How does Rousseau apply the social contract when it comes to property?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For Rousseau, property and the ability to own it fall under the construction of amour de soi.  Rousseau sees the development of amour de soi within individuals as a destructive type of self- love.  This love of self comes at the cost of others, as it is a type of self- love that seeks to dominate.  If left unchecked, this base emotion and human experience threatens to dominate everything and everyone.  For Rousseau, the acquisition of property and economic wealth is rooted in this destructive notion of self- love.  It is for this reason that Rousseau sees the basis of the social contract as an understanding whereby individuals "place both themselves and their possessions under the complete control of the resultant body politic and to give to it the power and responsibility of safeguarding them and of providing the framework within which they can jointly pursue their common welfare."  For this to work, individuals have to recognize that the social contract embraced is one in which individuals understand that they must recognize clearly that if they are to survive in a collective setting and if this collective setting, itself, is to survive, all notions of amour de soi and all extensions of it, such as property must be surrendered to social contract in which all negative propensities of individual beings are checked.

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