Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

6
Hope and Heroic Action: Rousseau, Paoli, Kosciuszko, and the Republican Tradition of War

I open my books about rights and morals, I listen to scholars and legal experts, and inspired by their suggestive discourses, I deplore the miseries of nature, admire the peace and justice established by the civil order, bless the wisdom of public institutions, and console myself for being a man by seeing myself a citizen. Well instructed as to my duties and my happiness, I close the books, leave the lecture room, and look around me. There I see a miserable people groaning under an iron yoke, the human race crushed in a grip of oppressors, and an enraged mob overwhelmed by pain and hunger whose blood and tears rich men drink in peace. And everywhere the strong are armed against the weak with the formidable power of the law.

All of this happens peacefully and without resistance. With a tranquility like that of Odysseus' imprisoned companions as they wait to be devoured by the Cyclops, we groan and are quiet. But I must draw a veil over these horrors. I lift my eyes and look towards the horizon. There I see fire and flames, deserted countrysides, pillaged villages. Monstrous men, where are you dragging these poor creatures? I hear a terrible noise, an uproar, screams! I draw near. Before me is a panorama of murder--ten thousand, the dead piled up in heaps, the dying trampled under the feet of horses--and everywhere the sight of death and agony. Yet all of this is the fruit of peaceful institutions. Pity and indignation rise up from the depth of my heart. Barbarian philosopher, come read to us your book on the battlefields!1

____________________
1
Jean Jacques Rousseau, Principles of the Rights of War, trans. Grace Roosevelt, Reading Rousseau in the Nuclear Age ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 233. See also her article on this work, "'Rousseau's Fragments on War'", History of Political Thought ( 1987), 8; and "'The Role of Rousseau's Writings on War and Peace in the Evolution of the Social Contract'", in G. Lafrance (ed.), Studies on the Social Contract ( Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa: Ottawa, 1989). For original French text see the authoritative Euvres complètes (hereafter OC), ed. B. Gagnebin and M. Raymond ( Paris: Pléiades, 1964-95), iii.

-177-

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