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"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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Rousseau's hypothetical natural state is pre-societal: before we were corrupted by politics. who used the idea of a social contract to justify absolute monarchy. nasty. we had none of the unpleasant characteristics that Hobbes identifies. The idea of a social contract is not original to Rousseau.with most of Rousseau's predecessors. Thomas Hobbes famously asserts that human life without political institutions is "solitary. In the ##Leviathan##. it is formed artificially. 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. suggesting that no legitimate . and Pufendorf. If human beings today were suddenly to find themselves without political institutions. among others. More significantly. 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. It is important to understand that Rousseau believes it is impossible to return to this natural state. 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. poor. and short. It should be clear that Rousseau intends a sharp contrast between nature and civil society. Human society is not a part of our natural state. 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." Hobbes and Grotius both claim that human society comes about in order to improve this unpleasant natural state. Grotius. brutish. rather. Rousseau is drawing on the ideas of Hobbes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. it cannot determine which particular individual or group should receive these privileges. or else those who obey God's law will suffer at the hands of those who disobey it. and so we must set up positive. Rousseau defines law as an abstract expression of the general will that is universally applicable. . the question of how it maintains itself calls for a discussion of law. 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 existence of civil society hinges on the existence of laws. Evil people will not obey God's law. binding laws within society. However. A declaration of the sovereign that applies only to certain people or certain objects is not a law. 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. The law can never deal with individual people or groups. Rousseau acknowledges the problem of how laws should be laid down. and willing to work selflessly on behalf of a people. but also the problem that the people do not always know what they want or what is best for them. and it must apply to all of them. The law is essentially a record of what the people collectively desire. but a decree. Rousseau's proposed solution comes in the form of a lawgiver. An ideal lawgiver is not easy to find. Rousseau suggests that there is a universal and natural justice that comes to us from God. but that it is not binding. A law can only be enacted if the people collectively agree on it. He must be supremely intelligent.

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

he suggests that good government. The only solution. They are the general guidelines under which a people chooses to live. In the Discourse on Inequality. but are slaves to that outside force. the only laws that can maintain the freedom of citizens are those laws that the citizens as a whole agree upon. or anything that deals with individuals or particular groups is a decree. Rousseau is careful to distinguish between laws and decrees. Laws are made for the people as a whole by the people as a whole. If our behavior is restrained by the laws of some 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. he asserts that it is bad government. and not human nature. or rather good laws. can make good people. Here. As the restraints a people places upon itself. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom. or the decision to condemn a traitor to death. When we extend this solution to society as a whole. In this sense. Because a set of laws largely defines the people who live under these laws. he remarks at length as to how difficult it is to find someone who is up to the task.instincts and impulses. On the contrary. then. 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. is to define freedom as behavior that is restrained only by the laws of our own making. laws are what define their civil freedom. then we are not free. . they represent the leap made from humans in the state of nature into civil society. that is the source of our evil. 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.

morality is defined by rationality. at the invitation of those states.the lawgiver is responsible for determining what kind of people a certain state will produce. Rousseau himself undertook to write two constitutions: one for Poland and one for Corsica. and civil society comes into being thanks to a lawgiver. a lawgiver is neither what we might understand as a judge or legislator. In rare cases. Rousseau was playing the role of the impartial lawgiver who stands outside the law: he was neither Corsican nor Polish. Book II. If the attempt is made too late. If the attempt to give laws is made too soon. The lawgiver should be understood as someone who invents a moral code. 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. If we recall. Chapters 8-12 Summary It is not only difficult to find a good lawgiver. nor even a political leader or dictator. . the people will have become stuck in their prejudices and will resist the improving influence of good laws. but also difficult to find a people who are suitable for good laws. but such revolutions can only occur once. and was giving these people laws without any personal interest or hope for gain. the people will not be ready to receive guidance. a revolution may permit an older state to regain its freedom under new laws. Despite all his talk about the difficulties of lawmaking. Rousseau suggests that a state must receive laws relatively early in its existence. In both of these cases. rationality (according to Rousseau) comes into being with civil society. Poland was partitioned and Corsica was annexed before either constitution could be implemented. Thus.

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

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

and it works against itself if it enslaves the people it is meant to liberate. Equality. If everything we did were for the benefit of the state. in Chapter 11 of The Social Contract. Rousseau is equally insistent on defending our right to private property. The Discourse on Inequality hammers on the idea that property. and material inequality. There seems to be an interesting tension in Rousseau's discussion of law and its impact on people.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. 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 asserts that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. 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. he does not join socialist or communist thinkers in recommending the abolition of private property altogether. is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty. are the root cause of human misery and evil. it seems to him. he also concedes that very few states are ready for such laws. In Chapter 12. While he is against overly eager capitalism. Thus. we would no longer be free. he argues that gross material inequality can put liberty up for sale. Both the very rich and the very poor would value money more than liberty. and are thus necessary to ensure human freedom. he . Though he insists that laws are a defining characteristic of the social contract. Nonetheless. The poor would be willing to sell their freedom and the rich would be capable of buying it. And again. Equality is important as a necessary condition for liberty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. but he also interestingly asserts that the actual facts of the matter have little bearing on the truth of his theory. Even if the south were filled with democracies and the north with monarchies. History suggests that workers who have nothing to gain personally from producing a surplus will be less diligent in producing that surplus. However. then. but monarchy relies on a large . Rather than discuss economics. and the kinds of soil and people found in different lands. When no such incentive exists. Rousseau discusses climate. 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.If this is what Rousseau means. productivity tends to decline. His discussion of climate seems to be less like a theory and more like blind dogmatism. it is rather unsatisfying that those of us who might dispute it are given no grounds to raise an objection. One might also think it odd that Rousseau claims that democracy thrives on a small surplus. 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. Rousseau lists a number of factors that determine the size of a surplus. Rousseau concedes that there is obviously no direct correlation between what degree of latitude a state occupies and the kind of government it has. but does not seem to consider that productivity depends heavily on how the goods are distributed. and the surplus becomes smaller. This bold assertion raises two questions: How. he is making the rather naive assumption that the quantity of goods produced will remain fixed regardless.

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

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

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

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

and they will become the slaves of those in charge. They will no longer have a voice in how the state is run. 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. liberty will not be able to stand alone. undermines Rousseau's concept of fraternity. the state itself can ultimately be bought. If we recall. they are essentially buying their enslavement. Those who have no interest in exercising their civil freedom are guaranteed to lose it. If those with enough money can buy their way out of service to the state.) The survival of the social contract depends to a large extent on the enthusiasm of the people with regard to this contract. according to Rousseau. This claim might seem a bit outlandish: most of us who live in modern representative democracies are not "slaves" to the . where hefty campaign contributions from wealthy interest groups and politically biased journalism can do a great deal to sway an election. If people try to buy their way out of their duty to the state. When the people undermine equality and fraternity. If the sovereign is represented it ceases to be the sovereign. 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. The first temptation. representation.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. The general will can only be expressed by the people as a whole. and they cannot elect representatives to express this will for them.

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

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

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

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

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. A dictator does not represent the people or the laws. Rousseau recommends the establishment of an additional body called the "tribunate. Public opinion is closely related to public morality. In rare cases. 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. and is outside the constitution. dictatorship may be necessary to save the state from collapse. so dictators should only be appointed for a short term. Its only purpose is to defend and ensure the safety of the laws. Book IV. Thus. Chapters 15## is that both the general will and the will of all are determined by popular vote. . 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. If both are determined in the same way. Obviously dictatorship is volatile and can descend into tyranny. 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. Chapters 5-9 Summary In certain cases." whose business is to maintain a steady balance between sovereign and government and between government and people. The laws are inflexible. which we have seen is in turn closely related to the laws.

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

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

. Rousseau acknowledges that there is no point in trying to replace Christianity with older. and one's private faith does not fall under that umbrella. tribal religions: Christianity has arrived and has taken over. Rousseau's idea of civil religion is essentially an attempt to return to the ancient idea of cementing good citizenship in faith. having been brought up in the Calvinist state of Geneva and educated by devout French Catholics. Rousseau's Christianity was a personal one. As soon as the apostles began converting gentiles. but private religion and state should not. more closely allied to a love of nature than a respect for the establishment. They do not find their common heritage on earth. he has little patience for much of the established religion of his day. However much Rousseau respects the scriptures and the gospels. The question of religion was just one on which Rousseau disagreed bitterly with the atheistic proponents of the Enlightenment. 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. 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. there ceased to be any cultural or racial tie that connected all Christians. Church and state may conflict. Rousseau himself was a devout Christian.Christianity is different in that it is an evangelical religion. The sovereign is only interested in matters that are of public concern. Furthermore. Trying to return to tribal religion would be like trying to return to the state of nature. but after death in the kingdom of heaven.

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