Jean-Jacque Rousseau (1712-1778) The Social Contract

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Jean-Jacque Rousseau (1712-1778)

The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right (1762)
"There was once a man called Rousseau who wrote a book containing nothing but ideas. The second edition was bound in the skins of those who laughed at the first."

(Thomas Carlyle, quoted in Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, 1976, p.182)

(Thomas Carlyle, quoted in David Miller, Political Philosophy, 2003, p.11)

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. (Bk1-Ch1: Subject of the First Book)
L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers. Tel se croit le maître des autres, qui ne laisse pas d'être plus esclave qu'eux. Comment ce changement s'est-il fait? Je l'ignore. Qu'est-ce qui peut le rendre légitime? Je crois pouvoir résoudre cette question. (French Original)


  1. the French Revolution: "Declaration of the Rights of Man" (1789)

    1. Rousseau, Du contrat social (1762)

      1. Rousseau, "the evangelist of the French Revolution," and the book, "the Koran of the Revolutionists"

      2. Cf. the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence (1776)

      3. Cf. Locke's and Montesquieu's liberalism

      4. Cf. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

    2. Marx and Engels, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848)

  1. A Discourse on Inequality (1754): "A Discourse on a Subject Proposed by the Academy of Dijon: What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men, and is it Authorized by Natural Law?"

  1. Moral/Pedagogic Orientation or Interest; Emile (1762)

  1. Rousseau, the man/text of contradictions

  1. Romanticism

    1. feelings and spirit; not narrowly "scientific"

    2. yearning for "natural" or "primitive" state; innocent, "uncivilized" childhood


  1. Thematic Structure: Four Books

    1. Book I re Social Form/the Social Contract; Structural

    2. Book II re Sovereignty and its Rights; Legislative

    3. Book III re Governmental Administration; Executive

      1. Democracy

      2. Aristocracy

      3. Monarchy

    4. Book IV re Social Institutions; Expressive

  1. Natural to Cultural: "the Family" (Bk1-Ch2: The First Societies)

    1. Contemporary References; Robinson Crusoe; Romanticism

    2. Hellenic References

    3. Hebraic References

  1. Rule by "The General Will (la volonté générale) (la volonté commune)": The Collective and Self-regulated Morality of the Governed in Participatory Democracy

"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole." (Bk1-Ch6: The Social Compact)

    1. vs. the Particular Will

    2. and Self-interest

    3. Moral Aim: the Good; the Common Good

    4. Individual Wills Organically, and Morally, Merged Into a Political Unity Through Each Citizen or Political Subject's Surrendering of Natural Liberty for the Sake of Civil Liberty, Which Takes the Form of a Pledge

      1. Cf. Hobbes: Near-Mechanical and Psycho-material Formation of the Unitary Sovereign Through One Strong/Artificial Man

      2. Cf. Locke: Cooperation of Different "Organs" of Government; Checks and Balances

    5. Force  Right

    6. Obedience  Duty

    7. The Will of the People (as a whole)  the Law

    8. The Morality of the People (as a whole)  the State

    9. The Sovereignty of the People (as a whole)  the Nation

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