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Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The advantages of peace

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

French writers on war and peace

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on peace and war

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

There is yet another consideration which is likely to weigh even more with men so greedy of money, as princes always are. Not only will an unbroken peace give them, as well as their subjects, every means of amassing abundant riches; they will also be spared vast expenses by the reduction of their military budget, of those innumerable fortresses, of those enormous armies, which swallow up their revenue and become daily more and more of a burden to their subjects and themselves…The result will be that the people will have to pay much less; that the prince, being much better off, will be in a position to encourage commerce, agriculture and the arts and to create useful foundations which will still further increase his subjects’ riches and his own; and, over and above all this, that the State will enjoy a security far greater than it now draws from all its armies and from all that warlike parade which drains its strength in the very bosom of peace.

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Of what use would it be to train for war, when you have no intention of ever making it? And which is the better course – to cultivate a pernicious art, or to destroy the need of it for ever? If the secret of perpetual health were discovered, would there be any sense in rejecting it, on the ground that doctors must not be deprived of the chance of gaining experience? And in making this parallel we have still to ask which of the two arts is the more beneficent in itself and the more deserving of encouragement.

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It must be observed that we have not assumed men such as they ought to be, good, generous, disinterested and devoted to the public good from motives of pure humanity; but such as they are, unjust, grasping and setting their own interest above all things. All that I do assume in them is
understanding enough to see their own interest, and courage enough to act for their own happiness. If, in spite of all this, the project remains unrealised, that is not because it is Utopian; it is because men are crazy, and because to be sane in a world of madmen is in itself a kind of madness.

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