Breath of Clarity

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s International Thought

Jean-Jacques Rousseau utilized both realistic and idealistic principles to formulate a foreign policy consensus. The essay depicts a dialogue between modern international relations theorists who interpret Rousseau’s thought. The dialogue reveals why Rousseau thinks a universal monarchy and a confederation of small republics can not establish world peace. In his primary works, Rousseau explained why isolation strengthens a nation. Furthermore, he illustrated how a nation can equip itself to exercise self-defense against ambitious neighbors. Specifically, Rousseau urged a nation to develop a self-sufficient economy which cultivates a national, general will. Finally, the essay illustrates how his vision fits into the globalized international context.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s international thought originated in Geneva’s political climate. William Blanchard explained Rousseau’s Letter to d’Alembert articulated a revolutionary spirit, which stemmed from animosity against the Genevan theaters founded upon Voltaire’s ambitious and oppressive attitudes. Rousseau intended to steer people away from the theater because it deeply divided the nation, as the letter notes it was “backed by certain Genovese of high rank.” He signified the theater as an “expensive distraction, urging his fellow citizens to resist this assault on their virtue.”1 It is evident Rousseau signifies inequality as the detrimental distraction a nation faces who cannot see its shared general will. Further, Rousseau opted to do his writing secluded in the Montmorency woods because “the charge of ‘traitor to our cause’ is common, particularly when a man is in neither of the principal political camps.” He models how detachment from a competitive arena helps a person connect with the human race’s general will.

The theorist thoroughly investigates class divide without commitment to a certain ideological stance. Daniel Deudney explained: “as the devoted son of the republican city-state of Geneva, Rousseau was first and foremost an advocate and theorist of strong democracy and traditional republican virtue against the oppressions and corruptions of large modern despotic monarchies.” However, Deudney emphasized Rousseau still doesn’t qualify as a liberal: “he was more pessimistic than contemporary Liberals about the human political prospect, but wrote with a measure of optimism that their advances in knowledge could lead to at least modest amelioration of human miseries.” Rousseau’s simultaneous deep reverence for the innately good human being and disgust with the state system inhibits him from being either completely realist or idealist. John T. Scott emphasized: “let us keep in mind and never lose sight of who Rousseau was: a sensitive and imaginative being, the perpetual plaything of his illusions and desires, and grasping through dreams the pleasures which he can never truly possess because of his own inertia, at once delighted about the world and deeply suffering from it. On the passive sentiment, we find the Rousseau is searching for ‘the happiness for which his heart was yearning’ without knowing how to distinguish the object. Rousseau said, ‘I see clearly certain objects, but I do not know how to compare them. Me, detached from myself and everyone, who am I myself?” The theorist’s international thought reflects his personal relationship with society.

The critics who label Rousseau as a realist overlook the extent to which his idealistic, abstract principles about human nature inform his international thought. Blanchard asserted: “tenderness about looking carefully at his own pronouncements may well be related to a fear that he may not have certain evidence of divine grace, the conscience of the righteous. The Calvinist doctrine of his childhood held that an idea of God is naturally engraved on the hearts of men. For Rousseau to question an idea that felt good on its first appearance would be to question the validity of that very conscience which was his true guide.” The theorist claimed innately good human nature is fixed. He revered Saint Pierre’s attempt to create a sound international government structure because the plan’s success proves the state system, rather than the individual’s nature, was the main universal setback. Beate Jahn illustrated: “the very foundation of Rousseau’s sympathy with Saint-Pierre lay in the latter’s selfless devotion to the cause of morality.” Rousseau respected the project because he shared its motivation.

Rousseau foresaw a sound international organization framework confirmed the individual’s human nature does not fuel war. Kenneth Waltz interpreted Rousseau: “the major causes of war is in the state system itself. The importance of human nature as a factor in causal analysis of social events is reduced by the fact that the same nature, however defined, has to explain an infinite variety of social events.” Moving forward, Waltz stated: “the assumption of a fixed human nature, in terms of which all else must be understood, itself helps to shift attention away from human nature- because human nature, by terms of the assumption, cannot be changed, whereas social-political institutions can be.” Supplemental to Waltz’s shift away from humans nature, Scott illustrated the difficulty Rousseau faced as he attempted to distinguish a man from his environment: “the man who speaks of the state of nature speaks of a state which no longer exists, which may never have existed, and which probably never will exist. It is a state of which we must, nevertheless, have an adequate idea in order to judge correctly our present conditions.” Rousseau attempted to generate unambitious nationalism. Scott explained Rousseau thought self-knowledge pursuit will help a man realize how his source is essentially connected to other humans: “there is only one living source for this knowledge- the source of self-knowledge and genuine self-examination. Everyone carries the true archetype within himself; still, hardly anyone has been fortunate enough to discover it and to strip it of its artificial wrappings, its arbitrary and conventional trimmings.” Rousseau envisioned a state system which guides the individual to see his core self.


The theorist emphasized the state must bind the citizen to virtuous law. Scott explained: “while Rousseau is an individualist, denouncing the tyrannical injustice of laws and governments, he knows one must live in society and obey an authority’s rules. While he revolts against the kinds of social organization which have delivered a multitude of oppressed to the discretion of a small number of oppressors, he searches for a way to institute social organization in which there will be neither oppressed nor oppressors.” Moreover, Waltz highlighted Rousseau seriously fears leadership corruption: “though the interests of the people is in peace, their governors make war. This they are able to do because people have not clearly perceived their true interests, but more importantly because true interests, where perceived, have no expression in governmental policy. ”Stanley Hoffman echoed it is unrealistic for a monarch to act based upon only the general will: “the general will is always for the common good; but very often there is a secret division, a tacit confederation, that allows the natural disposition of the assembly to be eluded for the sake of private schemes. And in general it is ridiculous to expect that those who in reality are masters will prefer any interest other than their own. Princes are able to stunt domestic efforts toward self-government and to perpetuate tyranny because of the ‘necessities’ that war entails.” The monarch’s will is divided between his particular self-interest and the nation’s.

Rousseau didn’t even think a monarch can be trained to be moral. Further, a powerful position inevitably detracts a man away from his truly good nature. Beate Jahn explained: “the first core feature of Rousseau’s ‘social contract’ constitution is that it consists of free and equal individuals only. He rejects that even a single figure is treated differently from all the rest. Rousseau rejected Saint-Pierre’s project because Rousseau had no such confidence in princes.” The theorist emphasized war declaration needs to flow from the society’s will, rather than the governor’s interest.


A confederation of small republics is proposed as the alternative which will maintain a working authoritative body and decentralize the power. Jahn illustrated: “Rousseau argues the confederation allows men to lose their ability to act vulgar, instead of which they acquire genuinely human freedom, barely civil freedom and moral freedom. In contrast to the common belief in IR, Rousseau was not the theorist of ‘sovereignty as absolute independence’. He was the theorist of ‘sovereignty as moral freedom,’ the concept that morally obliges all sovereigns to form a pacific confederation and to act lawfully towards each other. Rousseau supports how a confederation creates optimal conditions ‘by being able to keep ‘not only his state safe against foreign invasion, but also his authority against all the rebellions of his subjects’. Sovereignty is thus neither the right of absolute independence nor the right to do whatever one wants to do.” While Jahn accurately outlines the confederation’s strength in the domestic context, Rousseau sees it as insufficient to sustain universal peace.

In a well-governed civil society, law guides the use of force. In international politics, no such exists because international law is a mere illusion and there is no general will. Waltz addressed the state system is inherently flawed because there is no international order governed independent from men. The inevitable competition amongst many particular wills is a major problem Rousseau navigates, and it prohibits him from envisioning a confederation of republics as sufficient. Stanley Hoffman explained: “what makes of man in de facto society so miserable a being is not just the violence to which he is exposed: it is what triggers violence, i.e., an insecurity which did not exist in the state of nature, which stems not from man’s nature but from which is psychological-the need to compare oneself to others. Since nothing in human nature forces a man to kill another, the stakes of war are not man’s needs but those needs by society.” Furthermore, Waltz added: “the difficulty is not only in the actors but also in the situations they face, while by no means ignoring the part that avarice and ambition play in the birth and growth of conflict.” As long as there is competition between the republics, a peaceful confederation cannot fulfill its original intention.

Clarifying the virtue in Rousseau’s vision for domestic autonomy informs his lacking confidence in a confederation of republics. Deudney identified Rousseau’s autonomy plan as one which is anti-liberal and doesn’t necessarily produce beneficial effects. Deudney expanded: “the core of his political view is oppositional to the ‘first-Liberalism’ at the heart of republican security theory. In their quest to realize the virtue and homogeneity of Rousseau’s ideal publican polis, the radical French revolutionaries launched a ‘reign of terror’ against nonconforming elements of French society. Thus began a distinctively modern type of revolutionary publicans in which an inspired revolutionary elite acting in the ‘true interests’ of the ‘oppressed’ majority produces despotism and the complete elimination of restraining structures to divide and balance power while rhetorically appealing to liberation.” While unity was a chief pillar in Rousseau’s domestic autonomy framework, his reverence for the value was a means to establish external sovereignty. The French misunderstood. Rousseau did not envision a total conformity within the nation because different skills were needed for the state to sustain itself. The Social Contract verified: “the state will have its cult and not be the enemy of anyone else’s.” Diversity was necessary within so the nation didn’t need to seek services outside itself.

An additional concern among critics is that Rousseau was anti-liberal because he did not support the body politic’s representation. Constant interpreted Rousseau revered the ancient city- state republicanism, which is a fundamentally anti-liberal system. Constant claimed: the liberty of the ancients entailed the “complete subjugation of the individual to the authority of the community” in contrast to the liberty of moderns which entails “individual freedom from the collective.” Further, “Rousseau adamantly rejects delegation of legislative power through representation. Instead of seeing England as new and more secure type of republic, Rousseau says the English people ‘thinks itself free but is greatly mistaken’ because ‘it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament’ and ‘as soon as they are elected, it is enslaved.’” However, Rousseau has already proved he did not support any elitist governing body. He used these arguments not to argue for a government without representation, but rather to prove there is not a connection between delegates and its people. His social contract establishment is proof of his lacking faith in any ruling body.

So, it is difficult for the confederation to even express the public’s interest which it represents. Moreover, Benjamin Constant explained: “Rousseau declared that sovereignty could not be alienated, delegated or represented.” This was equivalent to declaring, in other words, that it could not be exercised. In the Constitutional Project for Corsica, Rousseau stated: “the abuse of political institutions follows so closely upon their establishment that it is hardly worth while to set them up, only to see them degenerate so rapidly. All this is the consequence of an undue separation of two inseparable things, the body which governs and the body which is governed.” Moreover, Hoffman summarized: “if we start with Rousseau’s conception of the ideal state- small and ruled by an indivisible general will, then the only links between states that do not conflict with this scheme are confederations, which may have common executive organs appointed or instructed by the legislators. A federation with a legislative body would conflict with the character of sovereignty as defined in the Social Contract: sovereignty is indivisible.” Thus the road to a general society, according to Rousseau, does not pass through a world government.

Since each republic would be acting from its own particular will, it a world order is dysfunctional. Kenneth N. Waltz asserted that Rousseau was a typical theorist of ‘the third image’ who believed that the anarchical international system naturally perpetuates conflicts between states. Waltz explained: “the will of the state, which in its perfection is general for each of the citizens, is only a particular will when considered in relation to the rest of the world.” Hoffman extended the argument: “the only combinations of states likely to emerge in the world are competitive, i.e., alliances and leagues whose members temporarily agree to suspend the competition among them, in order better to resist or to attack other contenders.” Pierre Hassner concurred: “in his summary of the Abb de Saint Pierre’s peace plan, Rousseau analyzed the special bonds which history, legal institutions and religion have forged among European nations. He then remarked that precisely because of these bonds, the condition of those nations was worse than if no European society existed at all.” Here, he highlighted it is not because bonds are lacking, but rather the inherent subdivision within them is not sustainable. The unpredictable quality in human beings also makes a confederation a collection of actors, rather than a stable independent force. Waltz said: “if we ask why they must inevitably clash, Rousseau answers: because their union is ‘formed and maintained by nothing better than chance’. The nations of Europe are willful units in close juxtaposition with rules neither clear nor enforceable to guide them.” Failure to acknowledge self-interest paves the way for deceit under unpredictable circumstances.

Furthermore, Constant illustrated how a country guided by the indivisible law such as a social contract still results in international anarchy: “when you establish that the sovereignty of the people is unlimited, you create and toss at random into human society a degree of power which is too large in itself, and which is bound to constitute an evil. Entrust it to one man, to several, to all, you will still find that it is equally an evil. Instead of destroying the power itself, Rousseau simply thought of replacing it.” Constant outlined power delegation is inevitable: “the action performed in the name of all is necessarily, whether we like it or not, at the disposal of a single individual or of a few.”Jahn concurred: “Rousseau is generally seen as a ‘realist’. There are many variations of this claim but ultimately it rests on the fact that Rousseau was pessimistic about the prospect for fundamental changes in the war-prone ‘anarchical’ interstate system.” While it is clear Rousseau never designed a route to establish a general will amongst nations, the anarchy Constant describes can be managed by resting a nation’s survival in the ability of its citizens to unify.


Moreover, Rousseau’s consensus is to disengage from the international playing field. Jahn introduced: “Rousseau’s concept of sovereignty has often been seen as one of the earliest formulations of ‘external sovereignty’- independence from any other external political authority.” External sovereignty is useful to inhibit ambition. Hassner illustrated: “first, when a nation puts into practice the teachings of Rousseau about patriotism and national character, in a context not of isolation but of intercourse with other nations, the thin line between patriotism and nationalism tends to vanish despite Rousseau’s intent.” Hoffman echoed Hassner’s analysis: “in order not to be dragged again into the competition-in order not to be diverted from the closed- circuit practice of patriotism into the open contest of ambition and vanity-the small community ought to be not just self-sufficient but insulated. Should its citizens have more than accidental or occasional contacts with foreigners, then the citizens may be tempted to revert to the evil practice of “comparing oneself in order to know oneself.” The Social Contract asserted a state must occupy a territory which is a good fit for it’s population size. Rousseau stated: “just as nature has set limits to the statute of a well-formed man, outside which there are only giants or dwarfs, so with regard to the best constitution of a state there are limits to the dimensions it should have, in order that it be neither too large to be well governed, nor too small to be self-sustaining. In general it can be said that the former, being purely external and relative, should always be subordinated to the latter, which are interior and absolute. There have been states so constituted that the necessity for conquests was in their constitution itself, and that were forced to grow endlessly to maintain themselves.” So, ambitious action is not conducive to universal peace nor useful to the state itself.

Rousseau suggested isolation is the most optimal way to establish autonomy because otherwise a man will be ambitious. Hoffman interpreted: “Rousseau recognized that man could never revert to the state of nature and advocates for states a return to an isolation. The theorist provides a way out of the international jungle he had so brilliantly described, only if ‘a way out’ means an escape, not a solution.” Rousseau’s nationalism is an attempt to build enough strength to abolish dependency so people can fully escape. A man who escapes is not weak, but rather strong because he doesn’t allow his animalistic passions to dictate action. Rousseau writes in the Constitutional Project for the Government of Corsica: “no one who depends on others, and lacks resources of his own, can ever be free. Alliances, treaties, gentlemen’s agreements, such things may bind the weak to the strong, but never the strong to the weak”. A country is better off illuminating its own strengths. Rousseau affirmed: “do not draw conclusions about your own nation from the experience of others. It is not so much a question of becoming different as of knowing how to stay as you are.” The precept stems from Rousseau’s experience in Geneva. Blanchard stated: “in 1738, pressure from France had resulted in the Act of Mediation, which confirmed the power of the Small Council of Two hundred in Geneva. Thus, a de facto aristocracy was established, since the other citizens and burghers could not elect their own people to these councils. The aristocrats of the city, like those of other small principalities, were inclined to mimic the ways of the nobility in powerful nations, and in French-speaking Geneva, it was natural for them to turn to Paris for their culture. Thus, they welcomed the suggestion of D’Alembert for a theater at Geneva.” Rousseau feared the imitation aspect of the act because it detracts a man from pursuing self-knowledge. In the aristocracy, the government does not listen to the it’s internal body politic, but rather its action is fueled by comparison to other nations.


It’s important to understand one’s nation deeply to evaluate if it exists under the conditions necessary for isolation. In the Constitutional Project for the Government of Corsica, Rousseau wrote: “unless you are thoroughly familiar with the nation for which you are working, the labour done on its behalf, however excellent in theory, is bound to prove faulty in practice. The first rule to be followed is the principle of national character. Islanders above all, being less mixed, less merged with other peoples, ordinarily have one that is especially marked. The Corsicans are naturally endowed with very distinct characteristics; and if this character, disfigured by slavery and tyranny, has become hard to recognize, it is also, on the other hand, because of their isolated position, easy to re-establish and preserve.” However, Rousseau composed the Consideration on the Government of Poland to depict his exception to isolation. Hoffman asserted why Rousseau added the exception to the isolationist theory: “even if most states wanted to live in peace, they could not do so as long as a few major delinquents made trouble in the world.” Therefore, it’s essential to investigate a state’s unique position in the interstate system. Deudney emphasized geography’s importance: “the topographic fragmentation of the European region, its natal division, ensures that a European-wide union is unnecessary for security. Rousseau locates the restraints in anarchy in a material context.” A nation must design its political and military structure with its personal predators in mind. In the Consideration on the Government of Poland, Rousseau stated: “troops are necessary to defend the state. Poland is surrounded by warlike powers which constantly maintain large standing armies of perfectly disciplined soldiers, armies which she herself could never match without soon exhausting herself. Further more, she would not be allowed to rearm; and if, with the resources of a most vigorous administration, she attempted to raise a respectable army, her neighbors, alert to prevent it, would quickly crush her before she had been able to carry out the plan.” Rousseau valued a strong self-defense so that a nation can free itself from international dependence. Rousseau continued in the Fragments on War: “the Polish nation is different by nature. I should like her also to be different in her military organization. Only then will she be all she is capable of becoming, and draw forth from her bosom all the resources she is capable of having.” While Rousseau thinks it’s unproductive to set up a monarchy during moments a country is not directly at war, he points to its usefulness for a country already engulfed. Therefore, Rousseau asserted in the Consideration on the Government of Poland: “in the execution of this plan you could, with perfect safety, restore to the king the military authority which naturally belongs to his office. It is only with regular and standing armies that the executive power can ever enslave a state. Once this plan has been well executed, the office of commander-in-chief could be abolished and its functions reunited with the crown, without placing liberty in the slightest danger.” The monarch is useful to transform patriotism into ambition, which is needed to strongly self-defend.

Rousseau illustrated proactivity is conducted by establishing a strong community, rather than maintaining a standing army. Lacking a standing army decreases the chances a nation will start war. In general, Rousseau is against wars because the means are not aligned with its ends. Rousseau stated in the Fragments on War: “the issue involved in the quarrel is always quite divorced from the lives of the combatants. His death is the means to victory and not its purpose. A sudden invasion is a great misfortune, no doubt, but permanent enslavement is a far greater one. You will never be able to make it difficult for your neighbors to enter your territory; but you can make it difficult for them to withdraw with impunity; and that should be your sole concern. Leave your country wide open, but build like her strong citadels in the hearts of the citizens.”Therefore, a country which cannot remain in isolation must build nationalism, not only to strengthen its self-sufficient economy, but also to be constantly prepared for an invasion. Blanchard emphasized Rousseau thought the government must unite the entire nation, rather than designate a separate military continent or distinguish classes within society.

Rousseau proceeded to discuss specific ways to build a nationally unified culture. In the Consideration on the Government of Poland, he stated: “there will never be a good and solid constitution unless the law reigns over the hearts of the citizens. How then is it possible to move the hearts of men, and to make them love the fatherland and its laws? Through children’s games; through institutions which form cherished habits and invincible attachments.” Rousseau asserted institutions are needed to highlight a citizen’s deepest origin. There are not different levels of citizenship. So, if nationalism is the focus, no one is oppressed in that framework. It ignites unification. Scott articulated: “law is not a mere external bond that holds in individual wills and prevents their scattering; rather it is the element that confirms and justifies them spiritually.”38 The goal is to define the man’s existence as a citizen in his homeland, above all other characteristics. Waltz emphasized: “Rousseau argues the unity of the state is achieved when there exist the conditions necessary for the actualization of the general will. From this abstract formation one can scarcely derive an answer to the question that interests Rousseau: Under what conditions will the state achieve the unity that he desires for it?” Rousseau turns to developing an economic strategy which will bring citizens together.


Blanchard illustrates a selection from Emile where Rousseau depicts a dining experience as the simulation of a civil society where people can exist together because they are honest about true self-interest. Rousseau wrote: “each of us would openly serve himself without regard to the others, taking it for granted that everyone will do the same. It is more charming than politeness and more conducive to the union of hearts.” He then explains what may happen if a peasant enters the picture. Rousseau said: “I would gladden his heart by some kind words, by a swig or two of good wine, which would help him ensure his poverty in a better humor and I, too, would have the pleasure of a little thrill of satisfaction, and I would say quietly to myself: I, too, am a man.” Evidently, Rousseau had a generous attitude about humanitarian aid, but saw self- interest as inevitable. He valued a union amongst human hearts who recognize they all exist at a single family dinner table. The people acknowledge separate hungers, however they respect resource restriction because each person truly understands a standard portion is enough. Rousseau theorized the dinner table cannot be applied to the international sphere because nations are far too ambitious to recognize the human race as a family.

Rousseau maintains a respect for self-sufficiency. Waltz interpreted: “as long as each provided for his own wants, there could be no conflict; whenever the combination of natural obstacles and growth in population made cooperation necessary, conflict arose.” Hoffman said: “the root of interstate war is inequality among nations; and the inequality of men has sharper limits than the inequality of states. For the size of a state is always relative: ‘it is forced to compare itself in order to know itself’; its ‘absolute size’ is meaningless, for its rank depends on what the others are, plan and do.” Moving forward, Rousseau analyzed which type of community is conducive to disengagement from the international realm, but can sustain a community because Rousseau doesn’t deny the individual needs other people to satisfy his needs. Scott said: “it is not a question of emancipating the individual in the sense of releasing him from the order of the community; it is, rather, a question of finding the kind of community that the individual in uniting himself with all others nevertheless obeys only himself in this act of union.” Rousseau said in the Social Contract: “as soon as a man’s needs exceed his faculties and the objects of his desire expand and multiply, he must either remain eternally unhappy or seek a new form of being from which he can draw the resources he no longer finds himself. Since man cannot engender new forces but merely unite and direct existing ones, he has no other means of self-preservation except to form, by aggregation, a sum of forces that can prevail over the resistance; set them to work by a single motivation; make them act conjointly; and direct them toward a single object.” The Social Contract illustrated the fundamental problem which is solved by state institution.

Rousseau’s well-governed republic is a state run by a legitimate government that assures equality of wealth for its citizens and economic self-sufficiency for the state by confining its territory, promoting agriculture and isolating the domestic economy from foreign trade. The unambitious foreign policy is crucial in the maintenance of Rousseau’s domestic policy. Rousseau further explained: “it must be noted that a body politic can be measured in two ways, namely by the extent of its territory or by the number of its people. For it is the men who make up the state and the land that feeds the men. The maximum force of a given number of people is to be found in this proportion, for if there is too much land, its defense is burdensome, its cultivation inadequate, and its output superfluous; if there is not enough land, the state finds itself dependent on its neighbors for the supplements.” Rousseau focused on building domestic strength via agriculture, rather than increasing status in the international realm. Rousseau said in the Constitutional Project for Corsica: “the power derived from population is more real than that derived from finance, and is more certain in its effects. Since the use of manpower cannot be concealed from view, it always reaches its public objective. The introduction of commerce, industry, and luxury which, by tying the occupations and needs of private citizens to public authority, made them far more dependent on their rulers than they had been in the original state.” Further, Rousseau discusses why agriculture is the most optimal occupation to benefit the whole. Hoffman explained: “another cause of insecurity among men is inequality, which results from division of labor.” He wrote in the Constitutional Project for Corsica: “the whole tendency of our constitution is to make a farmer happy in its mediocrity. Being unable to leave this way of life, they will want to distinguish themselves in it, outdoing the rest by harvesting larger crops, by supplying the state with a stronger military contingent. Peasants are more attached to their soil than are townsmen to their cities. In the case, everything changes simultaneously; the nation, carrying the government with it, supports it while it itself remains stable, and causes it to decline when it itself declines.” Agriculture builds a noncompetitive community which collaborates to attain a general will.


In the modern globalized age, a crucial debate about Rousseau’s thought consensus is whether or not he thought the productive agriculture-based national economy can expand internationally after it is strengthened and stabilized. Jahn expressed there is potential: “Saint Pierre says once the confederation is formed, commercial exchanges between states should be promoted under conditions of equality: ‘the chief point in commerce is that no nation is to be preferred to another, and all to be equally free to come to sell and buy merchandise’. Rousseau recognized the importance of this principle when he explained that each state is to be almost equal in power in order for this confederation to last: ‘for forming a solid and durable confederation, it is necessary to put all the members of it in such mutual dependence that no one is singly in a position to resist all the others.’” However, Rousseau emphasized the importance of not using international trade to rescue a state’s domestic conditions: “if foreign trade existed, it would be necessary to prohibit it until your constitution had become firmly established, and domestic production was supplying all it could. They have hindered the export of your agricultural produce; your interest is not that it should be exported, but that enough men should be born upon the island to consume it. Commerce produces wealth, but agriculture ensures freedom. It would be better to have both; but they are incompatible.” Foreign trade’s inherent dependency on a shaky obligation makes it an unviable option. Hassner illustrated: “states often use international law as an instrument against one another in the international state of war: not only are peace treaties nothing but stratagems, but recognition and the regulation of foreign trade also can be diplomatic weapons. The foundation of Rousseau’s reasoning is his conviction that in a competitive situation as fierce as that of nations common interests are both evanescent and hardly significant. Each player in the game is after his own separate interest.” The argument against Rousseau’s support for international trade is founded upon recognition of how a lacking general will between nations leaves space for deceit.

The modern globalization is not concurrent with Rousseau’s thought consensus. Hassner acknowledged: “Rousseau would quite certainly have been horrified by the current process of globalization which, for him, would have signified the triumph of greed and the less of individual collective identity and authenticity.” Once again, it is crucial to understand each international relations theorist is a product of his era. Deudney echoed: “the problem for Rousseau is alienation of each individual from his or her own true self, dooming modern humanity to unhappiness. The modern individualisms of emergent capitalism are implicated in this malaise. The solution for Rousseau is radical and unlikely to be realized except in exceptional circumstances. The natural freedom of early humans, marked by lack of interaction and dependence, cannot be recovered.”50 While competition fuels the capitalistic world economy, the universal peace plan derived from his thought is far-fetched. However, his fundamental values are useful to tame ambition in the current international arena.


Just as Rousseau showed the solution to universal peace needs to be atypical from a standard government structure, it also must not be restricted to the modern realist-idealist framework. Rather, his international relations theory contains important individual values: honesty, equality, collaboration and faith. Rousseau modeled a deductive strategy, which is useful for other international relations theorists to adopt. Rousseau’s theory consistently holds a strong individual resiliently develops intimacy with his roots. The theorist’s most challenging task was to instill a global motivation to value introspective study before drawing conclusions. However, he proved the inclination cannot be enforced via the state system. Rousseau identified the way for different nations to diminish conflict is to see the general will which unites all- a reverence for the source who brought the human race to life. Life is created by a force which benefits a physical unity between two different humans. International autonomy can be established via a widely held respect for love itself.



Beate Jahn, Classical theory in international relations (Cambridge University Press, 2006). Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments (1815). Daniel Deudney, Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory From the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton University Press, 2007). Kenneth Waltz, Man, the state, and war: a theoretical analysis (Columbia University Press, 1977). James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, ed. Gaillard Hunt (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 6 Chapter: Universal Peace. Accessed from John T. Scott, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: critical assessments of leading political philosophers (Routledge, 2006). Stanley Hoffman and David Fidler, Rousseau on International Relations (Clarendon Press, 1991). Stanley Hoffman, “Rousseau on War and Peace,” The American Political Science Review Vol. 57 (June, 1963). Stefano Recchia and Jennifer Welsh, Just and unjust military intervention European thinkers from Vitoria to Mill (Cambridge University Press, 2013). William H. Blanchard, Rousseau and the spirit of revolt (University of Michigan Press, 1967).