Está en la página 1de 58


"The Social Contract" Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762, it became one of the most influential works of political philosophy in the Western tradition. It developed some of the ideas mentioned in an earlier work, the article Economie Politique, featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. The treatise begins with the dramatic opening lines, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they." Rousseau claimed that the state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, division of labour and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law. In the degenerate phase of society, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law. While Rousseau argues that sovereignty should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between sovereignty and government. The government is charged with implementing and enforcing the general will and is composed of a smaller group of citizens, known as magistrates. Rousseau was bitterly opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly. Rather, they should make the laws directly. It was argued that this would prevent Rousseau's ideal state from being realized in a large society, such as France was at the time. Much of the subsequent controversy about Rousseau's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general willare thereby rendered free.

What Jean-Jacques Rousseau meant is that government, social class, wealth and poverty are manmade prisons in which people trap each other. In the "state of nature" to which we are all born, those things do not exist. Remember that in his day there were no democracies to speak of. People everywhere were ruled by absolute monarchs whose word was law. Rousseau does not go so far as to claim that simple good manners, altruism and general decent behavior are also prisons, although some libertarian philosophers certainly have gone that far. Born free merely means not born into slavery. But it is arguable whether anyone is "born free". We are all enslaved by society to some degree. As a child we are at the mercy of our parents and teachers. Our parents can screw us up so easily with wrong food , wrong support, wrong advice, etc. Our teachers can fill our minds with the wrong ideas and knowledge. But we have to do what they say. Later we may have to serve in the army, whether we want to or not. When they say jump you say "Yessir. How high, sir?" As an adult we have to work 9 to 5 five days a week for a boss to earn money to live. This means doing what we're told by the boss. At all times we are expected to obey thousands of laws, most of which we don't even know exist. If we don't we can lose our liberty. To travel we are searched and have to carry a passport. At one time it was even compulsory to go to church. So freedom is not as easily come by as all that. All the above are "chains" of one sort or another. No, i agree with the answer. It is not "gay". I just want to add. By saying that one is in chains one my think that even though our free here in america, you still have to follow the laws of the country.

The Enlightenment - The Age of Reason (ESS18)
Ending the bond between Science and Religion <RATE THIS ARTICLE>

"All men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains."

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau Much of what we've been discussing in articles dealing with John Locke, René Descartes, and Isaac Newton takes us right into the 18th Century phenomenon called The Enlightenment. Since the movement was especially prominent in France it is also referred to as the French Enlightenment. What had been begun by the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, and other heroes of the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries, was given a major push in the 18th Century. The Enlightenment is conveniently tucked into the 18th Century but like most phenomena in history it's probably wise to look at a somewhat broader time scale. Many of the concepts that crystallized during the Enlightenment had already been hinted at by others in earlier times. All the same, the concepts of religious freedom for all, equality before the law and the supremacy of human reason were proclaimed loudly and clearly by the heroes of the movement. In France they were called the philosophes. They eagerly embraced scientific progress and geographical discoveries, and were dismayed at the corruption, superstition, hypocrisy and injustice condoned if not fostered, by the church and the state. To them ignorance was evil and they blamed this evil on the religious and political leaders, leaders who claimed to be the special agents of God's revelation in order keep the common people shackled in ignorance. The philosophes felt that human progress would only come through intellectual and spiritual enlightenment²not blind obedience to authority. Enlightened humanity could bring an end to poverty, injustice, racism, and all the other ills of society. In France some of the most prominent philosophes were, in no particular order, François Marie Arouet²better known as Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon(1707-1788), Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-1781), DenisDiderot, and JeanJacques Rousseau. In spite of the name, the philosophes were above all, practical men, seeking nothing less than a whole new and improved society. A society in which man was no longer constrained by outdated human institutions and belief systems. The impact on science was obvious and dramatic. Voltaire(1694±1778) One of the first of those institutions to warrant attention was the Roman Catholic Church which in France had become the only official state-sanctioned religion thanks to King Louis XIV. Voltaire in a tireless campaign argued that people should be permitted to worship as they pleased or not at all. The spark that set off this powder keg was the case of Jean Calas. Like so many of his peers, including a number of the founding fathers of the United States, Voltaire was a deist who believed that God had created everything but then let it evolve on its own. Although educated by the Jesuits, Voltaire hated the Catholic Church. He is famously quoted to have said "Ecrasez l'infame" (Crush the horrible thing!) referring to the Church. He had written most of his life on religious tolerance but the Jean Calas affair gave him the focus he needed and in 1763 he published A Treatise on Tolerance that focused entirely on the case. Making a powerful case for religious and intellectual freedom gave the fledgling Scientific Revolution in France a much needed boost. Also, his tireless efforts to promote the empirical methods of Francis Bacon and John Locke of England as the only legitimate way to practice science were a direct challenge to the French rationalist tradition of, for example, René Descartes. Both traditions²religious and rationalist²proved difficult to dislodge, but change was in the air and intellectual freedom especially, became a rallying point. de Montesquieu (1689-1755) The second culprit on our list, Charles Louis de Secondant, Baron de Montesquieu, wasn't interested so much in promoting open scientific inquiry as he was in the science of politics. In 1748 he published Spirit of the Laws. Inspired by the British political system, he advocated a separation of powers amongst the various branches of government. The English constitution had divided state powers into three independent branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. This he felt would create a system of Checks and Balances. As a member of the aristocracy de Montesquieu's views were a bit ambivalent. He didn't favor a republic but he was against slavery.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was born in John Calvin's Geneva on June 28th, 1712. His mother died in childbirth. Unlike the other philosophes who were in favor of monarchy, at least aconstitutional monarchy, Rousseau advocated direct democracy. In fact, the central concept in Rousseau's thought is liberty and most of his works deal with the ways in which people are forced to give up that liberty. His famous statement, "All men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains." begins his work The Social Contractpublished in 1762. Not only did this essay have an impact on the French Revolution, it also had a profound influence on theDeclaration of Independence adopted in 1776 by the new United States of America. Many of the ideas that Rousseau developed were spelled out in earlier works. The first of these, A Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, was the winning entry in an essay contest conducted by the Academy of Dijon in 1750. In this work, Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused the corruption of virtue and morality. This discourse also won Rousseau fame and recognition, and it laid much of the philosophical groundwork for a second, longer work, The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a 1754 essay also written for the Academy of Dijon. On the Origin of Inequality This work sets out many of his key ideas that were to greatly influence modern culture. Here we read about his thoughts on the "Noble Savage" and how he uses this concept to visualize how man developed over the eons and how in his view this development "went off the rails". He refers to times before the current state of civil society, when man was closer to his natural state, as happier times for man. To Rousseau, modern "civil" society is a trick perpetrated by the powerful on the weak in order to maintain their power or wealth. Therefore he begins his discussion with an analysis of natural man who has not yet acquired language or abstract thought. In spite of the fact that he was born and raised in Calvinistic Geneva, Rousseau ignored the biblical account of human history and instead set out to develop his own understanding of man's origins. As he contemplated his society he noted two types of inequality, natural or physical and moral or political. Natural inequality involves differences between one man's strength or intelligence and that of another²it is a product of nature. Rousseau is not concerned with this type of inequality but rather with moral inequality. This second type of inequality, he argued is endemic to a civil society and related to and caused by differences in power and wealth. It is not natural but is established by convention. As noted above, his solution was a "social contract" in which government is based on a mutual contract between it and the governed; this contract implies that the governed agree to be ruled only so that their rights, property and happiness are protected by their rulers. Once rulers cease to protect the ruled, the social contract is broken and the governed are free to choose another set of rulers. You can easily see how most modern democratic states are based on this ideal. It's also a sad commentary on our times that by manipulating the masses, many of today's governments seem to be more inclined to followMachiavelli instead of Rousseau. Denis Diderot and The Encyclopedia The "Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers" first published in 1751, was in fact a collaboration between Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. The encyclopedia was not just a massive compilation of what was known at the time about all things scientific and philosophical. It was also an expression of the radical and controversial ideas espoused by the philosophes. Many of its articles reflected the impious attitudes of its contributors like Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau, for example. As such it served as a manifesto for a new way of looking at the world. Since the Industrial Revolution was just getting nicely underway, many of the various mechanical devices and processes which were transforming the world were described in detail and depicted in hundreds of engravings. D'Alembert especially, insisted on showing the dignity and genius of the men behind the inventions, men often scorned as commoners by the aristocracy. This whole thrust became a prelude to the egalitarian attitudes which were to eventually undermine the old aristocratic order. To quote Jean d'Alembert: "The contempt shown to the mechanical arts seems to have been influenced in part by their inventors. The names of these great benefactors of the human race are almost entirely unknown, whereas the history of its destroyers, that is to say, its conquerors, is known by everyone. Even so, it is perhaps among the artisans that one should go to find the most admirable proofs of the sagacity, the patience, and the resources of the intellect."1 The Enlightenment Spreads The effects of the French Enlightenment soon spread beyond her borders. As noted the American independence movement was certainly influenced but also in Europe itself, revolutionary thinkers in several countries took up the torch. In Scotland we find David Hume (1711-1776), regarded by many as the most important philosopher ever to write in English. Born in a presbyterian home, he was a relentless critic of metaphysics and religion. He was a contemporary and close friend

of Adam Smith (1723-1790) who is famous for his seminal work on Capitalism, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and for coining the termthe invisible hand. Early on, Smith expounded the economic philosophy of "the obvious and simple system of natural liberty". In England, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) constructed his monumental work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon is widely regarded as a typical man of the Enlightenment, dedicated to asserting the claims of reason over superstition, to understanding history as a rational process, and to replacing divine revelation with sociological explanations for the rise of religion. You get some sense of Gibbon's view of Christianity on this little site. In Germany we find Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who was ironically, of Scottish descent. Kant was born on April 22, 1724, in Königsberg, Prussia (Now Kaliningrad, Russia). He was brought up and educated in a strict orthodox kind of Christianity called German Pietism, which he never could shake entirely. Kant is often a tough read partly because he does not translate well out of his native German and also because of the very abstruse philosophic concepts like the nature and source of knowledge. Throw in terms like a posteriori and a priori and you can start rolling your eyes. If you do care to know, a posteriori knowledge is what we're most familliar with. It's the 'I saw it, tasted it, felt it so I'm pretty confident I can describe it', kind of knowledge. The other one, a priori knowledge basically means the 'I know what I know' kind of knowledge. This is a gross oversimplification but it'll serve us very nicely. Other than that, what was Kant all about that he's included here. Well in his own way he was a rebel too. In much of his writings he laments the tendency of those in authority to impose not only obedience to reasonable laws but (religious) control over men's minds. He was also disturbed by the willingness of many people of his day to submit themselves willingly to this control. "If man makes himself a worm he must not complain when he is trodden on.", he wrote. On the quest for knowledge, a central theme in his work, Kant proposed that we should not assume that our knowledge conforms to the nature of objects, but rather that objects conform to our ways of knowing them. This was his way of dealing with theconundrum that although experience is the best way to learn about the world, without a frame of reference (a theory, an insight) learning about the world is a difficult task. To Sum Up... I have not even begun to scratch the surface as to what the Enlightenment was all about. We've only mentioned some of the players. Also, there were some very influential women during this time who rarely get a mention. Nevertheless we can draw some conclusions. The enlightenment was a very big stepping stone between the medieval world and the world we live in. Many institutions while not abolished were dramatically altered. More importantly, men's minds were radically changed. In the 17th Century and earlier, before the enlightenment, the number of people who were brave, or foolhardy, enough to think or, heaven forbid, to openly speak or write about any number of issues considered risque, were few and far between. True, Copernicus had written that the earth wasn't the center of God's Universe. Newton had stated that for all intents and purposes God's providential hand was no longer needed to keep the whole shebang running. Things like that. But this had always been cloaked in religious mumbo-jumbo so that the powers-that-be wouldn't get too upset and do something nasty to you like Galileo's fate for instance. The enlightenment opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his own role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived, demonstrated and above all published and shared with the world. Young minds were becoming free to pursue science in ernest and although they could be roundly condemned by all and sundry for their "heresies" the threat of official reprisal was becoming increasingly rare. In the time that followed, the 19th Century for example, we see the rich harvest that a climate of freeer and less censored thought could produce. We see for example the first tentative steps in coming up with a non-miraculous explanation for the origin of the staggering diversity of life forms on this earth of ours. There was Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who discovered the basic rules of inheritance. We see the son of a Shrewsbury physician, Charles Darwin overcome his fear of censure and using meticulous research to present to the world his ideas about the evolutionary nature of life and how using natural selection, that might actually work. Even in Darwin's day evolution was hardly a new concept. In 1800,Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck had expounded his own theory of evolution. Even before that in 1749,Georges, Comte de Buffon had published his Historie Naturelle(Natural History) in which he speculated on the evolutionary tendencies in nature. And of course there was a contemporary,Alfred Russel Wallace who had independently come to many of the same conclusions Darwin had. Finally his own grandfather,Erasmus Darwin had expressed similar ideas. There was John Dalton, who resurrected the old Greek notion that all matter was made up of atoms and not individually created by some Divine command. There was Dmitri Mendeleev who

neatly organized all this into the first periodic table of the elements. Of course the Newtonian view of a mechanical universe was becoming the accepted view from a scientific perspective. Little by little the world of science was wrested from the straight-jacket of theology and began to take on a life of its own. For better or worse, we can thank the iconoclastic approach and temperament of the philosophes and other champions of the Enlightenment for the world we have today where science is ruled by its own internal controls of a rigid and transparent scientific method and rigorous peer review instead of some arbitrary outside agency. Many people today are offended by the idea that the Christian Church is blamed for many of the roadblocks to free scientific inquiry. Using all sorts of questionable history and logic, attempts are often made to pretend it isn't so. Yet as we examine the enlightenment through its main protaganists we are struck by a common thread. Many of them, raised in orthodox circumstances, felt called upon at considerable personal risk, to cast off the shackles imposed by their various religious roots.

If we can only be fully human under the auspices of the social contract. rather. and we might do well to pause briefly and understand what he means by "freedom. By giving up our physical freedom. we place restraints on our behavior. Rousseau goes so far as to speak of the sovereign as a distinct individual that can act of its own accord. Thus. are only possible within civil society. we would not be human if we were not active participants in society. On the whole. The sovereign and the general will are more important than its subjects and their particular wills. and it could be argued that our decisions and behavior are largely dictated to us by a consumer culture that discourages individual thought. We might react to these arguments with serious reservations. . it would seem to us that Rousseau's system revokes freedom. And civil society. and thus learn to think morally. however. Rather than make freedom possible. we do not only have to thank society for the mutual protection and peace it affords us. Citizens in his ideal republic are not forced into a community: they agree to it for their mutual benefit.Analytical Overview Rousseau's principal aim in writing The Social Contract is to determine how freedom may be possible in civil society. After all. says Rousseau. Not just freedom. The community spirit that united them did not intrude upon their individuality. He might argue that the citizens of ancient Greece and Rome were very active and capable of achievements that we have not come close to emulating since. it gave individuality an outlet for its fullest expression. We often have difficulty interacting with one another in any meaningful way. The term "morality" only has significance within the confines of civil society. This last step determines the heavily communitarian perspective that Rousseau adopts. he might claim. and it is insulting to think that we are just small parts of a greater whole. The contract is not affirmed by each individual separately so much as it is affirmed by the group collectively. only seems unattractive to us because we have totally lost the community spirit that makes people want to be together. then that contract is more important than the individuals that agree to it. Thus. His system. according to Rousseau. By entering into the social contract. Rousseau has been accused of endorsing totalitarianism. then. Rousseau would not take these charges lying down. is only possible if we agree to the social contract. Looking at us in the new millennium. but also rationality and morality." In the state of nature we enjoy the physical freedom of having no restraints on our behavior. In short. we also owe our rationality and morality to civil society. which make it possible to live in a community. he might suggest that we are not free at all. We live in an age where individual rights are considered vitally important. the group collectively is more important than each individual that makes it up. and indeed. we may lack any kind of personal agency or initiative. we gain the civil freedom of being able to think rationally. those individuals only have value because they agree to that contract. We can put a check on our impulses and desires. however.

and suggest that Rousseau does not give careful enough attention to the latter. Monarchy is the strongest form of government. The government is distinct from the sovereign. While different states are suited to different forms of government. the general will shall not be heard and the state will become endangered. non-citizen lawgiver." and claims that it should be considered in many ways to be like an individual person. Summary With the famous phrase. and monarchy. It is often difficult to persuade all citizens to attend these assemblies. The general will finds its clearest expression in the general and abstract laws of the state. When voting in assemblies. which are created early in that state's life by an impartial. "man is born free. and the two are almost always in friction. Though Rousseau does permit citizens to do whatever they please so long as it does not interfere with public interests. He doesn't seem to perceive a distinction between who we are in public and what we are in private. The sovereign only has authority over matters that are of public concern. he is demanding that our public persona take precedence over our private self. Rousseau calls the collective grouping of all citizens the "sovereign. but they can roughly be divided into democracy. carrying out day-to-day business. the results of these votes should . and is best suited to large populations and hot climates. Rousseau maintains that aristocracies tend to be the most stable. he suggests. aristocracy. All laws must ensure liberty and equality: beyond that. depending on their size. but he is everywhere in chains. There are many different forms of government. the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good." Rousseau asserts that modern states repress the physical freedom that is our birth right. Legitimate political authority. comes only from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual preservation. This friction will ultimately destroy the state. In a healthy state. periodic assemblies. We could borrow from social theorist Jurgen Habermas the distinction between the public sphere and the private sphere.The best response to Rousseau (aside from pointing out that those societies relied on slavery and exploitation) might be to say that the world has changed since then. and do nothing to secure the civil freedom for the sake of which we enter into civil society. By demanding such active citizenship. they may vary depending on local circumstances. but healthy states can last many centuries before they dissolve. While the sovereign exercises legislative power by means of the laws. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest. but attendance is essential to the well-being of the state. The people exercise their sovereignty by meeting in regular. states also need a government to exercise executive power. When citizens elect representatives or try to buy their way out of public service. people should not vote for what they want personally. but for what they believe is the general will. but in this domain its authority is absolute: Rousseau recommends the death penalty for those who violate the social contract. he still seems to assume that human personality is in some way public.

He is more favorably inclined toward the ancient Greeks and Romans. Thinkers such as ##Voltaire##. which was meant to serve as a record of all human knowledge collected to date. after the ##French Revolution## his remains were transported to the Pantheon in Paris and he was buried as a national hero. and often refers to Sparta or Rome when looking for an example of a healthy state. When it was first published in 1762. Context Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was active at the height of the French Enlightenment. They argue that only by entering into society and swearing absolute allegiance to a king can people escape the depravity and brutality of a life in the wild. the crowning glory of the Enlightenment. In cases of emergency. While Rousseau draws ideas from both traditions. Second. Diderot. and d'Alembert headed a movement that placed supreme faith on the powers of reason. who argue that society exists in order to protect certain inalienable rights of its citizens. Rousseau was initially friends with the other Enlightenment figures. Rousseau became a wanted man both in France and in his native Geneva. They were disdainful of religion or blind faith of any kind. there is the liberal tradition of ##Locke## and Montesquieu. believing that reason and knowledge could slowly bring about the betterment of humankind. Rousseau's political thought was primarily influenced by two groups. he did not share their faith in reason or human progress. he also disagrees with both in significant ways. While everyone should be free to observe their personal beliefs in private. and contributed several articles (mostly on music) to the Encyclopedie. and that stormy period in history is our best example of Rousseau's ideas put . Pufendorf. First. To prove that even large states can assemble all their citizens. Rousseau takes the example of the Roman republic and its comitia. Diderot and d'Alembert undertook the editorship of the Encyclopedie. brief dictatorships may be necessary. thirty-two years later. there is the voluntarist tradition of ##Hobbes##. and Grotius. where citizenship was considered not only an honor but a defining characteristic of who one was. However. Rousseau suggests that the state also require all citizens to observe a public religion that encourages good citizenship. and we feel especially the influence of Aristotle's ##Politics##. The influence of such thinking pervades The Social Contract. in 1794. Rousseau recommends the establishment of a tribunate to mediate between government and sovereign and government and people. The societies of antiquity were characterized by a strong civic spirit. The Social Contract was the foremost influence on the intellectual development of the French Revolution. The role of the censor's office is to voice public opinion. and intellectual and temperamental differences increasingly drew them apart. The Social Contract was met with outrage and censorship. who support absolute monarchy. However.approach unanimity.

Terms Social contract . Government . For this reason. In this sense. Rousseau believes that only by entering into the social contract can we become fully human. Rousseau defines the sovereign as all the citizens acting collectively. and cannot deal with any particulars. aristocracy (the rule of the few). In The Social Contract. in . which takes care of particular matters and day-to-day business. This freedom is tempered by an agreement not to harm one's fellow citizens. divided. but this restraint leads people to be moral and rational. The government represents the people: it is not sovereign. The sovereign cannot be represented. slaves to their own instincts and impulses.The sum total of each individual's particular will. Laws deal only with the people collectively.The will of the sovereign that aims at the common good. though they can be roughly divided into democracy (the rule of the many). since each citizen wills the common good. however. By proposing a social contract.into practice.An abstract expression of the general will that is universally applicable. Law . a sovereign is the voice of the law and the absolute authority within a given state.The agreement with which a person enters into civil society. Will of all . In most contemporary societies. meaning that their actions are not restrained in any way. Freedom or Liberty . It has its own corporate will that is often at odds with the general will. It is not fair to blame the Reign of Terror and the many disasters of the Revolution on Rousseau. or broken up in any way: only all the people speaking collectively can be sovereign. Rousseau hopes to secure the civil freedom that should accompany life in society. They are essentially a record of what the people collectively desire. but they gain the civil freedom of being able to think and act rationally and morally. In Rousseau's time. people lack even this physical freedom. they voice the general will and the laws of the state. the sovereign was usually an absolute monarch. civil freedom is superior to physical freedom. there is often friction between the government and the sovereign that can bring about the downfall of the state. and monarchy (the rule of a single individual).Strictly defined. In a healthy republic. but his influence was certainly felt throughout. However. The general will expresses what is best for the state as a whole. Sovereign . this word is given a new meaning. There are as many different kinds of government as there are states. since people are not even slaves to their impulses. They are bound to obey an absolutist king or government that is not accountable to them in any way. the will of all is the same thing as the general will. In the state of nature people have physical freedom.The problem of freedom is the motivating force behind The Social Contract. people sacrifice the physical freedom of being able to do whatever they please.This is the executive power of a state. In entering into civil society. and it cannot speak for the general will. but they are little more than animals. In a healthy state. Each individual has his own particular will that expresses what is best for him. General will . Laws exist to ensure that people remain loyal to the sovereign in all cases. however. Together. The contract essentially binds people into a community that exists for mutual preservation.

Analytical Overview Rousseau's principal aim in writing The Social Contract is to determine how freedom may be possible in civil society. we would not be human if we were not active participants in society. Not just freedom. With civil society comes civil freedom and the social contract. those individuals only have value because they agree to that contract." In the state of nature we enjoy the physical freedom of having no restraints on our behavior. we also owe our rationality and morality to civil society. and thus learn to think morally. Common good . and we might do well to pause briefly and understand what he means by "freedom. By entering into the social contract. we are free to do whatever we want. In the state of nature. . Thus. We have physical freedom but we lack morality and rationality. but also rationality and morality. he is talking about what human life would be like without the shaping influence of society. are only possible within civil society. Civil society . but our desires and impulses are not tempered by reason. In short. Rousseau goes so far as to speak of the sovereign as a distinct individual that can act of its own accord. says Rousseau. we place restraints on our behavior. This last step determines the heavily communitarian perspective that Rousseau adopts. we do not only have to thank society for the mutual protection and peace it affords us. the will of all may differ significantly from the general will. The sovereign and the general will are more important than its subjects and their particular wills. is only possible if we agree to the social contract. The contract is not affirmed by each individual separately so much as it is affirmed by the group collectively. In a different book. After all. which make it possible to live in a community. Thus. State of Nature .The common good is what is in the best interests of society as a whole. By agreeing to live together and look out for one another. Rousseau believed that this state of nature was better than the slavery of his contemporary society. however. By giving up our physical freedom. the group collectively is more important than each individual that makes it up.When Rousseau talks about the state of nature. This is what the social contract is meant to achieve.Civil society is the opposite of the state of nature: it is what we enter into when we agree to live in a community.a state where people value their personal interests over the interests of the state. If we can only be fully human under the auspices of the social contract. so he suggests that before society existed. and it is what the general will aims at. So much of what we are is what society makes us. then. we gain the civil freedom of being able to think rationally. then that contract is more important than the individuals that agree to it. The term "morality" only has significance within the confines of civil society. and to temper our brute instincts. Still. according to Rousseau. he speaks very highly of this prehistoric state. Discourse on Inequality. but in The Social Contract he is more ambivalent. we learn to be rational and moral. We can put a check on our impulses and desires. we must have been very different. And civil society.

Looking at us in the new millennium. Though Rousseau does permit citizens to do whatever they please so long as it does not interfere with public interests. We often have difficulty interacting with one another in any meaningful way. On the whole.We might react to these arguments with serious reservations. He might argue that the citizens of ancient Greece and Rome were very active and capable of achievements that we have not come close to emulating since. we may lack any kind of personal agency or initiative. and suggest that Rousseau does not give careful enough attention to the latter. The community spirit that united them did not intrude upon their individuality. Rather than make freedom possible. By demanding such active citizenship. The best response to Rousseau (aside from pointing out that those societies relied on slavery and exploitation) might be to say that the world has changed since then. only seems unattractive to us because we have totally lost the community spirit that makes people want to be together. and it could be argued that our decisions and behavior are largely dictated to us by a consumer culture that discourages individual thought. he might claim. Rousseau would not take these charges lying down. His system. We live in an age where individual rights are considered vitally important. it would seem to us that Rousseau's system revokes freedom. it gave individuality an outlet for its fullest expression. . he is demanding that our public persona take precedence over our private self. We could borrow from social theorist Jurgen Habermas the distinction between the public sphere and the private sphere. rather. Citizens in his ideal republic are not forced into a community: they agree to it for their mutual benefit. and it is insulting to think that we are just small parts of a greater whole. He doesn't seem to perceive a distinction between who we are in public and what we are in private. and indeed. he still seems to assume that human personality is in some way public. Rousseau has been accused of endorsing totalitarianism. he might suggest that we are not free at all. however.

In such circumstances. This kind of reasoning assumes the natural superiority of rulers over the ruled. rather than constrains. Rousseau's suggested answer is that legitimate political authority rests on a covenant (a "social contract") forged between the . Political thinkers--particularly Grotius and ##Hobbes##--have asserted that the relationship between ruler and subject is similar to that between father and child: the ruler cares for his subjects and so has unlimited rights over them. but because they have no choice. Nor is legitimate political authority founded on force. If might is the only determinant of right. Rousseau rejects the idea that legitimate political authority is found in nature." These "chains" are the constraints placed on the freedom of citizens in modern states. The stated aim of this book is to determine whether there can be legitimate political authority--whether a state can exist that upholds. liberty. people simply do whatever is within their power. there is no political authority. Chapters 1-5 Summary The first chapter opens with the famous phrase: "Man was born free. then this also is right since they are exercising their superior might. Such superiority is perpetuated by force. The only natural form of authority is the authority a father has over a child.Book I. The maxim that "might makes right" does not imply that the less strong should be obedient to the strong. so political authority has no basis in nature. and he is everywhere in chains. which exists only for the preservation of the child. not by nature. And if they are able to overthrow their ruler. then people obey rulers not because they should.

Wars are conducted between states for the sake of property. because only a lunatic would give up his freedom for nothing. Rousseau also objects to the suggestion that prisoners of war could become slaves through an even exchange. he ceases to be an enemy. people surrender all their rights. Grotius is less clear what the people get in return for their freedom. and a covenant made by a lunatic would be void. and desolates the country by stockpiling all its goods for his own consumption. even if people were able to surrender their own freedom. and becomes simply a man. and are no longer in any position to ask for something in return. It is impossible to surrender one's freedom in a fair exchange. When an enemy surrenders. and slaves have no freedom and no rights. More importantly. who proposes that there is a covenant between the king and his people--a "right of slavery"--where the people agree to surrender their freedom to the king. The people in an absolute monarchy are slaves.members of society. In giving up our freedom we give up our morality and our humanity. Yet it must be something. including Grotius. It is not security: civil peace is of little value if the king makes his people go to war. A people only become a people if they . Besides. Wars have nothing to do with individuals. Rousseau links freedom with moral significance: our actions can only be moral if those actions were done freely. where the conqueror spares the life of the vanquished in exchange for that person's freedom. they could not justifiably surrender the freedom of their children as well. By surrendering their freedom to their ruler. and not the other way around. It is not preservation: the king keeps himself fed and contented off the labor of the people. He has a number of predecessors in theorizing a social contract.

he makes no effort to support the historicity of this claim. It is not entirely clear what Rousseau means when he talks about "nature" or our "natural state." then. Rousseau is not interested in history or archaeology so much as he is interested in understanding human nature as it exists in the present. Commentary The concept of nature is very important throughout Rousseau's philosophy. and later denied that he intended the Discourse to refer to an actual former state of affairs. he seems to be alluding to a prehistoric state of affairs where people had no government. However. Whatever is not a part of this "natural state" has come about as a result of human society. or private property. This view contrasts sharply . in The Social Contract Rousseau is more ready to accept the possibility that modern society can potentially benefit us. the Discourse on Inequality. He is famous for countering the common Enlightenment position that reason and progress were steadily improving humankind with the suggestion that we are better off in our state of nature. His interest in a "natural state.have the freedom to deliberate amongst themselves and agree about what is best for all. is an effort to determine what we would be like if political institutions had never existed. His political philosophy is driven by the conviction that the political associations we participate in shape our thoughts and behavior to a great extent. as "noble savages. Rousseau paints a very rosy picture of this natural state: without property to quarrel over and governments to enforce inequality." In his Discourse on Inequality. our fundamental human nature is compassionate and free of strife. law. and is thus "unnatural." In the Discourse on Inequality." This opinion is expressed more forcefully in his earlier work.

More significantly. who used the idea of a social contract to justify absolute monarchy. In the ##Leviathan##. Human society is not a part of our natural state. and could even be traced as far back as Plato's ##Crito##. Rousseau's own social contract theory is meant to overturn the theories of these predecessors. Rousseau's suggestion is that it is formed by a "social contract": people living in a state of nature come together and agree to certain constraints in order that they might all benefit. brutish. poor. It should be clear that Rousseau intends a sharp contrast between nature and civil society. If human beings today were suddenly to find themselves without political institutions. suggesting that no legitimate . Rousseau's hypothetical natural state is pre-societal: before we were corrupted by politics. it is formed artificially. Rousseau is drawing on the ideas of Hobbes. and Pufendorf." Hobbes and Grotius both claim that human society comes about in order to improve this unpleasant natural state. and short.with most of Rousseau's predecessors. rather. The idea of a social contract is not original to Rousseau. Rousseau suspects that Hobbes gives such a negative portrayal of our natural state out of an assumption that human nature remains unchanged with or without political institutions. we had none of the unpleasant characteristics that Hobbes identifies. Grotius. among others. It is important to understand that Rousseau believes it is impossible to return to this natural state. Thomas Hobbes famously asserts that human life without political institutions is "solitary. nasty. These thinkers suggested that people consent to be governed by an absolute monarch in exchange for the protection and elevation from the state of nature that this affords them. they would indeed lead unpleasant lives because they would have all the selfishness and greed that society has bred in them without any of the safeguards and protections of that society.

when people need to combine forces in order to survive. Rousseau draws three implications from this definition: (1) Because the conditions of the social contract are the same for everyone. we lose both our freedom and humanity. called a "city" or "polis" in ancient times. and so render void any contract they make with the monarch. is now . our freedom and our humanity are closely tied to our ability to deliberate and make choices. The problem resolved by the social contract is how people can bind themselves to one another and still preserve their freedom. people don't lose their natural freedom by entering into the social contract. (2) Because people surrender themselves unconditionally. If a monarch has absolute power over contract can be forged in an absolute monarchy. Rousseau suggests. Chapters 6-9 Summary There reaches a point in the state of nature. (3) Because no one is set above anyone else. The community that is formed by this social contract is not simply the sum total of the lives and wills of its members: it is a distinct and unified entity with a life and a will of its own. Book I. According to Rousseau. This entity. everyone will want to make the social contract as easy as possible for all. people surrender the freedom and authority to consent to a social contract. His arguments are diverse. and become slaves. but they rest on the fundamental assertion that in surrendering their liberty to their monarch. the individual has no rights that can stand in opposition to the state. The social contract essentially states that each individual must surrender himself unconditionally to the community as a whole.

the social contract cannot impose any binding regulations on the sovereign. By contrast. Thus. we take responsibility for our actions. Self-interested individuals might try to enjoy all the benefits of citizenship without obeying any of the duties of a subject. Rousseau treats it in many respects as if it were an individual. Since no individual can be bound by a contract made with himself. Though the sovereign is not bound by the social contract. it cannot do anything that would violate the social contract since it owes its existence to that contract. subjects of the sovereign are doubly bound: as individuals they are bound to the sovereign. on the other hand." Some further definitions: in its passive role it is a "state." and in relation to other states a "power". Rousseau suggests that unwilling subjects will be forced to obey the general will: they will be "forced to be free. thereby rendering us moral. so the sovereign will act in the best interests of its subjects without any binding commitment to do so. Because the sovereign is a distinct and unified whole. the community that forms it is "a people." In contrast to the Discourse on Inequality." in its active role a "sovereign. . Rousseau here draws a distinction between nature and civil society that heavily favors the latter. we gain the civil liberty that places the limits of reason and the general will on our behavior. and become nobler as a result. need the incentive of law to remain loyal to the sovereign. Individuals. In civil society. they are "subjects" insofar as they submit themselves to the sovereign. and as members of the sovereign they are bound to other individuals.called a "republic" or a "body politic." and individually they are "citizens". in hurting its subjects it would be hurting itself. Further. While we lose the physical liberty of being able to follow our instincts freely and do whatever we please.

the sovereign is not simply the sum total of its individual members. Like the large robot formed by the individual Constructicons. each individual surrenders all his property along with himself to the sovereign and the general will. This is the same sort of principle that Rousseau is applying here. and so on. the sovereign owes nothing to its subjects. In the social contract. large robot: one Constructicon would be the left arm of this larger robot. they also become a part of the larger life and will of the sovereign. but will nonetheless work to ensure their well-being. but in binding themselves to the social contract. but is treated by Rousseau as an individual itself. Individual citizens have a life and a will of their own. He suggests that ownership of land is only legitimate if no one else claims that land. Just as each part of the body is responsible for working with the rest of the body and ensuring that it functions smoothly. Commentary Fans of the Transformers may recall the "Constructicons. and in harming them we would be harming ourselves. but because our fingers and knees are a part of our body. he does not give up his property since he is also a subject of the sovereign. another would be the right leg. and if he cultivates that land for his subsistence. In doing so. the sovereign owes nothing to its subjects in the same way as a person owes nothing to his pinky finger or his left knee." a group of smaller robots who could join together to form one. We try to keep our fingers and knees from harm not because we are bound by some sort of contract. However.Rousseau concludes Book I with a discussion of property. every individual is committed to the sovereign. if the owner occupies no more land than he needs. . Similarly.

according to Rousseau. we do not give up our freedom by binding ourselves to the social contract." If we only gain civil freedom by entering into civil society and binding ourselves to the social contract. any violation of that contract will also violate our civil freedom. we fully realize it. we learn the freedom of self-control. according to Rousseau. rather. We undermine our very rationality and morality by violating the contract that made us rational and moral. Rationality and morality distinguish us from animals. the sovereign essentially forces its subjects to maintain the civil freedom that is part and parcel of this social contract. Thus. This rationality is what defines our actions as moral. The community is superior to the individual because it is a community of humans and the individual is just a solitary animal. If you find yourself uncomfortable with all this. This background may help us understand Rousseau's disturbing claim that recalcitrant citizens should be "forced to be free.Rousseau's communitarian point of view can be understood by referring to his contrast between the state of nature and civil society. The freedom we have in the state of nature is the freedom of animals: unconstrained and irrational. By leaving our natural state of do-as-you-please. we come to recognize that we need reasons to justify our actions. so it is only by becoming a part of civil society that we become human. In civil society. By entering into civil society we learn to restrain our instincts and to act rationally. Rousseau contrasts the physical freedom of following our instincts with the civil freedom of acting rationally. you are not alone. By forcing its subjects to obey the social contract. Some commentators have gone so far as to accuse Rousseau of .

Rousseau is motivated by the fear that in modern states where citizens are not actively involved in politics. Rousseau argues that the common good can only be achieved by heeding the general will as expressed by the sovereign. if the ##French Revolution##. The civil freedom that comes through active political participation is largely the freedom to determine one's own fate. the United States in particular. It expresses the general will. Chapters 1-5 Summary Society can only function to the extent that people have interests in common: the end goal of any state is the common good. his notion that the community comes first and the individuals in it second is contrary to the notions of individual liberty that characterize most modern democracies. and in such instances terror and the guillotine can become an attractive means of forcing people to be "free. though this is a bit far-fetched. To a large extent. Rousseau's doctrines can be misused.totalitarianism. it may not always be clear how the general will is determined. or be represented by a smaller group. they become passive witnesses of the decisions that shape them rather than active participants. but as the evolving chaos of the Revolution so clearly indicates. Rousseau's ideas formed an ideological backbone for the French Revolution. . Still. some critics have noted that while Rousseau is usually quite careful in distinguishing between force and right. The sovereign is inalienable: it cannot defer its power to someone else. However. he blurs that distinction dangerously in saying that people must be "forced to be free." Though to lay all the extreme excesses of the French Revolution at the feet of Rousseau is unfair. is any indication." Book II.

Though the general will always tends toward the common good. but the state cannot demand more than what is necessary from the citizen. While he claims that the sovereign has absolute power over all its subjects. stating that the latter is simply the sum total of each individual's desires. Rousseau accuses other philosophers of failing to understand this distinction. Furthermore. and since these acts are not undertaken by the people as a whole. and not of some part. This conclusion permits thinkers such as Grotius to then invest sovereign power in the particular will of a single monarch. the sovereign is only authorized to speak in cases that affect the body . Rousseau concedes that the deliberations of the people do not always necessarily express the general will. Rousseau is careful to carve out a space for private interests as well. Rousseau insists that no factions form within a state. Nor is sovereignty divisible: the sovereign always and necessarily expresses the will of the people as a whole. As the will of the people. whereas the expression of a particular will is at best an application of law. These particular interests usually balance each other out unless people form factions and vote as a group. He draws an important distinction between the general will and the will of all. the sovereign can only exist so long as the people have an active and direct political voice. and that each individual should think for himself. A citizen must render whatever services or goods are necessary to the state. declarations of war. they conclude that sovereignty is divisible.) to be acts of sovereignty. etc. They take particular acts (administration.which will never coincide exactly with any particular private will. An expression of the general will takes the form of law. thus robbing the people of their rights.

It is also independent of any outside influences. both property and inhabitants. As enemies of the social contract. It is the voice of the law. but both pardons and punishments are signs of weakness: a healthy state has few criminals. and is only bound to the sovereign in matters that are of public concern. are essentially violating the social contract. A sovereign is the ultimate authority with regard to a certain group of people. in violating the laws of the state. In Rousseau's time. "I am the state. Louis XIV. and so do not concern the sovereign: the sovereign deals only with matters that are of common interest. These rulers assumed absolute control over their states. whatever the king said was law and had to be obeyed. Rousseau supports the death penalty. Cases that deal only with individuals or particularities do not concern all citizens. and all people under its authority must obey it. As a result. each citizen is free to pursue private interests. the sovereign was generally an absolute monarch. arguing that the sovereign has the right to determine whether its subjects should live or die." Within France.politic as a whole. Commentary The concepts of the sovereign and of the general will had currency before Rousseau. the archetypal absolute monarch. and must either be exiled or put to death. His strongest reason for this position is the claim that wrongdoers. and no outside force could exert any influence either on Louis or his state. but not in the form that Rousseau gives them. Rousseau holds on to the essential notion of sovereignty--that it is a power with absolute and inalienable influence over its . they are enemies of the state. It is possible to pardon criminals. is rumored once to have said.

Rousseau thinks it is impossible that any single person's will should coincide with the general will in all cases. The general will aims at the common good. the poor will recognize that lower taxes can spur the economy. Just as a king uses authority to gain what is best for him. voters tend to pursue their own interests: the rich favor tax cuts. In Rousseau's ideal republic. In the case of absolute monarchy. is not the will of any particular individual. unlike the will of a king. Thus. and so on. In modern democracies. Rousseau turns the idea of sovereignty on its head. and so on. asserting that the people." The will of all is simply what we get when we add up everything that each individual wants. Rousseau suggests that citizens should vote with the general will. The only way people can be subjected to a sovereign power without losing their freedom is if they themselves are this sovereign power. so the idea of a single monarch with absolute power over his subjects runs totally contrary to his ideal. His goal in The Social Contract is to determine how people can maintain their freedom within the confines of political association. In fact. the poor favor social programs. in mind. sovereign authority is expressed in the general will. sovereign authority is expressed in the will of the king. . each person will vote with the interest of achieving what is best for all: the rich will recognize that taxation for social programs will help those in need. The general will.subjects--but rejects the idea that a single person or elite group can act as sovereign. Rousseau draws an important distinction between the general will and the "will of all. are sovereign. the people acting together use authority to gain what is best for all. In Rousseau's ideal republic. and not the king. and not their private interests.

the difference. If a significant number of people band together because of shared private interests and agree to promote these interests by voting as a block. In a state free of factions. rests entirely in the attitude with which citizens vote. the sovereign has no authority over matters that affect only a portion of the body politic. it is obviously important that each citizen do what he thinks is best for himself. it seems. each citizen votes with the interest of securing what is best for the state. Paradoxically. However. it is important that citizens think of the common good rather than their own interests. The only clear indication we get is that the general will is free of factionalism. Chapters 6-7 Summary . A private ballot is essential to avoiding factionalism. the state will begin aiming unevenly toward the good of the most powerful faction. He is quite clear that the sovereign only has authority in matters that affect and are of interest to the body politic as a whole. this requires that each citizen think for himself rather than consult with fellow citizens on what they think is best. Rather than aiming evenly toward the common good.The general will and the will of all often coincide to a great extent. Book II. When dealing with matters outside sovereign authority. This raises the question of how we can distinguish one from the other. and Rousseau even seems to suggest that private ballot is the best means of determining both. they will manage to unbalance the general will. In a healthy republic. In these matters. We should not take Rousseau's insistence that citizens disregard their private interests when voting as a sign that he disregards private interests altogether.

the question of how it maintains itself calls for a discussion of law. Rousseau defines law as an abstract expression of the general will that is universally applicable. but also the problem that the people do not always know what they want or what is best for them. A law can only be enacted if the people collectively agree on it. Rousseau suggests that there is a universal and natural justice that comes to us from God. so while it can say that a certain group should have certain privileges or that a certain person should be the head of state.The earlier discussion of the social contract and the sovereign explain how the body politic comes into being. How can a people as a whole sit down together and write up a code of law? There is not only the problem of how such a large number could write up such a document together. Evil people will not obey God's law. A declaration of the sovereign that applies only to certain people or certain objects is not a law. and willing to work selflessly on behalf of a people. An ideal lawgiver is not easy to find. or else those who obey God's law will suffer at the hands of those who disobey it. Rousseau acknowledges the problem of how laws should be laid down. However. . binding laws within society. Rousseau's proposed solution comes in the form of a lawgiver. it cannot determine which particular individual or group should receive these privileges. and so we must set up positive. but that it is not binding. The existence of civil society hinges on the existence of laws. He must be supremely intelligent. All laws are made by the people as a whole and apply to the people as a whole: the law does not deal with particularities. The law can never deal with individual people or groups. but a decree. and it must apply to all of them. The law is essentially a record of what the people collectively desire.

for instance. claims that God gave him the Ten Commandments. lawgivers have used the authority of God or some other divine power to support them. the lawgiver should not himself be a citizen of the state to which he gives laws. Commentary To a large extent. we distinguished between civil and physical freedom. Rousseau notes: "Gods would be needed to give men laws. and opening us up to the freedom of thinking for ourselves. the lawgiver must exhibit great insight. Chapters 6-9##. Remarking on the difficulty of finding such a person. we are not free. Civil freedom places a check on our instincts and impulses.please. teaching us to think and behave rationally.Because the laws shape the character and behavior of the people to a great extent. the agreement to live under certain established laws is what defines the social contract. there is also the difficulty of making the people obey the laws. An appeal to the supernatural origins of the laws is generally a good means of ensuring that they are obeyed. He is outside and above the authority of the sovereign. Moses. Physical freedom is characterized by the unbounded freedom to do whatever we like. but as the ability to deliberate rationally. suggesting that we give up the latter and gain the former by entering into civil society. but are rather slaves to our . following our instincts and impulses. Rousseau notes that throughout history. Rousseau is by no means the only philosopher to define "real" freedom not as an unbounded do-as-you. People are unlikely to simply accept the laws given to them by a particular person." Not only is there the difficulty of finding a lawmaker of genius who does not himself wish to govern. In the ##Commentary section for Book I. If our behavior is not restrained by laws of some sort. In order for the laws to be unbiased.

he asserts that it is bad government. Here. In the Discourse on Inequality. They are the general guidelines under which a people chooses to live. he suggests that good government. then we are not free. On the contrary. but are slaves to that outside force. Decrees are matters of day-today business: a leader appointing an attorney general. Rousseau gives no practical solution as to how a code of laws is to be formed. or rather good laws. so it is no surprise that Rousseau believes that the laws that govern a people define their character to a great extent. law is a civilizing force upon us.instincts and impulses. can make good people. laws are what define their civil freedom. he remarks at length as to how difficult it is to find someone who is up to the task. that is the source of our evil. Laws are made for the people as a whole by the people as a whole. they represent the leap made from humans in the state of nature into civil society. and not human nature. or the decision to condemn a traitor to death. In this sense. As the restraints a people places upon itself. then. Because a set of laws largely defines the people who live under these laws. the only laws that can maintain the freedom of citizens are those laws that the citizens as a whole agree upon. The only solution. . People who agree voluntarily and as a group to abide by certain restrictions that will benefit all of them will likely become better people as a result. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom. When we extend this solution to society as a whole. If our behavior is restrained by the laws of some outside force. or anything that deals with individuals or particular groups is a decree. Rousseau is careful to distinguish between laws and decrees. is to define freedom as behavior that is restrained only by the laws of our own making.

the people will not be ready to receive guidance. Book II. Rousseau suggests that a state must receive laws relatively early in its existence. The lawgiver should be understood as someone who invents a moral code. rationality (according to Rousseau) comes into being with civil society. a revolution may permit an older state to regain its freedom under new laws.the lawgiver is responsible for determining what kind of people a certain state will produce. Despite all his talk about the difficulties of lawmaking. In both of these cases. at the invitation of those states. but such revolutions can only occur once. a lawgiver is neither what we might understand as a judge or legislator. Rousseau himself undertook to write two constitutions: one for Poland and one for Corsica. but also difficult to find a people who are suitable for good laws. morality is defined by rationality. In rare cases. Poland was partitioned and Corsica was annexed before either constitution could be implemented. We might even think of the lawgiver as a saint or prophet of sorts: it is no wonder that Rousseau associates the creation of laws with the supernatural. Chapters 8-12 Summary It is not only difficult to find a good lawgiver. the people will have become stuck in their prejudices and will resist the improving influence of good laws. Thus. Rousseau was playing the role of the impartial lawgiver who stands outside the law: he was neither Corsican nor Polish. and civil society comes into being thanks to a lawgiver. nor even a political leader or dictator. If we recall. . If the attempt to give laws is made too soon. If the attempt is made too late. and was giving these people laws without any personal interest or hope for gain.

There must also be a balance between the number of people and the extent of territory in a state. they will not be able to maintain it all. and will be in constant danger of invasion. and a state spread out over a great area with different customs and climates will be hard-pressed to create one law that is fair to all. If a small number of people own a great territory. they will need to rely on goods from other states to sustain them. There is no magic number to determine the right ratio of population to territory since a great deal hinges on the kind of land. there will have to be many levels of regional government. Furthermore. Rousseau remarks: "I have a presentiment that this little island will one day astonish Europe. since the formation and establishment of laws leaves it momentarily vulnerable. with each additional level costing the people. is Corsica." Rousseau does not mean that everyone should be . Bearing in mind all the above recommendations. and will constantly be tempted to invade their neighbors. the kind of people. In a large state. and so on. The final condition Rousseau lists for the establishment of laws within a state is that it must be enjoying a period of peace and plenty." All laws should pursue the principles of freedom and equality. however. a state that is too small is constantly in danger of being swallowed up by neighbors who are in constant friction with it. One case of particular note. By "equality. If a great number of people own a small territory. a large government will be less swift and precise in maintaining law and order. On the other hand. administration becomes burdensome and costly.Rousseau also remarks that a state must be of moderate size--neither too big nor too small-if it is to do well. Rather than one central government. Rousseau notes that there aren't many states fit to receive laws.

level. . written laws. which are the main subject of The Social Contract. In Chapter 11. the sovereign and the laws only have authority on those matters that affect the body politic as a whole. there is a lot of room for maneuvering. (4) the morals. but that differences in wealth should not unbalance the state. These determine the relationship the body politic has with itself. and not a particular. which deal with cases where the law is broken. Each state should have laws that harmonize with its natural circumstances. he suggests that the only absolute requirement for good laws is that they should in all cases preserve liberty and equality. Rousseau's recommendations are meant only on a general. (3) Criminal Laws.exactly the same. Instead. Each state has different needs and interests. the fundamental structure of the state. (1) Political Laws. (2) Civil Laws. For instance. Throughout The Social Contract. and beliefs of the people. however. Commentary The end of Book II deals primarily with the people that make up a state. he notes that different people will have different needs and will require different laws. And most importantly. which deal with individuals in relation with each other or with the body politic as a whole. while a people living by the sea might do better with seafaring and naval trade. Rousseau is wise not to be overly dogmatic in the recommendations he makes. and there is not one "right" way that all states must follow. These determine the quality of the people and the success of the more rigid. customs. Within the guidelines of these general principles. Rousseau distinguishes four different classes of law. or Fundamental Laws. A people living in the mountains might be better off setting up a pastoral way of life.

Rousseau is equally insistent on defending our right to private property. Nonetheless. he . Both the very rich and the very poor would value money more than liberty. is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty. In Chapter 12. Though he insists that laws are a defining characteristic of the social contract. Does this mean that very few states are ready for freedom? He explains that some states are not yet civilized enough to receive laws and some states are too deeply set in old prejudices to adapt to new laws. Rousseau would presumably accuse communist states (there were none around during his time) of pursuing equality to such an extent that it takes precedence over liberty. and are thus necessary to ensure human freedom. he argues that gross material inequality can put liberty up for sale. and it works against itself if it enslaves the people it is meant to liberate. Equality is important as a necessary condition for liberty. Rousseau asserts that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. If everything we did were for the benefit of the state. There seems to be an interesting tension in Rousseau's discussion of law and its impact on people. Equality. The poor would be willing to sell their freedom and the rich would be capable of buying it.Liberty (or freedom) is the basic premise around which The Social Contract is structured: Rousseau's principal question is how people can preserve their liberty in a political union. While he is against overly eager capitalism. And again. and material inequality. it seems to him. in Chapter 11 of The Social Contract. he does not join socialist or communist thinkers in recommending the abolition of private property altogether. we would no longer be free. he also concedes that very few states are ready for such laws. The Discourse on Inequality hammers on the idea that property. Thus. are the root cause of human misery and evil.

Chapters 1-2 . Rousseau was invited to draw up a constitution for Corsica. Thus we run into a paradox of sorts: a people needs to be moral to some extent in order to receive laws. One of these rare cases Rousseau mentions is Corsica. nor do they enjoy civil freedom. and it is an interesting case. he is contrasting civil society with the state of nature. two years after he wrote The Social Contract. but Rousseau is not clear how this morality manifests itself. They are not in the state of nature. In that same year. Clearly. ##Napoleon## was born in Corsica. where we exist in a pre-moral. It is not entirely clear how things stand with barbarian civilizations or people living in absolute monarchies.asserts that morality is more important for ensuring the well-being of a state than any of its explicit laws. Napoleon made himself into a lawgiver. and his Code Napoleon remains a vital legal precedent from parts of Europe to once Frenchcontrolled Louisiana. since France invaded and annexed the island in 1769. And though not of the sort Rousseau might have imagined or esteemed." as this little man became Emperor of France and marched his armies all the way to Moscow. though. instinctive manner. they must have some sort of moral life. Because they live in society and must be rational. Though hardly as Rousseau had envisioned it. However. he also suggests that morality is something that comes about with the creation of laws: laws and life in civil society are what make a person moral. it is rarely sufficient to raise them up into the civil freedom of a republic. Book III. but they can only become moral when they have laws. This constitution was never implemented. In 1764. Corsica did indeed "astonish Europe. When Rousseau talks about laws and civil society making a person moral.

The will of the body politic is expressed in the laws. which deals only with general matters. can be analyzed into will and strength. each individual will be only a small part of the sovereign. just like those of a person. the more tempted the magistrates in the government will be to abuse their power and take advantage of their position. a strong sovereign is needed to control a strong government. the larger the population. Thus. and I must have the power in my legs to do it (strength). The strength that puts these laws into practice is found in the executive power of the government.Summary Rousseau opens Book III with an explanation of government and the executive power that it wields. . The government is an intermediary body that can be modified or disbanded according to the sovereign will (or general will). There is no kind of social contract between a government and the rest of the people. Because the government deals with particular acts and applications of the law. Thus. it is distinct from the sovereign. To walk around the block. since the people do not surrender their power or will to the government in the way that they do to the sovereign. and so each individual will be less inclined to follow the general will and more inclined to follow his or her own particular will. I must decide to walk around the block (will). the government will need to be able to exercise a great deal of power. The actions of a state. In order to keep so many people in line. the more powerful the government is. On the other hand. just as a strong government is needed to control a large population. which are discussed at length in Book II. In a large state. the greater force the government must have relative to each individual. A great many dangers arise when government and sovereign are confused or mistaken for one another.

The fewer magistrates there are. and the general will that expresses the will of the people as a whole. Commentary The first two books of The Social Contract deal with the abstract level of political right. Rousseau suggests the following ratio as a good formula. honors. With a great many magistrates. the main difference being that the sovereign acts according to its own interests. Rousseau explains the . or general. Rousseau proposes that the government. the corporate will shall resemble the general will. as well as a supreme magistrate or chief that acts as its leader. the more the corporate will shall resemble particular wills. can be considered a unified body. like the sovereign. while the government acts according to the interests of the sovereign. Any magistrate in government will have to exercise three different kinds of will: his individual will that pursues his own interests. In those books. councils. In a large state. will. and titles. The ratio of the power of the government to the power of the people should be equal to the ratio of the power of the sovereign to the power of the government. making the general will subordinate to its own will. and has its own assemblies. the government still has a life and ego of its own. Nonetheless. fewer magistrates are desirable. the corporate will that expresses the will of the government. but it will also be relatively weaker and less active. The difficulty lies in arranging matters so that the government never acts solely on its own behalf.While there is obviously no precise mathematical relationship that can determine the proportionate power of government. where a strong government is needed. and the stronger and more active relative to the people it will be.

how we should will them to be. discussing how a republic should be governed rather than the principles on which it should be founded. The importance Rousseau normally places on this distinction further highlights his own confusion of this distinction when. On the whole.principles according to which a republic that upholds freedom and equality might exist. he discusses a government that is made up of a select group of magistrates and that exercises power in particular cases. how we can put matters into effect. he insists that people who do not obey the social contract must be "forced to be free." The discussion of the relative strengths of sovereign. Chapter 7. In Book III Rousseau makes the transition from abstract to practical and from legislative to executive. in Book I. A proper distinction between force and right is necessary to grasp the subtleties of legitimate government. Now he discusses strength and force: how we can make things be the way we want them to be. In the first two books. he deals with will and right: he discusses simply how things ought to be. who is also the sovereign. Rousseau is very careful to distinguish between force and right. He concerns himself there with the sovereign and with laws. Rousseau tries to explain . A failure to do so leads to a confusion between government and sovereign. and people can be a bit confusing. government. Rousseau's distinction between will and strength is closely linked to the distinction between force and right. both of which apply generally to all people equally and at all times. and such confusions lead thinkers like Grotius or ##Hobbes## to assert that there is a social contract binding subjects to a government of one person. Instead of discussing a sovereign or laws that are general and apply to all.

On the contrary. In a state with just one hundred people. and exercise a particular will. especially since there is no precise numerical measure for political power. However. we won't find the precision of mathematics in moral calculations. in a large state. Rousseau's calculations are based on the assumption that every citizen exercises more than one kind of will. A strong government does not mean a large government. Rousseau asserts that the smaller a government is the stronger it is. I will constitute 1 percent of the sovereign. while his general will concerns a large group of which he is only a small part. Rousseau concludes that the larger the state becomes. in concert with my fellow magistrates. .himself in terms of mathematical analogies whose clarity can be helpful. the less I constitute the sovereign. Rousseau argues that a large population needs a strong government to keep it in line. as a single individual. Similarly. But. If I am a magistrate in government. as he himself acknowledges. In a state with ten thousand people. I also think and act with a corporate will. the more my particular will shall take precedence over my participation in the general will. as a member of the sovereign. each individual will care less about the well-being of the state. Thus. I also think and act with the general will in mind. To prevent selfish anarchy. and such precise ratios can be misleading. I act first and foremost in my own interests. The larger the state becomes. I will constitute only one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the sovereign. In a large state. each individual's particular will is so much stronger than his general will because his particular will concerns only himself. and will care more about himself.

the larger the population. and there . There is not one form of government that is best for all. The larger the population. and he will be more interested in his own particular will. Chapters 3-7 Summary Rousseau roughly distinguishes three forms of government. of large states. In a small government. like Athens or Sparta. When fewer than half the citizens are magistrates. it seems. the government is a monarchy. A large country is ill suited to his recommendations. the corporate will of each magistrate will be stronger. then. the corporate will of each magistrate will be weak. He claims that "there has never been a true democracy. large states are well suited to monarchy. and intermediate states to aristocracy. especially Aristotle. is that each individual will feel less committed to the general will. the government is an aristocracy. Rousseau's ideas are deeply indebted to Greek political philosophers. Book III. small states to democracy. Rousseau is very skeptical about the viability of democracy. as Rousseau has already noted. Thus. or the Geneva that he grew up in. the smaller the government that controls them should be. the government is a democracy. is that the corporate will of a small government will be so much stronger than the general will that the general will shall be ignored. When there is only one magistrate (or in some cases a small handful of magistrates). the fewer magistrates there should be. The danger. and so the general will might be neglected. and so he thinks of the ideal political unit as a small city-state. The danger. When all or most of the citizens are a large government. Rather.

and few monarchs have the strength to . just as he does about democracy. However. this can be dangerous. are placed in charge. As long as the magistrates can be trusted to govern justly. tend toward having a smaller number take charge of the affairs of government. However. with simple and honest citizens who have little ambition or greed. It is better to have a select group of the best men govern than to have everyone try to govern together regardless of qualifications." States. where elders and heads of families govern a village or tribe. There are three main kinds of aristocracy. Monarchy is tremendously efficient.never will be. where certain families govern everybody else. where those with power or riches. a monarch will rarely assign these positions wisely. If a king wants his power to be absolute. democracy is also very susceptible to civil strife. (3) Hereditary aristocracy. as the corporate will becomes nothing more than a particular will. Monarchies are best suited to large states. Rousseau believes that aristocracy is an excellent form of government. which Rousseau considers the best kind of aristocracy. where a number of ranks of princes and underlings can be assigned. frequently found in primitive civilizations. Rousseau expresses serious reservations about monarchy. or those who are best suited to govern. A successful democracy would need to be small. Because it is so unstable. since all power rests in the hands of one man. When the government and the sovereign are the same body. it is in his best interests to keep the people he governs in harsh subjection so that they can never revolt. there is a great danger that the combining of legislative and executive functions will corrupt the laws and lead to the ruin of the state. (1) Natural aristocracy. which Rousseau considers the worst kind of aristocracy. (2) Elective aristocracy. by their nature.

such as ##Hobbes## or Grotius. these elections are prone to serious corruption. and monarchy. his main reason for having reservations about democracy and . There is also a problem of succession: if kings are elected. or by a single person. Rousseau prefers simple forms of government. While Rousseau values freedom above all. No government is strictly one of these three forms: all are mixed to some extent. Rousseau's main reason for preferring aristocracy--or rather. it is difficult to find a good king. but tends to favor aristocracy. Rousseau also notes that each successive king will have a different agenda. For all these reasons and more. In particular. Aristotle values the "good life. he owes a tremendous debt to Aristotle's ##Politics##. A monarchy needs to assign power to lesser magistrates and a democracy needs some sort of leader to direct it. meaning that the state will not keep a fixed course. the few. Commentary In reacting against the philosophers of the previous generation who support absolute monarchy. Aristotle makes a similar distinction between democracy. aristocracy. if the government is too powerful relative to the sovereign. Aristotle also concedes that different forms of government suit different people." and sufficiently disregards the value of freedom to endorse slavery. the differences are more interesting than the similarities. Perhaps. there is the constant risk of incompetent rulers. On the whole. however. but recommends mixing forms in order to maintain a balance of power. to ancient Greek and Roman thinkers. For example. Rousseau looks even further back. and if there is a hereditary succession. dividing the government into different parts will dissipate its powers. In that work. depending on whether government is by the many.govern large states single-handedly.

of course. the corporate will is nothing other than the particular will of the monarch. to agree upon the laws and to agree to observe them. where the people are involved in politics only to the extent of electing officials to represent them in government. The idea of forming the social contract is to ensure the freedom of each citizen. According to this scheme. Freedom does not rely on the executive work of carrying out day-today matters of state. This is enough to ensure the mutual freedom of all citizens. Much of the modern world is made up of representative democracies. while in a monarchy. is that the executive body may become corrupt and no longer serve the . as Rousseau perceives it. When Rousseau talks about "democracy. If we imagine trying to do this in a country like the United States. The dangerin a government of a select few.monarchy--is that he is deeply concerned about cordoning off executive power and the corporate will as distinct entities. In a democracy. The people as a whole are needed only as a legislative body. The main problem with direct democracy. is that it fails to distinguish between the executive and the legislative. every citizen would be required to sit in assembly together and deliberate on matters of state." he means direct democracy. the corporate will and the general will are liable to be confused. This freedom would be seriously curtailed if each citizen had to devote as much time to government as elected officials normally do. we can understand why Rousseau recommends democracy only to small states. We should recognize that when Rousseau talks about democracy and the dangers it entails. where the people are the officials who sit in government. he does not mean democracy in the sense that we experience it today. and Rousseau discusses the formation of government precisely so that only a select group will have to deal with such matters.

every monarch will face the temptation to govern in his own interests. His preference for aristocracy is based. that Rousseau does not insist that aristocracy is always the best form of government. there is no objective standard to distinguish the monarch's particular will from his corporate will as representative of the people. are ideal. and not in the interests of the people. and these magistrates will be skilled. This danger is especially present in a monarchy. and will serve the interests of the people. Rousseau acknowledges that this is not always the case in an aristocracy. As a result. on a sense that moderate-sized city-states. but Rousseau intends it in the Greek sense. if anything. "Aristocracy" literally means "rule of the best. but seems to think that the dangers of aristocracy are fewer and more easily avoided than those either of democracy or monarchy. We should reiterate. a select group of magistrates will take on executive duties. Democracy is better suited to small states and monarchy to large states." In a perfect world. such as his home city of Geneva. Book III. large states are hard to govern regardless of the form of government. as employed by Aristotle. however. efficient.people. It might seem odd that a philosopher who so ardently defends liberty and equality should favor aristocracy." which Rousseau contrasts with the literal meaning of "democracy": "rule of the many. This term has been taken in modern times to mean an undeserving and ineffectual upper class. Because the executive body is reduced to a single person. While monarchy is the best form of government for large states. Chapters 8-11 Summary .

and so a sign of good government. Political associations exist in order to ensure the protection and prosperity of their members. The government is inevitably at odds with the sovereign. Considering the many disputes regarding what makes a good government. the population will be more spread out. Colder. Thus. The state dissolves into anarchy when the government usurps sovereign power. while hotter. Either the government will contract--going from democracy to aristocracy or from aristocracy to monarchy--or the state itself will dissolve. people tend to eat less. making them easier to govern. culture. The closer the relationship between the government and the people. the less the taxes levied by the government will hurt the people. The government of a state does not produce any goods itself. Rousseau agrees with Montesquieu that it is not possible in every environment. and so must live off the surplus produced by the people. southern countries have great surplus and support monarchy.Though freedom is desirable. Because fewer people are needed. Peace. Rousseau suggests that the objective and easily calculated factor of population is the best measure. Such usurpation breaks the social contract so that citizens become free of their social obligations only to be subjected by force. northern countries have little surplus and can support democracy. . All these considerations serve as evidence that monarchical government thrives in hot climates. Rousseau suggests that climate determines government to a great extent. Democracy can survive where there is little surplus and monarchy thrives where there is a great surplus. and other factors are nowhere near as important. In hot climates. have more fertile soil. and need fewer people to work the land. and the friction between the two can cause the government to degenerate. A growing population is a sign of prosperity.

each citizen paying taxes that are proportional to the profit he makes from whatever business or trade he undertakes.The friction between government and sovereign is bound to destroy all states eventually. and we could read this as a simple endorsement of capitalism: magistrates get paid a certain sum for serving in government. but simply because they produce more food than they need and they recognize that their surplus food is needed to feed government magistrates. are only mortal. so it is more likely that he is thinking along the lines of the Marxist slogan: "from each according to his ability. . they become strong with tradition. Rousseau tends to speak negatively about finance and profit motives. then. However. but also producing enough to take care of the government. government magistrates produce nothing of the sort. However. to each according to his need. Commentary Rousseau's peculiar analysis of the effect climate holds on government rests on a certain picture of production and consumption. States." Farmers will give up a certain amount of their food. each individual does not produce these goods equally. not for the sake of profit. According to Rousseau. Magistrates get paid taxpayers' money. clothing. Rousseau is a bit vague in his formulation. The longevity of a state relies on its legislative power: if the laws are upheld for a long time. While farmers and tailors produce food and clothing. and they can use this money to buy food and clothing for themselves. and Rousseau notes that even Sparta and Rome (his two favorites) devolved after a time. like humans. Each individual needs to consume a certain fixed quantity of goods--food. etc. the farmers and the tailors are responsible not only for producing sufficient food and clothing for themselves.

but he also interestingly asserts that the actual facts of the matter have little bearing on the truth of his theory. and the kinds of soil and people found in different lands. Rousseau concedes that there is obviously no direct correlation between what degree of latitude a state occupies and the kind of government it has. History suggests that workers who have nothing to gain personally from producing a surplus will be less diligent in producing that surplus. Rousseau lists a number of factors that determine the size of a surplus. However. Capitalism and consumerism have had such astonishing success (we will leave aside the question of whether this is for the better or worse) because everyone has the direct incentive of profit to increase productivity. could his theory be proved wrong? And what kind of theory is it? It would seem that he considers this theory to be a self-evident truth. This bold assertion raises two questions: How. Rousseau discusses climate. but does not seem to consider that productivity depends heavily on how the goods are distributed. One might also think it odd that Rousseau claims that democracy thrives on a small surplus. but monarchy relies on a large . he is making the rather naive assumption that the quantity of goods produced will remain fixed regardless. then. When no such incentive exists. it is rather unsatisfying that those of us who might dispute it are given no grounds to raise an objection.If this is what Rousseau means. His discussion of climate seems to be less like a theory and more like blind dogmatism. Rather than discuss economics. and the surplus becomes smaller. his theory that hotter climates tend to produce monarchies would still hold: it would just mean that the other factors he discusses outweigh the considerations of climate. Even if the south were filled with democracies and the north with monarchies. productivity tends to decline.

surplus. but how efficiently goods are cycled through society. Rousseau goes on and on about the importance of freedom and equality. he goes on immediately afterward to point out that government and sovereign are in constant conflict and will ultimately pull the state apart. so even if this surplus is small. it is important that all citizens meet in periodic assemblies. in this case. even cities as large as Rome managed the feat. Book III. there would be more mouths to feed in government. though. one might be puzzled by Rousseau's assertion that population growth is the best and only means of determining good government. However. In a democracy. If there are more magistrates in a democracy. that he is talking about what makes a good government. If the population is healthy and the state is prosperous. and so a larger surplus would be needed. the king consumes all the surplus. the government in power is likely to remain happily in power whether it ensures the freedom of its people or not. Lastly. Rousseau is quite astute. If it seems unrealistic today. noting that the determining factor is not the size of government. a state should not be . and yet here he suggests that prosperity as reflected in population growth is more important. Chapters 12-18 Summary In order that sovereign power may maintain itself. the people who work are the same people who enjoy the benefits of the surplus. This may seem unrealistic. that is because of the laziness of the people and not because of logistical difficulties. Generally. In fact. In an absolute monarchy. Throughout the Social Contract. and the people receive nothing in return. not what makes a happy society. they still do well. but Rousseau points out that in ancient times. We should note.

. In the modern world. Though there is no set period of time. the lowliest citizen has as much of a voice as the most powerful magistrate. First. but rotating the seat of government and popular assembly from town to town. so assembling the citizens should not be difficult.larger than a single town. As a result. the people have enslaved themselves by electing representatives to exercise their freedom for them. claiming contrary to the assertion of other theorists that government is not instituted by means of a contract between people and magistrates. Second. and the government will often try to dissuade the people from assembling. a population that does not want to assemble to exercise legislative power elect representatives to do their work for them. and pay representatives and mercenaries rather than serve the state themselves. Rousseau notes that the ancient Greeks were able to assemble regularly largely because slaves did most of their work. Representation is a modern idea that evolved from feudalism. Rousseau remarks that a state begins to dissolve when the people value comfort over freedom. Rousseau suggests that the more powerful the government is. In such assemblies. the more frequently all citizens should assemble. and Rousseau re-asserts that sovereignty cannot be represented. Often. Rousseau suggests not having a fixed capital. When the citizens are too lazy or reticent to exercise their freedom the government may succeed in undermining sovereign authority. these assemblies are a danger to the government. Rousseau derisively speaks of "finance" as the practice of letting one's wallet replace one's duty as a citizen. In the unstable case where several towns are united. sovereign power cannot modify itself like that. Rousseau addresses the institution of government.

At every assembly. Thus. There should be an agreed-upon period of time. but officers. written into the constitution. the sovereign becomes a democracy--a government where every citizen is a magistrate--and the decision to name certain magistrates is a particular act of government. While in a healthy. Rousseau explains that. and not on behalf of the people as a whole. Commentary The distinction between government and popular assemblies is absolutely crucial to Rousseau's system. He has already remarked on the friction between government and sovereign: the government that wields power will naturally want to act on its own behalf. the government can be more or less trusted. the sovereign ceases to act like a government. From the beginning of the book. government is instituted not by contract. the people must vote as to whether the present government and magistrates should be kept in power. momentarily. happy state. Rousseau has spoken about the sovereign as the expression of the general will and the true voice of the people. where all citizens must gather . Third. and magistrates are not rulers. but by law. and therefore not a sovereign act. A regular assembly of all the people is the best means of ensuring that the government never usurps sovereign power. but only here does he state explicitly how the general will is to make itself heard. Once magistrates have been named. but the act of assigning certain magistrates is not. The decision to institute a government is indeed an act of sovereignty. This check is the exercise of popular sovereignty. some sort of check must exist to keep the government at bay.such a contract would be a particular act. there would be no higher power to ensure that the contract is honored. and the government and sovereign become two distinct bodies.

Rousseau insists that it be written in law that the people must assemble on a regular. It is a very tall order. but one that is essential. This allows the people collectively to place a check on the government. After all. there is no need for representation. Though this law can combat the selfish designs of the government. Rousseau believes. (We . fraternity" was to be the motto of the ##French Revolution##. One of the matters discussed at every assembly is the performance of the government and whether it should be allowed to continue. government is disbanded. the government's power is almost unlimited. which drew a great deal of inspiration from his ideas. to maintaining a healthy state. it is in the government's best interests to discourage popular assemblies: without them. Montesquieu's idea of dividing government into executive. the government as executive is meant to represent the people. equality. He has already stressed the importance of liberty and equality. and judicial functions. "Liberty. preventing it from acting against their interests. and with the idea of the popular assembly he stresses the importance of fraternity. whose influence he acknowledges at other points in The Social Contract. it cannot combat the laziness of the people itself. Rousseau probably got this idea of checks and balances between executive and legislative from Montesquieu. legislative. Naturally. and when all the people are present. and establishing a system of checks and balances between them. periodic basis. is most famously put into practice in the American constitution. For this reason.together in an assembly and voice their concerns collectively. The demand that all citizens should participate in popular assemblies is unique to Rousseau in the modern world. During this time.

If those with enough money can buy their way out of service to the state. If people try to buy their way out of their duty to the state. the state itself can ultimately be bought. The temptation toward finance undermines Rousseau's concept of equality. Looking at Rousseau's hated terms--"representation" and "finance"--will help us understand what is lost when people do not exercise popular sovereignty as a group. The first temptation. where hefty campaign contributions from wealthy interest groups and politically biased journalism can do a great deal to sway an election. undermines Rousseau's concept of fraternity. and they will become the slaves of those in charge. When the people undermine equality and fraternity.need only look at the voter turnout in most modern democracies to have an idea of how low the likelihood that every citizen would show up to deliberate on matters of state in a large assembly. liberty will not be able to stand alone. If we recall. If the sovereign is represented it ceases to be the sovereign. according to Rousseau. This claim might seem a bit outlandish: most of us who live in modern representative democracies are not "slaves" to the .) The survival of the social contract depends to a large extent on the enthusiasm of the people with regard to this contract. they are essentially buying their enslavement. They will no longer have a voice in how the state is run. The general will can only be expressed by the people as a whole. Those who have no interest in exercising their civil freedom are guaranteed to lose it. representation. We might find something similar in modern democracies. Rousseau believes that people can find civil freedom only by entering into the social contract and exercising popular sovereignty. and they cannot elect representatives to express this will for them.

we might say that "finance" has enslaved us to an extent that Rousseau could not have imagined. In the modern world. Rousseau would suggest that we lack the initiative and agency we would have if we lived in a true republic. we may lack a certain degree of agency from falling too much under the sway of consumer culture. unanimity reappears when people vote in accordance with a tyrant either out of fear or flattery. only a majority of one should be needed.government. a vote should need something close to unanimity in order to pass. notably the particular wills of each individual citizen. there are bound to be disagreements. all other acts of sovereignty may be decided by a majority vote. Unanimity in popular decisions is a sign of a healthy state. Book IV. When everyone is expressing only his own particular will. and in unimportant administrative matters. In matters of great importance. however little it is heeded. That is a sign that the general will is agreed upon by all. it can never be annihilated. Chapters 1-4 Summary Though the general will can be silenced or sold to the highest bidder in states that lack the simplicity of peace. and all who dissent from it must be expelled from the state. and equality. In a worst case scenario. unity. Those who take the losing side of a vote are not having their wills counteracted so much as they are found to be mistaken in determining the general . However. While the social contract itself must be agreed upon unanimously. but it can be subordinated to other wills. The general will cannot be changed. Even when the will of all ceases to express the general will. While "representation" may not inhibit our freedom too much. the general will continues to exist.

There were three different popular assemblies. and was generally quite corrupt. Rousseau distinguishes between election by lot (choosing at random) and election by choice. and not the wealthier citizens in the outlying countryside. taking on some executive duties as well. and notes that. justice. and integrity that should be common to all citizens. in spite of Rome's immense size. Rousseau particularly admires this last comitia. people must not vote for what they personally desire but for what they perceive to be the general will. all the people collectively exercised the sovereign powers of enacting laws and electing officials. Commentary . Chapter 4 launches a lengthy discussion of the Roman comitia to show how a large city was able to maintain the sovereignty of the people for such a long time. where the only fair method of determining who should bear the responsibility of office would be a random one. election by choice is better for filling offices that require a certain degree of expertise (such as military offices). thus favoring the voice of the people.will. The comitia centuriata was an assembly of all citizens. The former suits a democracy. The comitia tribunata was an assembly of the people that excluded senators and wealthy patricians. Generally speaking. and election by lot is better for filling offices (such as political offices) that require only the common sense. but the vote was weighted heavily in favor of the wealthy. since the government should be free to choose its own members. When acting as a sovereign. Election by choice suits aristocracy. The comitia curiata was made up of only the inhabitants of the city.

because all citizens will be intimately aware of the general will and will want nothing more than to vote in accordance with it. In a healthy state. They recognize the general will and they aim for it. Even in an unhealthy state. citizens lose their sense of civic duty. votes in accordance with what he believes the general will to be. In a healthy state. If a citizen votes for a losing cause. If he. these votes will almost always be unanimous.If we recall. the general will continues to exist even if it is totally disregarded. they are expected to place their vote in accordance with what they believe the general will to be. the general will aims toward the best advantage of the sovereign. the general will is the particular will of this sovereign. If we recall. he will simply have made a mistake and thought that the general will was other than what it is. Decisions of the sovereign are made in the assembly by means of popular vote. but the sovereign is in poor shape when no one looks out for its interests. When citizens assemble to act as the sovereign. which is the common good. ignore the general will. In an unhealthy state. Thus. citizens are expected to vote against their own private interests sometimes if they think that will benefit the state as a whole. this should not reflect that his desires are unpopular so much as it reflects that he was mistaken. the general will continues to exist so long as the sovereign exists. Just as the particular will of each individual aims toward that individual's best advantage. just like everyone else. the general will is the will that aims at the common good. Rousseau draws an important distinction between the general will and the particular will of each citizen. . and pursue their own interests instead. citizens see themselves as only a small part of this more important whole. As a result. Insofar as Rousseau treats the sovereign as one collective individual.

There are two related problems with this view. people don't vote for what they want. when people's particular wills start taking precedence over the general will. The first is how the citizens are meant to know what the general will is. In a healthy republic. they will be duty-bound to vote for that choice even if it is against their interests. cheddar cheese is closer to the common good and so expresses the general will. Suppose the sovereign has to vote on whether Swiss cheese or cheddar should be the official cheese of the state. In Rousseau's system. there is a very vocal and very powerful minority that supports the Swiss cheese movement. The second. there will be a great disparity between the two. However. Not only do most citizens prefer cheddar. but for whatever reasons. elections voice the will of all: we add up what each person wants and we go with the most popular choice. Because citizens in the assembly are not meant to voice personal interests. In modern democracies. This minority manages to persuade the people that in fact most people prefer Swiss cheese and that it is in the common interest to vote for Swiss cheese. The . but for what they think is best for all. Rousseau provides no criteria beyond honest intuition for how citizens might determine what they think the general will is. Even supporters of cheddar cheese will feel obliged to vote in favor of Swiss cheese if they feel this is the expression of the general will. However. has to do with distinguishing between the general will and the will of all. the will of all and the general will are identical: everyone wants what is in the best interests of the state. there is no sure way of finding out that the unpopular choice is in fact unpopular. If they can be deceived into thinking that an unpopular and unhealthy choice is in fact in the interests of all. related problem.

which we have seen is in turn closely related to the laws. our nefarious Swiss cheese supporters can pass their law and there will be no objective means of showing that this vote did not express the general will. Chapters 15## is that both the general will and the will of all are determined by popular vote. . Thus. Its only purpose is to defend and ensure the safety of the laws. It has no share in executive or legislative power. The censor's office acts as the spokesman for public opinion. The censorial office sustains the laws and public morality by sustaining the integrity of public opinion.problem (which has been mentioned in the ##Commentary section for Book II. Book IV. how can we distinguish between the two? There seems to be no criteria for how we can look at the results of an election and determine whether the general will was indeed expressed or not. Chapters 5-9 Summary In certain cases. In rare cases. Public opinion is closely related to public morality." whose business is to maintain a steady balance between sovereign and government and between government and people. The laws are inflexible. Obviously dictatorship is volatile and can descend into tyranny. If both are determined in the same way. and is outside the constitution. A dictator does not represent the people or the laws. so dictators should only be appointed for a short term. he acts in concert with the general will only to the extent that it is in the interests of all that the state should not collapse. and there may be circumstances under which they must be suspended for the safety of all. Rousseau recommends the establishment of an additional body called the "tribunate. dictatorship may be necessary to save the state from collapse.

As a result. linking the individual to God. dogmatic ceremony. there is the "religion of the citizen. A pure Christian is interested only in spiritual and other-worldly blessings. Worshipping the Christian God does not necessarily ally one with any particular state. each state believing that its gods were responsible for watching over its people." which is a personal religion. This religion combines the interests of church and state. complete with dogmas and ceremonies. there is the "religion of man. Rousseau admires this kind of religion (and indeed professed to practice it) but suggests that by itself. Third.Rousseau's final topic for discussion is the controversial issue of civil religion. the heads of each state were the gods that that state worshipped. It also breeds a violent intolerance of other nations. First. However. among others." which is the official religion of the state. church and state cease to be identical and a tension arises between the two. there is the kind of religion that Rousseau associates with the Catholic church. by replacing true. Christianity changed things by preaching the existence of a spiritual kingdom that is distinct from any earthly kingdom. which he condemns forcefully. Second. Rousseau distinguishes three different kinds of religion. and will happily endure hardships in this life for the sake of heavenly rewards. A healthy state needs citizens who will struggle and fight to make the state strong and safe. teaching patriotism and a pious respect for the law. In early societies. and people of all states may worship this same God. sincere worship with official. In trying to set up two competing sets of laws--one civil and one religious--it creates all sorts of contradictions . it also corrupts religion. it will hurt the state. he suggests.

which was considered blasphemous by the religious authorities of the time. Almost all ancient cultures have a pantheon of gods and a mythology to explain the origin of their people. only has power to determine matters that are of public concern. Rousseau recommends a compromise between the first two kinds of religion.that prevent the proper exercise of any kind of law. In advocating civil religion. the people are free to worship whatever and however they please." and serves as a common bond that unites the tribes of Israel. in ancient times. Rousseau advocates a worship of the state that is contrary to the edicts of any form of Christianity. the belief in an afterlife. justice for all. All people of a certain race or tribe share their gods in common. Rousseau notes that this is true even for the Jewish God of the Old Testament. is largely inspired by the cultures of antiquity. the worship of these gods was a way of cementing the bonds and traditions that hold a people together. the book was condemned and its author found himself a wanted man both in France and in his home state of Geneva. all citizens should also pledge allegiance to a civil religion with a very few basic precepts: the existence of a God. Commentary When The Social Contract was first published. He is frequently referred to as "the God of Israel. as he has already stated. the sanctity of the social contract and the law. The sovereign. Their gods are their parents and their protectors. Thus. and the prohibition of intolerance. However. as Rousseau admits. The idea of civil religion. So long as it does not disturb the public interest. The outrage the book caused arose almost entirely because of the chapter on civil religion. to the exclusion of all outsiders. . which should prevent friction between members of different religions.

Church and state may conflict. he has little patience for much of the established religion of his day. but after death in the kingdom of heaven. The sovereign is only interested in matters that are of public concern. They do not find their common heritage on earth. more closely allied to a love of nature than a respect for the establishment. He was neither the first nor the last to accuse the Catholic church of superficiality and an incompatible mixing of the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms. there ceased to be any cultural or racial tie that connected all Christians. Furthermore.Christianity is different in that it is an evangelical religion. The question of religion was just one on which Rousseau disagreed bitterly with the atheistic proponents of the Enlightenment. As soon as the apostles began converting gentiles. but private religion and state should not. Rousseau acknowledges that there is no point in trying to replace Christianity with older. Rousseau's Christianity was a personal one. Trying to return to tribal religion would be like trying to return to the state of nature. Rousseau's idea of civil religion is essentially an attempt to return to the ancient idea of cementing good citizenship in faith. tribal religions: Christianity has arrived and has taken over. Personal faith of this kind is compatible with his political philosophy because it does not intersect at any point with the public life expected of all citizens. having been brought up in the Calvinist state of Geneva and educated by devout French Catholics. However much Rousseau respects the scriptures and the gospels. and one's private faith does not fall under that umbrella. Rousseau himself was a devout Christian. .

Wokler. he suggests that lawgivers often invent supernatural origins for the laws for a similar reason: if people believe that the laws came from the gods. In agreeing to the social contract. the state instituted national festivals such as the "Festival of the Supreme Being" that were largely inspired by Rousseau's discussion of civil religion. Chapter 7. Yet in basing this contract to some extent on faith rather than on reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press. His civil religion is not very complicated. but such an action does not prevent an unreasoned subservience to the state. citizens agree rationally to join together for the betterment of all. Still. during an age when religion has been effectively divorced from the state in most developed countries. during the ##French Revolution##. Rousseau. On a historical note. we might argue that citizens sacrifice the rationality and civil freedom that are the purpose for forming the social contract in the first place. they will be less likely to violate them. Jean-Jacques. and is just intended to ensure that the citizens remain productive and obedient.In Book II. Trans. Robert. The notion of worshipping the state seems disturbingly totalitarian. 1968. Rousseau is careful to make tolerance one of the precepts of his civil religion. Harmondsworth. the attempt to bring them back together might seem uncomfortable. It is not caught up in a great deal of dogma. The Social Contract. England: Penguin Books. . Maurice Cranston. 1995. Bibliography Rousseau.