Rousseau – Abstract and Judgement of Saint-Pierre's Project for Perpetual
Begins where Hobbes leaves off: if we really are as reasonable and rational as we
claim, why have we continued to exist in an international state of anarchy, with
persistent and devastating warfare?
“If there is any way of reconciling these dangerous contradictions, it is to be found
only in such a form of federal government as shall unite nations by bonds similar to
those which already unite their individual members, and place the one no less than
the other under the authority of the law” (55).
Concert of Europe: the continent is united in Rousseau's time, insofar as it shares
habits, customs, interests, principles, religion, and commerce (56).
In ancient times, nations and peoples were divided. The Greeks viewed themselves
as rulers, and the rest of the world, as the ruled; the rest of the world, in turn, were
as divided among themselves as they were with the Greeks.
Under the Roman Empire, conquered nations received the same rights as the
conquerors. Europe was thus united in a body politic. The vast empire was united
under a shared system of laws and institutions, and legislation clearly defined the
rights and duties of ruler and subject.
However, that which played the largest role in uniting Europe was Christianity.
This leads Rousseau to claim that Europe forms “a real community with a religion
and a moral code, with customs and even laws of its own, which none of the
component nations can renounce without causing a shock to the whole frame” (59).
And yet, despite this commonality, brutal conflict persists.
Rousseau on the Causes of War
1) Lack of Common Law
“The public law of Europe has never been passed or sanctioned by common
agreement; it is not based upon any general principles; it varies incessantly from
time to time and from place to place; it is therefore a mass of contradictory rules
which nothing but the right of the stronger can reduce to order” (60).
2) On the Social Reality (?)
“Things often change their spirit without any corresponding chang eof form; that
states, hereditary in fact, remain elective in appearance; that we find parliaments
or states general in monarchies and hereditary rulers in republics; that a power, in
fact dependent on another, often retains the semblance of autonomy; that all the
provinces ruled by the same sovereign are not always governed by the same laws; that the laws of succession differ in different dominions of the same sovereign;
finally, that the tendency of every government to degenerate is a process which no
human power can possibly arrest” (61).
“What unites any form of society is community of interests, and what disintegrates
is their conflict... As soon as a society is founded, some coercive power must be
provided to co-ordinate the actions of its members and give to their common
interests and mutual obligations that firmness and consistency which they could
never acquire of themselves” (61).
Rousseau also here chastises anyone who dreams of conquering Europe, and
argues that this is an impossibility. Interesting, given Napoleon and Hitler.
“As all the sources of power are equally open o them all, the resistance is in he long
run as strong as the attack; and time soon repairs the sudden accidents of fortune,
if not for each prince individually, at least for the general balance of the whole”
What about political alliances? “I doubt whether, since the beginning of the
world, there has been a single case in which three, or even two, powers have joined
forces for the conquest of others, without quarrelling over their contingents, or over
the division of the spoil, and without, in consequence of this disagreement,
promptly giving new strength to their common enemy” (64).
Interesting remark about Germany: “a body formidable to all by its size and by the
number and valour of its component peoples; but of service to all by its constitution
which, depriving it both of the means and the will to conquer, makes it the rock on
which all schemes of conquest are doomed infallibly to break... So long as that
constitution endures, the balance of Europe will never be broken” (65).
On commerce: “commerce tends more and more to establish a balance between
state and state; and by depriving certain powers of the exclusive advantages they
once drew from it, deprives them at the same time of one of the chief weapons they
once employed for imposing their will upon the rest” (66).
“If we are to form a solid and lasting federation, we must have put all the members
of it in a state of such mutual dependence that no one of them is singly in a position
to overbear all the others, and that separate leagues, capable of thwarting the
general league, shall meet with obstacles formidable enough to hinder their
How Perpetual Peace Can Be Achieved
The federation “must have a legislative body, with powers to pass laws and
ordinances binding upon all its members; it must have a coercive force capable of
compelling every state to obey its common resolves... finally, it must be strong and
firm enough to make it impossible for any member to withdraw at his own pleasure”
(68). Rousseau outlines five articles of a constitution for such a federation:
1) “By the first, the contracting sovereigns shall enter into a perpetual and
irrevocable alliance... all questions at issue between the contracting parties
shall be settled and terminated by way of arbitration or judicial
2) Which nations shall vote in the common legislature; how the presidency will
pass; method for distributing common expenses
3) “By the third, the federal shall guarantee to each of its members the
possession and government of all the dominions which he holds at the
moment of the treaty, as well as the manner of succession to them, elective
or hereditary, as established by the fundamental laws of each province” (69).
Prior claims shall be renounced; current and future disputes will be settled by
way of arbitration, and not warfare.
4) The punishments enacted to any party which leaves the federation; the
agreement of all other parties to take up arms against the offender.
Problem: this means that individual states must still maintain defence
expenditures, so that they may be able to fulfil this agreement to take up arms
against defectors from the federation.
Rousseau later acknowledges these expenses, but maintains that some
savings will still nevertheless be made.
Problem: strict requirements against leaving the federation may deter states from
joining in the first place.
Monarchies or aristocracies are not usually the ones who suffer the blunt of
damages in warfare. Such states will not readily relinquish sovereignty, or the
prospect for further conquest and glory, just to avoid warfare, since they suffer
disproportionately less in acts of war. Only republican democracies would
evaluate the gain from such a federation as greater than the loss; this means
that all we really have is democratic peace theory.
5) The legislature shall have legislative power to enact policies – provisionally by
a majority; definitely after five years with three-quarters majority – for the
federation. Each of these constitutional articles, however, can only be
changed with unanimous consent.
As mentioned before – and akin to the Hobbesian conc