How did Rousseau feel about aristocracy?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter V of Book III of The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes of the aristocracy as consisting of three types:natural, elective and hereditary. Rousseau contends that the first is for simple people while the third is the worst.  The elective, then, is best and is "aristocracy properly so called." This elective is chosen, Rousseau states, for their "uprightness, understanding, and experience." They would be, thus, venerable and capable of enacting judgments suitable to the people. 

On the other hand, the hereditary aristocracy, which is the usual connotation of the word aristocracy is the worst because they are unknown by the people and often indifferent to the needs and desires of any but themselves. Therefore, it would govern for its own profits, rather than the profits and good of the citizenry. For Rousseau, it is best if the aristocracy of the wisest govern the country, rather than the hereditary aristocracy. 


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