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The Paradox of “Just War” in Rousseau's Theory of Interstate Relations


In the Social Contract, Rousseau declares that he has given up the idea of discussing the “external relations” of states. Yet numerous texts—including a recently reconstituted work about the law of war—show that he thought very seriously about the question of the nature and origin of war and of the possibility of making war subject to the rule of law. Rousseau, in contrast to Hobbes, links war's appearance to that of the sovereign states; the state of war is therefore the necessary result of international relations. Moreover, he considers the international law as chimerical. How can he then conceive a non-utopian theory of “just war”? My hypothesis is that his conception of the law of war is deduced from principles of internal political law and arises from pragmatic necessity. The state that discredits itself in its manner of waging war weakens itself while believing that it is reinforcing itself.

Corresponding author
Blaise Bachofen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Faculty of Law, University of Cergy Pontoise, 33 bd. du Port, Cergy-Pontoise, France 95011 (
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American Political Science Review
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