kill or not to kill. But these so-called freedoms are then consolidated by social contract into a law made by the people themselves so that to be rationally free, “individuals must obey the law they give themselves through universal reason, not subjective inclinations.” Thus in our democratic forms of government where people are being represented in order to formulate the laws on which is then prescribed onto the people, the people following the law are rationally free in a sense that it does not violate human rights because they themselves had a say on how the law is made. This pooling of people, of free human beings, thus leads to the formation of the second concept: the state.

The only form of government where human rights is not violated due to the laws being formed by the people and not being imposed by a sovereign but rather prescribed by the people themselves is the Republican form of government. This is true because of the separation of the executive power and the legislative power. The executive power only acts upon which the legislative power allows it to act, while the legislative power is heavily influenced by the common people, this form of government thus allows the people to rule themselves, thus safe guarding the rights of each citizen. Once these powers become independent of each other, such that one has the power to declare war independently of the desires and will of the citizens, or if “the ruler independently executes the law itself made,” then the country will end in a state of despotism where people are not able or are not given the right to rule themselves resulting in the violation of the rights of humanity. Standing armies whether foreign or local, inhibit in themselves the threat of gathering power to coerce people without the people having the freedom to say his or her opinion. J. Gabriel then recommends the existence of a citizen militia compared to that of a paid standing army. His rationale behind this is that with this militia, the citizens are capable of ruling themselves and fight against domestic usurpations of power. He argues that by doing so, it will maintain the division of powers in a republican government.

Another argument that J. Gabriel presents is the continuous growth of standing armies. Not only do standing...