Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION - A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe and The State of War
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INTRODUCTION - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe and The State of War 
A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe and The State of War, by Jean Jacques Rousseau, trans. by C. E. Vaughan. (London: Constable and Co., 1917).
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The following Essay—it is, however, no more than the fragments of an essay1 —speaks for itself. It is an attempt to define what constitutes the essence of war and, by consequence, what are the grounds on which it may be legitimately declared, and what the principles which ought to guide its practical conduct and the settlement with which it closes. A speculative introduction leading up to very practical conclusions—that is the true description of the following pages.
The key with which Rotisseau sets out to unlock all the intricacies of the problem is the spiritual nature of the State. The State, in his view, is not a material body, consisting of so many individuals and so many square miles of territory, but a purely moral and spiritual creation, resting in the last resort, as he insists in his other writings, upon that unseen and indefinable energy, the ‘general will’ of its members.
And the practical consequences which he draws from the central idea may be roughly summarised as follows:
In the first place, the rights of States have nothing to do with their size or their material power. The rights of the small State are on a complete equality with those of the large State; and if the large State acts, as Germany has habitually acted, upon the contrary assumption, it is guilty, not only of flagrant injustice, but also of undermining the principle upon which its own claims and its very existence are ultimately based.
Again, the essence of war, in Rousseau's view, is to be a condition of hostility between two or more ‘public bodies.’ Its is waged not between individuals, but between States, Individuals come in only in so far as they are members of the respective States, and only in virtue of their membership. The sole object of war is to destroy or weaken the enemy State, as a State; and no measure of hostility, no condition of peace, which does not directly and manifestly conduce to that end, as interpreted in the most rigorous sense, is legitimate. It might even be possible, so he argues, for either belligerent, by ‘dissolving the social compact’ in virtue of which the enemy, as a ‘public person,’ has his existence, to begin and end the war at a single stroke without shedding one drop of blood. It is to be wished that he had explained himself more precisely on this point which, as it stands, is not altogether clear. It may be suggested, however, that the break-up of the Austrian Empire, of which something has been said in the general introduction, would be an example, however rough and imperfect, of the case he had in mind.
Another point of Rousseau's argument is that the only legitimate war is the war of self-defence; that the war of aggression, the war waged for gain of riches or territory, is to be branded as inhuman and unjust. Under the head of self-defence, however, he is careful to include the defence not only of territory and other material interests, but also of national honour; and as this is obviously a moral, not a material, end, it is only to be expected that he should lay particular stress upon such cases. The action of Belgium in repudiating the dishonourable demands of Germany two years ago would, we may be very sure, have earned his heartiest admiration.
As to the application of his central principle to the methods of conducting war there is no possibility of doubt. If it is the essence of war to be between ‘public persons’, or States; if, as his whole argument implies, the individual enters into the matter solely in virtue of his membership of one or other of the belligerent bodies; and if, as is also implied, that membership has, for purposes of war, to be interpreted in the most strict and literal sense possible: it follows that those individuals who take no direct part in the war should be left entirely untouched by military operations; that the life, person, freedom and property of the whole civilian population should be absolutely exempt. That there are sweeping limitations to this general principle, Rousseau himself would certainly have admitted. That the civilian whose house or property stands in the firing line must expect to suffer damage, is expected to go. The experience of the last century has taught us better. We now know that the real wrong of such acts as the partition of Poland, the annexations of Napoleon, the seizure of North Schleswig and of Alsace and Lorraine by Germany lay not in the bare fact that so many square miles of land were transferred from one Sovereign to another, but in their transference against the will, and without any thought for the welfare, of the inhabitants. A transfer of territory may be right or wrong, according to circumstances: no judgment is possible until some higher principle, which may be roughly denned as the will of the community in question, is invoked. If that sanction be present, the transference is just. Otherwise, as Rousseau asserted, it is no better than pure brigandage.
Another and less disputable of Rousseau's precepts is as follows: Avoid those treaties, which impose humiliating conditions and which, ‘under the form of peace, are but’ a continuation of the preceding war—a war henceforth waged with all the more cruelty that the vanquished has no longer the right of self-defence.’So far from putting an end to the war between two Powers, such a treaty is in fact a standing call upon the vanquished to renew the struggle at the first favourable opportunity. Of this nature was the Treaty of Frankfort which closed the war of 1870–1. And the same would be true of that economic war against Germany—as distinguished from measures of pure self-protection against German commercial aggression—which has been thoughtlessly proposed in the heat of the present conflict.
The Essay closes with a passionate indictment of all war as an outrage to humanity, a scathing satire upon ‘our much-vaunted civilisation.’ Into these burning words Rousseau has breathed the whole of that ‘inextinguishable hatred of cruelty,’ that noble scorn for ‘what man has made of man’, which was among the chief secrets of his power. Such deeds, he urges, are sickening in themselves; they are ten times more so when defended by the sophistries of philosophers. His scorn would have lost none of its force if he had lived to read the Politics of Treitschke, to hear the echo which that and similar utter-ances have wakened in Britain.
The whole Essay is made up oi three or four separate fragments, one of the breaks occurring (as indicated) in the part I have translated. The rest of the Essay is taken up with an application of Rousseau's principle to certain theories (especially that of Hobbes) about the origin of society, which have no bearing upon the problems of the present moment.