Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract Essay

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract Essay

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The problem is to find a form of association … in which each, while uniting
himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.’
Does Rousseau have a convincing solution to the problem he poses?


The opening line of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influential work 'The Social Contract' (1762), is 'man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they'. These are not physical chains, but psychological and means that all men are constraints of the laws they are subjected to, and that they are forced into a false liberty, irrespective of class. This goes against Rousseau's theory of general will which is at the heart of his philosophy. In his Social Contract, Rousseau describes the transition from a state of of nature, where men are naturally free, to a state where they have to relinquish their naturalistic freedom. In this state, and by giving up their natural rights, individuals communise their rights to a state or body politic. Rousseau thinks by entering this social contract, where individuals unite their power and freedom, they can then gain civic freedom which enables them to remain free as the were before. In this essay, I will endeavour to provide arguments and examples to conclude if Rousseau provides a viable solution to what he calls the 'fundamental problem' posed in the essay title.

Firstly, each individual should give themselves up unconditionally to the general cause of the state. Secondly, by doing so, all individuals and their possessions are protected, to the greatest extent possible by the republic or body politic. Lastly, all individuals should then act freely and of their own free will. Rousseau thinks th...


... middle of paper ...


...ract 135, 138), but brushes over this preferring to simply say that it should be avoided as far as possible. But again, in a state of any appreciable size, the validity of this argument is far from sound.

Rousseau's contract was more optimistic than Hobbes and Locke, but that would be expected due to the time-line between the theories. Society had evolved somewhat, and become less regimented . The problems outlined makes it difficult for me to think that Rousseau had found a solution to his problem . I think, his ideas are probably more suited to modern day that when he devised his social contract theory. It seems to me he was a couple of centuries ahead of himself, a man before his time.


Works Cited

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Social Contract”. Modern Political Thought, Second Edition. Ed. David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2008. 427-487.

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