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The State of War

The State of War

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Published by jj

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: jj on Sep 20, 2010
Copyright:Public Domain


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The State of War
by Jean-Jacques RousseauIf it were true that this unlimited and ungovernable greed would be developedin every man to the degree our sophist supposes, it would still not producethat state of universal war of each against all, the hideous picture of whichHobbes dares to draw.This unchecked desire to appropriate everything for oneself is incompatiblewith that of destroying all one's fellows; and the conqueror, who, having killedeveryone, would have the misfortune to remain alone in the world, wouldenjoy nothing of it for the very reason that he did possess everything. What iswealth itself good for, if not to be communicated? What use will possession of the whole universe be to him, if he is the only inhabitant of it? What? Will hisstomach devour all the fruits of the earth? Who will bring him all the productsof every region? Who will tell him about his rule over the vast solitudes whichhe will not inhabit? What will he do with his treasures? Who will consume hisprovisions? In whose eyes will he display his power? I understand. Instead of massacring everyone he will put them all in chains, so that at least he hasslaves. That immediately changes the nature of the question; and since it is nolonger a matter of destruction, the state of war is abolished . . .Man is naturally peaceful and fearful; at the slightest danger his first instinct isto flee; he only becomes warlike through force of habit and experience.However, self-interest, prejudices, revenge, all the passions which can makehim brave perils and death, are far from him in the state of nature. It is onlywhen he has made society with some man that he decides to attack another;he only becomes a soldier after he has been a citizen . . .There is therefore no general war of man against man; and the human racewas not formed solely to destroy itself . . . If natural law was only written inhuman reason it would be little capable of directing most of our actions, but itis rather engraved in the heart of man in ineffaceable characters and there itspeaks to him more strongly than all the precepts of philosophers. There itcries out to him that he is not allowed to sacrifice the life of his fellow-man forthe preservation of his own, and it makes him horrified to spill human bloodwithout [being carried away by] anger, even when he sees himself obliged todo so . . . There can have been fights and murders, but never, or very rarely,long hostilities or wars . . . There is no war between men; there is only warbetween states . . .Man has a period of strength and greatness fixed by nature, which he cannotpass. However he thinks of it, he finds all his faculties limited. His life is short,his years are finite. His stomach does not grow with his wealth; his passionsincrease in vain; his pleasures have their measure; his heart is like all the rest;his capacity for enjoyment is always the same. In vain does he have an
elevated idea of himself, he always remains small.The state on the other hand, being an artificial body, has no determinedmeasure; it has no definite size suitable to it, it can always increase; it feelsitself to be weak when there are stronger states than itself. Its security and itspreservation demand that it makes itself more powerful than all its neighbours.It can only augment, nourish and exercise its strength at their expense . . .The inequality of men has limits set down by the hands of nature, but that of societies can grow constantly, until one alone absorbs all the others . . .People have worked hard to reverse the true ideas of things. Everything leadsnatural man to rest; to eat and sleep are the only needs he knows; and onlyhunger overcomes his laziness. Out of this he has been made into a madman,always ready to torment his fellows by passions which he does not know.These passions do not exist there; on the contrary, they are aroused in themidst of society by everything which can inflame them. Thousands of writershave dared to say that the body politic is without passions and it has no reasonto be, except reason itself. As if we did not see the opposite: that the essenceof society consists in the activity of its members and that a state withoutmovement would be a dead body . . .I open the books on right and morality, I listen to the scholars and jurists, andmoved by their persuasive words I deplore the miseries of nature. I admire thepeace and justice established by the civil order, I bless the wisdom of publicinstitutions and console myself for being a man by seeing myself as a citizen.Well instructed in my duties and my happiness I close the book, leave theclassroom and look around me. I see wretched peoples groaning beneath ayoke of iron, the human race crushed by a handful of oppressors; a starvingcrowd, overwhelmed by hunger and suffering, their blood and their tears beingdrunk by the rich, and everywhere the strong armed against the weak by theterrible power of the laws . . .I raise my eyes and look in the distance. I see fire and flames, the countrysidedeserted, towns ransacked ... I hear a terrifying noise. What a tumult! Whatcries! I approach them. I see a scene of murder, ten thousand menslaughtered, the dead piled up in heaps, the dying trampled underfoot byhorse, everywhere the image of death and agony. This then is the outcome of these peaceful institutions!What man is there whose very entrails would not be moved by these sadsights? But it is no longer permitted to be a man and plead the cause of humanity. Justice and truth must give way before the interest of the mostpowerful; that is the rule . . .Who could have imagined without trembling the mad system of the natural warof each against all? What strange animal is it who would think his goodattached to the destruction of his whole species! And how could anyoneimagine that such a monstrous and detestable species could last more thantwo generations? This is where the desire, or rather the fury, to establish

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