Reluctant Realist: Jean-Jacques Rousseau on International Relations
Butterworth, Charles E.
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau's best known political work, the Social Contract, begins and ends by pointing to its incompleteness. Rousseau indicates that the Social Contract's completion would require an elaboration of the principles of international relations. However, Rousseau neither completes the Social Contract nor explicitly sets forth a theory of international relations. The contradiction between pointing to the necessary completion and its simultaneous absence can be solved by arguing that the principles of international relations contradicted those of the Social Contract. A close textual analysis of the pertinent works, Rousseau's Social Contract, the Discourse on Inequality, the Geneva Manuscript, the State of War, and the Abstract and Judgment of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre's Plan for Perpetual Peace, demonstrates this thesis. The argument begins by showing the presence of two diverging principles in the Social Contract and their implications for international relations. The dominant set of principles of political self-rule necessarily leads to an international state of war. A secondary set of principles of security leads to the demand of international peace. Rousseau rejects the international implications of the latter set of principles, which can take the form of the Roman Catholic Church, balance of power, empire, and commerce as sources of international order. Instead, Rousseau strongly suggests natural law and confederations as solutions consistent with political self-rule. Yet, even these solutions fail ultimately to overcome the state of war. Rousseau's intention in suggesting possible solutions to the international state of war was to moderate the potentially deleterious effects of democratic self-rule. The incompleteness of the Social Contract is therefore due to the structure of international relations, whose principles are at the same time constituted by political societies and contradicted by them. This implies that the pursuits of security and freedom are mutually exclusive, contradicting in particular Immanuel Kant's claim of their compatibility and contradicting those contemporary theories of international relations derived from Kant.