John von Heyking

Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 8
By John von Heyking on August 12, 2009
Part 7 of this series is here.


Finally, in the 2nd Supplement of To Perpetual Peace, Kant issues his secret protocol, an exception to his rule that all articles to treaties must be public.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 7
By John von Heyking on August 06, 2009
Part 6 of this series is here.


Kant leaves open some questions concerning the "self-interest" societies have in joining the federation of republics. Does Kant anticipate the federation of republics making a pre-emptive strike against non-members who, by definition, are essentially warlike? After all, they wish to defend themselves. Does the movement toward perpetual peace in fact increase the likelihood of war? Does his federation have the seeds to exhibit the same imperialistic ambitions that plagued the Athenians, especially after Pericles died? Is "making the world safe for democracy" the perpetual Sicilian expedition for all democracies?

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 6
By John von Heyking on July 31, 2009
Part 5 of this series is here.


States depart the lawless state by the same logic as individuals depart the state of nature. They simply tire of killing one another and find mutually beneficial relations advantageous. In pursuing their self-interest (for peace), they discover the advantages of avoiding war. Kant insists individuals remain as depraved as ever. Rather, the "mechanism of nature" enables cooperation to evolve; individuals seeking their self-interest inadvertently produce public goods.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 5
By John von Heyking on July 20, 2009
This post is part of a series. The previous post is here.


Kant directly confronts political realism in To Perpetual Peace. The preface confronts the pragmatic politician who dismisses the theoretical speculations of the political theorist who offers his wisdom concerning international affairs. The pragmatic politician cannot defend what counts as his pragmatism or utility, and his Realpolitik threatens the dignity of human beings as free and rational beings. The "law of the jungle" that constitutes contemporary international affairs makes us all beasts.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 4
By John von Heyking on June 22, 2009
This post is part of a series. First read part 1, part 2, and part 3.


My students learn from Thucydides that Athens was most moderate when under the guiding hand of Pericles. He restrained their pleonexia while lifting them up when things went badly. But the strong leader died and failed to prepare Athens for his successor. Athens became less moderate as time goes on, and they saw their empire threatened even more. The Sicilian expedition ended in disaster, and the perennial anxieties of the Athenians that a single loss would knock out the supports of the Athenian empire came to fruition.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 3
By John von Heyking on May 18, 2009
See also Part 1 and Part 2

The nature of a particular regime's behavior is a key focus of our study of Thucydides' History. The students hear the Athenians defend their actions as those any strong power would take. International strength (or lack thereof) defines action, not regime, according to this argument. Yet, the Athenians themselves credit their strength to their innovative spirit (which their enemies call 'pleonexia, or overreaching). It seems one can never completely dissociate the character of a regime with the ways it defines its self-interest, ambition, and fears.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 2
By John von Heyking on April 29, 2009
Read Part 1 here.

I take the students through several key episodes of Thucydides' retelling of the Peloponnesian War. Some students wonder whether it is appropriate to study a "historian" in a political science class (these same students may have wondered what relevance a philosopher like Socrates has for the understanding of politics). Even so, I point out that Thucydides' History, while a historical retelling of events, is also an attempt to understand the nature of political action. Human nature is on display, to be sure.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 1
By John von Heyking on April 21, 2009

Having considered politics from above from the Socratic perspective, and from within from the perspective of my students own regime, Canada, we now move slightly outward, to the international arena.

I can think of no better way of introducing students to the fundamentals of international politics than by reading The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and To Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant. Because of the length of the History, I usually assign a useful abridgment that arranges the book thematically. This volume allows first-year students, reading this work within a two-week time frame as part of a more general introduction to political science, greater access to the great themes within the work.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: Canadian Politics - Part 3
By John von Heyking on April 08, 2009
See also Part 1 and Part 2.


In reading the Canadian Founders, my first year students have a case study in the basic meaning and functioning of liberal democracy. They consider the meaning of liberty (is an end in itself or does it serve a further goal, such as human happiness?), equality (of opportunity or result?), economic opportunity, ambition (many Founders thought Confederation would expand the sphere for talented ambitions), representative government versus direct democracy (they debated whether the Constitution ought to be ratified by legislatures or in referenda in the provinces), and responsible government.

…Contrary to the popular image of the Founders as dedicated to statism, they thought their system of responsible government offered greater individual liberty than the U.S. system…

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: Canadian Politics - Part 2
By John von Heyking on April 02, 2009

Like the subjects of Brave New World who think their history begins in 1 A.F. ("After Ford"), the youth of Canada tend to regard 1982, the year the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced, as their Year 1 in the era of freedom. Before 1982, Canadians lacked liberty. This, of course, is nonsense, and reading the Founders enables them to see the genuine origins of their regime.

The ignorance of Canadians for the ideas and beliefs of the Founders, as well as the character of the founding act, has bred a lot of confusion. Canadians have been taught that their Founding was simply a pragmatic act by pork-barrel politicians who, if they could barely arise to articulating principles, certainly could not implant principles into their constitution. They were too partisan. Even our Prime Minister gets caught up in this confusion…

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about the author

John von Heyking
John von Heyking

I teach political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, as well as religion and politics. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 1999.

My publications include Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Missouri, 2001), Civil Religion in Political Thought:  Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America (coeditor; published by CUA Press, 2010), Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought (coeditor, published with U. of Notre Dame Press, 2008), two edited volumes of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (Missouri, 2003), as well as articles on Aristotle and friendship, political representation, citizenship, republicanism, just war, Islamic politics, politics and prophecy, leadership, the place of America in contemporary political thought, religious liberty under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the political philosophy of rodeo. I am also at work on a book-length study on the relationship between friendship and political order. My editorials have appeared in the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Calgary Herald, C2C: Canada’s Journal of Ideas, and the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs. I am currently Associate Editor for History, Theory, and Law of the journal, Politics and Religion, published by Cambridge University Press. His work has been translated into Italian, German, and Chinese. I have delivered invited lectures to audiences throughout Canada and the United States, as well as in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Russia.