Governments derive their legitimacy from consent of the governed. People enter into a social contract for their own well-being and the fundamental foundation of individual well-being is survival. Therefore, a social contract is only just or practical if it is created and maintained in the service of life. No government is just in declaring war and ordering its citizens to give up their lives for the sake of the social contract. Such an order critically undermines and even abrogates the social contract itself. A just state, therefore, is one which maintains pacifism as a virtue. If a state is worth maintaining, it stands to reason citizens will volunteer themselves is de-centralized militias in order to maintain its liberties from external threats. The state has no business throwing the lives of its citizens to their deaths. There is no need for an all-consuming Moloch standing atop a mountain of coffins and skulls.

Thomas Hobbes famously wrote that life in a state of nature would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ in his famous Leviathan, in which he argues for the necessity of surrendering a great portion of personal liberties to the state in the name of social order. There is something to be said for the sad realities of life in a state of nature — with no government at all. However, the Hobbesian solution is on the opposite extreme.

Modern liberalism arose during the Age of Enlightenment as a reaction to monarchical tendencies and aimed at the growth of individual civil liberties at the expense of entrenched aristocracies and monarchies. Many philosophers of the time even noted that republics were far less likely to go to war. Republics have their place in that they are better able to represent the various interests of diverse constituents (though, obviously, not without drawbacks and corruption) but monarchies are fundamentally de-stabilizing and grew and developed in pre-capitalistic societies in which warfare, rather than markets, was the way to riches. A peaceful state is one in which the pursuit of happiness, rather than an oligarchic pursuit of plundering, is most likely to be achieved.

Hobbes was right in his diagnosis of a major problem of the state of nature but wrong in how to best ameliorate the issues he identified. A century later, another philosopher had the opposite problem — his view of the state of nature was problematic but his understanding of human nature and how to improve society proved insightful. This man was Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Today, Rousseau is best known for his famous On the Social Contract — a landmark work in the history of political theory. However, On the Social Contract is a problematic, idealistic, and wholly inadequate work for improving society. This was confirmed when ideas from that work were tried out during the French Revolution.

Instead, one should look to Rousseau’s earlier discourses to find his real genius — the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences and the Discourse on Inequality. Rousseau was exploring the corrupting effects of bourgeois culture on morals, causing him to over-idealize the state of nature. While monarchies tend more towards war, bourgeois decadence undermines the stability of the state through a kind of gross and stupid ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ dullness which (although more conducive to peace than monarchism) does not form the bedrock of any kind of stable society. The fundamental bedrock of any stable society is the working class, the innovators are the creative exploratory types (artists, entrepreneurs, inventors), the government is as decentralized and democratic as possible, and the economy a form of de-centralized capitalism favoring localism with a dash of cosmopolitanism.

Pacifism is a virtue and a necessity for any just society. Warfare a corruption in which the moneyed classes and government elites outsource losses and pocket gains at the expense of that societal bedrock — the working classes. Any society would be infinitely better off if those who wanted war went into a field and shot at each other rather than bring anyone against their will into some stupid quarrel. A state which declares war also abrogates the social contract of those individuals whose lives it risks.

Philosopher | Wordsmith | Minimalist | Bohemian ✌️🏳️‍🌈🌳☮️