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The Social Contract By: Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) Historical Background & Biography Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born

in 1712 in Calvinist Geneva, Switzerland. His father had provided him with somewhat of an education and left him at the age of 10. Rousseau left Geneva when he was 16 and converted to Roman Catholicism so as to gain assistance in furthering his education. His Protestant upbringing however still held a major influence over him and in 1754 he converted back to Calvinism so as to regain his rights as a citizen of Geneva. In 1762, Rousseau published his work The Social Contract which was then banned as it was viewed as being against the government and religion. It became a source of great controversy with its radical views. The Social contract inspired the French revolutionaries and with its lasting impact remains as one of Rousseaus greatest works even today. Overview of The Social Contract Rousseau believed the development of civilization was corrupting human beings as he considered man to be fundamentally good when in a state of nature. He states his point of view saying that Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains. (p56) Although he believes man would be better off without the chains of society, he argues that social order is a sacred right (p56) as it is necessary for other rights to be established upon. This order is not natural and must be based on conventions. Rousseau believed that giving away ones liberty for nothing in return was ridiculous as it meant renouncing ones rights and duties. Thus, a system where there exists absolute authority on the one side and unlimited obedience on the other is vain and contradictory. (p58) He created The Social Contract as an answer to forming a society where each member may nevertheless obey only himself, and remain as free as before (p58) arguing that a legitimate government could only exist when it followed the general will of its people. The general will of the people would be formed when each member of the society gave up all his rights thus making everyone equal. Since everyone would then be equal, no one would wish to create trouble and thus everyone would accept the general will. By establishing an association in such a way that everyone acts as a member of the sovereign towards individuals, and as a member of the State towards the sovereign. (p60) a double relation results which further cements the general will. By having everyone united into one body, it is impossible to harm individuals without harming society as a whole and vice versa. This forces the sovereign to do what it is supposed to do and follow the will of the people thus creating the ideal social contract.

Discussion Questions 1. On page 57, Rousseau comments that The strongest man is never strong enough to always be master, unless he transforms his power into right and obedience into duty. Hence the right of the strongesta right apparently assumed in irony, and really established in principle: But will this phrase never be explained to us? Force is a physical power; I not see what morality can result from its effect. How does this cement his views that a legitimate government must follow the general will of the people? 2. Rousseau argues that the despot secures to his subject civil peace. Be it so; but what do they gain by that, if the wars which his ambition brings upon them, together with his insatiable greed and the vexations of his administration, harass them more than their own dissentions would? on page 57. Do you agree with this argument? Why or why not? 3. Rousseau argues on page 58 that to renounce ones liberty is to renounce ones quality as a man, the rights and also the duties of humanity. Yet he later states that to achieve a perfect union, each member gives himself up entirely on page 59. What distinction does Rousseau make between the two and do you agree? 4. On page 60, Rousseau states that every individual, contracting so to speak with himself, is engaged in a double relation, viz., as a member of the sovereign toward individuals, and as a member of the state towards the sovereign. How does Rousseau prove that this concept is not the same as being in an engagement with oneself? 5. On page 61, Rousseau comments that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body, which means nothing else than that he shall be forced to be free. What is Rousseaus logic behind this? Do you agree with it? 6. What historical developments impacted Rousseaus view on politics? Were his views consistent with those of the enlightenment? 7. Why would Rousseaus writings be considered threats at the time and banned from being distributed? What were some of the impacts soon caused? 8. Are aspects of Rousseaus model of an ideal political society present in todays governments and if so how?