Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Political Powers

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The proper use and limits of governmental power have different implications for each theorist that we have studied. Some see its power as all-encompassing, while others see it as more narrow, controlled and regulated. For this essay, I chose to examine the philosophies of the theorists with whom I disagree with the least: Rousseau, Locke, and Rawls. One can always recall Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous line: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” This sentence expressed his opposition to the idea that individual should be forced to give up their natural rights to a king. His idea of political power is that which comes from a social contract, and is entered into by participants who desire protection of life, liberty, and property, while still maintaining a good amount of freedom. Instead of a throne, citizens give up their right to the community, and their role is to deliberate for themselves their individual will, and then come together to exercise the general will, which is voted on by all citizens, in determining laws for the public good. Surely, one’s individual will can coincide with the general will, especially with regards to religion. On this issue, Rousseau expresses opposition to theology, for it was a source of weakness. If anything, the only “religion” he would approve of is that which holds the sanctity of the social contract. If anyone disagreed or disobeyed these laws, they would be “forced to be free,” meaning that residents of the state must follow the laws or be exiled. He compares such a direct democracy to Geneva. However, if the population decided that they don’t care about such matters, then the government is dissolved. Thus, in this view all political power, without separation, rests in the hands... ... middle of paper ... ...tablishing a well-ordered society, which concerns each individual’s comprehensive doctrine. Rawls suggests that it is possible to set aside comprehensive doctrine in order to determine a sense of justice in government, so that the people can reach an overlapping consensus. Doing so would establish the desirable basis for stability, for government would be stable for the right reasons: each affirms a moral doctrine for moral reasons. In conclusion, the three theorists have each chosen some type of democracy. Rousseau presents an extreme type, where the people have a say in most matters. Locke, on the other hand, is on the side of a reluctant democracy, for he sees that it is necessary to secure his insecurities about natural rights. Lastly, Rawls favors a “just” democracy, in that his goal is not necessarily an efficient society, but it is to create a most noble one.
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