Kant’s Universal History and The Paradox of Ethnocentric Egalitarianism

  • Leonard J. Halladay
Keywords: Kant Colonialism


As a subset of political theory, postcolonial critique exists to examine the fundamental disparity in the asymmetrical power relations between the actors involved in colonial and imperial interaction. Part of this examination includes the assumption that the totalizing nature of imperial practice and its effects are necessarily problematic. This paper examines the notion that there can be a ‘universal history’ for human beings, as sketched in the political writings of Immanuel Kant. In addition, the historical context of Kant’s political theory, centered within 18th century European imperialism, forms a substantial portion of the examination. The paper begins with a consideration of the friction between Kant’s ideas of human freedom and natural necessity. Kant’s solution to this conflict is to sketch a model of historical development that is then applied universally to human beings and human societies. This paper considers Kant’s writings, in their historical context, in order to evaluate the degree to which Kant is subject to the problems inherent to the discourse of imperialism.