Immanuel Kant's views on peace and conflict and the Anabaptist view of peace

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Since the very beginning of the Christian movement, there has been an Anabaptist way of thinking about Christianity. There are still some people who hold beliefs about the Christian way of life that are similar to those upheld by the Anabaptist faith in almost every congregation and church today. The Christian Anabaptist movement has been recognized throughout history for its opposition to taking part in violent activities, notably war. Converts to the Anabaptist faith have experienced segregation and, on a few occasions, have even been murdered (William). The purpose of this article is to examine the relevance of the idea of peace through a detailed analysis and comparison of the Anabaptist belief of peace and the concepts of peace and war developed by Immanuel Kant.

Anabaptism and its Beliefs

Anabaptism is a form of Christianity similar to the Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist movements. The term Anabaptist refers to the practice of "re-baptizing". It was assigned to a group of Christians who were opposed to the baptism of infants and advocated for the baptism of adult individuals after they confessed their faith in Jesus Christ. The Anabaptist Christians of that era are the precursor to the Mennonite Christian movement and many others. The Mennonite or Anabaptist Christians share many beliefs with other Christian religions. They believe in the holy trinity, in the grace and holiness of God and in the attainment of redemption through repentance by grace, in the inspiration and power of the scripture and in the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Anabaptist Christians are at times viewed as the leftist movement of the protestant revolution. They rose to prominence in an era of economic and social turmoil and were focused on continuing the reforms started my martin john Calvin and martin Luther. Over the course of history, Christians who are a part of the Anabaptist movement have placed a great focus on emulating the character of Jesus in daily life and the resolution of conflict through nonviolent means (William).

Peace and Conflict in Early Christianity

Through the teachings in his sermon on the mount, Jesus showed the disciples that justice and peace could be obtained first by seeking for the kingdom, repenting sin and treating other people in the same manner that one would want to be treated. As a result of this teaching, the first disciples of Jesus traveled across the civilized world teaching, preaching and practicing this new way of life in order to show people how to return to God and love each other. One of the most significant problems the first Christians were faced with was the cultural and religious conflict which existed between the gentile and Jewish communities. After observing that individuals with different backgrounds were being filled with the Holy Spirit, and thus joining the Christian community, the first disciples came to the consensus that it was through faith in Jesus that people of various origins could grow a culture of peace and achieve unity. This was opposed to the earlier belief of observance of tradition and ritual practice. For many centuries after the death of Jesus Christ, the individuals who had converted to Christianity avoided military service. This decision was based on the biblical instruction to love their aggressors and not to harm them. However, this resolve was short-lived. In the time that the roman emperor Constantine started to join the church and the state, the distinction between the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ and the kingdom ruled by the king was slowly erased. The formerly well-defined visions of the early church were abandoned almost entirely and economic differences began to emerge in the church as some individuals acquired wealth while others sank deeper into poverty. Christians became the perpetrators of persecution. The former advocates for peace actively participated in the war. As opposed to their original mission of spreading the gospel and making peace, Christians invested vast amounts of time and resources in constructing large cathedrals.

Anabaptist and the Pursuit of Peace

Revolutionary Christian leaders such as Calvin, Zwingli and Luther made significant contributions to the Christian faith in an effort to return it to its original purpose. However, their teachings and policies were aimed more at reinforcing personal forgiveness and adherence to the Ten Commandments than the practice of making peace. Under the guidance of Menno Simons, the first Anabaptist Christians strived to achieve a universal understanding of how to conduct themselves as the body of Christ in a secular world. This search for knowledge led them to develop a belief that through the love of their fellow men and through the work of the Holy Spirit, they could attain the nature of Christ and therefore live their lives just as he did. The first Anabaptist Christians frequently congregated in homes and small groups where they felt the power of the spirit of God and studied the scriptures as a source of knowledge for counseling each other on how to conduct their lives. Anabaptists were intent on using the scriptures as their only weapon. Through the study of biblical text and resolve to emulate the character of Jesus Christ, Anabaptists acquired the belief that it was wrong to take part in the war. Similar to the first disciples, they chose not to participate in military activities despite the fact that the Turkish Muslims were attempting an invasion of Europe. They chose instead to emulate the character of Christ who did not seek revenge when people insulted him. For more than four hundred years, the Anabaptist has resisted military conscription and service. This practice has been continued for a remarkably long period of time and at a significant cost. For their actions, Anabaptists have endured various forms of punishment, exile, and immigration. In some instances, they have been killed for their resolve to maintain the biblical principles of nonresistance and love.

Conscientious Objection and Anabaptist

In the United States of America, the constitutional provisions for military service have made conscientious objection a matter of great debate in legislative and political circles. From a military perspective, conscientious objectors are a nuisance. Following the ill-treatment that conscientious objectors received from the United States war department in the First World War. Conscriptions officials in the US army sought for ways to efficiently define and manage individuals who objected to military service by placing them in publicly approved service programs, which did not involve combat.

The Role of Conscientious Objection for Anabaptist

The conscientious obligation has been a matter of great importance for Anabaptist church movements such as the Mennonites and brethren in Christ. The democratic and draconian nature of modern military enlistment policies necessitates total commitment from the citizens and does not account for individual objection to warfare and its perceived purpose. Armed conflict in modern times does not only necessitate the enlistment of soldiers, both the participation of an entire country. Therefore, as the personal element of conscientious obligation continues to be a matter of concern for the Anabaptist church, there are increasing concerns that it must also be considered in the context of investment, tax, and employment. As warfare grows more technologically advanced, the personal element of conscientious objection may lose most of its current significance, and the social and financial involvement of the nonviolent Christian movements in warring nations may become the most pertinent questions of morality.

Kant's Theory of Peace and War

The theory of peace and war proposed by Kant in his publication; "to perpetual peace" is widely acknowledged to be the precursor to the modern theory of international relations. Mainly because it postulates that democratic nations do not go to war against each other. The relationship between Kant's hypotheses and the current debate concerning how nation-states interact with each other was brought to attention by a Michael Doyle. Kant predicted that the growing pacification of the liberalistic pacific union provided an explanation for the pacifist trend and proposed a theory to explain why liberal states do not show pacifist behavior in their interactions with on liberalist states. Cosmopolitan law, a concept which Kant puts forward in "perpetual peace" shows that Kant did not accept the perception that a democratic and peaceful international community could be established by simply ensuring that the member's states achieved democracy, he believed that it further required the formation of relevant institutions and an effective legal framework. From the time Kant's work was published, many scholars have questioned the purpose of the cosmopolitan law. Researchers such as Hedley and martin Wright have perceived cosmopolitanism as an attempt at creating an autonomous society free from the influence of state powers, while others such as Norberto Bobbio viewed cosmopolitanism as a framework of regulations formed to govern the interaction between a state and another state's citizens. The divergence between these two interpretations may be attributed to the fact that there are two concepts Kant uses to develop his writings. The first is the philosophy of cosmopolitanism. The second more direct concept is cosmopolitan law.

The Significance of Cosmopolitan Law in Kant's Theory

It can be argued that cosmopolitan law is a crucial component of Kant's system of international relationships. A strong basis for this argument is the indisputable fact that cosmopolitan law is a system of laws addressed to nations, particularly those that are part of the European continent. Kant asserts that many of the fundamental freedoms that states offer to their citizens should be granted to other states and even to communities which lack the structure of a state Such as the communities of the new world. Furthermore, the cosmopolitan law establishes a mechanism through which the foreign nations, even individuals can influence the internal workings of another state in order to preserve certain fundamental human rights.

Kant's Concept of a Global Community

In Kant's opinion, the people of the world had to vary extents entered an all-encompassing community which has grown to the extent that the desecration of rights in a specific part of the world, irrespective of how remote it is felt in all places (Archibugi). To some extent, cosmopolitan law balances Kant's assertion that individuals did not have the right to rebel. All traditional mechanisms of the natural law had provisions for foreign powers or the subjects of the nation in question to use violent means to oppose the authority of the state in the event that it opposed the natural rights. Opposed to this, Kant asserted that neither the citizens nor foreign powers should be given the legal authority to actively oppose a sovereign power. Instead, Kant establishes a mechanism of nonviolent opposition through cosmopolitan law. Kant appears to derive cosmopolitan law from a number of sources; the concept of natural law, particularly, the jus gentian. Though Kant does not mention it, the concept of jus gentium was used as the basis for the development of the theory of international relations in the eighteenth century. Kant may have developed the concept of cosmopolitan rule from perpetual peace projects, a common tradition during his time. The development of cosmopolitan rule could also be attributed to the United States declaration of independence and the revolutionary French declaration of the rights of citizens and men. The cosmopolitan rule also reflects the concepts of cosmopolitanism, an ideology typical of the enlightenment movement, which was a manifestation of a political desire to establish universal reason.

The Role of Jus Gentium in Kant's Theory

The canon of jus gentium is Kant's starting point. Despite the fact that it is currently considered to have lost its significance and is only used as a synonym for international law, the term jus gentium had a much deeper meaning. In the roman era jus gentium covered relationships with nonstate societies. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Spanish authors such as Grotius and Alberico Gentili adopted the concept of law governing the interactions between states in addition to laws governing the relationships between sovereign nations and individual persons who belonged to nonstate communities (Archibugi). The development of jus gentium inside natural law is not coincidental and remained closely associated with the tradition of natural law until the beginning of the 19th century. The international treaties signed in this period are testament to that fact that natural law and were closely related. After the advent and establishment of nation states, the term jus gentium was used in association with the interstate law. This trend only ended towards the end of the 18th century after the publication of two major treatises by Emeric vattel in 1758 and by Christian Wolff in 1749. Though the two works are mostly similar, the two authors disagree on the existence of a legal authority which supersedes the authority of individual nations. While Wolff supported the concept of a supranational authority, vattel was entirely against it. For vattel, the very notion of such an institution was a threat to a nation's right to sovereignty. One of the concepts of the law of nations is the acknowledgment of the formalized equality of nation states as constituents of the international community combined with the associated rule of noninterference. One of the passages in his theoretical peace treaty states that no sovereign power shall forcefully interfere with the governance and constitution of another state. In his approach to international law, Kant assigns an elaborate and significant role to supranational institutions.

The Role of Peace and Non-violence in Anabaptist and Kantian Philosophy

However, Kant goes on to avoid other aspects of the law of nations, such as the legal justification for the use of force. The issue of sovereignty is associated directly with the management of conflict. In other words, it is not by chance that the most important part of the jus gentium legislation concerns warfare and its categorization on grounds of whether or not it is just. In these laws, the legal authenticity of the decision to go to war is assessed on the basis if two models, a nation's use of force in another country and the use of forceful means to resolve the conflict between two sovereign nations. In Kant's opinion, the use of force is unfounded and illegal in both scenarios. From a legal perspective, the concept of justified warfare is of no value if there is not any legitimate entity that possesses greater authority than the two conflicting nations because each state, in this case, would be required to assess the authenticity of its actions. Kant was not in opposition to war, his view was that it was impossible to justify the use of violence encouraged a particular nation against another through a legal initiative. Despite the complexity that surrounded Kant's assertion that people did not have the right to violently oppose the state, he continued to assert his position that the involvement of one state in the internal affairs of another and violent protest from the citizens of a sovereign power was unjustified. This could be attributed to the fact that he perceived the imperfections present within a legal framework which gave people the right to resist government rule. Furthermore, his position could also be explained by the fact that the debate concerning natural rights in his time had failed to provide satisfactory answers because there weren't any institutions governing international relations to provide a ruling on how and when citizens had the right to resist. Kant's ideas portray his advocacy for the use of peaceful means in the effort to bring about a favorable outcome in conflicts between sovereign powers or between a sovereign power and its subjects.


In comparison to the ideas of the Immanuel Kant, the principles of the Anabaptist church movement convey a more pacifist approach to the attainment and maintenance of peace. Although they are based on different perspectives, the concepts presented by the Immanuel Kant and the Baptist church movement reflect a common ideology, that all forms of violent conflict are illegitimate and cause more devastation than they do benefit and that pursuit and attainment of consensus through non-violent means is the best alternative for the resolution of conflict.

Works cited

Daniele Archibugi. "Immanuel Kant, cosmopolitan law, and peace." Italian National Research Council. (2015)

Estep, William R, “The Anabaptist Story,” Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-1594-4. (1963)

April 13, 2023

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