Should a nation’s foreign policy be inspired by Hobbes or Kant or neither?
Classical realist Hobbes believed that humans were naturally anti-social creatures and that as a result, the natural state of human beings was that of being at war for survival. According to Hobbes, nature is scarce and “I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” (Hobbes, Leviathan, quoted in Morgan, 2001, p.523). Under Hobbes’ strand of realism, humans are only moral to the extent that they follow rules and regulations imposed by the state. However, in respect of foreign policy and international relations, Hobbes’ theory postulates that there is no common power over the nation states participating, and therefore no obligation to be moral, which in turn facilitates a self-interested approach to foreign policy.
Conversely, Kant’s theory of international relations is the foundation of contemporary theoretical idealism, which directly undermines Hobbes’ realism. Kant asserts that “a true system of politics cannot… take a single step without first paying tribute to morality. For as soon as those two come into conflict, morality can cut through the knot which politics cannot unite”(Kant, translated by Nisbet, 1989).
It is submitted at the outset that whilst this is clearly the ideal scenario for international relations and state foreign policy, Kant’s belief in the prevalence of innate human morality is arguably flawed and not reflected by the reality of the current political approach to foreign policy in international relations. To this end, it is arguable that Hobbes’ theory, whilst not necessarily ideal, is most commonly reflected in foreign policy, whilst often shrouded under guise of Kant’s “morality” as justification. The focus of this analysis is to critically evaluate Hobbes and Kant’s polarised theory in context of state foreign policy and consider which theory, if any is better placed...