The Social Contract By Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Satisfactory Essays
Can the government force a citizen to be free? In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau declares that it is not only possible for the government to do so, but also necessary under certain conditions. In this fashion, Rousseau expects complete obedience to the laws of the body politic. Though this concept is aimed at promoting the democratic principle of equality, it bestows the will of the community with a troubling degree of precedence over individual wills. For this, I argue that Rousseau’s idea of forcing citizens to be free is a dangerous notion. In stating that citizens must be compelled to submit to the general will, Rousseau offers a form of government that stifles individual liberty and allows for the tyranny of the majority to prevail. The notion of forcing citizens to be free is a product of Rousseau’s version of the social contract. While Rousseau is more optimistic about the state of nature than Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, he still recognizes that it may become necessary for men to exit the state of nature and unite under a sovereign. When this time comes, Rousseau contends, men must enter a social contract with one another. The social contract is imperative to Rousseau since he views it to be the best means of ensuring that alliances between men do not come at the expense of the freedom enjoyed in the state of nature. According to this contract, each man agrees to put the community ahead of himself and to obey the general will, or the will of all that is centered on the collective good. The contract also establishes the sovereign, a living body comprised of every member of the social contract, to enforce the decrees of the general will. Once the social contract is in place, citizens surrender themselves to the ge... ... middle of paper ... ... the general will and the laws. As a result, minority groups in Rousseau’s body politic lay exposed to the threat of oppression by the will of the majority. We can grasp how this design for government can easily come to resemble totalitarianism more than democracy. In conclusion, Rousseau’s idea of forcing citizens to be free is extremely troubling. In asserting that citizens must surrender to the general will, Rousseau places far too much emphasis on the will of the political community. This emphasis on the will of the whole comes at the detriment of minority group interests. Moreover, the possibility that forcing citizens to be free actually promotes freedom is undermined by the concept’s propensity for oppression. Though forcing citizens to be free can be a means of maintaining order in a political community, it also entails significant dangerous implications.
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