Self-governance and reform in Kant's liberal republicanism — ideal and non-ideal theory in Kant's Doctrine of Right

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


At the heart of Kant's legal-political philosophy lies a liberal, republican ideal of justice understood in terms of private independence (non-domination) and subjection to public laws securing freedom for all citizens as equals. Given this basic commitment of Kant's, it is puzzling to many that he does not consider democracy a minimal condition on a legitimate state. In addition, many find Kant ideas of reform or improvement of the historical states we have inherited vague and confusing. The aim of this paper is to untangle both puzzles by exploring Kant's idea of self-governance. I argue that Kant's idea of self-governance gives us a very good starting point for thinking about how to leave room for a variety of political systems--different ideals--that have grown out of and responding to different contingent historical and cultural circumstances. It also helps us identify those areas where we want to take extra care to build in safeguards to secure stability and to take sufficiently seriously humankind's truly nasty sides.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-70
Number of pages32
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2016



  • history
  • ideal
  • republicanism
  • self-government

Cite this