J.J. Rousseau, I. Kant and the Theories of International Relations

Who is who?

Term Paper, 2001

13 Pages, Grade: A








The field of International Relations mainly concerns the relations among the world’s governments but it touches so many different aspects of daily life that nobody can be left out of it. The history of IR is so ancient that it is hard to say how far it goes. It was developing as a field of study along with the events that took place on the international arena. Some people tried to explain their occurrence, others just to justify while there were also people who deliberated and examined them much deeper considering every detail. They tried to reveal some regularities, tendencies, and concepts and further to construct the theories that would not only give reasonable explanations but also provide some ground for making predictions. Those people are the theorists, the truth-seekers, the political thinkers, the logicians, and the philosophers. They were active participants of creating the basis of the IR as a filed of study, they defined the perceptions and terms.

As IR is dynamic and complex the concepts itself change along with that; however there are some ideas that have being proposed hundred years ago and after having survived the rapidly changing course of the history still have their power nowadays. Certainly, some ideas differed in such a great way that they were totally opposing and excluding each other, while others just complemented one another making a theory more coherent and complete. So, what is a theory? There are also different perceptions of this notion, but let’s admit, “Theory is an intellectual tool that provides us with away to organize the complexity of the world and helps us to see how phenomena are interrelated. Theory simplifies reality, thus helping to separate the important from the trivial by pointing out what we really wish to link at and what is unimportant enough to ignore.”[1] Traditionally, the most widely accepted theories—though never unchallenged by critics—have explained international outcomes in terms of idealism, realism, or radicalism. These three perspectives offer different predictions and theoretical explanations about world politics; but in each case, some of the beliefs are not easily confirmed or refuted by evidence.”[2] Besides these three paradigms, there are many others, which are just the combinations of these three ones. In this work the idealism, realism, and the mixture of these two, i.e. neoliberalism, will be considered.

Jean-Jacque Rousseau and Immanuel Kant are considered to be relatively modern political thinkers in comparison with the history of IR, so they, as profound philosophers, are not left out of the process of constructing this field as the natural science. They have contributed by leaving their precious works and even more by influencing the minds of people in a great way in terms of Enlightenment. Nonetheless, the main concern of this work is not determining what those thinkers contributed to the theories of IR but, conversely, what ideas of those philosophers tend to be idealistic, realistic, and neoliberal in modern terms. By making an analysis it would be clear that neither Rousseau nor Kant is purely idealist or realist, but both of them tend to be neoliberals.


People who associate themselves with idealism theory tend to believe in the assumptions and principle concepts of this theory. Yet, that is not about Rousseau or Kant, even if some of their ideas are purely idealistic. In contemporary times “Idealists think that human nature is basically good and that with good habits, education, and appropriate international structures, human nature can become the basis of peaceful and cooperative international relationships. Idealists see the international system as one based on a community of states that have the potential to work together to overcome mutual problems, just as neighbors in a small town might do. Idealism emphasizes international law, morality, and international organization, rather than power alone, as key influences on international events.”[3]

Both Rousseau and Kant stress the essential role of morality in their works. For Rousseau “…mores, customs, and especially of opinion, a part of law unknown to our political theorists but one on which depends the success of all the others…”[4] He even devotes a considerable part for a discussion on the censorship that is vital for preserving mores. “The censorship maintains mores by preventing opinions from becoming corrupt, by preserving their rectitude through wise applications, and sometimes even by making a determination on them when they are still uncertain.”[5] Kant as well emphasizes morality as one of the necessary elements that are needed for a constitution of a good state. He determines morality “…as a collection of absolutely binding laws by which our actions ought to be governed…”[6] There is also the notion that the actions of the people should be unselfish ones. According to this philosopher “…the state of consciously preferring the moral law of duty in cases where it conflicts with certain of my ends is not just a better state, but the only state which is good in itself.”[7] However, even that for the both thinkers morality is important let’s turn out attention to a human nature that might be not likely to follow the moral laws.

The consideration of a human nature is significant for understanding IR theories as a whole because the relations among states are viewed as those among the individuals, and the nature of the state is like that of the individual. Both philosophers admit that humans are not good in themselves and are selfish and profit seeking.

Rousseau sharply distinguishes the features of a natural man and a civilized one. In the “Discourse on the origin of inequality” Rousseau refutes the Hobbes’s view of a natural man. For Hobbes a natural man and a civilized one are the same “…a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short…”[8] For Rousseau a natural man is good but a civilized one is self-interested and rational being just like for Hobbes. Considering a nature of a savage man in terms of applicability to IR theories is wrong as a savage man for R is “…deprived of every sort of enlightenment…”[9] (without reason but just having sentiments. “Savage man, left by nature to instinct alone…will therefore begin with purely animal functions.”[10] Thus, we should reflect on a contemporary man. Rousseau maintains that a man has “…competition and rivalry on the one hand, opposition of interest[s] on the other, and always the hidden desire to profit at the expense of someone else. All these ills are the first effects of property and the inseparable offshoot of incipient inequality.[11] In the beginning of the “On the Social Contract” Rousseau makes us aware that he considers “…men as they are…” and further even admires a civilized man by saying that “..he [a man] ought constantly to bless the happy moment that pulled him away from it [the state of nature] forever and which transformed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man.”[12]

As for Kant, he doesn’t make a sharp distinction between a man in a state of nature and a civilized one. He says directly that a man is “…finite rational being…”[13] “… with self-seeking inclinations…”[14] who is not “…morally good in himself…”[15] Moreover, they seem to be warlike beings since according to Kant, “Experience teaches us the maxim that human beings act in a violent and malevolent manner, and that they tend to fight among themselves until and external coercive legislation supervenes.”[16] He stresses it in many works and confirms that “War itself, however, does not require any particular kind of motivation, for it seems to be ingrained in human nature, and even to be regarded as something noble to which man is inspired by his love of honor, without selfish motives.”[17]


[1] David Kinsella, Bruce Russett and Harvey Starr. World Politics. Sixth Edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000, p. 30.

[2] David Kinsella, Bruce Russett and Harvey Starr. World Politics. Sixth Edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000, p. 27.

[3] Joshua S., Goldstein, International Relations. Forth edition. Washington D.C.: Washington D.C. University Press, 2001, p. 57.

[4] J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.172.

[5] J.J. Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p.219.

[6] I. Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, p. 116.

[7] I. Kant, On the common saying: ‘This may be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice.”p.68.

[8] Hobbes, Leviathan, p.76.

[9] J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.46.

[10] J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.45

[11] J.J. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.68.

[12] J.J. Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p.79, 151.

[13] I. Kant, On the common saying: ‘This may be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice.”p.64.

[14] I. Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, p.112.

[15] Ibid, 112.

[16] I. Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, p.137.

[17] I. Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch, p.111

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J.J. Rousseau, I. Kant and the Theories of International Relations
Who is who?
American University of Central Asia
Political Thought
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Rousseau, Kant, Theories, International, Relations
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Irina Wolf (Author), 2001, J.J. Rousseau, I. Kant and the Theories of International Relations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/130066


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