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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

7. The European Union: An Unrealistic Project?

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1In his Judgment on Perpetual Peace, Jean-Jacques Rousseau expresses his reservations regarding the realisation of an enterprise like Saint-Pierre’s. He sees the main obstacle as the egoism of sovereigns. He recognizes that the late Abbé’s reflections were of irrefutable importance and worthy of occupying a good man.

2If ever any moral truth has been demonstrated, it seems to me to be the general and particular usefulness of this Project. The advantages which would come from its realisation for each Prince, each People and for all of Europe are immense, clear, incontestable; there is nothing more solid nor more exact than the reasoning the author uses to establish this: to create his European Republic for a day would be enough to make it last eternally, so readily would each person see from his or her own experience the individual gain in the common good. However the same princes who would defend it with all their strength if it existed, would oppose its realisation now with equal strength, and will unfailingly prevent its establishment, just as they would prevent its expiration. Thus the work of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre on perpetual peace appears at first useless for producing it and superfluous for preserving it. It is then simply vain speculation, some impatient reader will say; no, it is a solid and sensible book; it is very important that it exists.

3Let us begin by examining the objections of those who do not judge reasons by reason but only by the event, and who have nothing to say against this project, except that it has not been carried out. In fact, they will say, if these advantages are so significant, why then have the Sovereigns of Europe not adopted it? Why do they neglect their own interests, if those interests have been so well demonstrated?

4Doubtless, that is plausible, at least if one supposes their wisdom to be equal to their ambition, and that they see their advantage all the better for desiring it more strongly, when in fact the great punishment of an excess of pride is always to employ means which injure it, and the very heat of the passions is almost always what diverts them from their goal. Let us then distinguish in politics as in morals between true interests and apparent interests: the first would be found in perpetual peace, that is shown in the project. The second is found in the state of absolute independence which shields the Sovereigns from a mad Pilot. To display a vain knowledge and to give orders to his sailors, he would prefer to drift between rocks during the storm rather than enslave his vessel with anchors.

5All the business of Kings, or of those to whom they grant their powers, concerns two goals: extending their domination without and increasing its scope within; any other way of looking at things either concerns one of these two goals or simply serves as a pretext for them; as, for example, the public good, the happiness of the subjects, and the glory of the nation, words forever banished from the cabinet and so weightily employed in public edicts, that they are only ever harbingers of gloomy orders, and the people groan in advance when their masters speak to them of their fatherly care. […]

6One must not believe either, as the Abbé de Saint-Pierre does, that even with the good will that neither the Princes nor the Ministers will ever have, it would be easy to find a moment favourable to the implementation of this system. For this, it would be necessary for the sum of individual interests not to be more important than the common interest, and for each person to believe he or she saw in the good of all the greatest good one could hope for oneself. This, however, requires wisdom to come together in so many minds and relationships to come together in so many interests that one must not hope that the chance harmony of all the necessary circumstances will arise from luck alone; however if this harmony has not arrived, it is only force which can replace it, and then it is no longer a question of persuasion but rather of compulsion, and one must not write books, but raise armies.

7Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Judgment on Perpetual Peace (1756–1758).

Read the free text in the original language (1826 edition):​ark:/12148/​bpt6k2051816


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