What is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's view of the social contract?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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To Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the social contract did not entail, as Hobbes had theorized, a surrendering of power to a sovereign ruler. Rather the contract was between individuals, who mutually agreed, in short, to enter into civil society, an arrangement which allowed them to maintain their sovereignty while gaining the protections that a state had to offer.  People who enter into the social contract do so as equals, and the state is no more than the political embodiment of the people as a whole.  The state would only exist to serve what Rousseau called the "general will," which would be, he thought, expressed through an assembly elected as democratically as possible.  In other words, the state was only legitimate to the extent that it represented the general will. If it exceeded this mandate, it violated the social contract that brought it into being in the first place.

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