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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

aristocracy. or by a single person. the few. For all these reasons and more. No government is strictly one of these three forms: all are mixed to some extent. In particular. A monarchy needs to assign power to lesser magistrates and a democracy needs some sort of leader to direct it. There is also a problem of succession: if kings are elected. In that work. his main reason for having reservations about democracy and . if the government is too powerful relative to the sovereign. it is difficult to find a good king. and if there is a hereditary succession. to ancient Greek and Roman thinkers. he owes a tremendous debt to Aristotle's ##Politics##. For example. such as ##Hobbes## or Grotius. but recommends mixing forms in order to maintain a balance of power. Aristotle also concedes that different forms of government suit different people. Rousseau's main reason for preferring aristocracy--or rather. however.govern large states single-handedly. Aristotle values the "good life. depending on whether government is by the many. Rousseau looks even further back. the differences are more interesting than the similarities. Commentary In reacting against the philosophers of the previous generation who support absolute monarchy. On the whole." and sufficiently disregards the value of freedom to endorse slavery. Perhaps. but tends to favor aristocracy. While Rousseau values freedom above all. Aristotle makes a similar distinction between democracy. these elections are prone to serious corruption. Rousseau also notes that each successive king will have a different agenda. and monarchy. Rousseau prefers simple forms of government. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. The censor's office acts as the spokesman for public opinion.problem (which has been mentioned in the ##Commentary section for Book II. Rousseau recommends the establishment of an additional body called the "tribunate. dictatorship may be necessary to save the state from collapse. Chapters 5-9 Summary In certain cases. Book IV. Chapters 15## is that both the general will and the will of all are determined by popular vote. so dictators should only be appointed for a short term. The laws are inflexible. which we have seen is in turn closely related to the laws. In rare cases. Obviously dictatorship is volatile and can descend into tyranny. A dictator does not represent the people or the laws. and there may be circumstances under which they must be suspended for the safety of 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. The censorial office sustains the laws and public morality by sustaining the integrity of public opinion. 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." whose business is to maintain a steady balance between sovereign and government and between government and people. and is outside the constitution. Thus. Public opinion is closely related to public morality. It has no share in executive or legislative power. If both are determined in the same way. 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. Its only purpose is to defend and ensure the safety of the laws.

However. As a result. In early societies. there is the kind of religion that Rousseau associates with the Catholic church. Rousseau distinguishes three different kinds of religion. which he condemns forcefully. sincere worship with official. teaching patriotism and a pious respect for the law. First. linking the individual to God. and will happily endure hardships in this life for the sake of heavenly rewards. complete with dogmas and ceremonies. there is the "religion of man. by replacing true." which is the official religion of the state. church and state cease to be identical and a tension arises between the two. he suggests. A healthy state needs citizens who will struggle and fight to make the state strong and safe. Third.Rousseau's final topic for discussion is the controversial issue of civil religion. It also breeds a violent intolerance of other nations. among others. Christianity changed things by preaching the existence of a spiritual kingdom that is distinct from any earthly kingdom. Rousseau admires this kind of religion (and indeed professed to practice it) but suggests that by itself. A pure Christian is interested only in spiritual and other-worldly blessings." which is a personal religion. there is the "religion of the citizen. it will hurt the state. Second. 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. dogmatic ceremony. it also corrupts religion. This religion combines the interests of church and state. and people of all states may worship this same God. In trying to set up two competing sets of laws--one civil and one religious--it creates all sorts of contradictions . each state believing that its gods were responsible for watching over its people.

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

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

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