In our analysis of European project, we saw that the claim that peace is served by the current European project is questionable on the factual level and postulates an ethical finality for Europe as a whole, which is a mode of depoliticization. We could see this claim in the tradition of philosophical peace projects, which has a long history. One of the first calls to a unified Europe was made by an author we have already discussed at some length: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s writings on peace were a reaction to Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s Project for Settling an Everlasting Peace in Europe [Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe, 1712]. Saint-Pierre had been present at the peace conference in Utrecht, which convened in 1712 and ended the Spanish War of Succession that had torn Europe apart during the early eighteenth century. Saint-Pierre’s is, to some degree, an extension of Hobbes’ argument that states are needed to provide protection for individuals: according to Saint-Pierre, only a federal state is able to do this fully. His initial intention had been to argue for a federation that could keep peace on a global scale, but for feasibility reasons this was scaled down to Europe. Kant interestingly reverses this step, as we will see in a later post, not even mentioning a special role for Europe in his own peace project: but he does consider both Saint-Pierre and Rousseau to be his predecessors. Saint-Pierre proposes many aspects of unification that should sound familiar to us: the Christian rulers of Europe should form a federation with a permanent senate and an international court of arbitration (with the possibility of extending this to Muslim rulers), backed up by an international military force, to settle disputes between member states. Rousseau is critical of Saint-Pierre’s project, but mostly in practical terms. Most notable is his admonition at the very end of his commentary on Saint-Pierre: “Let us not say, then, that, if his system has not been adopted, that is because it was not good. Let us rather say that it was too good to be adopted”. Rousseau cites “private interest” that often stand in the way of “public utility”, and this leaves open the possibility of peace given the right kind of leadership. But in more general terms, “while the scheme itself is wise enough”, Saint-Pierre “judged like a child” when it came to the execution of the terms contained therein: “He fairly supposed that nothing was needed but to convoke a Congress and lay the Articles before it; that they would be signed directly and all be over on the spot”.

Following Rousseau’s analysis, the real implications of Saint-Pierre’s proposals are so far-reaching that disavowing these implications effectively discredits the whole project, especially since there are strong normative reasons against accepting these implications. Even if the right kind of leadership could be found, the project of unifying Europe in peace “could only have been carried out by violent means from which humanity must needs shrink”. Rousseau ends on a question: “[W]hich of us would dare to say whether the League of Europe is a thing more to be desired or feared? It would perhaps do more harm in a moment than it would guard against for ages”.

This is the deeper point of the private interests already referred to above: Rousseau thinks that only a revolution will suffice in order to bring about the peaceful ends envisaged by Saint-Pierre’s project, and this requires threading on so many particular wills that the resulting damage would be enormous.

In terms of the project itself, however, Rousseau repeatedly emphasizes the need for a lasting peace. Rousseau sees Europe before and after the wise leadership of Henry IV as plunged into “ceaseless wars, of which she can now never hope to see the end” since no nation can ever definitively vanquish all the others. This constant (threat of) war between European “nations politically divided” are offset by certain formal confederations – various leagues within and between nations that have a place in European history – and in other confederations,

less visible but none the less real, which are silently cemented by community of interests, by conformity of habits and customs, by the acceptance of common principles [;] (…) Thus the Powers of Europe constitute a kind of whole, united by identity of religion, of moral standard, of international law; by letters, by commerce, and finally by a species of balance which is the inevitable result of all these ties (…) [The] concert of Europe (…). (Rousseau 1917, 40)

There is thus a kind of directly available unity that is counteracted by private interests. One assumes that these interests in turn motivate the wars that Rousseau  thinks of as ceaseless. It is clear that they counteract the would-be cosmopolitan direction of Saint-Pierre’s project, and that is Rousseau’s reason for finally rejecting that project as wise in principle, but ill-considered in practice. In the end, too many particular wills would have to be overridden by revolution, and that is a price Rousseau thinks we should not be willing to pay.

Rousseau’s ‘European’ writing occurred in an early period of his publishing career, in 1756; in 1762 he published two of his best-known works, On the Social Contract and Emile, or on Education. In the former of these two works, Rousseau formulates his concept of the general will. As we saw in our historical analysis, the EU was historically not burdened by considerations of particular wills. Pascal Lamy characterized ‘Europe’ as a ‘Saint-Simonian’ project, one that was more concerned with the path chosen than with the consent of the peoples of Europe, or political factors in general. We also saw that the central distinction between input legitimacy and output legitimacy, intended as a critical framework with which to evaluate the subsequent development of the European Union, uses Rousseau as an archetypical proponent of input legitimacy, while acknowledging that the two dimensions are combined in most authors. Casting Rousseau as an input-oriented theorist refers us directly to his concept of the general will, which is the will shared by all and in that sense reflective of the will of the people, as input legitimacy requires. However, as we have already seen in a previous post, the same concept makes clear that appeals to the will of the people are perilous in nature; both in their claim to represent the people as a unitary and self-enclosed entity and in the implications that can be drawn from the people’s support, which is supposed to provide a strong basis for legitimacy. Interestingly, Rousseau uses the general will as the fait accompli that allows him to forget about the respect he once had for particular wills.


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