Home > Uncategorized > Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The scheme of founding a lasting peace is the most lofty ever conceived

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The scheme of founding a lasting peace is the most lofty ever conceived


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on peace and war


Jean-Jacques Rousseau
From A Lasting Peace
Translated by C. E. Vaughan

Let us admit then that the Powers of Europe stand to each other strictly in a state of war, and that all the separate treaties between them are in the nature rather of a temporary truce than a real peace whether because such treaties are seldom guaranteed by any except the contracting parties; or because the respective rights of those parties are never thoroughly determined and are therefore bound – they, or the claims which pass for rights in the eyes of Powers who recognise no earthly superior – to give rise to fresh wars as soon as a change of circumstances shall have given fresh strength to the claimants.

More than this: 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 contradictions or rules which nothing but the right of the stronger can reduce to order: so that, in the absence of any sure clue to guide her, reason is bound, in every case of doubt, to obey the promptings of self-interest – which, in itself, would make war inevitable, even if all parties desired to be just.


With a view to answering this question, let us consider the motives by which princes are commonly led to take up arms. These motives are: either to make conquests, or to protect themselves from aggression, or to weaken a too. powerful neighbour, or to rnaintain their rights against attack, or to settle a difference which has defied friendly negotiation, or, lastly, to fulfill some treaty obligation. There is no cause or pretext of war which cannot be brought under one or other of these six heads; and it is manifest that not one of the six is left standing under the new order which I propose.


[T]he scheme of founding a lasting peace is the most lofty ever conceived and the most certain, if executed, to cover its author with undying glory; that such a scheme would not only do a greater service than any other to the people but also confer higher honour upon the Sovereign; that this is the only ideal not stained with blood, rapine, curses and tears; in a word, that the surest way for a Sovereign to raise himself above the common herd of kings is to labour for the good of the community.

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