"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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

" In his Discourse on Inequality. and later denied that he intended the Discourse to refer to an actual former state of affairs. 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. the Discourse on Inequality. It is not entirely clear what Rousseau means when he talks about "nature" or our "natural state. or private property." In the Discourse on Inequality. This view contrasts sharply . However. Rousseau paints a very rosy picture of this natural state: without property to quarrel over and governments to enforce inequality. law. our fundamental human nature is compassionate and free of strife. His political philosophy is driven by the conviction that the political associations we participate in shape our thoughts and behavior to a great extent. Commentary The concept of nature is very important throughout Rousseau's philosophy. His interest in a "natural state. in The Social Contract Rousseau is more ready to accept the possibility that modern society can potentially benefit us. Rousseau is not interested in history or archaeology so much as he is interested in understanding human nature as it exists in the present. he makes no effort to support the historicity of this claim. and is thus "unnatural. as "noble savages." then." This opinion is expressed more forcefully in his earlier work.have the freedom to deliberate amongst themselves and agree about what is best for all. he seems to be alluding to a prehistoric state of affairs where people had no government. Whatever is not a part of this "natural state" has come about as a result of human society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and these magistrates will be skilled. This term has been taken in modern times to mean an undeserving and ineffectual upper class. but seems to think that the dangers of aristocracy are fewer and more easily avoided than those either of democracy or monarchy. Book III. however. We should reiterate. "Aristocracy" literally means "rule of the best. 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. a select group of magistrates will take on executive duties. but Rousseau intends it in the Greek sense. Chapters 8-11 Summary . such as his home city of Geneva. Because the executive body is reduced to a single person. As a result." which Rousseau contrasts with the literal meaning of "democracy": "rule of the many. and will serve the interests of the people. every monarch will face the temptation to govern in his own interests. This danger is especially present in a monarchy. on a sense that moderate-sized city-states. large states are hard to govern regardless of the form of government. are ideal. His preference for aristocracy is based. Democracy is better suited to small states and monarchy to large states. and not in the interests of the people. Rousseau acknowledges that this is not always the case in an aristocracy. It might seem odd that a philosopher who so ardently defends liberty and equality should favor aristocracy. as employed by Aristotle. While monarchy is the best form of government for large states. if anything. efficient." In a perfect world.people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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