Democratic disengagement: Toward Rousseauian global reform

Shmuel Nili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


What are the moral costs of democratic trade with dictatorships, and what action these costs demand of our elected governments? This article develops as a Rousseauian answer the idea that democracies ought to boycott corrupt dictatorships and establish themselves collectively as an autarkic bloc, in order to reform not others but themselves. I articulate the basis for this democratic disengagement, first through a reconstruction of Rousseau's social contract, as seeking to replace corrupt dependence with egalitarian interdependence between citizens. I then examine the potential for egalitarian interdependence between democracies that treat their citizens equally as collectively sovereign, contrasted with corrupting cooperation between democracies and dictatorships, which distorts democracies’ values, specifically by making them complicit in despots’ theft of their peoples’ resources. Ending this corruption requires disengagement, elaborated here first against liberal objections and then against skeptic criticism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-389
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


  • Rousseau
  • democracy
  • dictatorship
  • global justice
  • resource curse
  • trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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