Sovereignty Jean Jacques Rousseau Can

Sovereignty however, as pointed out by Rousseau has an internal component as well. It is primarily this component that enables the state to exercise sovereignty at the international level. Although Rousseau mentions sovereignty as internal, in the 20th century the issue of sovereignty was much debated in terms of attributes of state at the international level. In terms of Rousseaus beliefs, the sovereign, which was usually the head of state, monarch, prince, or emperor had the actual key of the common good. This implied a certain knowledge of what was necessary and important. Automatically, the issue of sovereign became more an aspect of power and submission of the society. However, even so, sovereignty implies freedom of choice at the level of the individual, society, and state. As presented in Rousseaus views, the will cannot be transmitted, it can be represented. Thus, the sovereign represents the common will of the individuals.

The 20th century marked some of the most important battles in terms of sovereignty and distress among communities and societies. The international law has tried, throughout decades, to legislate the international society in the spirit of the common good. In this sense, the rules of war were legislated in 1899 in The Hague, and subsequent conferences on the rights of civilians, war prisoners, and non-combatants were held precisely to establish on the one hand the human conditions for war participants and on the other to limit the sovereignty of the states which were engaged in this global society. (Russbach, 1994) It can be said that some aspects of Rousseaus beliefs were applied even at the dawn of the 20th century.

One of the most important moments in the history of sovereignty however was the period of the 1990s when the issue represented a heated subject for debate.

The main argument which set the stage for such debates was given by the humanitarian crises of Somalia and Rwanda. While in Somalia the intervention teams were willing to participate but did not have the proper international context, the genocide in Rwanda represented one of the most important examples of sovereignty and its limitations.

The Rwandan case can be studied from the point-of-view of Rousseaus theory. In this sense, as stated above, the sovereign had the right to decide on the common good. However, if the sovereign is not able to ensure its citizens that their rights and freedoms are protected, then the sovereign looses the internal power it enjoys. More precise, it loses internal sovereignty and thus it can no longer function as a free sovereign state on the international scene. In Rwanda, the state failed to stop a genocide from escalating, thus failing in its most basic function, that of protecting its citizens. At this point, the state loses internal legitimacy. The internal legitimacy however is the sole support for external legitimacy and sovereignty. Therefore when the sovereign and the state are not able to assist and insure security to its citizens, he is no longer a legitimate force and sovereignty at the international level is no longer applicable (Nye, 2005).

This theory, taken from Rousseaus beliefs, was further developed and became the right of intervention in case of humanitarian crisis. However, in order to intervene, the legitimacy of the state must no longer represent an issue. From this point-of-view alone, the contribution of Rousseau was substantial.


Berstein, Serge, and Milza. Pierre. Histoire de lEurope. Paris: Hatier, 1994

Nye, Joseph. Understanding international conflicts: an introduction to theory and history. New York: Pearson, 2005.

Russbach, Oliver. ONU contre ONU. Le droit.

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