Volume 12, Issue 1, Spring 2008
The Sublimity of Violence
Kant and the Aesthetic Response to the French Revolution
Kant identified in the “spectators’” enthusiastic response to the French Revolution the clear sign of a moral disposition in humankind. Following Hannah Arendt’s classic interpretation, but departing from it in important respects, I attempt to show in this paper that the “spectatorial” account of Kant’s view of the French Revolution makes sense only if it is understood in terms of a subject’s aesthetic response to objects of natural sublimity, and only if this aesthetic experience is instrumentalized for purposes of moral education.