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J. J.

Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762)
Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself master of o
thers, but is himself the greater slave. How did this change take place? I do no
t know. What can render it legitimate? I believe I can answer this question.
If I were to consider nothing but force and its effects, I should say: 'As long
as a people is compelled to obey, and does so, it does well; as soon as it can s
hake off the yoke, and does so, it does even better; for in recovering its liber
ty on the same grounds on which it was stolen away, it either is right in resumi
ng it, or was wrongly deprived in the first place,' But the social order is a sa
cred right which serves as the basis for all others. And yet this right does not
come from nature; thus it is founded on conventions. The problem is to know wha
t these conventions are... ... This problem, in relation to my subject, may be e
xpressed in the following terms: To find a form of association which defends and
protects the person and property of each member with the whole force of the com
munity, and where each, while joining with all the rest, still obeys no one but
himself, and remains as free as before.' This is the fundamental problem to whic
h the social contract provides the answer.
The clauses of this contract... rightly understood, can be reduced to the follow
ing only: the total alienation of each member, with all his rights, to the commu
nity as a whole. For, in the first place, since each gives himself entirely, the
condition is equal for all; and since the condition is equal for all, it is in
the interest of no one to make it burdensome to the rest.
Furthermore, since the alienation is made without reservations, the union is as
perfect as possible, and no member has anything more to ask. For if the individu
als retained certain rights, each, in the absence of any common superior capable
of judging between him and the public, would be his own judge in certain matter
s, and would soon claim to be so in all; the state of nature would continue, and
the association would necessarily become tyrannical or meaningless.
Finally, each individual, by giving himself to all, gives himself to no one; and
since there is no member over whom you do not acquire the same rights that you
give him over yourself, you gain the equivalent of all you lose, and greater for
ce to preserve what you have.
If the social compact is stripped to its essentials, therefore, you will find th
at it can be reduced to the following terms: 'Each of us puts in common his pers
on and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and in ou
r corporate capacity we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole'
The first and most important consequence of the principles thus far established
is that the general will alone can direct the forces of the state in : accordanc
e with the purpose for which it was created, namely, the common good. For if the
opposition of private interests made the establishment of societies necessary,
it is the agreement of those same interests that made it possible. It is what th
ese several interests have in common that constitutes the social bond; and if th
ere were no point on which all of them were in agreement, there could be no soci
ety. Now it is exclusively ; on the basis of this common interest that society m
ust be governed. I say, therefore, that since sovereignty is nothing but the exe
rcise of the general will, it can never be alienated; and that the sovereign, wh
ich is only a collective being, can be represented by itself only. Power may wel
l be transferred, but will cannot.
As a matter of fact, if it is not impossible for a particular will to agree with
the general will on some specific point, at least it is impossible for that agr
eement to be constant and durable; for the particular will tends by its very nat

and behavin g with uniform wisdom. Then all the motive forces of the state are vigorous and simple. it has no quarrelling and contradictory inte rests. it dissolves itself by that very act. and the Due de Beaufort given the cat-o . and the opinion which prevails is only a private opini on. The first to propose them does no more than to say what all have already felt. its principles are clear and luminous. But when cliques and partial associa tions are formed at the expense of the whole. and it would be even more impossible to guarantee that it would continue to do so. and if in their deliberations the citizens held no communication with one another. and from that moment the body po litic is destroyed. there is no longer a sovereign. or at least what he says he wants. they are n ot even clever enough to be dupes. then it can no longer be said that there are as many voters as t here are individuals. If. and requires no more than common sense to be perceived. t he general will would always result from the large number of small differences. and as soon as it becomes neces sary to promulgate new ones. When. What deceives the theorists is the fact that. Peace. while the former looks to private interest. If the people were sufficiently well-informed. but one single difference. since it is absurd for the will to bind itself for the fate. as soon as he is sure that the others will do likewis e. They fail to realise that Cromwell would have been dru mmed out of town by the people of Berne. From the preceding it follows that the general will is always right. among the happiest people on earth. and it is then only that it seems to will something bad. how can you help despising the subtleties of other nation s. but only as many as there are associations. but it does not follow that the deliberations of the p eople will always have the same rectitude. They laugh at the thought of all the stupidi ties that an adroit rascal. Even if this agreement did remain constant. There is oft en a great difference between the will of all and the general will. and it req uires neither intrigue nor eloquence to secure the enactment of that which each has already decided to do. and always tends to the public good. seeing nothing but states badly constituted from the beginning. and give a less general result. therefore. the general will remains as the sum of the differences. the result is no longer a sum of small differences.ure to partiality. but we do not always recognise it. The difference s become less numerous. In so far as several men conjoined consider themselves as a single body. when one of the se associations becomes large enough to prevail over all the rest. this necessity is universally recognised. the latter l ooks only to the common interest. The sover eign may well say: 'At the present moment I want what that particular individual wants.. it would be the result not of skill but of chance. You can not corrupt the people. Upright and simple men are hard to deceive because of their simpl icity. the will of each of these associat ions becomes general with reference to its members. Then there is no longer a general will. the people promises simply to obey. they are in no way imposed upon by wiles and subtle pleadings. and the deliberations would always be good. they ha ve but a single will.' But it cannot say: 'What that indivi dual wants tomorrow. As soon as the re is a master.. and impossible for any willing being to consent to anything contrary to its own welfare. you see crowds of peasants deciding affairs of state under an oak tree. We always desire our own good. and particular with referenc e to the state. which devote so much skill and mystification i to making themselves famous an d wretched? A state thus governed has need of very few laws. and ceases to be a people. the common good is everywhere clearly evident. and the general will to equality. which refers to their common conservation and to the gener al welfare. an d is simply a sum of particular wills. but you can often d eceive it. But if you cancel out from these same wil ls all the mutually destructive pluses and minuses'. unity and equality are the enemies of polit ical subtlety. I too shall want'. an insinuating talker could persuade the people of P aris or London to commit. Finally. they are impressed with the impossibility of ma intaining such a polity among them.

and that it will always answer. when the state. then the general w ill falls silent. guided by secret motives. but it is subordinated to other interests whi ch prevail over it. Apart from this particular ben efit. in his own interest.' Thus the maintenance of public order in ass emblies depends not so much on maintaining the general will as on ensuring that it will always be interrogated. But when the social bond begins to loosen and the state to grow weak. instead of saying with his vote. when he detaches his interest from that of the community. with the res ult that. when parti cular interests begin to make themselves felt and lesser associations to influen ce the whole. it is alwa ys constant. u nanimity no longer prevails in voting. Does this mean that the general will is annihilated or corrupted? No. the general will ceases to be the will of all. and in answering one different from the one he has been asked. and under the guise of laws are enacted iniquitous decrees whose only purpose is to further private interests. 'It is advantageous to the state. contradictions and debates arise.'-nine-tails by the Genevans. but his share of the common misfortune is as nothing to him in comparison with the excl usive benefit he hopes to appropriate to himself. His fault lies in changing the terms of the quest ion. and the best opinion does not go by any means undisputed. when the social bond is broken in every heart. . unalterable and pure.' he says. Even when he sells his vote for money. 'It is advantageous to a certain individual or to a certain party that a certain proposal should be enacted. no one thinks as a citizen any more than as if the state had never existed. Each individual. he seeks the general benefit. but eludes . is clearly aware that the two are not entirely separable. he does not extinguish. when the bas est interest brazenly flaunts the sacred name of public good. then the common interest deteriorates and encounters opposition. as vigorously as anyone else. Finally. on the brink of ruin. maintains no more than a vain and illusory existence. the general will within him.