JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712-1778)
Born Swiss, he spent most of his life in France. Rousseau wrote on a myriad of subjects. His most famous work was the Social Contract, which argued that democracy was the best for of government. His writings on education, however, were also very influential. They focussed on teaching children with nature and avoiding rigid memorization, and started a trend in education which continues to this day. His focus on nature and emotion made Rousseau one of the fathers of the Romantic movement. His critics attacked his sexism and the totalitarian tendencies buried in the concept of the General Will.
The Social Contract (1762)
Of the Social Compact
We will suppose that men in a state of nature are arrived at that crisis when the strength of each individual is insufficient to defend him from the attacks he is subject to. This primitive state can therefore subsist no longer; and the human race must perish, unless they change their manner of life.
As men cannot create for themselves new forces, but merely unite and direct those which already exist, the only means they can employ for the preservation is to form by aggregation an assemblage of forces that may be able to resist all assaults, be put in motion as one body, and act in concert upon all occasions.
This assemblage of forces must be produced by the concurrence of many: as the force and the liberty of a man are the chief instruments of his preservation, how can he engage them without danger, and without neglecting the care which is due to himself? This doubt, which leads directly to my subject, may be expressed in these words:
Where shall we find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole aggregate force the person and the property of each individual; and by which every person, while united with ALL, shall obey only HIMSELF, and remain as free as before the union? Such is the fundamental problem, of which the Social Contract gives the solution.
The articles of this contract are so unalterably fixed by the nature of the act, that the least modification renders them vain and of no effect. They are the same everywhere, and are everywhere understood and admitted, even though they may never have been formally announced: so that, when once the social pact is violated in any instance, all obligations it created cease; and each individual is restored to his original rights, and resumes native liberty, as the consequence of losing that conventional liberty for which he exchanged them.
All the articles of the social contract will, when clearly understood, be found reducible to this single pointTHE TOTAL ALIENATION OF EACH ASSOCIATE, AND ALL HIS RIGHTS, TO THE WHOLE COMMUNITY. For every individual gives himself up entirelythe condition of every person is alike; and being so, it would not be the interest of anyone to render himself offensive to others...
...If, therefore) we exclude from the social compact all that is not essentially necessary, we shall find it reduced to the following terms:
We each of us place, in common, his person, and all his power, under the supreme direction of the general will; and we receive into the body each member as an indivisible part of the whole.
From that moment, instead of so many separate persons as there are contractors, this act of association produces a moral collective body, composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly; which from this act receives its unity, its common self, its life, and its will. This public person, which is thus formed by the union of all the private persons, took formerly the name of city, and now takes that of republic or body politic. It is called by its members state when it is passive, and sovereign when in activity: and whenever it is spoken of with other bodies of a similar kind, it is denominated power. The associates take collectively the name of people, and separately that of citizens, as participating in the sovereign authority: they are also styled subjects, because they are subjected to the laws. But these terms are frequently confounded, and used one for the other; and a man must understand them well to distinguish when they are properly employed.
Of the Sovereign Power
...The sovereign power being formed only of the individuals which compose it, neither has, or can have, any interest contrary to theirs; consequently the sovereign power requires no guarantee towards its subjects, because it is impossible that the body should seek to injure all its members: and shall see presently that it can do no injury to any individual. The sovereign power by its nature must, while it exists, be everything it ought to be: it is not so with subjects towards the sovereign power; to which, notwithstanding the common interest subsisting between them, there is nothing to answer for the performance of their engagements, if some means is not found of ensuring their fidelity.
In fact, each individual may, as a man, have a private will, dissimilar contrary to the general will which he has as a citizen. His own particular interest may dictate to him very differently from the common interest; his mind, naturally and absolutely independent, may regard what he owes to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the omission of which would be less injurious to others than the payment would be burdensome to himself; and considering the moral person which constitutes the state as a creature of the imagination, because it is not a man, he may wish to enjoy the rights of a citizen, without being disposed to fulfill the duties of a subject: an injustice which would in its progress cause the ruin of the body politic.
In order therefore to prevent the social compact from becoming an empty formula, it tacitly incomes Premise, which alone can give effect to the othersThat whomever refuses to obey the general will, shall be compelled to it by the whole body, which is in fact only forcing him be free; for this is the condition which guarantees his absolute personal independence to every citizen of the country: a condition which gives motion and effect to the political machine; which alone renders all civil engagements legal; and without which they would be absurd, tyrannical, and subject to the most enormous abuses.