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.
The power is held by those who are being ruled, and they have equal rights in deciding their political outcomes. Locke explains that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins”, so once the rights of the people are suppressed this injustice begins (Locke 102). Locke also explains that if a government was to act unjust, not with the best interest of the majority, then it is the right and the responsibility of the people to overthrow “tyranny” (Locke 102). The people, who have the power, should always defend their human rights, especially from unlawful rulers. This view of government shifts with Hobbes’ perspective.
However, in order to comprehend the disparity between political thought, the very primary ideas needed to be described. While the central aim of Rousseau’s writing was to explain how the freedom of the individual can be integrated with the authority of the state. Hobbes illustrated the need for political societies which he calls the Leviathan, with the purpose of the dire and natural state of man to be saved. Although, both agree with the inherent equality of men, Hobbes believes men are intrinsically malicious and must be governed by a superior power. In contrast, Rousseau believes men are born with the potential of goodness but the social systems in place propagate animosity.
While they both require the consent of the people and active involvement from those citizens, it is Rousseau’s contract that asserts virtue and morals into the government. He does this in his argument against particular will of citizens Rousseau’s social contract requires the general will of the public to be unanimous, so he says, “His absolute and naturally independent existence can lead him to view what he owes to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will be less harmful to others than its payment is burdensome to him. And considering the moral person that constitutes the state merely as being produced by reason because it is not man, he would enjoy the rights of a citizen without being willing to fulfill the duties of a subject- an injustice whose spread would cause the ruin of the body of politics.”(175) The point made by Rousseau is that a man gives himself to the state. If one does not, he has false morals, and commits injustice. Another point is made that “For such is the condition that, by giving each citizen to the fatherland, guarantees him against all personal dependence- a condition that makes for the ingenuity and the functioning of the political machine and that alone makes legitimate civil engagements which would otherwise be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most enormous abuses” (175) This paragraph can be mirroring Locke’s social contract.
We should not embrace the source because completely embracing it would lead to a society where civil liberties are undermined, where the government has too much power and where democracy is crumbling. The war measures act is an example of an illiberal act that the source would support. This act allows for the government to restrict rights and freedoms in times of emergency in order to protect the society from harm. The source would agree with this because it states that “in times of crisis” the government must protect its citizens. But there are problems with this act; it allows the government to decide when to bring it into action and take it out of action.
The term “civil or social liberties” is one that garners a lot of attention and focus from both Rousseau and Mill, although they tackle the subject from slightly different angles. Rousseau believes that the fundamental problem facing people’s capacity to leave the state of nature and enter a society in which their liberty is protected is the ability to “find a form of association that defends and protects the person and goods of each associate with all the common force, and by means of which each one, uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before” (Rousseau 53). Man is forced to leave the state of nature because their resistance to the obstacles faced is beginning to fail (Rousseau 52). Mill does not delve as far back as Rousseau does and he begins his mission of finding a way to preserve people’s liberty in an organized society by looking to order of the ancient societies of Greece, Rome and England (Mill 5). These societies “consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest” (Mill 5).
Hobbes contends that the government should greatly restrict individual liberty because free individuals necessarily act in ways that threaten the survival of their society. Reversing the traditional maxim, which says that individual liberty empowers and enriches society but weakens government, Hobbes contends that individual liberty strengthens government but endangers society. While it seems that Hobbes is fearful of threatening the government, a close reading of Leviathan show that Hobbes is so fearful of threatening society that he believes that the government should focus exclusively on ensuring the survival of its society without regard to the quality of that survival. Therefore, he contends, the government should neutralize the threat of the individual by disarming him of his liberty and by forcing all individuals to behave in a way that protects society’s survival. We must begin by distinguishing individual liberty from the other type of liberty that Hobbes discusses, what we will call “ancient liberty.” Individual liberty is “the absence of… external impediments of motion” (Hobbes XXI 1, XXI 10).
These suggest that society and government should please the general will and work together as a cohesive unit. Rousseau has several famous books, one of which is The Social Contract. The book start with the words: “Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains.” By this he means to say that the civil society, in which we live, oppresses our birthright of freedom. Without our freedom we are not man and can never be truly happy. He suggests that general will not only requires individual freedom and diversity but also the idea of well-being of the whole.
Rousseau’s The Social Contract deals directly with the issue of individual autonomy and freedom. The Social Contract spells out individual's rights and duties to the state. Rousseau removes representatives from the political equation and promotes direct democracy and egalitarianism in the purest form. In order to achieve Rousseau's egalitarian utopia he argues that man must “be forced to be free” and educated in way which today resonates with totalitarianism regimes. The Social Contract speaks of socially engineering through “educating” citizens to follow the nationalistic vision.
Like Rousseau, Locke discusses the result of a tyrannical government and how this violates not only the social contract, but man’s natural rights, as well. He explains that when the government immorally focuses on one issue, man reverts back to the state of war. This aspect of Locke’s social contract differs from Rousseau’s because of this reversal of state. Legitimacy can also be breached in context of individual powers of the magistrate. According to Rousseau, in order to maintain legitimacy of the executive power, the magistrate must equally apply the laws established by the sovereignty and evenly distribute force among all that belong in the magistrate.