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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 15, Issue 11/12, 2005

Edward Demenchonok
Pages 57-84

Discourse Ethics and International Law

This essay combines information on the recent ISUD Sixth World Congress Humanity at the Turning Point: Rethinking Nature, Culture, and Freedom and some reflections inspired by presentations and discussions at the congress. It is focused on the presentation of one of the keynote speakers, Karl-Otto Apel, entitled “Discourse Ethics, Democracy, and International Law: Toward a Globalization of Practical Reason”. Apel argued that the transcendental-pragmatic foundation of morality serves as the ultimate basis for the universal conception of law, e.g., of human rights. It establishes the transcendental basis of the idea of democracy, and at the same time establishes a regulative principle for a possible critique of the democratic states. Apel discussed the question of a political order of law able to represent the idea of human rights. In his approach to it, he referred to Kant’s idea of “a federation of free states” (as opposite to a “world state”) in the solution of the problem of a cosmopolitan system He noticed the tension between two orientations of international law: one towards “human rights” and hence a cosmopolitan law of single citizens and the other towards the sovereignty of single states. He asserted that the universal conception of law cannot be reduced to the legislative autonomy of any state. Consequently, the universal conception of human rights cannot be adequately realized either by particular democratic states or by a world state as a despotic superpower. Apel concluded that an adequate institution for the current debate regarding the issues of global peace and security can only be a federation of nations like the UN, the meta-institution of global discourse and the political representation of international law. At the heart of the essay is Kant’s cosmopolitan ideal and its relevance for today’s discussions about peace and security. Attention is paid to the attempts to rethink Kant by Karl-Otto Apel, Jürgen Habermas, Jaques Derrida, Martha Nussbaum, and David Held, among others. Some of the authors indicate the tension between the sovereignty of states and the universality of human rights. Other authors criticize cosmopolitanism as overly unifying in contrast to the socio-cultural diversity of societies. The essay draws a contrast between two tendencies concerning international relations. One is the current neoconservative course toward American domination throughout the world. An alternative to this is the philosophers’ call for “the cosmopolitan model of democracy” and strengthening the network of transnational grass-roots movements and international institutions, including the UN.

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