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Encyclopedia > Du Contrat Social, ou Principes du droit politique
From an early pirated edition possibly printed in Germany
From an early pirated edition possibly printed in Germany [1]

The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is the book in which Rousseau theorised about social contracts. Image File history File links Download high resolution version (640x1157, 135 KB) Summary Du Contrat Social: ou Principes du Droit Politique Cover piece, title page, of Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Social Contract 1762. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (640x1157, 135 KB) Summary Du Contrat Social: ou Principes du Droit Politique Cover piece, title page, of Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Social Contract 1762. ... Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778) was a Geneva-born philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. ... Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Rousseau expounded the belief that the ideal society is one in which a man's contract was between himself and his fellow men, not between him and a government. Like John Locke, Rousseau believed that a government can only be legitimate if it has ben sanctioned by the people, in the role of the sovereign. Rousseau claimed that a perfect society would be controlled by the "general will" of its populace. While he does not define exactly how this should be accomplished (as there are many possible ways, each suited to different situations), he suggests that assemblies be held in which the every citizen can assist in determining the general will. Without this imput from the people, there can be no legitimate government. Importantly, this input cannot come from representatives, but must be from the people themesevles. Rousseau is a French surname. ... John Locke (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704) was an influential English philosopher. ... Rousseau is a French surname. ... Rousseau is a French surname. ...

"THE Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled."[Book III, 12. HOW THE SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY MAINTAINS ITSELF]

"Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law." [Book III, 15. DEPUTIES OR REPRESENTATIVES]

"The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone"[Book III, 1. GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL]

The Social Contract was a progressive work that helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract finally expelled the myth that the King was appointed by God to legeslate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have that all powerful right. World map showing Europe Political map Europe is one of the seven continents of Earth which, in this case, is more a cultural and political distinction than a physiographic one, leading to various perspectives about Europes borders. ...

The heart of the idea of the social contract may be stated simply: Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole...
  1. ^ R.A. Leigh, Unsolved Problems in the Bibliography of J.-J. Rousseau, Cambridge, 1990, plate 22.



The stated aim of the Social Contract is to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority. "Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains." In order to accomplish more and remove himself from the state of nature, a man must enter into a Social Contract with others. In this social contract, everyone will be free because all forfeit the same amount of freedom and impose the same duties on all. Rousseau also argues that it is illogical for a man surrender his freedom for slavery, and so, the participants must be free. Furthermore, although the contract imposes new law, especially on property, a person can exit it at any time (except in a time of need, for this is desertion), and is again as free as when he was born. Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Rousseau posits that any administration, whatever form it takes, should be divided into two parts. First, there must be the sovereign (which could be the whole population if that is the majority's desire) who represents the general will and is the legeslative power within the state. The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division must be since the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters (it is then acting as particular wills and not the general will--the sovereign is no longer whole and therefore ruined), like applications of the law. Therefore a government must be sperate from that of the sovereign body.

[Rousseau] claims that the size of the territory to be governed often decides the nature of the government. Since a government is only as strong as the people, and this strength is absolute, the larger the territory the more strength the government must be able to exert over the populace. In his view, a monarchal government is able to wield the most power over the people since it has to devote less power to itself, while a democracy the least. In general, the larger the bureaucracy, the more power required for government discipline. Normally, this relationship requires the state to be an aristocracy or monarchy. In light of all this, Rousseau seems to prefer a benevolent Tyrant over any other form of leadership (including a true democracy); however, he remains obscure on this point.-1... Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Main Ideas

Of the State of Nature

Rousseau scorns the state of nature as a state of perpetual war. In this state there is no private property--in fact, the only property that is truly one's own, is property that no one else wants.

In this state of nature, strength rule, not by legitemacy, but by force itself. It is in this way that in a state of nature, man is only as free as he is strong. Furthermore, there is no pretection from others.

It is from both of these detestable qualities that people enter into a Social Contract; it is to empower themselves to thereby be able to accomplish more--with the help of others--than would be possible in a state of nature. The elementary point in this social contract though is legitemate leadership and freedom. The freedom to be the same as others (no special burden unique to one person) and the freedom to leave the social order and revert back to a state of nature.

Of Wills

One of the most important distinctions throughout the treatise is that of the separate wills of people and government. For the people, there is the general will, the personal will, and the will of all. The general will desires what is best for the society as a whole, the personal will wants what is best for an individual, and the will of all is the summation of all personal will--not the general will. In government, there are three wills again: the general will, the corporate will, and personal will. The general will of the government is the same as those of the populace (as members of said populace make up the government), the corporate will desires the longevity of the government, and the personal will, as in the former case, is merely what people want for themselves.

Of Government

"Every free action has two causes which concur to produce it, one moral--the will which determines the act, the other physical--the strength which executes it. [...] The body politic has the same two motive powers--and we can make the same distinction between will and strength, the former is legislative power and the latter is executive power." (Book III, Chater 1)

The quintessential form of this Social Contract would be a democracy; however, unless, as Rousseau states, the population is one of Gods, this true democracy is impossilbe and, therefore, the state must be either an aristocracy or a monarchy, or a mixture of any of the three. The only duty of the sovereign is the embodiment of the general will, and when the general will fails to dictate the laws of the society, the sovereign has failed. To protect themselves from this, the people should have an active role in the government election of officials and the passage of laws and must not pass their rights off to representatives. As an example of this, Rousseau gives ancient Rome with a monarch and the three lawfully convined assemplies known as comitia. Through these assemblies all citizens were represented; however, the emperor had much power in all. As for the discussion and voting in assemblies, people should vote not according to their personal interests but according to the general will. If the executive (government) goes against the general will, it breaks the social contract and should be dissolved. Rousseau furthers this idea and suggests that the sovereign, like those in Rome, should legislate clear times for assemblies to be held which cannot be posponed by the leader(s) of the state. This safeguards the people from a government that is acting not for the general will, but for its own, corporate will by trying to extend beyond its constitutional power and act only in the interests of the administrations longevity. The Roman Forum was the central area around which ancient Rome developed. ... The Roman Republic (Latin: Res Publica Romanorum) vested formal governmental powers in four separate peoples assemblies — the Comitia Curiata, the Comitia Centuriata, the Comitia Tributa, and the Concilium Plebis. ...

Rousseau adds a caveat: in times that require a swiftness which a bureaucracy cannot attain, it is important to act quickly and in one of two ways: appoint one or two magistrates to act as the government, or place one man above the law--a dictator. Both are only temporary solutions and as soon as the danger that catalyzed the change in government abates, the officials must abdicate their position. This is in keeping with the general will because the safety of the state is its foremost concern and the suspension of laws and due process is sometimes, albeit rarely, the only method to ensure this. Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Of Religion

Rousseau sperates religion into two categories: religion of the man, and religion of the citizen. Religion of the man requires only an inner belief in a supreme being, the religion of the citizen, however, requires dogmas, rituals, external forms of worship, and views other religions as alien and backward. Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Rousseau continues and adds that there is a curious, third form, that "one might call the religion of the priest." (Rousseau, 1762) This form bestows upon men two rulers, two motherlands, and two legislators, thus, placing the citizens in a paradox. Due to the inherint contradiction between church and state in this form of religion Rousseau declares it to be fatal to social unity and therefore utterly useless. He considers the religion of the Lamas, the Japanese, and that of the Catholic Christianity to be such religions. Due to their innate flaw, he does not expound further on this form, but focuses only on the first two. Rousseau is a French surname. ... Rousseau is a French surname. ... Christianity is a monotheistic[1] religion centered on Jesus of Nazareth, and on his life and teachings as presented in the New Testament. ...

The second form of religion is excellent for the state as it binds men to it via a divine being. Therefore, obeying the laws of the sovereign is, by proxy, obeying the laws of God. Similarly, dying for the state is, by proxy, viewed as dying for god, et cetera. In this case, the government is also the clergy (this is not the same as the clergy being the government). This form of religion does have its downsides though in that it decieves men and thereby makes them "credulous superstitious". Furthermore, this form of religion breeds intolerance and propagates bloodthirst because the citizens believe it a holy task to kill those that believe in other deities.

The first form of religion is more or less inert. It does not place men at odds with one another, but it also does not unite.

According to Rousseau, the dogmas of a "civil religion" must be simple and small in number. He gives as examples of positive dogmas: "the existence of an omnipotent, intelligent, benevolent being that provides and forsees; the life to come; the happiness of the just; the punishment of sinners; the sanctity of the social contract and the law;" et cetera. The only negative dogma Rousseau allows is for no intolerance. "Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." Rousseau is a French surname. ... Rousseau is a French surname. ...

The most important idea stemming from this chapter is the separation of church and state. According to Rousseau, when the church becomes the government, the sovereign are no longer sovereign. Intolerance leads directly to this consequence. Due to this, there must be no national religion, but rather all should be embraced. The only exception to this is a religious dogma that forces people to be bad citizens--this must not be tolerated. Rousseau is a French surname. ...

Interestingly, although Rousseau proves slavery unjust, he also posits that it maybe the only way for a society to be free. In otherwords in order to be free yourself, you must enslave another lest you both be slaves to someone else.

See also

Social contract theory (or contractarianism) is a concept used in philosophy, political science and sociology to denote an implicit agreement within a state regarding the rights and responsibilities of the state and its citizens, or more generally a similar concord between a group and its members, or between individuals. ...

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