Good for self and good for others : Rousseau’s construction of international politics.

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My dissertation situates Rousseau’s international thought within the generally accepted categories of IR Scholarship. Was he a realist, a liberal, a constructivist, or something else? I argue that he does indeed exhibit tendencies of realism as well as modern constructivism but, ultimately, transcends both of these categories. Like realists, Rousseau is deeply aware that the struggle for power permeates social life. Awareness of and participation in this struggle conditions the behavior of individuals and states. Rousseau also shares with Constructivism the belief that state interests and political structures are the result of ongoing social and historic processes that continue to be constructed, interpreted, and revised. The ongoing construction of identities, interests, and institutions, means that change is possible, even in the international realm. Rousseau, however, is neither Realist nor Constructivist in the way he appeals to nature as the basis for his socio-political criticism. Rousseau’s arguments do not issue in a call for modern man to return to a state of nature, but they do affect the kind of “constructs” Rousseau is willing to entertain as legitimate. In order to improve political constructions, we must more nearly approximate psychological unity and strive to better correlate physical ability with psychological need. Social and political structures, including hierarchies of power, are necessary features of human life, but Rousseau also sees that such structures have a profoundly humanizing role to play in cultivating civic virtue, forming individual identity, and constraining amour propre. Rousseau articulates a responsibility to pursue international justice and suggests ways to do so through domestic politics, while acknowledging the intrinsic limitations bound up in humanity’s social existence.

Rousseau. IR theory. Realism. Constructivism.