Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The State of War Essay

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The State of War"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The State of War" elegantly raises a model for confederative peace among the states of Europe, and then succinctly explains its impossibility. Rousseau very systematically lays out the benefits of such a "perpetual peace" through arguments based only in a realism of pure self-interest, and then very elegantly and powerfully turns the inertia of the self-interest machinery against the same to explain why it can never come to be. However, this final step may be a bit too far; in his academic zeal for the simple, I will argue that he has overlooked the real, or at least ignored the possible. His conclusion may be appealingly reasoned, but it is still insupportable.

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While refuting the possibility that this international state of nature is a Hobbesian war of all against all [which would tend to the destruction of the species, an aim he finds both logically and religiously untenable (114)], he certainly acknowledges that conflicts occur even among actors whom we would call naturally virtuous ­ those seeking peace (112).

This contradiction is problematic because the boundaries between the civil and the natural, the domestic and the international, overlap at times (112). For instance, war on the outside invariably affects the civic order on the inside. Because of this contradiction, we are forced to bear the burdens of supporting both orders separately, thus negating the advantages brought by either. We are subject to the vagaries of the international system when it affects civil life, and yet as individuals our hands are tied and we are unable to enjoy natural freedom ourselves because we are also subject to the authority, at times oppressive, of the civil domestic structures (which, as we have seen, fail to protect us from all international affects) (112). Even a state that hopes for the status quo can't count on it ­ because other states won't allow it to remain (114). Peace is often lacking even among virtuous actors, but peace and war are not dichotomous. A state of war results when two actors mutually decide that their existences are incompatible, and each coolly resolves to annihilate the other however possible, a
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