The essay analyses Rousseau’s Du contrat social, Book II, Chap. V (Du droit de vie et de mort), which many scholars consider ambiguous and inconsistent. The Author claims that it is possible to overcome this inconsistency if the chapter is set within the discussion between modern philosophers of natural law on right of war and right to punish. Rousseau relies more on Pufendorf than on Grotius, Hobbes or Locke, but he doesn’t accept all his doctrines. Thus, he holds that if the right of life and death has its origin in the social contract and murder and the death penalty are naturally connected, the right of the sovereign to kill derives from the right of war. Like Pufendorf and differently from other natural law philosophers, Rousseau maintains that war is a consequence, not an effect, of politics. The death penalty, therefore, if connected with the sovereign’s right of war, loses its role when the State no longer risks being destroyed.
Keywords: Rousseau, Locke, Pufendorf, right of life and death, right of war, death penalty.