The state of nature and the moral obligations that it places on states has been discussed for centuries among political philosophers. In particular, Raymond Aron implies that, since the state of nature is one of anarchy, it is essential that statesmen prioritize their interests when engaging in international affairs, to ensure the survival of the state.
This paper disagrees with Aron's statement, as it implies that the state of nature is one of war and thus, restricts the moral capacity of states towards national egoism. In contrast, the state of nature, in the context of international relations, should be understood as an entity that can be mediated by states to pursue peace. Consequently, it is the moral duty of states to intertwine domestic and international forces to ensure a sense of lasting peace between states. This paper will discuss the interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant in particular. Although these two philosophers have different interpretations of the state of nature, they nonetheless imply that the state of nature can be mediated by the state. In addition to this, Kant discusses how international and domestic interests can be intertwined to achieve a state of peace between states.
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First, it is important to note that Aron's conclusions on the state of nature are Hobbesian in nature. According to Hobbes, the state of nature is one of war and as a result, "the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Hobbes,1651/1991, p.88-89). Since the state of nature is so vile, political authority is necessary for peace and order. As such, international relations are in a state of war, since there is no authority to ensure order among states.
This understanding of the state of nature helps to explain why Raymond Aron contends that the survival of political units depends on the balance of forces, specifically political (domestic) and international forces. If the state of nature is one of war, as Hobbes contends, then it is the moral duty of statesmen to ensure that the anarchy prevalent in international relations remains separate from the state. Consequently, the role of the state in international relations should be limited to maintain a balance of political and international forces thus ensuring the survival of the state.
Additionally, Aron argues that it is the priority of statesmen to be concerned with the interests of their respective states resulting in a trend of national egoism in international relations. Within the state of nature, Hobbes argues that since there is no central authority, "every man has a right to everything" (Hobbes, 1651/1991, p. 91). If this is the case then every interaction between states is a competition and consequently, the statesman must prioritize their interests above all. While Raymond Aron's conclusions are derived from the work of Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau and Kant construct different conclusions on the state of nature.
Although both Kant and Rousseau have different conceptions of the state of nature, they nevertheless conclude that the state of nature, in the context of international relations, is an entity that can be mediated by states.
Rousseau articulates two different models of the state of nature, one that exists without the institution of the state, and one that was constructed by the state. Since the presence of the state altered the state of nature to be one of war, states can work to establish peace.
Rousseau's conception of the state of nature is not necessarily one of war, as he believes that humans, without the existence of the state, are inherently peaceful. However, due to both the corruption of political units and the inequality between them, states are more inclined to pursue war. In his work, the State of War, Rousseau argues that without the existence of the state or any form of political authority, "man is naturally peaceful and timid" as the laws of nature tells man that "he is not permitted to sacrifice the life of his fellow man" (Rousseau, 1896/2002, p.420). However, when mankind enters the state, that is when "he decides to attack [others], and he only becomes a solider after he has become a citizen" (Rousseau, 1896/2002, p.420). Although the state of nature in its true form is one of peace, the state of nature in international relations is one of war because the state is inherently corrupt. In other words, the existence of the state itself mediated the original state of nature into one of war within the context of international relations.
Furthermore, Rousseau concludes that since the state has no fixed measure, "its safety and preservation demand that it makes itself stronger than its neighbors" (Rousseau, 1896/2002, 422). As such, as states compare their strength and prosperity to other states, there will always be a perception of inequality between each other which can foster an environment of fierce competition where states pursue their interests within a zero-sum game. Consequently, this creates a state of war in international relations, as states are more willing to go to war to balance out this perceived inequality (Rousseau, 1896/2002).
Since Rousseau pays particular attention to the corruption of political units and the perceived inequality that exists among themselves, it is understandable to conclude, as Aron does, that national egoism is a necessity. As such, a statesman must pursue the interests of their state at the expense of others to ensure their survival. It is important to note, however, that Rousseau makes a distinction between two different models of the state of nature: one of peace that exists without states, and one of war, which exists due to the corruption of states. Consequently, the state of nature in its original form was altered by the existence of the state. This is because states, motivated by their incessant inequality, created certain standards in international relations that resulted in the state of war. Since the state altered the environment of international relations to be on of war, it must be possible to revert this. If states can address the corruption that exists in politics, as well as the inequality that exists between them, states can shift the current standards and trends in international relations so that peace is abundant. Furthermore, if states want to ensure prosperity for their respective populations, it is their moral obligation to make the necessary changes to ensure peace, as war is costly in both finances and human life.
In contrast to Rousseau, Kant believes that the state of nature at its core is one of war. Nevertheless, he makes the point that the state of war is not necessarily one of constant conflict. Since there is no central authority to enforce order in international relations, there is always the threat of conflict and thus, any peace agreement is only temporary. However, as long as this central authority ceases to exist, the state of nature should be understood as one of neither peace nor war, but of uncertainty. As such, there is a possibility for mediation.
Kant expresses this predicament in his work, The Perpetual Peace, where the first clause states that "no conclusion of peace shall be considered valid as such if it was made with a secret reservation of the material for a future", as peace should imply that there are no more possible hostilities between states (Kant, 1795/2002, p.436). However, so long as there is no definite international order then any agreement for peace would be merely a truce, and the state of nature among states continues to be one of war (Kant, 1795/2002, p.436). This is because the enforcement of any peace continues to be uncertain, as war remains a possible tool for states to use to their advantage.
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Kant's interpretation of the state of nature, therefore, is not one of constant warfare. However, the state of nature should be understood as a medium of uncertainty in how states choose to engage with each other, given that all peace is temporary. Consequently, since the state of nature is not necessarily one of peace or war, states can intervene in the state of nature so that peace prevails in international relations. However, this can only be done if states can recognize that their interests are directly or indirectly impacted by events outside of their immediate boundaries, and consequently set the necessary standards to ensure peace.
If the state of nature was one of constant warfare, it would be reasonable to conclude that national egoism is necessary when statesmen engage in international relations, as stated by Aron. However, both Rousseau's and Kant's interpretation of the state of nature demonstrates how the state of nature, whether that be one of war or peace, is not definite. Not only is it possible for states to mediate the state of nature to ensure peace in international relations, but it is also their moral duty to ensure the prosperity of the state. This does not mean that national egoism in international relations would seize to exist, but it does imply that diplomacy is not a zero-sum game, where one state wins at the expense of others. Rather, everyone benefits when states work to make the necessary changes and set international standards to create a state of peace.
Since the state of nature in international relations is an entity that can be mediated, it is the moral duty of states to create a long-standing peace between states. This can be done by intertwining domestic and international forces, which contrasts the concept of the 'balance of forces' articulated by Aron.
Kant argues that the interdependence between states can foster the political will necessary to encourage the creation of an international organization. This is because, through the growing interdependence of states, "the peoples of the earth have thus entered in varying degrees into a universal community" and as a result, it becomes difficult to separate domestic interests from international interests (Kant, 1795/2002, p.446). As states continue to engage with each other through mediums such as commerce, they become more interdependent and therefore "a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere" (Kant, 1795/2002, p.446). As a result, it becomes the moral duty of states to engage in international relations peacefully to address the merging of political and international interests. Consequently, states should be more inclined to mediate the state of nature to engage with international relations.
One can argue that this desire to manage the state of nature, prompted by the growing independence of states, is simply a symptom of the national egoism of states, as articulated by Aron. Regardless, this desire requires states to engage in affairs outside of their immediate boundaries. As such, a balance of international and political forces will not ensure the survival of the state. As international and political interests continue to merge it becomes an absolute moral necessity for states to engage in international relations to solve common problems. This allows for a state of peace to be established in international relations as opposed to war, resulting in a peaceful co-existence among states.
In conclusion, I disagree with the assertions made by Raymond Aron. The state of nature, as interpreted through the works of Kant and Rousseau, is an entity that can be mediated by states as its condition is not fixed. As a result, states have a moral duty to take the necessary steps to prevent their citizens from the cost of war. Consequently, states must intertwine domestic and international forces to establish a state of peace in international relations, in contrast to the balanced approach articulated by Aron. Overall, the conclusions made by Aron are not consistent with Rousseau's nor Kant's conception of the state of nature.
Hobbes, T. (1651/1991). Leviathan. (R. Tuck, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kant, I. (1795/2002). Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. In International Relations in Political Thought: Texts from the Ancient Greeks to the First World War (pp. 435–454). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Rousseau, J.-J. (1896/2002). the State of War. In International Relations in Political Thought: Texts from the Ancient Greeks to the First World War (pp. 419–421). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
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