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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Geoffrey Bennington, Asa G. Candler Professor of French, Department of French and Italian, North Callaway Center 402, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322. Telephone: 404-727-4578. Email: gbennin@emory.edu.



  • Kant
  • international law
  • politics
  • secrecy

Kant's Open Secret


Journal Title:

Theory, Culture & Society


Volume 28, Number 7-8


, Pages 26-40

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


It is argued that Kant’s claimed reconciliation of politics and ethics in the Appendix to ‘Perpetual Peace’ founders on an irreducible element of secrecy that no amount of ‘publicity’ could ever dissipate. This shows up figuratively in images of veiling, and more especially in the paradoxical ‘very transparent veil’ associated with British politics in a footnote to ‘The Contest of Faculties’. This figure suggests that the structure of the ‘public’ itself involves a kind of transcendental secrecy that cannot be ‘publicly’ overcome, and that public space therefore cannot become fully visible to itself. This structural problem, it is claimed, prevents Kant from securing his proposed distinctions between the ‘moral politician’ and the ‘political moralist’ , and between ‘political prudence’ or expediency and ‘political wisdom’. A similar problem reappears in the supplementary ‘Secret Article’ that Kant includes in the second edition of ‘Perpetual Peace’ , which specifies, ‘secretly’ , that heads of state should take secret counsel from the open and public discussions of philosophers. In giving away this secret, even as he declares it to be a secret, Kant essentially repeats the gesture of revealing the violent origin of the state, shown in the ‘Rechtslehre’ to be illegal, and in so doing condemns the philosopher at best to a kind of exile with respect to political time and space, a marginal place that is here aligned with the place of ‘ius aequivocum’ addressed in the Appendix to the Introduction to the ‘Rechtslehre’ , where appeals to equity on the one hand and the right of necessity on the other are described as being inaudible in the system of public right. It is suggested that these marginal and equivocal places all show up an internal frontier in the transcendental account of public space, and that this frontier zone, the very place of politics, sets a limit to the prospects of Enlightenment itself. In conclusion, it is proposed that thinking through these problems would require less a turn toward ethics than a rereading of the concept of nature, on the basis of its Heraclitean penchant for hiding or veiling itself.

Copyright information:

© 2011 SAGE Journals

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