Would Rousseau's ideal society benefit people overall? Why or why not?

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In Rousseau's ideal civil society, as described in The Social Contract, a government can only rule with the consent of the governed. The governed, whom he called the sovereign, must consent in their totality to a political authority in order for that authority to be seen as legitimate. This...

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In Rousseau's ideal civil society, as described in The Social Contract, a government can only rule with the consent of the governed. The governed, whom he called the sovereign, must consent in their totality to a political authority in order for that authority to be seen as legitimate. This authority must convene regularly to determine the will of the people.

The overall will of the sovereign must inform the creation of laws, and they must be regular participants in their political system in order to be truly "free." Citizens must regularly convene to vote for the general will of the sovereign, not for their own personal interests. Rousseau believes that once people stop participating in the system, or elect others to vote in their place, their freedom is lost.

Rousseau's idea of "the consent of the governed" has formed the backbone of modern democracy. He is clear, however, that for this to work, everyone must participate, and everyone must vote according to what will benefit everyone—not just one individual. We are left to question whether people can find enough in common to vote in the interest of the group over themselves. We also must wonder whether it is truly possible to engage a large enough number of citizens such that their votes would truly be the "will of the people" rather than just the will of those people. In countries with billions of people, is Rousseau's proposition too idealistic?

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