Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Maurice Cranston (essay date 1968)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6588

SOURCE: An introduction to The Social Contract, by Jean Jacques Rousseau, translated by Maurice Cranston Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 9-43.

[In the following excerpt, Cranston discusses Rousseau's Social Contract in the context of Rousseau's other works and in the works of his contemporaries.]

The political views of the philosophes were as dis-tasteful to Rousseau as were most of their opinions. Like their master, Francis Bacon, they believed in strong government; the doctrine of planning called for a ruler with enough power to put plans into effect; and just as Bacon himself once dreamed of converting James I to his way of thinking and then using magnified royal prerogative to enact his proposals, so the philosophes of the eighteenth century based their hopes for success on influencing powerful monarchs to do what they suggested. The current name for this was le despotisme éclairé; to Rousseau, the champion of freedom, any kind of despotism was anathema, and the so-called enlightened sort seemed rather worse than others.

In 1755 Rousseau addressed a letter to a pastor in Geneva who had conceived the idea of launching a literary periodical: 'Believe me, Sir, this is not the sort of work for you,' he wrote. 'Serious and profound writings may do us credit, but the glitter of that trivial philosophy which is fashionable today is wholly unbecoming to us. Great themes such as virtue and liberty enlarge and fortify the mind; little things, like poetry and the fine arts, give it more delicacy than subtlety.'1

The great themes of liberty and virtue were the themes of the Social Contract. This is why Rousseau attached so much importance to the book; and also, perhaps, why it got him into trouble. It might seem to the reader that Rousseau started to write the Social Contract as a book about liberty and ended up with a book about virtue; in truth it is the argument of the whole book that once men have entered into society, freedom comes to be inseparable from virtue.

Some time between the writing of the Discours sur l'inégalité and the writing of the Social Contract, Rousseau read the works of Thomas Hobbes. His only reference in the Social Contract to Hobbes are fleeting and hostile ones, but Professor Robert Derathé2 has shown that Rousseau was not in the habit of acknowledging his intellectual debts, and that his debts were particularly great both to the legal theorists, or jurisconsults, of earlier generations, to Grotius,3 Pufendorf,4 Barbeyrac,5 and Burlamaqui,6 and also to the political philosophers, especially Hobbes and Locke. The second title of Rousseau's Social Contract is the same as the main title of one of Burlamaqui's books: Principes du droit politique. This droit politique, which I have been obliged for lack of a better alternative (there is no English equivalent of le droit) to translate as 'political right', Burlamaqui employed as a semi-technical expression to designate the general abstract study of law and government, and Rousseau uses the word in the same sense.

The main title of Rousseau's Social Contract refers to a concept which all these jurisconsults and political philosophers invoked. They all believed that the state was the outcome of a covenant or agreement among men. The purpose of the state was the protection of those people to which it owed its being, and the same theorists also agreed that the sovereign must have enough power to provide such protection. Most of the theorists sought at the same time to limit this power of sovereigns under one principle or another, and even to divide sovereignty between several elements. Hobbes stood apart from the others in insisting that sovereignty must be unified and absolute. Hobbes said that men must choose: either they were ruled or they were free; they could not be both; liberty went with anarchy and security with civil obedience.

Rousseau accepted Hobbes's argument on one point; he agreed that sovereignty must be absolute or nothing, but he could not bring himself to accept Hobbes's notion that men must choose between being governed and being free. Rousseau, who loved liberty so much, believed he could show that it was possible for men to be at once free and members of a political society. Indeed the Social Contract may be read as an answer to Hobbes by an author whose mind was stimulated by the brilliance of Hobbes's reasoning, but who could not stomach Hobbes's conclusion.

It is important to note what Rousseau is doing in the Social Contract. He explains it clearly at the beginning: 'My purpose is to consider if in political society, there can be any legitimate and sure principle of government, taking men as they are, and laws as they might be.' The if is crucial. Rousseau is not offering a plan for reform,7 nor is he writing the kind of history and sociology he provides in his Discours sur l'inégalité. He is dealing with right rather than with fact, though fact comes into it, because he undertakes to deal with men 'as they are'. In the Social Contract Rousseau is dealing, in the hypothetical mood, with abstract problems which seem to him to emerge from philosophical reflection on the actual nature of man and the possible order of laws and government. The social contract discussed in the Social Contract is not the actual historical contract described in the Discours sur l'inégalité, that imposture 8 made to consolidate the advantages of the rich. It is a genuine and legitimate contract, which is to the benefit of everyone, since it unites liberty with law and utility with right.

Now Rousseau not only rejects Hobbes's claim that men must choose between being free and being ruled, he positively asserts that it is only through living in civil society that men can experience their fullest freedom. This is the connexion between freedom and virtue. Here we may detect a modification of the argument of the Discours sur l'inégalité. In the earlier work Rousseau stresses both the freedom and the innocence of man in the state of nature. In the Social Contract he still says that men have freedom in the state of nature, but he treats it as freedom of a crude and lesser kind. Such freedom is no more than independence. And while he does not accept Hobbes's picture of man in the state of nature as an aggressive and rapacious being, Rousseau (having read Hobbes) speaks less of the innocence and more of the brutishness of man in a state of nature. Man in the state of nature, as he is depicted in the Social Contract, is a 'stupid and unimaginative animal'; it is only by coming into a political society that he becomes 'an intelligent being and a man'. Assuredly, as a result of the growth of passions and sophistry which society breeds, men have generally grown worse with the passage of time; but that is because society, instead of improving men, has corrupted them. Society is bound to change men, and if it does not do what it is meant to do, and improve them, it will worsen them. Nevertheless, according to Rousseau, it is only by leaving the state of nature and becoming a social being in the fullest sense, that is to say, in becoming a citizen, that man can realize his own nature as man.

Rousseau never abandons the belief, put forward in his Discours sur l'inégalité, that men are happy in the state of nature. He continues to think it possible for them to be good. Men cannot, however, be virtuous in the state of nature, virtue being a characteristic of men who are conscious of morality. Unlike Hobbes, Rousseau does not suggest that it is fear which drives men to quit the state of nature; but he does say that it is man's weakness which makes him social.9 Rousseau also suggests both that Providence has to intervene by creating natural disasters and shortages to force men to cooperate and also that there is a certain natural pressure within men to actualize those social and moral qualities which are mere potentialities in a state of nature.

Here one might suspect a certain equivocation in Rousseau's use of the word 'nature'. But what he is saying is that the state of nature is man's original state, not his natural state; for man can only realize his full nature as a man by making the social compact and living under law. Rousseau's ambiguity reflects a common ambiguity in the word 'nature', which is sometimes used to refer to what is, and sometimes to refer to what should be. Rousseau uses the word 'nature' at different times in either of these two senses.

In a way, Rousseau's solution to the problem posed by Hobbes is wonderfully simple. Men can be both ruled and free if they rule themselves. For what is a free man but a man who rules himself? A people can be free if it retains sovereignty over itself, if it enacts the rules or laws which it is obliged to obey. Obligation in such circumstances is wholly distinct from bondage; it is a moral duty which draws its compulsion from the moral will within each man. In this argument, we can detect a striking departure from the 'social contract' theorists who preceded Rousseau. The jurisconsults and Hobbes and Locke all rejected the well-established theories that sovereignty was based on nature or on divine right, and they all argued in one way or another, that sovereignty derived its authority from the assent of the people. But these earlier theorists also held that sovereignty was transferred from the people to the ruler as a result of the social contract. Rousseau is original in holding that no such transfer of sovereignty need or should take place: sovereignty not only originates in the people; it ought to stay there.10

Rousseau's solution to the problem of how to be at the same time ruled and free might plausibly be expressed as democracy. I have already spoken of the importance to him of what is commonly named 'democracy' in Switzerland. But Rousseau himself used the word 'democracy' in a rather distinctive fashion,11 because of the emphasis he puts on the difference between the two departments, as he sees them, of government. Ruling, in the strict sense of making rules or laws, is the function which he says that the people must retain; for thus, and only thus, does sovereignty express itself. Every act of the sovereign is a law, and anything which is not a law is not an act of sovereignty. From this function of law-making, Rousseau distinguishes the administration, or executive management, of government. And he does not demand, as a prerequisite of liberty and legitimacy, that this administration shall be conducted by the whole body of citizens. On the contrary, he thinks it might be best done by a limited number. The conduct of administration by the whole body of the citizens he seems to consider too Utopian an arrangement. And this is the arrangement which in the Social Contract he calls 'democracy', and of which he is thinking when he says that democracy is for gods, not men.12

Rousseau is undoubtedly a democrat in the sense that 'democracy' means legislative rule by the whole body of the citizens; but as he himself used the word in another sense, it might be less confusing to speak of him as a 'republican' or champion of 'popular sovereignty'. One of the reasons why he distinguishes so carefully between the legislative sovereign body and the executive or administrative body is his consciousness of the abiding danger to the legislative which the administrative body constitutes. For while it is convenient that the business of government should be entrusted to a council of magistrates or commissioners, those magistrates will naturally tend, with the passage of time, to encroach on the sacred territory of legislation, and thus to invade the sovereignty and destroy the republican nature of the state. As a matter of empirical fact, Rousseau even suggests that this is bound to happen.13

Nowhere in the Social Contract does Rousseau offer any short definition of liberty, although there are several often-quoted epigrams about it. In his Lettres écrites de la montagne (published two years after the Social Contract) he provides the most succinct account of what he means by this key word:

Liberty consists less in doing one's own will than in not being subject to that of another; it consists further in not subjecting the will of others to our own…. In the common liberty no one has a right to do what the liberty of any other forbids him to do; and true liberty is never destructive of itself. Thus liberty without justice is a veritable contradiction…. There is no liberty, then, without laws, or where any man is above the laws…. A free people obeys, but it does not serve; it has magistrates, but not masters; it obeys nothing but the laws, and thanks to the force of the laws, it does not obey men.14

It is partly because of this intimate connexion between liberty and law that the freedom of man in a state of nature is so inferior. The freedom of the savage is no more than independence; although Rousseau speaks of the savage being subject to natural law, he also suggests that the savage has no consciousness of natural law; thus Rousseau can speak of a man being 'transformed', as a result of his entry into civil society, from a brutish into a human, moral being. A moral being is, or can be, free in another sense than the political; if, instead of being a slave of his passions, he lives according to conscience, lives according to rules he imposes on himself, then he has a liberty which only a moral being can enjoy. The savage has no sense of this; for one thing, the passions only begin to develop with society, which explains why society can mark the beginning of a change for the worse as well as the beginning of a change for the better. One of the new passions which emerges with society is pride or amour-propre, which Rousseau sees as an evil mutation of the perfectly innocent sentiment of self-love or amour-de-soi. It is a characteristic of modern sophisticated culture to be dominated by pride. The emphasis on 'going back to nature' in Rousseau's treatise on education, Émile, is the result of his belief that cultural environment, not natural inclination, breeds such harmful passions. Here we may notice a contrast between Rousseau's views and Hobbes's. Whereas Hobbes holds that pride is natural to man, Rousseau holds that it is artificial; whereas Hobbes says that war prevails among men in the state of nature because of men's pride, Rousseau says that war is a product of conflicts about property, and therefore cannot exist in the state of nature, where there is no property.

On the other hand, Rousseau seems to be entirely at one with Hobbes when he says that under the pact by which men enter into civil society everyone makes a total alienation of all his rights. However, it must be remembered that Rousseau regarded this alienation as a form of exchange, and an advantageous one; men give up their natural rights in exchange for civil rights; the total alienation is followed by a total restitution; and the bargain is a good one because what men surrender are rights of dubious value, unlimited by anything but an individual's own powers, rights which are precarious and without a moral basis; in return men acquire rights that are limited but legitimate and invincible. The rights they alienate are rights based on might; the rights they acquire are rights based on law.

It might be supposed that Rousseau is contradicting Locke when he says that men alienate all their rights when they make the social contract, Locke having said that men make the social contract only to preserve their rights. But Rousseau is really thinking in different terms from Locke. Rousseau does not think that men have in the state of nature the kind of natural rights which Locke supposes—the right, for example, to property. For Rousseau there is only possession in the state of nature; property (by definition, rightful possession) comes into being only when law comes into being. Nor does Rousseau think, like Locke, of liberty as one of men's rights. Indeed he says, quite as emphatically as Locke, that men cannot alienate their liberty. If Locke and Rousseau were thinking in the same terms, it would be a contradiction for Rousseau to say, as he does, that the social contract entails the total alienation of rights, and that men cannot alienate their liberty. In truth, what Rousseau is saying is that instead of surrendering their liberty by the social contract, they convert their liberty from independence into political and moral freedom, and this is part of their transformation from creatures living brutishly according to impulse into men living humanly according to reason and conscience.

There is no more haunting paragraph in the whole of the Social Contract than that in which Rousseau speaks of forcing a man to be free.15 But it would be wrong to put too much weight on these words, in the manner of those who consider Rousseau, whether early-fascist or early-communist, at all events a totalitarian.16 Rousseau is nothing so simple. He is authoritarian, but the authority he favours is explicitly distinguished from mere power; it is based on conscious and vocal assent, and is offered as something wholly consistent with liberty. There is no necessary antithesis, as some writers assume, between liberty and authority as such; for authority is a form of potency which rests on the credence and acceptance of those who respect it, and Rousseau insists that if authority is to be legitimate the credence and acceptance must be both universal and unconstrained. There is no resemblance between Rousseau's republic and the actual systems of twentieth-century totalitarian states, where the various devices of party rule, government by edict, brain-washing and secret police are manifestations of what Rousseau regarded as despotism and vigorously condemned. Indeed for those who seek the theoretical ancestry of present-day totalitarian ideology, the optimistic despotisme éclairé of the philosophes may well be worth as much attention as the pessimistic republicanism of Rousseau.

Rousseau does not say that men can be forced to be free in the sense that a whole community may be forced to be free; he says that a man may be forced to be free, and he is thinking here of the occasional individual who, as a result of being enslaved by his passions, disobeys the voice of the law, or of the general will, within him. The general will is something inside each man as well as in society as a whole, so that the man who is coerced by the community for a breach of the law, is, in Rousseau's view of things, being brought back to an awareness of his own true will. Thus in penalizing a law-breaker, society is literally correcting him, 'teaching him a lesson' for which, when he comes to his senses, the offender should be grateful. Legal penalties are a device for helping the individual in his own struggle against his own passions, as well as a device for protecting society against the anti-social depredations of law-breakers. This explains the footnote to Chapter 2 of Book IV of the Social Contract, where Rousseau writes: 'In Genoa the word Libertas may be seen on the doors of all the prisons and on the fetters of the galleys. This use of the motto is excellent and just.'

In arguing thus, Rousseau may be seen as adopting and elaborating an argument used by Locke against Hobbes. Hobbes in his plain, robust way, says that to be free is to be unopposed and unconstrained in doing what one wants to do; the law is a form of constraint, so that the less the law forbids, the more free a man is: 'The liberty of the subject is the silence of the laws.' Locke rejects this; he holds that the law does not diminish men's freedom, but effectively enlarges it, both by protecting a man from anarchic invasions of his liberty and by preventing collisions between one man's use of his liberty and another's. Locke even accepts the notion, though he never uses the words, of forcing a man to be free, because he mentions the case of a man who is prevented by force majeure from crossing a bridge which is dangerous and which he does not know to be dangerous; as soon as the man learns the true situation, he is grateful to those who have taken hold of him, and no longer feels that his freedom has been invaded. This is the kind of situation that Rousseau has in mind—albeit on a much larger scale—when he speaks of forcing a man to be free. The recalcitrant, to Rousseau, is someone who is out of joint with himself and with society, and thus to use physical restraint on him is not to harm, or injure, him, but, on the contrary, to help or heal, to recover him for reason, and therefore, at the same time, for freedom. It is difficult, assuredly, to reconcile this way of thinking with Rousseau's partiality for the death penalty.

In the discussion of liberty, Rousseau's whole emphasis is different from Locke's. Locke is not worried, as Rousseau is, by corruption; and he does not hanker after virtue. Locke thinks that a system of positive law set up by a constitutional state can enlarge men's liberty, but he also thinks that many systems of positive law do diminish men's liberty. For Locke there are good laws and bad laws. Good laws are the ones that recognize and defend men's natural rights, bad laws are the ones that neglect or abuse those rights. And therefore for Locke the problem is to have positive laws that secure men's rights and avoid laws that imperil men's liberty. But Rousseau has a different approach, or rather he has two distinctive approaches to law. When he is speaking of law as right, a law, for him, is by definition just; and even when he characterizes a law as an expression of the general will, it is still by definition just because the general will is by definition righteous. But, secondly, when Rousseau is thinking about the kinds of law he sees in the real world, when he is thinking, so to speak, as an empirical social scientist, he notes that all actual systems of law can be seen to be unjust. In a footnote to Book IV of Émile he writes: 'The universal spirit of laws in all countries is to favour the stronger against the weaker, and those who have against those who have nothing: this disadvantage is inevitable and without exception.'17

There is thus for Rousseau a radical dichotomy between true law and actual law, between law as it should be and law as it is seen in the existing world. And it should not be forgotten that the law he is writing about in the Social Contract is law in the true sense. Thus laws, as he explains them in these pages, are rules made by a people in its capacity of sovereign and obeyed by the same people in its capacity as subject. Rousseau thinks it axiomatic that such rules will never be oppressive for the simple reason that a people, being at the same time sovereign and subject, would never forge fetters for itself. The only thing he fears is that the people, being ignorant, might forge fetters unwittingly: hence the need for the lawgiver.

The distinction between true law and actual law corresponds to the distinction Rousseau draws between the general will and the will of all. The general will is a normative concept, its connexion with right is a matter of definition. The will of all is an empirical concept; the only test of the will of all is what, in fact, all will. Having been so severe on Grotius for failing to distinguish between fact and right, Rousseau is careful not to make the same mistake himself.

Why should I abide by the decision of the majority? Because by the deed of the social contract itself, to which everyone subscribes and pledges (there is no question of a majority here; you either subscribe or you are not in civil society at all), everyone agrees to accept the decision of the majority in the formulation of the law. But it is also understood that the members of the majority whose decision is accepted do not ask themselves what do I, as an individual, demand, but what does the general will demand; thus it is the majority interpretation of the general will which is binding and not the majority will. This is how it can be morally obligatory for the minority to accept.

Rousseau borrows from Hobbes the argument that sovereignty is an absolute power; it cannot be divided and remain sovereign; and it cannot be subject to 'fundamental laws' and remain sovereign. At the same time Rousseau takes from Locke and the jurisconsults the notion that sovereignty is limited. Sovereignty is absolute, but not unlimited. The limits are those imposed by natural law and by the considerations of public good. 'Sovereignty does not pass the bounds of public advantage.' As an example of what Rousseau means by a natural law limitation, we may note his argument in the Social Contract that no agreement to enter into slavery could be a valid one because any agreement which is wholly to the advantage of one party and wholly to the disadvantage of the other is void in natural law.

Several commentators, including C. E. Vaughan,18 say that Rousseau eliminates natural law, but Professor Derathé has drawn attention to certain passages from Rousseau's writings which illustrate the importance he attaches to natural law. Derathé quotes Rousseau's claim, in the course of his controversy with D'Alembert, that he recognizes three authorities higher than the sovereign authority of the state: 'that of God, that of the natural law which derives from the constitution of man, and that of honour'.19 Again, in the Lettres écrites de la montagne Rousseau writes: 'It is no more permissible to violate natural law by the social contract than it is permissible to violate positive law by private contracts.'20 Thirdly, in his Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne (written in 1771), Rousseau speaks of '… Natural law, that holy imprescriptable law which speaks to the heart and reason of man…'21

Against all this, it must be noticed that Rousseau in the Social Contract offers no possibility of an appeal to natural law. It is all very well to say, as he does, that the sovereign must not violate natural law, but this raises the question of who is to be judge of any such violation. In several of his writings, Rousseau emphasizes the supremacy of the individual conscience; he even goes so far as to speak of conscience as infallible. 'Conscience never deceives us.'22 This might lead one to expect that he would agree with those theorists who hold that the individual conscience must ultimately decide where to draw the line between justice and injustice. In fact, in the Social Contract Rousseau takes up the position of Hobbes, namely, that the citizen can have no other guide but the civil law and the public conscience. The general will is itself the arbiter of just and unjust. Here there seems to be a contradiction between the argument of the Social Contract and that of the Profession de foi and other writings. In the Social Contract the general will is the moral authority; elsewhere individual conscience is represented as the innate principle of justice.

This points to another and even more striking contradiction between what Rousseau says in the Social Contract and what he says elsewhere. Rousseau as he appears in the Profession de foi and indeed in most of his writings, published and unpublished, is clearly a Unitarian or Socinian, like Locke or Malebranche, regarding the minimal creed as a genuine, if not the only genuine, form of Christianity. Rousseau plainly detested the atheism of Diderot and the philosophes; his belief in the love of God and the life to come was profoundly important to him. He often said that he could not live without such religious faith. He also believed, much as Locke did, that such Christianity is reasonable.

In the Social Contract, however, his attitude is very much closer to that of Machiavelli than it is to that of Locke. What the state needs, Rousseau says in his chapter on the civil religion, is a religion subordinate to the state and designed to teach patriotic, civic and martial virtues. And Christianity, he says, quite as boldly as Machiavelli, is no good for this purpose; it teaches men to love the kingdom of heaven instead of their own republic on earth, and it teaches them to suffer but not to fight. It teaches the wrong virtues. Assuredly, Rousseau makes clear that he is talking here about civil religion, not private religion, and he admits that 'the religion of the Gospel' is the word of God for the private person. But the state religion is the more important, and the state religion must be supreme; Rousseau even goes so far as to propose a death penalty for those whose conduct is at variance with the religious principles they proclaim.

Up to a point Rousseau's argument is perfectly logical; he thinks that men will not become virtuous without the aid of religious institutions—a cult, a church—and since Christianity does not teach the civic virtue that is needed for the kind of republic he favours—a state on the model of Sparta or Rome—Rousseau is perfectly consistent in proposing, with Machiavelli, some kind of neo-pagan cult to match the needs of such a state. But how can he reconcile this with his professed faith in Christianity? Conceivably he is saying only that neo-paganism is useful and Gospel Christianity is true, and that the two belong to different logical categories, to be judged by different standards, the one by the standard of social utility and the other by that of truth; but if this is so, Rousseau is putting the useful above the true, and what then becomes of his criticism of his atheistic contemporaries, that they put utility in the place of morality?

An even more serious criticism of Rousseau can, I think, be levelled against his whole theory of liberty. On the one hand, he belongs to a certain tradition of moral philosophers who argue that to be free is not to be left to do what you want to do but to be enabled to do what you ought to do. Everything that Rousseau says about freedom being inseparable from justice, and about the necessary connexion between liberty and virtue, puts him in this school of morality. This theory of freedom, which has its origins in religious thought, claims to offer a superior, higher, more true and exalted analysis of what freedom is. Rousseau stands squarely in this tradition when he speaks of the higher, and more specifically moral freedom that men attain when they quit the state of nature and enter civil society.

But at the same time, Rousseau reveals an attachment to a less exalted idea of what freedom is. This is when he says that freedom is not being subject to any other man. Here one may suspect that Rousseau retained from the experiences of his life the simple notion—which might well be the occupational notion of domestic servants—that being dependent on another man is slavery and that freedom is simply having no master. To be dependent on things or institutions is quite different, and wholly unobjectionable. Throughout the Social Contract it is clear that Rousseau never sees institutions as a threat to freedom. The image of a King or Prince in Rousseau's eyes is the image of a master, and he sees such monarchs as enemies of liberty. But the image of the state touches him quite differently. There is a sentence in Book II (Chapter 12) of the Social Contract which illustrates this forcefully: this is where he says that things should be so arranged that every citizen is perfectly independent from all his fellow citizens and excessively dependent on the republic'. The word 'excessive' is significant. And why does Rousseau use it? Because he thinks such dependence can never be too great; because dependence on the state guarantees men against all dependence on men, against 'toute dépendance personnelle'.

Is this a philosopher's concept of freedom? Perhaps; but is it not also like that of a footman? The dream of liberty in the servants' hall is the dream of the elimination of the master; translated into political terms, this becomes the republican fantasy that freedom lies in the elimination of the King. Of course Rousseau says a great deal more than this about freedom. He says that to be free means to live under a law of one's own enactment. But one does not have to progress very far through the pages of the Social Contract to see how modest this role of enactment is allowed to become. Men, he insists, are ignorant. The general will is morally sound, it is always rightful, but it is unenlightened. Men cannot be trusted to frame or devise their own laws. They need a Law-giver to make laws for them. Their part in the enactment of laws is limited to assent to those laws. Thus freedom for Rousseau consists of putting oneself willingly under rules devised by someone else.

The measure of confidence that Rousseau has in his fellow men is made clear in Émile. At the very end of that long book, when the hero is grown up, and his exemplary education has produced its paragon, the young man, who is married and about to have a child, begs his tutor to stay with him: 'Advise and control us,' he implores the tutor, '… as long as I live I shall need you. I need you more than ever now that I am taking on the duties of manhood.'23

And just as the Tutor is the dominant figure of Émile so does the Lawgiver become the dominant figure of the Social Contract. Indeed the Lawgiver repeats in the state the role that the Tutor performs for the individual.24 He is needed for the same reason; men left alone will be led by their own passions and folly into disaster; they need someone to save them from themselves.

It is a bad thing to have a master; for that is the reverse of freedom. But it is a good thing to have a tutor, so long as we follow him willingly and gladly. For Rousseau the way to liberty is the path of voluntary submission. 'The King is dead; long live the Lawgiver!' Is this, in the end, the battle cry of the republic? Does Rousseau wish us to say: 'Advise and control us, O Législateur. As long as we live we shall need you. We need you more than ever now that we are taking on the duties of self-government.'?

Many readers may find the Social Contract a frustrating book. What is offered with one hand is taken away with the other. It is theoretically possible for a political system to be so devised that men become more free by entering into it. This is to 'take laws as they might be'. On the other hand, it is hard, indeed impossible, to see how such a system could avoid being spoiled. This is to 'take men as they are'. Rousseau enlarges our vision and perhaps also our insight; at the same time he diminishes our expectations.


1 Rousseau to Jacob Vernes, 2 April 1755. Quoted in Georges May, Rousseau par lui-même, Paris, 1963, p.26.

2Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la science politique de son temps, Paris, 1950.

3 Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), Dutch jurist; author of De jure belli et pads (1625).

4 Samuel Pufendorf (1632-94), German jurist; author of Elementa jurisprudentiae universalis (1660), De jure naturae et gentium (1672), De officio hominis et civis (1673).

5 Jean Barbeyrac (1674–1744), French jurist, translator and commentator on the works of Grotius and Pufendorf.

6 Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694–1748), Genevan jurist; author of Principes du droit naturel (1747), Principes du droit politique (1754).

7 Rousseau deals with practical politics in his Projet de Constitution pour la Corse (written 1764-5) and his Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne (written June 1771).

8 For a discussion of this see J. Starobinski, 'Du Discours de l'inégalité au Contrat social' in Journées d'Étude sur le Contrat Social, Paris, 1964.

9 'It is the weakness of man which renders him social: it is our common miseries which carry our hearts towards humanity.' Émile, Book IV, p. 249 Paris, 1524.

10 See Derathé, op. cit., p. 47.

11 In a letter to Madame d'Épinay, dated March 1756, Rousseau wrote: 'Learn my dictionary, my good friend, if you want to have us understand each other. Believe me, my terms rarely have the ordinary sense.' Quoted in C. W. Hendel, Citizen of Geneva: Selected Letters of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, New York, 1937, p. 140.

12 See Book III, Chapter 4.

13 Bertrand de Jouvenel has drawn attention to a contradiction here between Rousseau as a philosopher and Rousseau as a political scientist. Rousseau the political philosopher argues that legitimate government is possible only if sovereignty remains in the hands of the citizens. Rousseau the political scientist puts forward as an empirical law of development that the executive or administrative body must in the long run invade the legislative body and capture the sovereignty. Jouvenel cites a passage from Rousseau's Lettres écrites de la montagne (Part 1, Letter 6): '… since sovereignty tends always to slacken, the government tends always to increase its power. Thus the executive body must always in the long run prevail over the legislative body; and when the law is finally subordinate to men, there remains nothing but slaves and masters, and the republic is destroyed.' Jouvenel stresses that the 'must' in this paragraph is a scientific must; so that Rousseau the political scientist is denying the possibility of the continued existence in the real world of the one form of political association which unites liberty with government. See B. de Jouvenel on 'Rousseau' in Western Political Philosophers, ed. M. Cranston, London, 1964, and Jouvenel's introduction to his edition of Du Contrat social, Geneva, 1947.

14Lettres écrites de la montagne, Letter 8, Pléiade, vol. 3, pp. 841-2.

15 Book I, Chapter 7.

16 See, for example, J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, London, 1952. For a rejoinder to Talmon see R. A. Leigh, 'Liberté et autorité dans le Contrat social' in Jean-Jacques Rousseau et son æuvre, Paris, 1963.

17Émile, Classiques Garnier, Paris, 1924, p. 270.

18 C. E. Vaughan, The Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Cambridge University Press, 2 volumes, 1915.

19 Derathé, op. cit., p. 157.

20Lettres écrites de la montagne, Letter 6, Pléiade, vol. 3, p. 807.

21Political Writings, ed. C. E. Vaughan, vol. 2, p. 445.

22Profession de foi du vicaire savoyard, ed. Beauvalon, Paris, 1937, pp. 134-5

23Émile, ed. cit., p. 596.

24 See Judith N. Shklar, 'Rousseau's Images of Authority', American Political Science Review, December 1964, p. 919, and Pierre Burgelin, 'Le Social et Le Politique chez Rousseau' in Journées d'Étude, ed. cit., p. 173.


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712–1778

Swiss-born French essayist, autobiographer, novelist, dramatist, and poet.

The following entry provides critical discussion of Rousseau's writing on political theory.

Rousseau was a French philosopher and political theorist who is recognized as one of the greatest thinkers of the French Enlightenment. A prolific writer on many subjects, he has been variously cited as the intellectual father of the French Revolution, founder of the Romantic movement in literature, and engenderer of many modern pedagogical movements. The broad influence of his thought originates not only from his best-known political and philosophical treatises—Du contrat social; ou principes du droit politique (The Social Contract; 1762), Discours sur les sciences et les arts (Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts; 1750), and Discours sur l'origine et les fondaments de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (Discourse upon the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind; 1755)—but also from his eloquent novels and autobiographical writings—La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), Émile, ou de l'éducation (Émile; 1762), and Les Confessions de J. J. Rousseau (The Confessions of J. J. Rousseau; 1782-89). Rousseau's attempts to reconcile individual freedom with political unity gives his political writings an enigmatic quality that often leaves his readers questioning the degree of coherence between his ideas. Despite this, however, Rousseau's political writings have made a tremendous impact on Western thought.

Biographical Information

Rousseau was born in 1712 to Isaac Rousseau, a Genevese watchmaker, and Suzanne Bernard, the daughter of an upper-middle-class Genevese family. Rousseau's mother died a few days after his birth, and until age ten he lived with his father, who educated him by reading Calvinist sermons and seventeenth-century romance novels aloud to him. Rousseau's father subsequently abandoned him to the tutelage of an uncle, who apprenticed him at age thirteen to an abusive engraver. Having endured three miserable years of apprenticeship, Rousseau fled Geneva in 1728, and advised by a Roman Catholic Priest, went to the town of

Annecy. There, Rousseau met 29-year old Mme. de Warens, who supported herself by taking in and encouraging Catholic converts. Under her protection, Rousseau was sent to a hospice in Turin, where he converted to Catholicism, and thereby forfeitted his Genevese citizenship. Rousseau returned to Annecy the following spring intending to enter the priesthood, but instead he taught music to girls from the wealthiest families in the neighborhood. In 1731, after an unsuccessful search for employment in Paris, he once again returned to Mme. de Warens, who now lived near Chambéry, where Rousseau claimed he passed the happiest years of his life. He became her lover and stayed with her until 1740. During that time he studied music, read philosophy, science, and literature, and began to compose and write. Rousseau returned once more to Paris in late 1742, when he presented (without success) a new system of musical notation to the Académie des Sciences. In 1743, with the publication of his Dissertation de la musique moderne, together with the compositions of an opera and a comedy, Rousseau was appointed private secretary to the French ambassador in Venice; he lost the position the following year. In 1745, he met Thérèse Levasseur, a chambermaid who became his lifelong companion, and with whom he reputedly had five children. In Paris, Rousseau came to know prominent Encyclopedists and philosophers, including Voltaire and Denis Diderot. Rousseau's career as an essayist began in 1749 when, on the way to visit Diderot in prison, he saw an announcement for an essay contest sponsored by the Dijon Academy. In his winning essay, the Discourse upon the Sciences and the Arts, Rousseau argued that culture had ruined morality. The essay brought him immediate fame and provoked a number of literary disputes. During the following decade, Rousseau wrote most of his other important works, including the Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind, La Nouvelle Héloïse, the Lettre à d'Alembert sur les spectacles (Letter to d'Alembert on the Theater, 1758), Émile, and The Social Contract. In 1756 he briefly returned to Geneva to re-embrace Calvinism and recover his citizenship. He then returned to France and settled at the "Hermitage," a house at Montmorency, offered to him by Mme. d'Épinay, a friend of the Encyclopedists. He was forced to flee France in 1762, when the Parliament of Paris condemned both Émile and The Social Contract. He went back to Geneva, only to find that there, too, his works were banned and he was banished. He defended his writings in the Lettre à Christophe de Beaumont (1763), which attacked the archbishop of Paris who had condemned Émile, and Lettres écrites de la montagne (1764), which responded to the Council of Geneva's decree that Émile and The Social Contract be burned. In 1766, and under considerable mental distress, Rousseau fled to England and was offered refuge by David Hume. Rousseau soon grew paranoid and suspected Hume of collusion with his perceived enemies. Paranoid and panicked, Rousseau returned to France in 1767 under an assumed name: Renou. He wandered about France, never remaining anywhere for long, married Thérèse, and wrote his Confessions. In 1770 he returned to Paris and re sumed hisreal identity unmolested. Determined to de-fend himself against the "conspirators," Rousseau publicly read excerpts from his Confessions. He was forced to stop the readings when Mme. d'Épinay requested police intervention. Rousseau's madness lessened during the last two years of his life, and he lived in seclusion with Thérèse. He wrote Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (The Reveries of a Solitary Walker). Rousseau continued to write until his death on July 2, 1778.

Major Works

From 1751 to 1759 Rousseau worked on a large project that was to be called Institutions politiques. Though he never finished the project as such, several essays within the Institutions were among his most famous. The first of these was his follow-up to the First Discourse, the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. This Second Discourse, a second essay for the Dijon Academy, was essentially a diatribe against despotism and private property. He sought to expose and denounce artificially instituted social inequality by describing a hypothetical state of natural man. He believed that human beings are essentially good and potentially perfect. Human faults arise from the corrupting influences of conventional society—inequality, despotism, and privately-owned property—which, he claimed, progressively restrict freedom and lessen moral virtue. In order to restore humanity to its natural goodness, Rousseau called for a return to nature so far as is possible, but he also stressed that individual freedom can be reconciled with political unity. Rousseau's novels also expressed and elaborated on his ideas about the state of nature. La Nouvelle Héloïse demonstrated the triumph of a primitive family unit over the corruption of modern society, while Émile explicated his scheme for "natural" education in which man would preserve his fundamentally good instincts. Much of his subsequent political writing, notably The Social Contract, was an attempt to resolve the problem of freedom by reconciling the ideal freedom in the state of nature with the freedom possible in a civil society. Beginning with the famous phrase, "Man is born free and everywhere in chains," The Social Contract outlined the social order that would enable human beings to be natural and free—acknowledging no other bondage save that of natural necessity. While much of his writing was abstract and theoretical, Rousseau was keenly aware of current political events, especially in his native Geneva. Despite his twenty-year loss of citizenship and persecution by the Genevan authorities, Rousseau always considered himself a Genevan. The dedication of the Second Discourse was addressed to his fellow Genevans, and his Discours sur l'oeconomie politique (Discourse on Political Economy; 1758), written for the Encyclopédie, explicitly took the Genevan Republic as an example. Other concrete political treatises were the Projet de constitution pour la Corse (Project for a Constitution for Corsica; 1765) and Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne et sur sa réformation projetté (Considerations on the Government of Poland; 1782), which was requested by the Polish Confederation of the Bar, a group of noble Polish nationalists.

Critical Reception

Critics have long considered much of Rousseau's work extremely controversial, if not decidedly revolutionary. Moreover, Rousseau's works have been subject to various and contradictory interpretations. Rousseau himself maintained in his Confessions, however, that his oeuvre was consistent and coherent, and that any apparent inconsistencies were superficial. In the years after Rousseau's death, he was seen as a champion of individualism by both counter-revolutionaries and radicals. Conversely, Hippolyte Taine wrote in his Ancien Régime that Rousseau's collectivism led inevitably to tyranny and despotism. In general, Rousseau's writings were widely read and critically acclaimed throughout Europe well into the nineteenth century, after which point interest waned until the early twentieth century. As the bicentenary of Rousseau's birth approached, English commentators began to reassess the import of the writer's life and ideology and critics focused on the contradictory nature of much of his thought. There have been periodic attempts, such as Ernst Cassirer's 1932 essay The Problem of Rousseau, to extract from the variety of his writings the fundamental unity of thought that Rousseau himself claimed existed. Rousseau continued (and continues) to be read as providing a foundation for a range of political ideologies, including modern democracy, socialist collectivism, totalitarianism, and individualist anarchy. In recent years, critical attention has shifted from a "paternity" approach—study of Rousseau's "formative influence" on modern society as the father of certain ideas, movements, and events—to attempts at lucid interpretation of the actual meaning of his thought, but he remains a complex or contradictory figure whose ideas and eloquence continue to resonate powerfully with those reading him from the economic and social vantage point of the late twentieth century.

Judith N. Shklar (essay date 1969)

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SOURCE: "'One Nation, Indivisible …'," in Men and Citizens: A Study of Rousseau's Social Theory, Cambridge at the University Press, 1969, pp. 165-214.

[In the following excerpt, Shklar discusses Rousseau 's idea of the body politic, one of his political personifications.]


The Great Legislator practices preventive politics in much the same way as the tutor gives Emile a negative education. Both create an external environment that will forestall the moral deformation that has been the lot of 'man in general'. Both also manage to create a deep attachment to themselves in their respective charges. Their influence is thus as profound as it is apparently effortless. There is, however, a rather obvious difference. The tutor is raising one child, while the Legislator is dealing with 'a people', that is, with a considerable number of adults. The startling fact is that Rousseau spoke of 'the people' as if it were Emile. That, indeed, was only one of his personifications. The sovereign, the public happiness ('le bonheur publique'), the general will and the body politic are all personifying metaphors, and very conventional ones at that. Together they form the main subject of Rousseau's political thought. That in itself is not particularly odd. All political thought is a matter of metaphors. The complexity of an endless series of relations between people could not be imagined, could not even be felt, without such organizing images.

The mere fact that Rousseau concentrated consistently on a few political personifications is not, in itself, notable. It is what he did with them that is entirely peculiar to him. The personifications allowed him to bring his moral and social psychology to bear on the great question of politics: can civil society be justified? And his quite deliberate use of traditional metaphors permitted him to show just how damaging and erroneous all prevalent answers were. In giving these well-worn commonplaces new meanings he carried his psychology into a political context, and also exposed the falseness of the conventions that these metaphors had embodied. It was a marvellous exercise in rhetorical economy, but it did not succeed perfectly. For, as Rousseau realized with some bitterness, few readers were able to understand the Social Contract. Its elusiveness has become notorious.

There is nothing neutral about Rousseau's personifications. They are neither ornaments, nor descriptions. On the contrary, they are part of that 'moral truth' that reveals how people feel in specific situations, and in that exposure there is a judgment. What matters is the moral impact of situations on those who must live within them. Rousseau's moral psychology always involved consumers and creators of social environments. That was unalterable. Society always makes people. The question is not whether society should or should not mould its members. The real issue is how to imagine an environment that benefits those who must bear its pressures. How is one to envisage a social cure for the diseases of association? How might the rift between inclination and duty within each person be healed? The biography of Everyman was a 'genealogy of vice'. Under what conditions might Everyman be restored to a condition free of his traditional miseries? That is the subject of political psychology. It also makes Rousseau's use of personifications far less bizarre than it might seem. They are collective patients.

Rousseau's view of 'the people' is that of an outside observer. The Legislator considers only the physical and social conditions that must be created for it. The reactions of the people, of Everyman, are only what one would expect of most persons in these situations. The interplay between situation and individual is known in its main movements, even if the 'individual' is a composite 'man in general'. He is not any special person, in his entirety, but only the bearer of a number of responses common to all men in society. The sovereign also is treated in terms of the conditions which permit, or rather fail to permit, the exercise of the people's civic rights and duties. The happiness of the people is again not a personal feeling peculiar to any person, but the sum of circumstances which allow simple people to feel secure and contented. The general will, like any will, is that faculty, possessed by all men, that defends them against destructive impulses and influences. It is general because each citizen can guard himself and his fellow citizens against the dangers of amour-propre, the empire of opinion and institutionalized inequality. Everyman's overriding self-interest is to prevent inequality and his will is pitted against all those forces within and outside himself that promote it. The body politic, lastly, only shows the conditions under which governments aid or destroy the people. The first function of all these personifications is to illustrate how man might respond to a civil order and to show what a legitimate society would be like. For that Rousseau had to consider only the conditions which were likely to stimulate the least painful responses to the inevitable inconveniences of civil life. Although there is nothing anthropomorphic in Rousseau's metaphors they have their disadvantages. Even though it is clear that he had no notion of a group mind or of any social purposes apart from those of the individual citizens, his personifications do create an impression of excessive civic uniformity. Rousseau, of course, did think that, in spite of men's natural differences, they were in many aspects quite alike. This was true especially of the vast majority of people who possessed no exceptional talents. It is for them that civic society exists. Their similarity is most notable in their reactions to the process of association. That is what gives Everyman's agonized passage into civilization and Emile's education their plausibility. Rousseau may very possibly have overestimated the pain caused by inner and social conflict. He believed that nothing was more terrible than the tension between nature and society, and that social iniquity was mainly responsible for that suffering. Given these assumptions, he can hardly be accused of ignoring individual needs in favour of public ends dissociated from feelings. 'Everything that destroys social unity is worthless; all institutions that put a man in contradiction with himself are worthless.'1 This harsh sentence against Christianity could just as readily be applied to civilization as a whole. It expressed completely what Rousseau meant to prevent in his vision of a just civil order. It is not social cohesion as an end in itself. The end is the unity within each man. Social peace is merely the reflection of that inner harmony which had marked natural men in contrast to the civilized. Because this need was a general one, it could be described in a composite figure of a man, or of 'the people', without unduly distorting the experience of actual men.

The great convenience of Rousseau's personifications for joining his moral psychology and his vision of justice does not exhaust their uses. Because they were all rich in conventional associations, Rousseau could, by redefining them, express, in a word, the full extent of his radicalism, and his utter contempt for prevailing political opinion. Who were 'the people' in common usage? They were everybody who was nobody, the vulgar multitude, the 'feet' of the body politic. That was not Rousseau's meaning. 'The people is mankind; those who do not belong to the people are so few in number that they are not worth counting. Man is the same in every station of life; if that be so, those ranks to which most men belong deserve most honor.' The European peasants, not their masters, are to be the object of all consideration and their welfare the sole end of politics. No one else matters at all. 'If all the kings and all the philosophers were removed they would scarcely be missed and things would go on none the worse.2 When Rousseau spoke of the people the word was not just meant to cover, without discrimination, all those who might be living in a given place at a given time. It meant those who are now the poor, and quite specifically, not the rich in talent or goods.

The 'sovereignty of the people' is also a metaphor containing a negation. The word sovereignty has scarcely any meaning at all apart from absolute monarchy. It is the chief attribute of the man who can say tel est mon plaisir, and make it stick. That he should be able to do this was no less the will of God than it was necessary for social order; such was the meaning of sovereignty in the old régime. By taking this fear- and awe-inspiring power, so wholly associated with monarchical government, and attributing it to the people Rousseau was able to tell simple men in a phrase how immense he thought their rightful claims were. The sovereign people implies the destruction of sovereignty as a relation between rulers and ruled. It is the anti-monarchy, and not a new sovereignty in any intelligible sense.

The general will was certainly Rousseau's most original contribution to the language of politics. The phrase has remained his own and rightly so. However, both Montesquieu and Diderot had used it before him.3 Montesquieu used it vaguely to signify public opinion. That was Rousseau's meaning as well, though by no means a casual one. The initial purpose of his notion of the general will was to reject Diderot's idea. For Diderot the general will expressed a vague benevolence felt quite naturally by men for mankind in general. For Rousseau the general will pursued nothing but hard personal interest, even if it was an interest that citizens shared. Nor was its content vague; 'it always tended to equality'. Far from concerning itself with all mankind, it owed its inspiration to xenophobia. It can come to men only when they acquire that moi commun which arises out of close and exclusive association with their fellow-citizens.4 It is general because the prevention of inequality is the greatest single interest that men in society share, whatever other ends they might have. Nothing could be more remote from the cosmopolitan and aristocratic values of Voltaire and the Parisian intellectuals. As d'Alembert had noted, it was a 'ridiculous heresy' to say that the philosophes believed in general equality.5 It was not a mistake Rousseau was likely to make about them. He knew perfectly well that they spoke for the interests of exceptional men, and that his alone was the 'voice of the people'.6 That also was why his definition of the 'public happiness' began with a rejection of conquest and commerce as fit objects of policy. These serve only the interests of the great and proud. What peasants want is to live in security and abundance. That is the public happiness, derived from life in a civic order, and expressed in a quiet satisfaction with things as they are.7

The body-politic was the oldest and the most tradition-ridden of all Rousseau's metaphors. Partly he meant to show, as that personification had always done, that governmental authority could be justified. He did that by taking the magistrates out of the head or soul, and reducing them to mere organs of the body, with no will of their own. That was enough to undo the traditional view of monarchical authority.8 For Leviathan more was needed. To dispose of Hobbes' 'atrocious despotism', government had to be pictured, less as a member of the body politic, than as the principal cause of its diseases and ultimate death. As the body dies, so does the artificial man, the state, and it is government that inevitably brings about the destruction, unless it is checked with improbable zeal by 'the people' as a whole.9

Negative in this as in everything, Rousseau's metaphors are the vehicles that took human needs into battle against the forces of inequality. Even when Rousseau wrote about a policy or an institution that he recommended, it was always a matter of attacking the existing system. Not equality, but the destruction of inequality matters, all the more so since the psychological predisposition to inequality is a manifest part of the experience of association. That is why the Legislator must instruct a people before it is even capable of knowing what citizenship means. When one remembers who 'the people' are, the necessity for a Legislator becomes all the more evident.

The people, as Rousseau never forgot, are not very intelligent. It may know its own interests, but it needs help if it is to defend them effectively.10 Without a Legislator to guide men, they will never acquire a character or become aware of themselves as a people, who 'collectively' are citizens subject only to laws they have made for themselves.11 Like Emile at adolescence the people needs instruction and examples. Interest brings men together, but to become all that they might be as a people requires more. To be ready for its Lycurgus the people must not yet have rooted prejudices, must be 'pliable', isolated from foreigners and, in sum, have the 'simplicity of nature joined to the needs of society'.12 Only such a people can be saved for liberty and from the master's yoke. To avoid that is indeed its main aim.13 To that end it needs civic pride, while Emile needs Stoic self-control. Both, however, know how to find their fulfillment in isolation.

The best way to avoid both war and inner confusion is simply to keep the people apart from all others. Philosophers, to be sure, pretend to love Tartars and other distant nations, but that is only to save themselves the trouble of having to love their fellow-citizens. For ordinary people it is more important to avoid foreigners, indeed to dislike them. To prevent that dreadful 'mixed-state', half social and half natural, the people needs a 'smaller social group, firmly united in itself and dwelling apart from others, [that] tends to withdraw itself from the larger society. Every patriot hates foreigners; they are only men, and nothing to him.' It is not a perfect situation, but it does avoid the perpetual war and despotism of monarchies and the cold indifference of philosophers.14 These are the conditions the Legislator must, at all costs, prevent from arising.

Commerce and conquest, the policies of monarchical states, are far from the people's interest. The Legislator induces the people to be neither so rich as to tempt other nations, nor so poor as to be itself tempted to engage in these forms of international relations. A modest self-sufficiency is the first condition to be met.15 There are also powerful psychological reasons for isolation. Emulation is always bound to lead to trouble. Nations only copy each other's vices.16 Had not the French corrupted the Swiss?17 Emile might be allowed to travel: he is not a citizen, but even he must be warned against the dangers of foreign influence to his inner integrity.18 Self-possession, like civic loyalty, is frail. Lord Eduard is pleased that the English are nothing but Englishmen, since they have no need to be men. An Englishman's prejudices spring from pride, not from amour-propre as do those of Frenchmen.19 This idea came to Rousseau from Montesquieu, who in one of his panegyrics on England, had noted that 'free nations are haughty, others may properly be called vain'.20

Like many of his contemporaries Rousseau enjoyed comparing the 'character' of various peoples. He very much regretted the uniformity to which life in the capitals of Europe had reduced their inhabitants. Only isolated peoples can retain ways that are integrally their own and express their particular experiences.21 The masked people of capitals are not just faceless; they are without character or self-esteem. The Legislator must see to it that the people acquires a character suited to it and capable of withstanding foreign influences which simply disintegrate that independence that comes from having a clearly felt sense of self-hood.22 In prehistoric times, for which Rousseau had a real understanding, the bare needs for subsistence and all that bears upon it, climate and soil, mould men entirely. That is, however, not men's condition now.23 For Rousseau climate was not, as it was for Montesquieu, a perpetual influence upon men's lives. Once they emerge from animality, moral forces dominate their lives and characters. The history of the Jews had taught Rousseau that.24 In history, it is psychological, not physical resources that cause a people to survive or to perish.

The people's character, for Rousseau, was in no way separable, either as an end of policy, or as a subject of study, from the ways of its individual members. To show how shared conditions affect the behavior and opinions of individual persons was all he had to show. That is why he talked not of Spartan maternal behavior, but of just one truly awful Spartan mother. That, also, is one of Lord Eduard's roles in the Nouvelle Héloise. Rousseau did more than just put Montesquieu's phrases about England into his mouth. He made Lord Eduard a perfect embodiment of those traits that Montesquieu believed the English owed to their liberty.

Without illusions about himself or his country, Eduard is wealthy, but never acquisitive. As Montesquieu had noted, opulence and personal merit are all that matter in England. Lord Eduard is as generous as he is rich, takes no pride in his ancestors, serves the laws rather than the king, loathes the court and is totally indifferent to public opinion. He immediately recognizes Saint-Preux's worth and the two become the closest of friends. To be sure, he is no Wolmar, far from it. He has violent passions, and his deep Stoicism cannot save him from them. His manners are direct and the same toward all. No false politeness and no delicacy for him. He is not at all stupid, but completely unintellectual. Because he is proud, and not arrogant, he has none of the class prejudice that dominates Julie's father. And it is he who denounces the latter mercilessly for having sold his military services to the king of France and for adhering to tyrannical notions. No one buys Lord Eduard—nor does he buy others. He himself is a model of personal independence because the people still count for something in England; even the simple sailors whom Saint-Preux meets have a feeling for real merit and a sturdy character. Freedom creates character, even in modern England.

Nevertheless, it is Lord Eduard, quite in keeping with Montesquieu's own pessimism, who notes that the laws do not rule in England; it is merely the last country in which they still exist.25 Above all, it is he who in dissuading Saint-Preux from suicide, brings out with great force how enormous a distance separates modern man from the heroes of antiquity.26 The republic and its virtue are so remote from modern man that its heroes cannot be copied. Self-control and a melancholy awareness of present ills are all that the ancients can now teach us. It is the English hero who must recognize this most perfectly, because he was the only conceivable rival to the moral supremacy of ancient virtue. Montesquieu had wavered. Rousseau was certain: Rome was incomparably greater than England.

The historical reasons for the character of the English or any other people were beyond Rousseau's range of thought. It was not his ambition to be an inferior Montesquieu. Psychology was what he understood and it enabled him to create a living character who also personified English freedom. Lord Eduard, quite apart from his intrinsic interest as one of the best drawn figures in the Nouvelle Héloise, is important for an understanding of Rousseau's notion of a people's character. In spite of the enormous differences in their style of thought, Rousseau's debt to Montesquieu was enormous. It was Montesquieu who had shown that a people's character is not the cause of its collective conduct, but part of a social whole which it reflects and sustains. It is both an expression of a people's physical and political experience, and also its chief source of strength in maintaining those institutions which best suit it. It is that active force that must inform the law if it is to be appropriate to the physical and moral needs of the people. It is, moreover, a sensitive disposition, which like the personality of a human being can be crushed, as despotism can crush people who once were free. In that complex of related and mutually dependent actions and responses that are summed up in the word 'society', the character of a people plays the most vital part in maintaining the integrity of the whole. That is why Rousseau felt so strongly, knowing the true lesson of Montesquieu, that a people must be given a character by the Legislator. It must be moulded for strength and survival. Secretly, therefore, when he seems to concern himself with regulations, that master psychologist stimulates the mores and opinions of the people which alone can give it an enduring character and institutions capable of enduring.27

Character is pride and the structuring of the people's opinions has no more important end than to replace amour-propre with self-esteem.28 That is a sense of inner self-appreciation that makes people indifferent to the opinions of outsiders, as it guards individuals against that servile and self-destructive Parisian concern for 'what is done'. To feel secure men must have a sense of the importance of their own part in the social whole. How else can pride be extended to public objects? Only in a small society is that ever possible. People cannot even have an awareness of society as a single whole unless they know each other.29 In large states, where people are strangers to each other, public sentiment just evaporates.30 To be sure, citizens should not be crowded together as they are in Paris and other large cities, 'where man's breath is fatal to man'.31 They should meet regularly, but live apart. The agrarian republic is perfect for that. Men do not live in cities there; they only meet to conduct public affairs in them. Then they return to their own land, which their simple minds identify directly with the fatherland. That is why patriots grow in the soil.32

Size is not only important in creating attachments to the land and fellow-citizens. It makes the assertion of rights and the identification of interests much less difficult. Interest is what brings men into society and keeps them there.33 The consciousness of common interests is citizenship. Justice itself is not divorced from amour-propre. It is, like pride, only well-understood, expanded and properly directed self-interest.34 In a small state this is not difficult because the identity of interests is genuine and evident.35 Given very meagre intellectual capacities of the people, the scope of society should not exceed their faculties.36 If they cannot understand what is going on people will dissociate themselves from their fellows. Moreover, a man's vote does not matter much to him, or to anyone else, if it is only one among many.37 He then feels powerless and loses interest in the state. Size and complexity thus always work against the interests of the people and in favour of those who have special abilities and wealth.38 Rousseau had learned that in Paris. That, indeed, is why the cohesive community is very much the anti-capital. Its virtues arise mainly from the absence of those conditions which created Paris and its counterparts all over Europe.39

In the absence of social bonds, moreover, the esprit d'état of the magistrates will assert itself and they will become overbearing with no active public to restrain them and no patriotism to shame them.40 In addition to that, the difficulties of governing a large territory and a huge population cannot but increase the need for concentrated governmental power. The inevitable result, as Montesquieu had shown, was that large states are ruled by monarchs who presently become despots.41 In short, everything that has gone into the making of the old régime was to be avoided. The small, isolated city, the peasant republic, its opinions and mores carefully instilled by a Legislator and maintained by patriotic feeling, is the sole defense against civilized tyranny.

The conditions that impinge so deeply upon the people's feelings and ways are part of a psychological strategy. These defenses against inner and outer threats are, however, useless unless those interests which lead men to join in a social contract continue to be served. That is why the Polish project is such a superficial fantasy; as Rousseau well knew.42 Polish patriotism does not support the military policies of the ancients and it does nothing for the vast majority of the people, who are excluded from its political life. Without sovereignty, in fact, the people has exactly nothing. The Legislator's art is described in loving detail in the Polish project, but it says nothing about the real ends of republicanism. For that one must read the Economie Politique, the true Spartan utopia. It has its Legislator, but it also has a general will and a vox populi, vox dei, which alone make it possible for the people to achieve its permanent interests. Without freedom and justice no republic can be said to exist. And without equality there is no liberty.43 All the hypnotic powers of the Legislator were in vain if inequality, the root of all vice, was not checked. Rousseau never doubted the truth of Montesquieu's remark that 'a free nation may have a deliverer: a nation enslaved can only have another oppressor'.44 No single savior can replace the conditions necessary for freedom.

To illuminate the conditions required for justice, Rousseau turned from the Legislator and the character of the people to another personification, the sovereign. Rousseau admitted explicitly that for him the words 'the sovereign' was a personification. It was his name for 'the will of all [which] is the order, the supreme rule' in society.45 The writers of the monarchical tradition, and above all Hobbes, had certainly paid their respects to that will as it was expressed in the social contract which establishes civil societies. Rousseau entirely agreed with that, but for purposes of his own. What he wanted to show was that these contracts, so long misinterpreted by absolutist theory, were invalid because they were never enforced and could not be enforced unless the people was sovereign. That is why, in spite of the title of his most celebrated book, the social contract itself plays an insignificant part in his political thought. It is the ordinary people, 'the all' whose will rules, that matters most. Their sovereignty is meant to express their supremacy within civil society, a supremacy which it is always in their interest to retain and which must always be protected against usurpation. Sovereignty thus personifies the most important interest of all. And it is never anything apart from the interests of the men who come together to live in society, and who recognize the rules under which their interests are to be secured.46 The justifiable civil society is one in which the people's interests, and none other, determine the rules: not kings and not representative parliaments, but the people are sovereign. That is the chief value of the personification. It brings home, as no other word could, whom the people, the nobodies, are to replace. The great question of politics is how to protect the people against its own incompetence, and against fraud and usurpation.

All societies are based on some agreement, some commonly accepted conventions. That is merely a definition of society. Moreover, men generally come together for the same sorts of reasons: to ensure their preservation and to supply their needs.47 The contract, the decision to create a civil society, expresses nothing else. It does not come from any new moral awareness or civic sense. It creates these eventually, and the differences between societies depend on that development. The terms of the contract are, in fact, exactly the same for every civil society, whatever its moral and political quality may be.48 In every case it is an agreement that replaces possession with property.49 Instead of having to defend his person and his things as best he can, each man now agrees to respect the possessions of every other man and to join with everyone in protecting these. From now on his safety and his goods are his, not because he has the strength to ward off attacks upon them, but because his potential aggressors have agreed that they are his to have and hold in undisturbed peace. He, in turn, not only recognizes their right to this, but all join together in order to protect each one whenever the need for it arises, If this arrangement really comes to mean in actuality what it says, it is a very advantageous exchange in which all gain.50 'All' means, of course, those who are not exceptionally strong and shrewd: the people. For them only, after all, is it true that 'no one' loses anything to any other person, since all give up identical powers and all gain an identical security.51 They, indeed, give up only a precarious hold on their safety in return for collectively assured protection. The easy possibility of aggression was of no use to them, in any case. To be sure, if a man now fails to abide by his agreement he may be punished. That is implicit in the accepted obligation to protect each person through collective action against any aggressor.52

This is the origin of every civil society. It is also the birth of law and justice. Without property, without mutuality of rights and duties, there can be no sense of justice. Any individual will, like little Emile, feel a sense of injustice when someone simply deprives him of the work of his own hands. Justice, as a general social feeling, as the sense of what is due to others, no less than to oneself, can arise only out of rules that establish property, that define 'mine' and 'thine' and the rights and duties implicit in those words. However, unless we also learn to care for our brothers as we do for ourselves it is ineffective.53 The emergence of a sense of justice is transforming for those who enter civil society, any civil society. It is not, however, a feeling that can prosper under all circumstances.

It is only when men really recognize and accept mutual obligations, and when the rules really apply to everyone of them in exactly the same way, that justice can be said to be more than a frustrated hope.54 If the strong continue to dominate the weak, and the rules do not replace, but only legalize the power of masters, then nothing at all has been gained by anyone but the rich. A man obeys himself only if he follows a rule that he knows to be necessary and advantageous. If he follows rules that limit him, but impose no restraints on other men, then the rules are not in his interest and he cannot be presumed to have agreed to them simply because he is silent. Consent may not be the most uncomplicated word in the political vocabulary, but it does not mean slavish endurance of domination. To have said so was the atrocious error of that 'untruthful child', Grotius.55

Not the mere existence of a social contract, but mutuality of obligations under rules that are impersonal demands, and not the wishes of any one person, makes justice. That is also what is meant by replacing the inequality of physical powers by civil equality.56 It is not mere consent that imposes obligation. Only an agreement that binds all equally, and therefore excludes the possibility of personal domination, is obliging.57 Only this condition makes the social contract a plausible justification for the 'chains' of civil society.

The real problem of justifying civil society is, then, to find ways of making the social contract effective. As usual, Rousseau's mind took a negative turn. What he really wanted to make clear, after all, was how unjust all actual societies were. He therefore concentrated on the conditions that reduce the contract to futility at best, and to an instrument of enslavement at worst. Without the work of the Legislator no contract can ever come to much. The people cannot be expected to have the wits needed to protect its newly awakened sense of justice against its own amour-propre or against the wiles of the conspiratorial few.58 In fact, most social contracts are fraudulent, mere deceptions, as Rousseau showed in the Discourse on Inequality. All societies at present live under rules designed by the rich in order to oppress the poor.59 The poor were lured into submitting to a contract by the rich. The pretense of the contract to bind all equally deceives them. In fact when there are rich and poor the effect of the contract is to prevent the poor from attacking the rich without inhibiting the powers of the rich in any way whatever. When there are rich and poor there are always two kinds of rule, the legal one set by the contract, and the real one exercised by the rich who dominate everyone and everything without restraint.60 Such a contract merely accelerates the abuses of inequality, of which despotism is the ultimate one.61

Fraud is not the only means of rendering the contract ineffective. Since it is not a simple agreement, but the creation of a new civic consciousness, it is imperative that the sense of justice should be sustained and continually asserted. The people cannot develop an artificial social conscience, which is justice, spontaneously. Mere natural compassion is not enough now. Justice is an attitude that has to be nurtured. It is a question of the psychological growth of 'the sovereign'. Civic obligations must not just be accepted once and for all, but must be explicitly and regularly reassessed and reaffirmed. Not only must every citizen participate in the original contract, but he must at any time be free to reconsider his allegiance. If he rejects it, he should be free to reconsider his allegiance and should be free to leave the polity, without hindrance, difficulty or fear for himself or his family. Without that, tacit consent is a fraud, not merely a silence. For consent to be explicit, genuine and personal, the possibility of opting out must exist. Once a man has accepted the contract he obviously cannot leave to escape from his duties, whether they be personal debts or military service in time of war.62 That would be a private act of war against the polity, not a free act of dissociation. With that in mind, however, no one is bound by the contract who has not agreed to it.63 All contracts say that. Few mean it.

The contract also lapses if the people cannot assemble at stated times to consider the rules that bind all of them, and to reaffirm their intention to abide by them. There is no other way in which the sense of justice can be kept alive. It is also the only way of keeping governments within their legitimate bounds. That, indeed, is the main political function of these assemblies.64 The purpose of the assemblies of the people has nothing to do with modern notions of legislation. They are not called to make or remake laws, but to reassert the people's willingness to abide by the contract and to live in justice. That is why the fewness and antiquity of laws is the very best proof of their validity and worth.65 There is nothing wrong with tacit consent so long as the opportunity to make it vocal is always present.66 The open and frequent affirmation of faith in the rules is an expression of the sense of justice that the rules have kindled and a means to their preservation. The sovereign does very little. Sovereignty is the people's determination to live without masters and under rules accepted by it, even if fashioned for it by the Legislator. This is what separates an 'association' from a mere 'aggregation'.67 The acts of periodic recollection are not a blind adherence to tradition as such; on the contrary, by returning to its foundations the people reinvigorates a present and immediate commitment to justice, to a single virtue.

Justice is also not a matter of self-government in any very extensive sense. It does not imply any sort of action or adaptation to change. It is, rather, an effort to prevent all change. The sovereign people abides by an ethos that has been created for it by the Legislator. It is he who is the sole 'architect' of the edifice that the people maintains.68 That is why Rousseau quoted Montesquieu with such approval: 'At the birth of societies the chiefs of the republics make institutions, and later the institutions make the chiefs.'69 The psychology of justice demands participation in public acts of civic loyalty and defense against usurpation. It does not call upon the people, for all its sovereignty, to make new laws or to exercise governmental functions. It does mean that the moi commun is sustained, each citizen, even the least important, is treated with the consideration due a 'sovereign', and that the citizens, because they are equal and just, care for each other.70 These dispositions are found only among the people, not among privilege-seeking groups. That is why the people is fit for sovereignty, and why the great in their cruelty and the intellectuals in their indifference are not.71 Justice is, in short, a state of mind created by civic experience. Its ultimate victory comes when the little moi humain is totally absorbed by love of the public good. This is what sovereignty does for the people.

If Rousseau had been able to abandon the traditional vocabulary of politics occasionally, he might have saved his readers at least one confusion. Because the term sovereign has as its corollary the term subject, Rousseau thought it necessary to put it to at least some use. The just society is evidently a society without subjection. Rousseau wanted to say just that. The citizen is the very antithesis of the usual subject. What he did say was that the people consists of citizens who are the sovereign, and of subjects who submit to the law of the state.72 This disastrous explication seems almost to make the people as neurotic as the Vicar at his self-divided worst. In fact, exactly the very opposite is implied. Not two selves, but an undivided self is the mark of the citizen, who, being tormented by neither amour-propre nor oppression, finds that his duty is also his inclination. He is internally whole because he lives in a social environment in which his interests are perfectly served, and subject and sovereign are 'identical correlations united in the term, citizen'.73

If he expressed himself awkwardly, Rousseau, however, did not misrepresent a very essential aspect of his view of citizenship by speaking of sovereign subjects. It brings out perfectly the extent to which the people is a beneficiary of justice in society, rather than its creator. In the perfect Spartan republic the people is taught to understand and even to love its laws by carefully constructed preambles.74 That is how men absorb the meaning of their laws, as Plato had so well explained.75 Such an education is nothing if not wise in a patriotic republic, as the Legislator well knows. It also says something about the people's sovereignty. It is a condition free from personal oppression, but it is not self-determination in a politically active sense.

The people is, quite in keeping with Rousseau's psychology, reactive and passive in its moral life. Its activity, important though it be, is at most defensive. It must assert itself constantly, but only to prevent usurpation. It does little else. Personification has, thus, the effect of seeing the people as subjects of a social situation that has been created for them. To be sure, they experience it as beneficiaries, not as victims. The individualizing tendencies of Rousseau's psychology are also evident here. Each citizen is like every other in being just. Justice is, however, described as an external condition and as an inner state of mind. At no time is there a sense of relations between people. The 'others' are the situation for the individual citizen, and he remains an isolated entity who reacts to them. Their justice creates that absence of oppression which is the essential feature of a legitimate society. For the individual it is a framework, not a set of relationships. He helps to maintain the structure, but he does so primarily by keeping his own inner civic self intact. The only visible actors in society are the Legislator and the enemies of the people who compete for its opinions. Social change after the initial institution of a people is always a decline, therefore. That is inherent in Rousseau's utopia.

The conspiratorial few are not the only agents of degeneration. Gradually, as the memory of the Legislator fades so do the character and opinions that he gave the people. He is, after all, only a brief interruption in the normal course of history which is a tale of otherwise unmitigated popular self-destruction. Indeed, neither he nor his utopia have any purpose other than to illuminate what might be, in a glaring contrast to what is, was and will be. The picture of a legitimate civil society is that of laws as they might be, men being what they are. It is the interplay between these two, between the unrealized possibility and history, that makes the personification of politics into a dramatic morality play.

Of all Rousseau's celebrated 'bipolarities' none is more dramatic than the confrontation of the possible with the probable.76 Just because fate is character, a failure of the human will, it is insurmountable, as any doom must be. The dramatic intensity of Rousseau's style of thought is not in its admitting alternative and incompatible moralities. It is not the either/or of Sparta or the Golden Age, but either one of these, when it is pitted against men's actual moral poverty, that illuminates, without solving, the deepest and most universal tensions. The juxtaposition of what is and what might be is not a call for action, but a revelation, a psychological event, not an historical one. The sinister accidents that drive men out of the Golden Age and out of Sparta are all of their own making. That is their most significant aspect, because it ensures their recurrence. To understand and to condemn are the only fit responses to this spectacle and Rousseau knew no others. He was not interested in showing how men gradually mould each other. That is the subject of historical narrative. The drama of irresoluble confrontations alone could express warnings, imprecations and denunciations, and, above all, Rousseau's infinite revulsion.


Since the people does not do very much with its sovereignty, why does it need a will? Could Rousseau not have saved his readers from confusion by replacing the term, general will, with the more simple word, consent? He could not, because the latter does not in the least express his meaning. The general will is Rousseau's most successful metaphor. It conveys everything he most wanted to say. It ties his moral psychology and political theory together as no other words could. And the unity of morality and politics was a matter of no small importance to Rousseau.77 The general will is a transposition of the most essential individual moral faculty to the realm of public experience. Like the personal will it is not directed at the external world or even immediately toward manifest action. It is a regulative power, the defensive force that protects the self against the empire of opinion that threatens it from within and without. On the level of public life that means that the republican people is on its guard against all other states, and that its will protects it against them.78 It is, as a will, the very antithesis of Diderot's general will, which encompassed the rights of all mankind. It is also an internal faculty, because it defends the people against those disruptive groups that yearn for inequality. As such there is nothing mysterious about the general will. It is the will against inequality. That is also why it is general. It pursues the interests of man in general against those 'particular' wills which lead men to seek privileges, especially by forming groups that aim at inequality. The general will is, thus, a specific form of the human faculty of willing, and one that each citizen ought to possess.

The nature and functions of the will as a psychological power, rather than its 'generality', really explain why Rousseau had to attribute a will to the people in its position of sovereignty. The people, the nobodies of this world, is 'par état' in favor of justice and equality. It knows perfectly well that if exceptions to the rules are made it is not in its favor or to its advantage.79 That realization is not too difficult, even for men of the most limited intelligence. One does not have to be particularly shrewd to feel cheated and to wish to avoid it. There is nothing complicated about peace, unity and equality. Anyone can appreciate them.80 Only the arcana imperii require subtle minds. The real interests of the people are more easily grasped. There is no great need to alter men's opinions on this score. Let each man have his own opinion and 'what is most pleasing in itself will always secure most votes'.81 And equality is certainly what is most pleasing to the people, since that is its main interest. There is nothing excessively confident in this. The problem is not that the people does not see its interests, but that it is no match for those who want to deceive and mislead it.82 That is why the force of circumstances, the external pressures upon the people, always tends toward inequality.83 That is why the people needs a Legislator so desperately to enlighten it. What happens without him is only too well known.

There is, moreover, a psychological dynamism at work, even in the best of republics, that disorients every citizen. Amour-propre arises out of association as such. It is stimulated in the just no less than in the unjust society. Only the family does not arouse it. The people, each individual citizen, that is, cannot be protected against the emergence of competitive feelings. In the Social Contract, Rousseau conceded that a self-oriented, advantage- and privilege-seeking particular will remains alive within each citizen. As long as this tendency is not allowed to play any significant part in civic life, it is not a serious obstacle to the prevalence of the spirit of justice, but it must be limited and diverted.84 To keep particular wills in check within the citizens is the greatest achievement of the Legislator's educative art. That is why he also is said to submit to the general will.85 The strengthening of opinions that prevent institutionalized inequality is, indeed, his main task.

The fostering of an unwavering will is by no means easy, for nothing was clearer to Rousseau than the feebleness of this faculty. The timid instinct of conscience and the artificially created sense of justice are alike in their weakness. Both emerge best when the individual withdraws into himself for quiet introspection. If conscience is to be awakened, the pains of remorse must be recalled. If justice is to move a citizen, he must remember the dangers of inequality. To achieve these recollections men must withdraw from their fellows and return to themselves. That is why the citizen before voting should consult with no one, but only bethink himself.86 In both cases the individual, whether he be a man or a citizen, pursues only a strategy of self-fulfillment. It is, however, only if his duty and his personal inclinations are really at one that men can feel both free and virtuous.87 If the citizen is to prefer the general to the particular will, he must really see that his own interest is served by such a choice. That requires two inseparable conditions: that he live in a society where there are no rich and poor and that he be educated to see his enduring interest in preventing inequality. In an unequal society to be just is far from one's real interest. That is why the mixed state is so painful. Justice is known but not practicable. The just Emile feels a duty toward his native land, unjust though it be, because the very fact that he does live in a society has given him a sense of obligation and justice. Any society, after all, arouses the capacity for justice, even those that deny it. Where justice does not prevail, however, the just man feels his duty as something he owes to himself, to his own self-respect, to his idea of what a man should be. It is evidently no part of his non-existent civic life. That is why a just man must suffer, for his sense of justice is perpetually insulted and outraged. He wisely withdraws to the Golden Age.88 Only in a republic is it in the social, as well as emotional interest, of the citizen to be just and civic-minded.

The mores engraved upon the hearts of the citizens, the opinions instilled in them by the Legislator, fortify them against amour-propre and against the empire of opinion. Without that the social contract is meaningless. Without the new rules that instill new opinions men will have no common feeling for justice and no means of 'forgetting their primitive conditions.' The pull of nature will overwhelm that of duty, which, within society, can lead only to competition and institutionalized inequality.89 However, the will to maintain the republic can become a lively personal motive in a properly educated people, for it is not difficult to share the ends of those whom we like. The youth's education in perfect equality, the elimination of the family and the selfish partiality it creates, the incessant games and assemblies, the military exercises and constant stimulation of a common pride in a shared past, all have as their end the redirection of amour-propre toward civic self-esteem, and the replacing of opinions that tend to inequality with those that prevent it.90 The tendency of men's spontaneous reaction to society is toward personal preference; education must counteract it. For their enduring interest is to maintain equality, without which liberty is meaningless.91 Once there are rich and poor, all is lost.92 As long as a man feels part of the sovereign, as long as he is actively engaged in some sort of public activity with his fellow citizens, he is likely to remember his and their common interest in defending the republic against the forces of inequality.93 When he leaves the rites and assemblies, however, he will again think of himself as a particular person, not as a citizen, and his mind will turn to personal advantages, rather than to civic interest.94 The whole policy of patriotism is to make these moments of civic dissociation rare, and to prevent their becoming accepted modes of conduct.95

The instilling of proper mores and opinions would be an impossibility, if they did not correspond to the genuine social interests of men. The present 'mixed condition' is morally tormenting because our duty never corresponds to our interests. Men cannot be moved by anything but their interests; their self-preserving instincts and their will cannot respond to anything that ignores and defies these.96 The general will must, therefore, express the fundamental common interests that all men can accept as both their advantage and duty: the prevention of inequality. The general will is a 'tendency to equality'.97 Personal non-civic interests survive, but as long as they are not organized into privilege seeking groups, they cancel each other out.98 The general will, in any case, is not determined by the number of voices that can, at any moment, be heard, but by the one interest that unites the citizens—which may momentarily be forgotten.99 What that interest is, however, is very well known. It is the replacement of the inequalities of nature by civil equality.100

Social disunity is therefore a sign that some members are not as aware of the necessity for justice as they ought to be. That also is why unanimity is a sign of civic vigor in the people. If all agree to a rule it can only mean that all are served by it. Competition divides, shared interests unite. That is evident enough. Unanimity is a sign of concord—except in monarchies where it is a sign of despotism. Absence of conflict is all the more a proof of civic well-being since the general will is not directed at political action which may involve prudential calculations. It is not concerned with government and policy. The general will is, like the personal will, a state of mind, not a specific motive for action. The will creates, sets and strengthens character and standards of conduct. Specific courses of action are left to the determination of magistrates, even when peace and war are at stake.101

The difference between moral purpose and government is particularly clear in the military aspects of civil life. Rousseau was more than enamored of the military spirit. 'Every citizen must be a soldier as a duty and none may be so by profession.'102 It is a sign of young peoples that they have a militia, not a professional army, which is typical of despotic regimes.103 At one time Geneva had its citizen army; now the magistrates repress it, as inequality has come to destroy the city.104 Equality and the armed citizenry were as inseparable as were inequality and professional armies. Had not, as Lord Eduard notes, Saint-Preux's father fought for his country, while Julie's had sold his services to the king of France? Who stood, then, for real valor?105 The social contract of the far from cosmopolitan people, therefore, makes it a right and duty of each citizen to defend the polity against aggression.

Since there can be no law between polities, but only among individuals within a polity, justice has nothing to say about war and peace. The relations between states are not subject to law and justice. There are neither just nor unjust wars. War is a matter of preservation or destruction.106 In a just society it is never anything but defensive, since conquests are a danger to the people. However, the duty to fight for one's polity is, under a social contract, always absolute. For wars may be a political mistake, but they are never lawful or unlawful. Citizens must fight for their country just as much as they must pay debts and protect each other's lives and goods. In addition, patriotism is a military virtue, and the Legislator who wants the contract to flourish can base it on no firmer ground than the spirit of martial valor. Military service is therefore a part of civic education and a fundamental duty and right. War and peace, however, are merely questions of prudence and may, therefore, be left to the magistrates. It need hardly be added that military obligation, like any other, is real only within a society that is ruled by a living social contract. In fraudulent civil orders there are no civic obligations or rights, only prudential calculations among which fear plays the most significant part.

Acts of sovereignty are declarations of principle. They sustain the spirit of the laws upon which civic society rests. The sovereign people assembled has only one function, 'to maintain the social pact' in its military and proprietal aspects. In considering government the sovereign has to answer only two questions, whether the form of government is acceptable, and whether the men who conduct its affairs are faithful to the social contract binding all citizens.107 Moral self-defense, not action, is the concern of the general will. That is why agreement among the citizens is so valuable. It proves that they are not competing for private gains, but are really concentrating on common interests. However, unanimity is required only for the original contract.108 The principle of majority rule may be accepted for all future decisions.109 Majorities may, to be sure, be diverted from the pursuit of equality. They may be overcome especially by organized privilege-oriented particular wills.110 When that becomes the habitual state of affairs the republic is dead, because evidently the citizens no longer care for justice.111 The social bond is then broken and no real grounds for obligation are left, only considerations of prudence and fear.112 These, to be sure, must determine the moral strategies that each person pursues. They do not liberate men from the instinct of conscience, but that is not the voice of public obligation.

When an individual citizen or even several of them find themselves at odds with the majority, no one need feel aggrieved, nor is the republic in danger. They have accepted majority rule and if their notions are at odds with the general will they have erred, which is only human. To be in a minority does not deliver these men into political servitude, it only forces them to accept, as they knew they would have to, the will of the majority.113 In a free society, if there is no war and they have no debts, they can always leave if they wish. In such a society the problem of minority rights is not a real one. The supreme interest of the people and the whole aim of the general will is to prevent inequality, and that demands a single state of mind. To reject that spirit is to reject civil society. One may do that perfectly freely, but one may not conduct war against the people by forming privilege-oriented groups which usurp its sovereignty.114

In a society that accepts inequality as desirable or inevitable the enforcement of minority rights is indeed the essence of liberty. That was, however, not Rousseau's idea of a just society. The individual is protected in his rights, but the pursuit of inequality is not among these. The people is sovereign only as long as it can and does prevent institutionalized inequality. To that end the majority of the citizens must share a common will. The protection of groups that are opposed to civil equality, its most fundamental interest, can hardly be one of the sovereign's aims. The general will is, in its tendency to equality, opposed to the particular will which strives for inequality. The general will maintains the spirit of the republic, its opinions and mores. The particular wills in the polity oppose them. The former stands for inner unity, the latter for public disintegration. Where only a minority cares for the republic and has a will against inequality its rule is not conceivable. A reign of virtue cannot be imposed. Either the sovereign people protects its interests or it fails to do so, in which case all legitimacy lapses. A lawbreaking individual can be coerced to abide by the conditions of freedom, but not a majority of citizens, since freedom is defined as its will to be free.

It is clear why the people has to have a will. What makes that will general? Partly it is general because it is the will of 'man in general' and not of exceptional men. Mostly, however, generality is a set of limitations upon the scope of the will. It is not any will, but a will to impersonality and to fairness toward all. Sovereignty being a condition, rather than a way of exercising power, is not only inactive, it is also limited by its purposes. The general will can only express itself in rules which apply to every member of civil society, and in an identical manner.115 For all its sacred inviolability the sovereign may not burden one subject more than another, nor deprive anyone of any liberties and goods except those freely ceded to the civil order in the social contract. No person and no group may be singled out for special burdens or privileges.116 That not only prevents the emergence of 'estates'. It also precludes arbitrariness. General rules even in unjust societies and even when they aim at socially harmful ends have at least one virtue: they treat those who are affected 'without preferences', without whims. That is why Rousseau thought that even the worst law was better than the best master.117 In that he may well have been mistaken, but it certainly illustrates how profoundly he distrusted personal subservience of any sort. Clearly he felt that all personal acts of domination were humiliating in a way that even general oppression was not. Rousseau, to be sure, spoke for the people and for himself as an apprentice and footman. Certainly he knew what he was talking about when he spoke about masters. The Legislator is unique just because he inspires laws, as his very name implies.

The absence of preferences and the impersonality of general rules are not the only limitation on a will that is to be general. It cannot, by definition, impose duties that are not genuinely useful to the citizens.118 Rousseau admitted somewhat ruefully that the decision about what was in fact useful was ultimately up to the sovereign. Who, after all, could decide what the people needed, except the people itself? Is utility not also a convention and an opinion? Rousseau was troubled by this because he was so deeply aware of the people's stupidity. He comforted himself with the thought that if the people were ever to suffer from its own errors, it would hasten to correct them.119 That is a mechanical evasion, since no one knew better than Rousseau that moral self-injury cannot simply be undone. Moral and social errors are irreversible. The sovereign people need only follow its own interests to live in justice, but there is no guarantee that it will do so. The best hope is to save it from the wiles of its seducers by providing it with good opinions at the time of its civil formation. Without the Legislator the will cannot be sustained or attain generality, which demands more intelligence than the people can command. To know what is really useful is beyond the wits of the people. That is why the rich can dupe it so easily into accepting a false contract. That is also why it needs the Legislator so desperately.

The generality of the sovereign's will is its impersonality, its expression in the form of rules which apply to all. That is what its justice and civic equality mean. The great lesson Montesquieu had taught Rousseau was that justice without law is unimaginable. It was Montesquieu who had insisted that it was 'only by the protection of the laws that the equality of nature can be recovered in society'.120 That was also why Spartan society was no extension of the family. The virtue of republicans owes nothing to the natural partiality of parents. Citizens are bound by impersonal bonds of mutual obligation, and if they learn to love each other it is because they have no other erotic ties. The 'sublime virtue' of republican magistrates arises on the annihilation of parental affection.121 To think that a republic can be built on the model of the family can have only one result: a society ruled by a prince in whom the love of domination takes the place of an affection he certainly does not feel for his subject-children.122 Civil society thrives on the redirection of erotic energy, not on its spontaneous movement. Nothing in Rousseau's vision of Spartan community life suggests the extended family group. There is nothing cozy about Rome or Sparta. For those who long for the warmth of family life a retreat to the Golden Age offers the only hope—and an unattainable one. Who, however, is happy in a place such as Sparta? Are Caius and Lucius in their inner integrity as citizens no longer men at all? Do they not yearn for some sort of felicity?

Since happiness is the sole object of men's striving, the legitimate society, like any other human enterprise must be judged in terms of its ability to satisfy the most universal aspiration. Rousseau did not forget it. The sovereign people must feel a 'public happiness'. Like the general will it is a metaphor of personification. For happiness is the most individual and personal of feelings, as Rousseau realized very well.123 This evidently made it difficult to speak of it as something 'public', and after worrying the notion of 'le bonheur publique' in several fragments, he used it rather sparingly in his finished political writings. His difficulties with the notion are, however, very interesting, because they reveal how and why he used his metaphors as he did. It also shows how aware he was of the complexities that his subtle moral psychology created for political judgments.

The first and the greatest obstacle to a notion of the public happiness was that Rousseau did not believe that happiness was ever attainable. It is not for men. At best a man's happiness is 'a negative state, measured by the fewness of his ills'.124 'Man is born to suffer, that is what it means to be a man.'25 The closest Rousseau could come to recalling a moment of joy was the memory of watching some peasants celebrating a holiday.126 Certainly happiness could not be taught. Emile's tutor does not attempt anything of the sort. Emile learns how to cope with adversity and to evade misery. His emotional equilibrium is due to a balance between his needs and his powers. He does not yearn for anything outside his reach. 'Then alone a man is not unhappy.'127 Even natural man is a stranger to happiness. Absence of pain, health and freedom are all he enjoys.128 At least he, unlike social man, does not busily create his own misery. The best strategy is to follow him in that, and to avoid the worst form of misery, that for which we are alone to blame.129 Our happiness consists in self-content which depends on our ability to avoid abusing our powers.

What can the public order contribute to such an inward state? Does the happiness of each person not depend on his particular 'powers', his personality? Rousseau admitted that readily. Happiness is like religious belief in that it depends entirely on those aspects of a man's character and disposition which are uniquely his and which differ greatly from man to man. Governments cannot force men to be happy.130 Public control is, in the complete absence of identity of feeling and need among individuals, an intolerable imposition. Certainly there is no abstract or collective notion of happiness that could be dissociated from the feelings of the individuals who compose the public. What they all want in common is 'peace and abundance' which are conditions necessary for happiness.131 However, that is not happiness itself, private or public.

As with all his personifications, the 'public happiness' was thus a situation created for people in which they might achieve something they desired. In this case it was reduction of misery, a relief from the tensions created within men between nature and society, inclination and duty, interest and virtue.132 The public happiness then would be much like that absence of pain in which man lives in nature. However, Rousseau did not choose to leave it at that. He also wanted to show that there must be some sort of peculiarly 'public' state of felicity, which was different from private joy, at least in its source, just as the general will differs from the personal will. As one might expect, he began his investigation of that possibility on a negative note. What are the false notions of public happiness now being pursued? Some states, monarchies for example, have no interest at all in the felicity of the people.133 Others claimed that wealth or conquest contributed to the public happiness. Wealth is a relative notion whose meaning depends on the existence of poverty. The state that seeks wealth through commerce must not only impoverish other states, but also comes to depend on them. Commerce, moreover, makes the use of money necessary, which allows for accumulation of wealth among individual citizens. Domestic inequality is thus the inevitable result of trade between nations. As such it is scarcely a contribution to public happiness.134 As for conquest, it creates misery among conquerors and conquered alike. Excessive power inevitably accrues in the hands of military and civil officials who plan and carry out conquests. If they are not despots when they begin, they will certainly be that before long. Nothing compares to the misery of conquering peoples, ruined by mercenary soldiers and enslaved by ambitious proconsuls.135 These are the abuses of civil power that pretend to promote the public happiness. So much for raison d'état.

To avoid these now prevalent paths to assured misery was a contribution in itself to the public happiness. The public happiness, like all Rousseau's metaphors, carried a criticism within it. The whole idea of commercial wealth and territorial expansion so avidly promoted by 'benevolent' despots and their publicists had to be exposed. Voltaire might admire Catherine the Great and Frederick of Prussia, but not Rousseau. He could see perfectly that the happiness of the people was not even part of what they promoted. What was the alternative? Clearly Rousseau did need one if he was to appropriate the phrase so glibly misused by 'enlightened' despots for their own ends. A people finds its happiness in perfect obscurity and in independence from all other states. It avoids war and commerce.136 To that extent the public happiness is the mere avoidance of present policy. Autonomy for the people is what it is for Emile, the proper use of one's powers and the limitation of one's needs.

However, the truly Spartan order must offer more than that. It must have a public happiness that is more than the sum of personal felicities. That would merely be an aggregation of feeling, not a union. The happiness of citizens must emerge from their new relations to each other and the civil law engraved in their heart. It is a pool, as it were, from which each draws his happiness rather than creating his own as best he can.137 People find their fulfillment in public, not private places. Rousseau did not develop this notion. He abandoned it, in fact. To be sure, public activity is a source of pleasure to citizens, as justice is the necessary condition for well-being. The public assembly was not, however, where he finally looked for signs of happiness. To find out if people are happy one ought not to listen to what they say in any case. People complain when they are free, not when they are miserable.138 To know whether they are really well off one must look somewhere else. The only one objective proof of good government, the only true sign that a people feels at ease, is a general willingness to have a lot of children.139 When people feel as well off as is humanly possible, they procreate, willingly and frequently.

In the end then, happiness, even if it is stimulated by a favorable civil situation, expresses itself in the most personal way. Happiness remains individual. In the just society the sort of happiness that man as man, and not as a particular person with particular sensibilities, can feel in response to his social environment, is a form of security. And men express that feeling in a simple and direct way. Everyone does the same thing in the absence of socially created anxieties; they multiply—whether for their own or the republic's sake is not clear. In any case, there is one common way of showing happiness, rather than perhaps consciously feeling it. In this way one can tell when the harmony of man within nature has really been recreated for the citizen within the republic.

It is clear that the achievements of the civil state, for all the virtue and justice that it engenders, are not really so much greater than that of the Age of Gold. If public virtue is justified by so modest a form of felicity, then denaturation hardly seems worth the trouble. And indeed, it is only thinkable as an alternative to our present miseries. It is, moreover, no more enduring than the Age of Gold. The polity is a body because it also dies. It can function well only as long as the will against inequality is strong enough within each citizen to quell amour-propre and to protect him against the empire of opinion. When the will built up within each citizen by the Legislator slackens, when mores weaken and particular wills assert themselves against equality, the republic is dead. The citizens live as persons, the people remains, but its sovereignty, its laws and its inner unity are gone. The sense of justice survives. Its reign is over.


The body politic was of all metaphors of personification the one Rousseau used most frequently. Sometimes he mentioned it quite casually simply to refer to civil society. Occasionally, however, he went into full anatomical detail and then he had very specific purposes in mind. Moreover, he gave the metaphor much thought, and at least in one fragment, subjected it to a devastating critical analysis. That did not prevent him from doing with it what he had done with other traditional metaphors. He turned it upside down.

Rousseau used the body politic, as it had been so often used before, to demonstrate the necessity of government in a healthy society. However, when he drew his body he assigned to government a bodily function infinitely less important than the head or soul that had so often stood for monarchs, whether absolute or not. That, however, was not Rousseau's only contribution to political physiology. He also provided a second picture of the body politic, one in decay. Far from enjoying Leviathan's 'artificial eternity' which only unruly subjects and conquest could end, Rousseau's second body politic was born to die.140 It dies not because the people disappears, but because the general will is subverted by the magistrates, and justice and equality are destroyed. This body politic was made to convey Rousseau's most radical thoughts. All the earlier bodies politic had defended rulers; his alone attacked all governments. If one of his bodies politic tried to overcome the conflict between authority and equality, the second exposed it. In this there is no real conflict. Rousseau knew that government was necessary, no less than he understood that rulers were the enemies of the people.

In the history of political theory the body politic had enjoyed an immense popularity. Writers as different as John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Hobbes all adopted it. In medieval thought the body politic was the social microcosm, which, as such, shared the essential traits of all God's creations. It was a model of hierarchical harmony, created out of human diversity by a beneficent authority, which assigned a proper place to each person and group so that all could perform their functions in maintaining the whole. Everyone has his preordained place in an organism which reflects the divine order.141 It is a creation, but in no sense is it a forced union. For it corresponds to a common need and end. 'There can be no faithful or firm cohesion', wrote John of Salisbury, 'where there is not an enduring union of wills and, as it were, a cementing together of souls.'142 The head, however, wears a crown and the soul a mitre in a body of which the peasants are merely the feet.143 The king has, moreover, responsibilities that no one can share. It is he who has 'the function and duty to bring different acts into harmony by allotting them to different individuals to whom they are appropriate'.144 Authority from above is what keeps this body together. Such also was Thomas Aquinas' body politic. The efficiency of a monarchical soul was clear to him, both within an established social body, and when a new polity is to be created, as Romulus had once created Rome.145

Above all there was Leviathan so boldly engraved and described on the opening pages of the book that Rousseau carried like a cross on his back. That artificial monster in the picture has a body made up of men, but the head is not composed thus. It is just a head and it wears a crown. The sovereign, not visible, is said to be the soul. In the full anatomical account the head is not mentioned at all, but it is implicit throughout, that monarchy fits Leviathan as no other cranium could. The body politic made monarchical government appear an integral necessity, even if not at all a logical one, when one considers that it was by 'pacts and covenants' that this body was 'first made, set together and united'. It allowed Hobbes from the first to pretend that monarch and sovereign were indistinguishable.146

On one occasion Rousseau used the old metaphor in a medieval way, but not to justify political authority. Marriage was, in his view, necessarily a union between unequal partners. The authority of husband over wife was perhaps no more natural than marriage itself, but it was necessary for their harmony. The husband is thus the head while the wife is the eyes of this social body.147 Rousseau resorted readily to the traditional form of the metaphor when he wanted to express an old-fashioned prejudice. In his political writings he found no occasion to do so.

The fullest account of the body politic, in minute anatomical detail, occurs in the Economie Politique, Rousseau's most complete and perfect Spartan Utopia.148 It is also a violent attack upon the intellectual establishment and, indeed, a continuation of the First Discourse. The patriot is pitted against the unfeeling, cosmopolitan philosopher, and Cato is again raised above Socrates.149 The perfect unity of this Spartan polity is due, in no small degree, to the identity of interests between the people and its 'chiefs'.150 Rousseau liked to speak of rulers whom he admired as 'chiefs'. That seemed to take the sting out of political authority. Clearly neither the functional hierarchy of the medieval monarchy, nor the absolutism of Hobbes could have much application to a society composed of citizens who have no interest other than equality and liberty. There might be no feasible solution to the problem of government under law. The rule of law might be as difficult to devise as the squaring of the circle.151 The most perfect personal rule might be the only tolerable alternative to 'austere democracy' as Rousseau admitted in a despairing letter.152 But Sparta was neither. It might be unrealizable, but it was the only satisfactory polity that could be imagined at all. Leviathan might appeal to all the intellectual valets of the 'enlightened' despots, but he was not Rousseau's idol. Sparta was his answer to those who chose to flatter Frederick and Catherine the Great.

His own body politic was a distorting mirror of all its predecessors, but most especially of Leviathan. Rousseau's body had no soul. That locus of the Catholic Church in John of Salisbury's body is simply eliminated. The sovereign is in the head. It does not, like Leviathan's sovereign, take the place of the Church in the soul. There is also no place left, the head being already occupied by the sovereign people, for a monarch. The rest of the body politic is not unlike Leviathan. The magistrates are the mere organs of the faculties which are lodged in the head and so cannot move unless the sovereign wills it. However, they are only joints in Leviathan also. To be sure, in Rousseau's body they are even less than that. Only the citizens make the body move and work. The main physical difference between Rousseau's Leviathan and Hobbes' is that there is no place for a crown on the former. The head contains all those powers of feeling and understanding which react to bodily and sensory stimulation and it is, therefore, not only the seat of life itself, it is sovereign because the people, the total body, affects it constantly. Clearly democracy was the only form of government for such a body politic. And, indeed, Rousseau readily recognized that democracy was the form of political organization that best corresponded to the will of his robot. The example of Athens' turbulence did not discourage him. Athens was no democracy, but an aristocratic tyranny governed by intellectuals and orators.153 Only in democracy, after all, does the sovereign feel pain when any member of the polity is hurt, as does the head of this body politic.

There was, however, more than a subtle caricature of Leviathan here. Rousseau was also covering a difficul ty with a metaphor. The subordinate physical position of the magistrates only illustrates that they cannot move without the will of the people. It says nothing of their activities. And those are extremely extensive in a Spartan order. The chiefs are to make the people happy by a wise political economy, a term that covers all the relations of government to persons and things.154 Commerce, industry and agriculture are the mouth and stomach of the body politic and public finance is the blood which a wise economy, performing the functions of the heart, pumps throughout the body politic. The later part of the Economie Politique is devoted to this economy, which it emerges, is conducted by the magistrates. Clearly the magistracy is an organ, but, though this is not made at all clear by the metaphor itself, that organ is the heart of the body politic.

Government enforces the law against any deviant member, and it is responsible for every aspect of public policy.155 It is government that instils patriotism. Old magistrates and soldiers educate the young. Government protects the poor against the rich, and prevents the excessive accumulation of riches. It protects the safety and prosperity of the citizens, and it administers a system of taxation, agrarian laws and public finances in general.156 In fact, once the Legislator has done his work, it does everything. The chiefs are said to be well-intentioned, to be sure.157 Everything, in fact, depends on that. This miracle is the result of law, the bond that keeps the body united.158 That, however, only describes a republic: a people united by mores and moved by a will that prevents inequality and assures an identity of interests. It does not explain it. And indeed in that respect the picture of Rousseau's Leviathan is not so unlike Hobbes'; both are attempts to evade conclusions implicit in their respective social contracts.

Sparta and Rome were hardly ungoverned republics; both were aristocracies. Rousseau accepted that as their essential character and as a necessary part of their social triumph: the transformation of men into citizens. The body politic metaphor allowed Rousseau to strengthen the impression that the republic thus artificially recreated the state of nature. The body politic, like healthy man in nature, does not neglect its self-preservation. An integrated whole, it does no injury to itself, but on the contrary avoids any source of pain.159 When the health of this body is gone, then its instincts, the people's self-love, no longer operates effectively. That is why despotism is not a body politic at all. It is only a master and slaves united neither by law nor love. It is a mere aggregation of people, not a people and its chiefs. It is that combination alone which may properly be called a body politic.160

What of equality, however, in this body? Is it not, after all, just like all those medieval bodies politic, a justification of governmental authority, even if not of monarchy? In fact, it is just that. The chiefs may have no interests apart from the general will, but there is a vast difference between those who rule and those who are ruled. The body politic merely seems to show that government is necessary for republican survival. Identity of interests, benevolence and unity, however, are not equality, natural or social.

In his most violent attack on the intellectuals Rousseau had claimed that the well-governed society was so free from amour-propre that the conditions of natural equal ity were totally restored. Not even moral differences are given public recognition; just as in nature psychological inequalities find no occasion to flourish. 'In a well constituted state', he wrote, 'men are so busy that they have no time for speculation. They are so equal that no one can be preferred as the more learned or shrewd. At most he is the best, and even that is often dangerous, because it makes cheats and hypocrites.' No desire for distinction is, therefore, lighted in the hearts of the citizens at all.161 Now that really is equality.

To deny the public relevance of moral inequality, to refuse any public recognition to the difference between good and bad is indeed the ultimate step in egalitarianism. In a mood of furious anger and self-deception Rousseau was driven to accept anarchy. That was not his normal attitude. However, the notion that equality meant identity was not merely a passing thought. It was something he had often said and always believed. The state of nature was not one of mutuality, but of isolated men identical because subject to a situation that rendered them uniformly alike. Underdeveloped man has no talents; that is why there is no inequality. The great differences in men's abilities remain dormant. They are alike in their utter dullness. In a society in which the general will is dominant that identity is partially recreated by making men equal, and so, alike in their rights or duties. If that means that not even moral powers are allowed to differentiate men in their public life, then one really has a staggering degree of equality. In such a society election to office must be by lot and government a 'true democracy'. Rousseau recognized that clearly. He also knew that no such polity could exist.162 He might have added that the Spartan body politic does not even try to be egalitarian in that sense.

The patriotic, the virtue-creating state that reconciles men to society, makes equality impossible. The heroic republic with its Brutus and Cato does not disregard moral differences. It is in fact an extremely competitive society that uses rewards to stimulate moral athleticism among its citizens.163 Moreover, Sparta is a single-value society. Virtue, whether it be an end in itself, or the means toward ending men's inner conflicts, allows for only one standard of judgment. Patriotic devotion, essentially martial in character, is the only attribute which has any worth. Additional values might, of course, destroy the inner harmony of the citizens. However, by demanding that all citizens strive to achieve one character and to acquire one sort of excellence only, inequality is made inevitable. For certainly all men had never been, nor did Rousseau pretend that they could have been, equal in their capacity for patriotic devotion, military heroism and statesmanship or even in physical agility and toughness, which were so important to the Spartan model citizen. Governments, moreover, not only administer the system of rewards that encourages competition in virtue, its offices are rewards for virtue. Cato is the perfect magistrate, after all, not an ordinary citizen. Was not Brutus a 'chief'? The pursuit of virtue integrates citizens, prevents the rise of destructive opinion and mores, and it restrains rulers. It does not, and was not expected to, create equality.

All this was perfectly clear to Rousseau. Equality of political rights and duties was all that distributive justice demanded in the public sphere. That meant no exceptions to the rules, no special privileges. The inequality to be fought, moreover, was not inequality of authority, but of wealth. Not distinctions as such, but distinctions based on wealth were obnoxious. The government pictured in the Economie Politique is legitimate, and expressive of the general will, because all its public policies have one end: the elimination of the power of the rich. As long as the rich cannot buy the poor and the laws are not mere instruments for promoting the interests of the wealthy, the will against inequality is in effect.164 Only power based on wealth, not power based on authority, is illegitimate. Only wealth reduces the contract to a fraud.165 The will against inequality is a will against wealth and privilege, not against political rulership.

Governments may prevent economic inequalities that are sufficiently great to make the poor the bought servants of the rich. However, equality does not characterize governments. And as Rousseau knew only too well, the psychology of ésprit de corps is always a danger to the people in general. It is not money that corrupts individual magistrates. Each one of them may be a man of the utmost integrity. Collectively, however, they have a will of their own, an interest particular to themselves. In defense of that there is no injustice they will not commit. In the Economie Politique Rousseau chose to forget it, to pretend that, as long as no pecuniary ambition existed, the magistrates shared and promoted the interests of the people.166 In short, they are 'chiefs', not masters. Why, however, should they be satisfied with that? They do not love their subjects as fathers love their children; they need a sterner virtue.167 Why should they submit to it, and to laws that only inhibit their interests? Rousseau did feel compelled to offer an argument here. They are likely to obey the law, since it is by law that they hold authority.168 It is not a good answer. If they have the enormous powers that the law gives them, they are perfectly free to use it as they please, to protect or to destroy the law and the people whom it serves. He knew that and admitted, even as he contemplated Spartan perfection, that personal interest is always contrary to duty and that lesser associations find their interests served by defying the popular will.169

The unity of will that binds a people and its chiefs is based on the strength of virtue, mores and the moi commun which all citizens must possess. However, since the interests of governments are not those of the people, magistrates soon cease to be 'chiefs'. The picture of the body politic, which makes magistrates passive organs of the will, gives them an apparent insignificance, and justifies their existence by their lack of independence and power. It is not a true picture of Sparta with its ephors and kings or of Rome with its consuls and tribunes. That hardly mattered to Rousseau. Was Cato not a greater man than Socrates? Was not the great censor incomparably superior to the opinion-makers of modern Europe? Does Rome not show what manner of men the 'chiefs' were able to create? Were they not in every way better and happier than the enervated and enslaved Parisian poor? That was enough. The Spartans and Romans had not been perfect. They were men. That is precisely why they shame modern civilization so, and that was all they were meant to do.

The full body politic that justifies political 'chiefs' was not the only one for which Rousseau had some use. His rhetorical ingenuity went well beyond that. Eventually he invented a body politic that showed government to be the seat, not of public life, but of death. He developed this new metaphor rather gradually. It was at first forced upon him by those critics of the Discourse on Inequality, who insisted that man was a political animal. To this Rousseau replied that civil society had come late in the history of mankind and that this was not a natural development comparable to the aging of a man. Our relatively recent history is not a necessary bodily growth, but the consequence of external circumstances, many of which even depend on the will of men. He did not, however, as one might have expected, abandon the body politic metaphor entirely at this point. Instead he replaced the old organic body with his own artificial one. Government is what a crutch is to an old man. If mankind is senile then it needs an artificial limb. In short, mankind can be said to be in decay, but it is an artificially induced state and one that depends on man-made devices. That has its advantages. What men have done cannot be undone, but they can at least be warned against continuing on their disastrous course. They can also avail themselves of artificial devices for survival, such as civil society.170

Another common appearance of the natural body politic was in conventional law of nations thinking. Rousseau was torn by conflicting urges in this case. On one hand he detested the cosmopolitanism of the intellectuals and admired the martial spirit of Sparta; on the other he hated war and conquest which were, as he knew well, the instruments of despotism. The isolated polity, economically and militarily self-reliant, bound by no ties to any other state was the only answer to these various demands. It provided martial virtue without war and bloodshed. War itself was only the manifestation of incomplete socialization. It was not natural. Men in nature do not fight, they are too aloof from each other. This alert autarchy is what the artificial body politic must imitate. Where law is impossible, the situation of nature, which is not a state of war, but one of isolation, is the only safe alternative. The body politic should artificially model itself upon the natural condition of man.

This 'natural' policy among peoples is not open to any states except just republics. To think that the actual states of Europe could be anything but at war was pure folly. Nothing could exceed the stupidity of the Abbé de Saint Pierre's notion of a law binding sovereign states, and absolute monarchies at that. The deceptions invented by Grotius were worse. His laws of war and rights of conquest were lies that enslaved. Invented to flatter kings and fleece the people, this law of nations was neither law nor did it bind states. Rousseau disliked Grotius particularly because the real social basis of law, the social contract between free persons, could never be understood unless conventional jurisprudence was shown up for what it was; a fantasy at best, a crude deception at worst.171

The law of nations which purports to rule the conduct of states in peace and war is, first of all, no law at all. Sovereign states have never been known to live in anything but a state of war. Peace occurs only when the stronger state can see some advantage in not attacking the weaker.172 In this, however, they do not behave as individuals who have a fight. War is a social phenomenon in which men, organized and policed, are forced to fight men who are in the same condition as their own. The state, whether in active or dormant war is, thus, in no sense like a natural body. It is subject to none of the limitations, physical or psychological, that restrain individuals, even highly aggressive ones. The horror of our present 'mixed condition' arises out of this situation. As individuals men are forced to live under laws. As subjects of lawless absolute monarchs they are forced by these very laws, which correspond to none of their needs, to fight and kill men with whom they have absolutely no quarrel whatever. The conflicts are between the ambitions of only a very few men, the absolute sovereigns of Europe. However, as sovereigns they control 'artificial' bodies politic with which they can engage in military enterprises which are completely unlike private violence. It is again precisely because the body politic is artificial, and not organic, that it is not subject to law. Instead, its members are exposed to force and to the despotism that comes with war. Governments in their relations to each other and to the citizens, in short, are always potential sources of death to the body politic. For despotism, conquest and revolution kill bodies politic, even artificial ones. The people continues to survive, but not the polity.173

The artificiality of the body politic explains why in the present 'mixed', semi-social condition, government is a perpetual threat to the survival of the people. Indeed royal government had ruined men so utterly that no monarchy could be reformed.174 The artificial character of republican bodies politic, however, had its advantages. Their decline could be slowed by cautious citizens in a way that natural death could not be.175 That was why Rousseau felt it was worth warning the Genevan people against its magistrates. The Social Contract, Rousseau explained in the Confessions, had two ends in mind.176 It was to show how government under law might be achieved, and how necessary this was, since men are whatever governments make them. This is what the first part does. It shows, 'laws as they might be'. Standards are set according to which civil society could be justified, 'men being what they are'.177 The second purpose of the book was to warn Geneva against the dangers of government unchecked by law. In fact, Rousseau managed to denounce all governments in warning the Genevans against theirs.178

The Social Contract is not a Spartan utopia like the Economie Politique. It is the continuation of the Discourse on Inequality, as the former completed the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. As such it is not directed at the intellectual servants of despotism; it attacks the masters directly. It deals not with the corruption spread by art and science, but with the burdens of injustice and oppression borne by the people. It does not, therefore, offer a picture of republican perfection, though the standards of political judgment presented in it are drawn from the Spartan model. The Social Contract is, especially in its many chapters on government, an account of how republics degenerate and die. It is the political part of the 'genealogy of vice'. That is why Rome is here not described as the perfect city of the Economie Politique, but as a polity tense with conflict. All its virtue rests in the assemblies of the rural people. The city is full of rabble. The patricians hate the people. Though the rich are fined for ostentation, there are both rich and poor people in Rome. Eventually the tribunes betray the people and the people begins to sell its votes. That was the predictable end. Nevertheless, with all its faults Rome was completely inimitable in the modern age. The Genevans were not to imagine that the Romans were models for them. They could not even hope to be Athenians.179 If Rome fell, what hope was there for republics so infinitely less virtuous? The political fatalism is profound. For while he attacked governments as deadly, Rousseau continued to insist that they were necessary. With this the body politic returns to the stage.

The 'body politic' of the Social Contract bears no resemblance to Leviathan at all. It is not presented in all its parts. The body politic has to be integrated and it needs a 'force' in order to move and act. That force is government.180 The second characteristic of the body politic is its inevitable end. 'The body politic like that of man begins to decay at birth.'181 For all his skill in destroying the persuasiveness of the 'natural' body politic of his opponents, Rousseau did not want to discard the organic associations of the metaphor entirely. Its death was not more natural than its life, but life and death are natural experiences. They are also the most dramatic. And Rousseau wanted to bring that to bear upon the spectacle of justice created and destroyed.

The active agent of destruction is government. When it has finally succeeded in overstepping its legally assigned powers, the body politic is paralyzed, but it is not dead. Only when a society has completely dissolved does that occur. Anarchy is not the usual condition of the people, however. Paralysis is more common.182 It is, in fact, the condition of all unjust, that is all actual, states. The sense of justice is alive in the people, but its will cannot be asserted. The people is powerless and it cannot make the body politic move because the government is completely indifferent to the general will. The mind and soul of a paralyzed person are active. He has a will, but it is of no practical use to him, because he cannot move his limbs. He is impotent, as is the people in an unjust polity. The general will must unite government and people as the soul and body must be one in a living body.183 When that link breaks, the man may live, but not well.

When Rousseau introduced government into the true civil society he was explicit about its character. It was to be aristocratic, a body with a real life with a moi particulier apart from that of the people and a sensibility, a force and a will common only to its members, and designed to preserve it and to keep its members united. Government means assemblies, councils, rights, titles and exclusive privileges, and no turbulent interference from the people.184 No wonder that governmental usurpation is the vice that inevitably 'from the birth of the body politic tends relentlessly to destroy it'. It is the one form of organized particular will that is unavoidable, but which, like all such wills, incessantly assaults the general will.185 Government was, however, necessary, not because it was legitimate, but because 'austere democracy' was not possible and, perhaps, not even desirable, for 'men as they are'. Nevertheless, for all its inevitability, government could not be justified positively. All the arguments that Rousseau raised against those representative bodies which, like Parliament, had feudal roots were perfectly applicable to any form of government. It is not the dangerous notion of shared sovereignty, nor the false belief that people are bound by a fundamental contract to their rulers that made Parliament so dangerous to law and justice. It was, rather, that like any association set apart from the people as a whole, its members possessed interests contrary to the general will. Even as mere agents of the sovereign, magistrates have a particular self and will.186 The reason why Rousseau came to assert that there is no best government, that everything depends on time and place, seems to have been grounded in the belief that all were bad, if not always equally so.187 When he was really interested only in standards of justice, he said nothing about government at all.188

Because the Social Contract was less a utopia than a book of warnings, Rousseau took great care to admit all the germs of future destruction to this body politic. There is, at the beginning, legitimacy based on equality which alone can create liberty. However, it is at once made clear that this equality has its limits. No inequalities, apart from those recognized by law or held in virtue of rank, are to mark the distribution of power. No inequalities of wealth that permit the rich to buy the poor and force the poor to sell themselves are to exist. That does not, however, exclude governmental powers at all and it is not inconsistent with those conflicts between rich and poor that led to the decline and fall of the Roman Republic. Such degrees of inequality can, unlike those of contemporary society, be regulated and controlled to slow down the steady march to destruction.189 It justified Rousseau's enterprise. There was room for anger and denunciation, but not for hope or action. 'Austere democracy' might alone be justifiable, but it had to be dismissed so that the body politic might live and die.

It was, however, by no means easy for Rousseau to shake himself free from his rustic dreams. He had made it far too clear that the bonds that tie citizens to each other and to their polity depend on equality and mutuality and not on governmental power.190 All the virtue, mores and opinions of republican men are ephemeral without these. A people remains a people, with or without its chiefs.191 And only in a democracy does the execution of laws follow immediately upon the expression of the public will.192 In short, here alone is there no particular will to misguide, or disrupt the general will or to keep it from its ends. There is no gap between the interests of the people and the conduct of the body politic. No one is imposing anything upon anyone. This is the 'government without government', fit only for angels. Men good enough to govern themselves would need no government. That is only another way of saying that democratic government and gerontocracy, which is another form of election by lot, are not possible for 'men as they are'.193 That may well mean that no civil order can ever be legitimate, if all need governments. For the rustic simpletons, who 'live without masters, indeed almost without laws', are those heads of large families, those happy men of the Golden Age, the peasants of Neufchatel, 'perhaps unique on earth'.194 If only democracy can be legitimate then civil society is not justifiable, because it depends on rulers. Rustic bliss, however, has nothing to say to socialized men. Pre-social life was moral because it was psychologically satisfying, but men in their stupidity abandoned that condition. Now they need medicine. And civil society is only the cure for social disease. It also is no permanent abode for men.

Of Emile it is said, when he reached adolescence, that he was 'now in the world of morals, the door to vice is open'.195 It is so with mankind as a whole. Once they come together morality is before men and so is evil, and neither can be wholly evaded. Before joining civil society men might have been 'good and just without knowing what goodness and virtue are'.196 In this, the true rustic democracy, there is an equality that is more than a struggle against inequality. It is also a world in which men live without ever feeling anything, without really being men at all, in fact. In it 'we would have died without having lived; all our happiness would have consisted in not knowing our misery; there would have been no goodness in our hearts, nor morality in our actions and we would never have tasted the most delicious sentiment of the soul which is the love of virtue'.197 Rustic man is evidently a 'stupid and limited' creature and not a man or a citizen.198 We are in this respect worse off than he was, however. For we will not 'become men until we are citizens'.199 We are like rustic man in being less than human, and worse in every other respect. For having destroyed our capacity for unconscious goodness, we have not created the conditions for conscious virtue.

All of Rousseau's radicalism and all his resentment are in that phrase: 'we will not become men until we are citizens'. That is the voice of the watchmaker's son. The Spartan model was a marvellous blunt instrument to hurl against the powerful, the rich, and especially at their polished literary footmen. All of them professed to admire antiquity, but, with the sole exception of Montesquieu, they had chosen to forget the social conditions of republican virtue. To admire Cato meant to love the republic, to despise the intellectuals and to hate Paris. The voice of Cato did not go unheard, however. It found a ready response among those whose interests he was supposed to defend. If Catonism has often been the ideology of a declining gentry, it has also had a genuine appeal for the peasantry.200 Rousseau certainly had them in mind. He was not in the least interested in protecting Baron d'Etange. The peasants had to be rescued from civilization. Wolmar tries to do that, but he is not merely a model landlord, he is God, and even he fails, because he cannot defend his family against the consequences of their world. Sparta fails and the Golden Age is frail, neither can be restored and both illuminate the situation of men who are torn helplessly between nature and society. The intimate society, the wholly un-Spartan friendship group that Rousseau longed for, and that every man really needs, is a mere day-dream. There could be no society 'according to my heart' or indeed to any heart.201 Self-knowledge had taught Rousseau that Clarens, or some version of the Golden Age, was the most fundamental human need. Public understanding and hatred of oppression moved him to remind men of Sparta. Neither one is actually attainable. History is the story of mankind's inability to achieve either peace or justice.

Rousseau knew that a revolution was on its way, but it promised nothing. He did not need to speak of popular corruption; the stupidity of the people suffices to condemn it to servitude once rustic simplicity has been lost. The freedom for which the intellectual classes hoped was not in its interest. Rousseau was no defender of intolerance or intellectual repression, but the interests of the intellectuals are not those of the people. The people has an interest in maintaining an order in which there are no intellectuals at all, in which there are, in fact, Catos to see that none appear. Once the learned classes exist, the conditions for popular felicity are already gone. The interests of the clever and talented support civilization. The people have every reason to prefer rural simplicity. Rousseau was far from being deaf to art and learning; he just did not choose to pretend that these embellishments contributed to the moral well-being of mankind. In a corrupt world they are necessary, but there is nothing to be said in favor of that world as a whole. The world as it is demands resignation and prudence, and a careful attention to a conscience that keeps us from causing harm to those around us. It offers no occasion for happiness or civic virtue. Nevertheless, Rousseau did feel bound to do more: to speak the truth, both about 'the history of the human heart' and the world men had made. When he called upon his readers to choose between man and the citizen he was forcing them to face the moral realities of social life. They were asked, in fact, not to choose, but to recognize that the choice was impossible, and that they were not and would never become either men or citizens.


1 Vaughan, II, 128-9 (Contrat Social).

2Emile, 186-7.

3 Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, I, XI, 153; Diderot, Droit Naturel, in Vaughan, I, 429-33.

4 Vaughan, I, 460 (Première Version); Vaughan, II, 33-5 (Contrat Social). For more detailed accounts of Rousseau's response to Diderot see René Hubert, Rousseau et l'Encyclopédie (Paris, 1928), 31-49, and Jacques Proust, Diderot et l'Encyclopédie, 359-99.

5 Grimsley, Jean d'Alembert, 183.

6 Vaughan, I, 243 (Economie Politique).

7Ibid. 325-9 (Fragment).

8Ibid. 241 (Economie Politique).

9 Vaughan, II, 91 (Contrat Social).

10Ibid. 50-1 (Contrat Social).

11Ibid. 34 (Contrat Social).

12Ibid. 60 (Contrat Social).

13Ibid. 40 (Contrat Social).

14Emile, 7; Vaughan, I, 251 (Economie Politique); 326 (Fragment).

15 Vaughan, II, 58-9 (Contrat Social).

16'Préface' à Narcisse, 964.

17 Vaughan, II, 323 (Corsica).

18Emile, 418.

19N.H., Part II, Letter IX; Emile, 416. Rousseau was evidently familiar with much of the 'national character' literature of his time. Lord Eduard was, however, a specifically political figure and Montesquieu alone had concentrated wholly on that aspect of the English scene. To miss that is to miss both what Lord Eduard is meant to convey and the immense influence of Montesquieu upon Rousseau. That is why the purely literary approach in general does such scant justice to the Nouvelle Héloise, e.g. George R. Havens, 'Sources of Rousseau's Eduard Bomston', Modern Philology, XVII, 1919, 125-39; see also Albert Schinz, La Pensée de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 339-41.

20Spirit of the Laws, I, XIX, 315.

21Emile, 415-18.

22 Vaughan, II, 428-30, 432 (Poland).

23 E.g. Essai sur l'Origine des Langues, 383-95.

24 Vaughan, I, 351-7 (Fragment).

25N.H., Part I, Letters XLV, LX, LXII; Part II, Letter II; Part III, Letters XXII, XXIII; Part V, Letter I; Appendice I, 'Les Amours de Milord Eduard Bomston.' Spirit of the Laws, I, XI, 156-7. Thus Montesquieu did not choose to 'examine whether the English actually enjoy this liberty or not … it is established by their laws; and I inquire no further'. I, XI, 162; XIX, 307-15.

26N.H., Part II, Letters XXII, XXIII; Lettres Ecrites de la Montague, IX, 255.

27 Vaughan, I, 322 (Fragment); II, 64 (Contrat Social). (My italics.)

28Ibid. II, 344-5 (Corsica).

29Ibid. I, 251-2 (Economie Politique)

30Ibid. 294 (L'état de guerre).

31Emile, 26.

32 Vaughan, II, 110-13 (Contrat Social); 347, 351 (Corsica); Emile, 326.

33 Vaughan, I, 455, 470, 493-4 (Première Version); II, 32 (Contrat Social).

34Emile, 215.

35 Vaughan, I, 484-5 (Première Version); II, 56-8 (Contrat Social).

36Ibid. I, 126 (Inégalité); II, 57 (Contrat Social).

37Ibid. II, 66 (Contrat Social); Emile, 427-8.

38 Vaughan, II, 66-8 (Contrat Social).

39Emile, 286-7, 418.

40 Vaughan, II, 431-8, 472 (Poland).

41Spirit of the Laws, I, VIII, 120; Vaughan, II, 77-81 (Contrat Social).

42 Vaughan, II, 443 (Poland).

43Ibid. 61 (Contrat Social).

44Spirit of the Laws, II, VIII, 309.

45Letters Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 203.

46 Vaughan, I, 457 (Première Version); II, 35 (Contrat Social).

47Ibid. I, 455 (Première Version); II, 32 (Contrat Social).

48Ibid. I, 181 (Inégalité); II, 31-2 (Contrat Social); Emile, 424; Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 205.

49 Vaughan, I, 245 (Economie Politique); II, 37-9 (Contrat Social).

50 Vaughan, I, 456-7 (Première Version).

51Ibid. II, 32-3 (Contrat Social).

52Ibid. I, 457 (Première Version); II, 36, 46-8, 63 (Contrat Social).

53Ibid. I, 259 (Economie Politique); 494-5 (Première Version); II, 48-9 (Contrat Social).

54Ibid. I, 471-4 (Première Version); 44-6 (Contrat Social).

55Emile, 421-2; Vaughan I, 130 (Fragment); II, 25-31, 41-2 (Contrat Social).

56 Vaughan, I, 459-60 (Première Version); II, 39 (Contrat Social).

57Ibid. I, 274 (Economie Politique); 467, 475 (Première Version); II, 45 (Contrat Social).

58Ibid. I, 183-9 (Inégalité).

59Ibid. 190 (Inégalité); Vaughan II, 39 (Contrat Social).

60 Vaughan, I, 181-3 (Inégalité); 268 (Economie Politique); II, 346 (Corsica).

61Ibid. I, 190-1 (Inégalité).

62Ibid. II, 102, 105, 44-6 (Contrat Social).

63Emile, 424.

64Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VII, 230.

65Confessions, IX, 404-5; Vaughan, II, 91-3 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VII, 231.

66 Vaughan, II, 40, 91 (Contrat Social).

67Ibid. 31 (Contrat Social).

68Ibid. 54 (Contrat Social).

69Ibid. 51 (Contrat Social).

70Ibid. I, 126 (Inégalité); 241, 250-1, 253-4, 256 (Economie Politique).

71 Vaughan, I, 242-3 (Economie Politique).

72Ibid. II, 34 (Contrat Social).

73Ibid. 93-4 (Contrat Social); I, 493 (Première Version).

74Ibid. I, 246 (Economie Politique); II, 453, 459 (Poland).

75The Laws, 723.

76 Jean Wahl, 'La Bipolarité de Rousseau', Annales Jean-Jacques Rousseau, XXXIII, 1953-5, 49, 55. I completely disagree with this effort to impose Hegel on Rousseau, and I have only borrowed the excellent term, bipolarity, from it.

77Emile, 197-8, 422.

78 Vaughan, I, 243 (Economie Politique).

79Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, IX, 263.

80 Vaughan, II, 102 (Contrat Social).

81Emile, 306.

82Ibid. 239, 243, 248; Vaughan, II, 50-1 (Contrat Social).

83 Vaughan, II, 61 (Contrat Social).

84 Vaughan, II, 103-4 (Contrat Social); I, 278 (Economie Politique).

85Ibid. I, 247 (Economie Politique); 481 (Première Version).

86Ibid. II, 42 (Contrat Social). See supra, Ch. 2.

87Ibid. I, 248-9, 278 (Economie Politique).

88Emile, 436-8.

89 Vaughan, I, 474, 476-7 (Première Version); II, 50-I, (Contrat Social).

90Ibid. 248, 250, 255-7, 275 (Economie Politique); II, I22 (Contrat Social); 344-6 (Corsica).

91Ibid. I, 460 (Première Version); 61 (Contrat Social).

92Ibid. II, 330 (Corsica).

93Ibid. I, 457 (Première Version).

94Ibid. 460 (Première Version); II, 40 (Contrat Social); Emile, 426.

95 Vaughan, II, 95-6 (Contrat Social).

96Ibid. 456, 477 (Poland).

97Ibid. 39-40 (Contrat Social).

98Ibid. 42 (Contrat Social).

99Ibid. 45 (Contrat Social).

100Ibid. 39 (Contrat Social).

101Ibid. 40-1, 76-7 (Contrat Social).

102 Vaughan, II, 486-7 (Poland).

103Ibid. I, 308-9 (Fragment).

104Ibid. II, 488-9 (Poland).

105N.H., Part I, Letter LXII.

106 Vaughan, I, 294-305 (L'état de guerre); 448-54 (Première Version); II, 37-9, 46 (Contrat Social).

107 Vaughan, II, 102 (Contrat Social).

108Ibid. 105 (Contrat Social).

109Ibid. 32 (Contrat Social).

110Ibid. 42-3 (Contrat Social).

111Ibid. 105-6 (Contrat Social).

112Ibid. 26-7 (Contrat Social).

113Ibid. 105-6 (Contrat Social).

114 Vaughan, II, 42-3 (Contrat Social).

115Ibid. 46 (Contrat Social).

116Ibid. 44-6, 49, 98-9 (Contrat Social); Emile, 425-6.

117Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VIII, 228.

118 Vaughan, II, 44, 131 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 202-3.

119Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, IX, 263.

120The Spirit of the Laws, I, VIII, III.

121 Vaughan, I, 240 (Economie Politique).

122Ibid. II, 24 (Contrat Social).

123Ibid. I, 326 (Fragment).

124Emile, 44.

125Ibid. 183.

126Rêveries, IX, 1085; Letter to d'Alembert, 126.

127Emile, 44-5.

128Ibid. 140.

129Ibid. 362.

130 Vaughan, I, 328-9 (Fragment); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, III, 146; Vaughan, II, 133 (Contrat Social).

131Ibid. I, 348-9 (Fragment).

132 Vaughan, I, 326 (Fragment).

133Ibid. II, 77 (Contrat Social).

134Ibid. I, 329, 344-9 (Fragment).

135Ibid. 263-5 (Economie Politique); II, 485-92 (Poland).

136 Vaughan, I, 328-9, 348-9 (Fragment); II, 308-9 (Corsica).

137Ibid. I, 450 (Première Version); 326-7 (Fragment).

138Ibid. 327-8 (Fragment).

139Ibid. II, 87 (Contrat Social).

140Leviathan, ed. by Michael Oakeshott (Oxford, 1947), 127, 209-18.

141 Anton-Hermann Chroust, 'The Corporate Idea and the Body Politic in the Middle Ages', The Review of Politics, 1947, IX, 423-52.

142 John of Salisbury, The Statesman's Book, ed. and trans. by John Dickinson (New York, 1963), 71.

143Ibid. 64-5.

144Ibid. 73-5.

145 Saint Thomas Aquinas, On the Governance of Rulers, trans. by Gerald B. Phelan (London and New York, 1938), 36, 40-2, 91-4.

146Leviathan, 5, 112, 113-20, 121-9.

147Emile, 340.

148 Vaughan, I, 241 (Economie Politique).

149Ibid. 250-1 (Economie Politique), Discours sur les Science et les Arts, 8.

150 Vaughan, I, 244 (Economie Politique).

151Ibid. II, 427 (Poland).

152'Lettre à M. le Marquis de Mirabeau', 26 juillet 1767, C.G., XVII, 155-9.

153 Vaughan, I, 243 (Economie Politique).

154Ibid. 240, 258 (Economie Politique).

155Ibid. 244 (Economie Politique).

156Ibid. 246, 248, 250, 254-5, 257, 259-60, 265, 272-3 (Economie Politique).

157Ibid. 247, 258 (Economie Politique).

158Ibid. 239, 240, 242-3 (Economie Politique).

159Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 202.

160 Vaughan, II, 31 (Contrat Social).

161'preface' à Narcisse, 965.

162 Vaughan, II, 107-8 (Contrat Social).

163Ibid. I, 246, 248-50 (Economie Politique); 334 (Fragment); II, 345-6 (Corsica); 433-41, 477-80 (Poland).

164 Vaughan, I, 267-8 (Economie Politique); II, 436, 438-9, 474 (Poland).

165Ibid. II, 346 (Corsica).

166 See supra, Ch. III; Vaughan I, 247, 261-3 (Economie Politique).

167 Vaughan, I, 239 (Economie Politique).

168Ibid. 244-5 (Economie Politique).

169Ibid. 242-3 (Economie Politique).

170 Vaughan, I, 223-4 (Lettre à M. Philopolis).

171 Vaughan, I, 447-54 (Première Version); II, 37, 41-2 (Contrat Social).

172 'Lettre à M. de Malesherbes', 3 novembre 1760, C.G., 247-8.

173 Vaughan, I, 293-305 (L'état de guerre); I, 389-91 (Jugement sur la Paix Perpétuelle) II, 29-31 (Contrat Social).

174Ibid. 416-17 (Jugement sur la Polysynodie).

175Ibid. II, 91 (Contrat Social).

176Confessions, IX, 404-5.

177 Vaughan, II, 23 (Contrat Social).

178Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 203-5; VII, 208-9.

179 Vaughan, II, 104, 113-15, 117-19 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, IX, 254-5.

180 Vaughan, II, 64 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 202.

181 Vaughan, II, 91 (Contrat Social).

182Ibid. I, 301 (L'état de guerre); 318 (Fragment); II, 91, 29-30 (Contrat Social).

183 Vaughan, II, 65 (Contrat Social).

184Ibid. 68 (Contrat Social); Letters Ecrites de la Montagne, VIII, 224; 'Lettre à M. Marcet de Mézieres', 24 juillet, 1762, C.G., VIII, 35-8.

185 Vaughan, II, 88 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 204-5.

186 Vaughan, II, 68, 95-7, 99 (Contrat Social).

187Ibid. 82-7 (Contrat Social); Lettres Ecrites de la Montagne, VI, 205-6; Emile, 422.

188 The Première Version breaks off just at the point where 'public force' enters. This was to begin the discussion of government in the final version of the Contrat Social. In Corsica only a vague reference to 'guardians of the law' disturbs the rustic peace. Vaughan, I, 461-2 (Première Version); II, 64 (Contrat Social); 351 (Corsica).

189 Vaughan, II, 61 (Contrat Social).

190 E.g. Vaughan, II, 317, 321-2 (Corsica).

191 Vaughan, I, 468 (Première Version).

192Ibid. II, 75, 100 (Contrat Social).

193 Vaughan, II, 72-4, 108 (Contrat Social).

194Ibid. 320-1 (Corsica); Letter to d'Alembert, 60.

195Emile, 65.

196 Vaughan, II, 321 (Corsica).

197Ibid. I, 449 (Première Version).

198Ibid. II, 36 (Contrat Social).

199Ibid. I, 453 (Première Version).

200 Barrington Moore, Jr., The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Boston, 1966), 491-505.

201N.H., Part IV, Letter X; Confessions, IX, 414; Rousseau Juge de Jean-Jacques, II, 827; Lettres à Malesherbes, I, 1132.

Principal Works

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Dissertation sur la musique moderne (essay) 1743

Discours qui a remporté le prix à l'Académie de Dijon. En l'année 1750. Sur cette Question proposée par la même Académie: Si le rétablissment des Sciences et des Arts a contribué à épurer les moeurs [Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts; also called First Discourse] (essay) 1750

Le Devin du village [The Cunning Man] (operetta) 1752

Lettre sur la musique français (criticism) 1753

Discours sur l'origine et les fondaments de l'inégalité parmi les hommes [A Discourse upon the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality among Mankind; also called Second Discourse] (essay) 1755

Oeuvres diverses de M.J.J. Rousseau de Genève.2 vols. [The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. J.J. Rousseau, 5 vols.] (essays and letters) 1756

*A M. D'Alembert de l'Académie Françoise de l'Académie Royale des Sciences de Paris, de celle de Prusse, de la Société Royale de Londres, de l'Académie Royale des Belles-Lettres de Suéde & de l'Institut de Bologne. Sur son Article Genève dans le VIIeme Volume de l'Encyclopédie, et particulièrement, sur le projet d'établir un Théatre de Comédie en cette ville [A Letter from M. Rousseau to M. D'Alembert concerning the effects of theatrical entertainments on the manners of mankind] (essay) 1758

Discours sue I'oeconomie politique [Discourse on Political Economy] 1758

Lettre de J.J. Rousseau à Monsieur de Voltaire (letter) 1759

Lettres de deux amans, habitons d'une petite ville au pied des Alpes. 6 vols.; also published as La Nouvelle Héloïse (novel) 1761

Du contrat social: ou principes du droit politique [The Social Contract] (essay) 1762

Émile, ou l'éducation. 4 vols. [Émile] (novel) 1762

Manuscrit de Genève [Geneva Manuscript] (essay) 1762

Jean Jacques Rousseau, citoyen de Genève, à Christophe de Beaumont, Archevegue de Paris [An Explanatory Letter from J. J. Rousseau to C. de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris] (letter) 1763

Lettres écrites de la montagne (essays) 1764

Projet de constitution pour la Corse [Project for a Constitution for Corsica] (essay) 1765

Dictionnaire de musique [Dictionary of Music] (dictionary) 1768

Lettres Nouvelles de J.J. Rousseau, sur le motif de sa retraite la campagne, addressées à M. de Malesherbes, et qui paroissent pour la première fois: suivies d'une relation des derniers momens de ce grand Homme (letters) 1780

Rousseau juge de Jean Jacques: Dialogues (autobiography) 1780

Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne et sur sa réformation projettée [Considerations on the Government of Poland] (essay) 1782

Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire [The Reveries of a Solitary Walker] (essays) 1782

Les Confessions de J.J. Rousseau [The Confessions of J.J. Rousseau] (autobiography) 1782-89

Ouevres complètes de J.J. Rousseau, classées par ordre de matières, avec des notes. 38 vols. (essays, poems, novels, and autobiographies) 1788-93

Nouvelles lettres de J.J. Rousseau [Original Letters of J.J. Rousseau] (letters) 1789

Ouevres complètes. 4 vols. (essays, novels, poems, and autobiographies) 1959-64

Correspondance complète. 45 vols. (letters) 1965-86

*This work is commonly referred to in French as Lettre à d'Alembert sur la spectacles and in English as Letter to d'Alembert on the Theater.

†This work is sometimes referred to as Julie: ou la Nouvelle Héloïse.

‡This work first appeared with the publication of Les Confessions in 1782.

Vincente Medina (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8152

SOURCE: "Rousseau," in Social Contract Theories: Political Obligation or Anarchy?, Rowman & Little-field Publishers, Inc., 1990, pp. 43-61.

[In the following excerpt, Medina discusses Rousseau as an advocate of contractarianism.]

Rousseau's views are open to several different interpretations. Four of these may be referred to as the Hobbesian, the Lockean, the Kantian, and the Marxist interpretation. Each stresses one or two aspects of his thought. For example, the Hobbesian interpretation emphasizes the concept of absolute sovereignty. The Lockean interpretation emphasizes the idea of popular sovereignty: that the will of the sovereign is concretely determined by the will of the majority. The Kantian interpretation emphasizes the concept of freedom as respect for moral law. The Marxist interpretation emphasizes Rousseau's political egalitarianism and his criticism of excessive private property and inequality in general. Which of these four interpretations is correct? The answer is paradoxical—all and none. All are correct insofar as each stresses some essential aspect(s) of Rousseau's political philosophy. But none is correct insofar as each attempts, but does not succeed, in presenting a comprehensive view of it.

Rousseau is an innovator in political philosophy. His political philosophy constitutes a bridge from the Natural Law tradition to the Idealist School. He is an original thinker, and if we try to encapsulate his political ideas within the parameters of any particular tradition, they lose much of their flavor and originality. Although Rousseau is an indisputable representative of the social contract tradition, he is not a representative of the "liberal individualist tradition" or what C. B. Macpherson refers to as "possessive individualism." To be an individual is to be a proprietor, an owner of oneself and one's capacities without any debts to society.1 Liberal individualists define liberty in terms of negative freedom—freedom from subjection to the wills of others. The individual is considered a self-made and self-contained atomic unit with rights and duties independent of society. These are, I believe, essential characteristics of liberal individualism or libertarianism. If so, I maintain that Rousseau is not a liberal individualist in this sense. If he is not a liberal individualist, what is he?

Stephen Ellenburg, in his book, Rousseau's Political Philosophy, offers a good characterization of Rousseau's position as nonindividualist and egalitarian.2 Ellenburg argues that Rousseau is neither a traditional liberal individualist nor a collectivist. For Rousseau the individual and society are necessarily interdependent: one cannot exist apart from the other. Rousseau's individual realizes his nature in and through society. Moreover, Rousseau is, as Ellenburg indicates, a radical political egalitarian because he defends the principle of absolute self-government. For Rousseau, individuals are free only if they can govern themselves. Therefore, according to Rousseau, any form of representative government would be considered a form of political subservience.

Rousseau presents the essence of his political philosophy in three works: Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men (Second Discourse), 1754; Discourse on Political Economy, 1758; and The Social Contract, 1762. All of his other works are related to his political theory, but these three are sufficient to understand it.

I shall concentrate first on Rousseau's concept of the state of nature. He, like Hobbes and Locke, uses this expression for at least three different purposes: (1) to refer to prepolitical society, where there is no commonly recognized political power or authority; (2) to assist in the development of his concept of human nature; (3) to assist in his explication of the origin of civil society. He also uses this concept in a fourth way: to explicate the origin of political inequalities and private property.

In Second Discourse, Rousseau discusses human nature in its original "primitive state" or "pure state of nature," as contrasted with human nature in civil society. To carry out this mental experiment, he strips the individual of all traits acquired only in society. What remains is, according to Rousseau, natural or primitive people—people in their original condition. Nonetheless, he recognizes that separating that which is artificial from that which is natural in people is extraordinarily difficult.3 He proceeds to present his account of how civilization imprinted its rubric on natural individuals, and how they in consequence have been transformed from a state of innocence to a corrupted state of sin.

I agree with Ramon Lemos when he claims that Rousseau's discussion of the state of nature is more extended than, and its purpose different from, that of Hobbes or Locke.4 Rousseau is more radical in his analysis of the state of nature than either Hobbes or Locke, since he wants to understand human nature in its original primitive condition, as contrasted with human nature in civil society. Thus Rousseau argues that most philosophers have not gone far enough in their analysis of the state of nature and accuses them of transferring to men in "the state of nature the ideas they acquired in society. They spoke about savage man, and it was civil man they depicted." He goes on to say that "it did not even occur to most of our philosophers to doubt that the state of nature had existed."5 This unfair accusation is understandable because Rousseau uses the term "the state of nature" in a sense different from Locke's. He uses it to indicate the absence of all forms of social relations, whereas Locke uses it to indicate only the absence of political society.

For Rousseau the concept of the state of nature is hypothetical:

the investigations that may be undertaken concerning this subject should not be taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical and conditional reasonings, better suited to shedding light on the nature of things than on pointing out their true origin, like those our physicists make everyday with regards to the formation of the world.6

Rousseau's hypothesis of the state of nature is also an attempt to present a theory of human civilization from its genesis to its actual state of corruption. People, according to him, have evolved from a pure state of nature to a highly complex and corrupt state of society. Human goodness has been corrupted by society. If, however, people are naturally good and society is made up of people, then it seems paradoxical to argue, as Rousseau does, that even though people are naturally good they can corrupt themselves. John Plamenatz recognizes this problem when he writes:

Men are first brought together by the need to satisfy their natural wants, and this coming together starts a train of events which, through no fault of their own and no calamity, both develops and corrupts their faculties. Society, at least, is not naturally good even if man is so.7

Rousseau tries to explain this paradox by arguing that inequality is the main, although not the only, source of corruption in society. Natural individuals differ in their physical abilities and mental capacities (natural inequalities). Thus when they start a process of social interaction their natural inequalities necessarily lead them to the development of social and economic differences (artificial inequalities). These artificial inequalities, together with the development of metallurgy and agriculture and the emergence of private property with its division of labor, bring about the corruption of people in society.

In Second Discourse, Rousseau presents a detailed exposition of how the transformation from the state of nature to a state of social corruption came about. For this purpose he divides the state of nature into several stages. The first stage is the presocial, primitive, or pure state of nature where there are absolutely no forms of social intercourse. The second is a quasi-social state; this state, however, can be divided into different stages, where different forms of social relations gradually evolve from the simplest form of social intercourse, such as family relations, to a more complex form, such as tribal relations. The third is a more highly developed social state, in which there is a division of labor and in which significant inequalities exist. In this stage private property is instituted and class antagonism emerges as a serious threat to social harmony.

Natural, primitive, or original individuals in the presocial state of nature are not, according to Rousseau, acquisitive, fearful, violent and egoistic, as Hobbes depicted them. On the contrary, for Rousseau a natural individual is solitary, peaceful, healthy, happy, good, and free. People in this presocial state do not recognize any rules or laws; they do not even recognize other fellow humans because they do not need them for the fulfillment of their basic needs. These needs are few and simple. Natural individuals are similar to animals with one essential difference: their freedom. Rousseau puts it succinctly when he says:

Therefore it is not so much understanding which causes the specific distinction of man from all other animals as it is his being a free agent. Nature commands every animal, and beasts obey. Man feels the same impetus, but he knows he is free to go along or to resist….8

This ability to choose is what makes a person a perfectible being and a potential moral agent. Both freedom and perfectibility are what distinguish human beings from other animals. Yet the more important of the two is freedom, since it is a necessary condition for actualizing the capacity for self-perfection.

It is important to note the way in which Rousseau uses the concept of freedom in Second Discourse. Maurice Cranston, in his book Jean-Jacques,9 presents a good tripartite distinction of this concept. Natural individuals are free, according to Cranston's interpretation, in three different senses: (1) metaphysical, (2) anarchical, and (3) personal. Metaphysical freedom is possessed by all people at any stage of the state of nature, pre-political society or political society. This freedom amounts to the ability to choose. Anarchical freedom is possessed only by those living in the state of nature; this amounts to the absence of moral, legal, or governmental rules. Personal freedom is the absence of dependence on others and can be exercised only in the pure state of nature where each individual lives a solitary and self-sufficient life.

These three kinds of freedom are species of natural freedom. I call them natural because, with the exception of metaphysical freedom, which can be exercised in either the state of nature or political society, the other two can be exercised only in the state of nature. Furthermore, personal freedom can be exercised only in the pure state of nature.

Metaphysical freedom, however, is a special case of natural freedom because it is natural in two different senses: (1) it can be exercised in the state of nature, and (2) it is an essential aspect of human nature regardless of one's station in the state of nature or in society. This kind of freedom is, I believe, the ground for the natural right to liberty in Rousseau's political philosophy. If so, this freedom is of paramount importance, since liberty, according to Rousseau, is a fundamental value that one ought not to give up because, in doing so, one is giving up one's moral agency.

Rousseau argues that since natural individuals are only potentially rational, one cannot, properly speaking, ascribe rights and duties to them in their original presocial state. In this state the concepts of right and wrong, justice and injustice do not apply. In this respect Rousseau's ideas coincide with those of Hobbes, although for different reasons. Hobbes argues that in the state of nature, "The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place." He goes on, "Justice, and Injustice are none of the Faculties neither of the Body, nor Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions." He stresses that justice and injustice "are Qualities, that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude."10

Rousseau, for his part, maintains that natural individuals in the original or primitive state of nature are characterized by two fundamental qualities: self-love (amour de soi) and commiseration. The first "makes us ardently interested in our own well-being and our self-preservation," whereas the latter "inspires in us a natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellowman, perish or suffer."11 From these two qualities it follows, according to him, that the traditional golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," should be replaced by a maxim of natural goodness, "Do what is good for you with as little harm as possible to others." 12 The quality of natural pity or commiseration makes natural individuals essentially good.

If natural individuals are essentially good, and if the original state of nature was such a peaceful state, why did people depart from their original state? There are two basic answers. (1) Human beings in general possess the faculty of perfectibility or self-perfection. This makes any future development of a person's potentialities possible, including the development of rational self-love. (2) Natural events such as earthquakes, floods, and population growth compelled primitive individuals to enter into some rudimentary forms of social intercourse in order to survive. This marked the end of the presocial state of nature and the beginning of the quasi-social state of nature. From then on, an irreversible process of social interdependence developed, and in the process natural individuals lost their personal freedom or freedom from dependence on others. Natural individuals, according to Rousseau, embarked on a process of slow but progressive social bondage.

It was only at the quasi-social stage that the institution of the family emerged. At this same stage people started to live and work together. Rousseau calls this stage "emerging or nascent" society. During this stage tribal relations develop towards more complex forms of social relations. But there is yet only a mild dependence on others, since people still have a sense of self-sufficiency. According to Rousseau, this is the "golden age" of humanity. It is a middle position between "the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism."13

Even though this middle position would have been the best state for people to remain in, they unfortunately began to cultivate the land and, as a result, brought about the development of both metallurgy and agriculture. With the latter, a fatal division of labor between metal workers on the one hand and farmers on the other became a reality. This in turn created an upsurge of social interdependence among metal workers and farmers. Concurrently, private property was instituted and, as a result, civil society emerged. According to Rousseau:

This first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.14

After the foundation of civil society, Rousseau argued, the natural inequalities among people, such as differences of age, health and talent, necessarily led to a highly disproportionate level of artificial inequalities: differences in power, prestige, and privileges.15 The natural inequalities among people together with their desire for recognition in society brought about an increase in artificial inequalities and hence a radical change in human nature. From peaceful and benevolent beings natural individuals were transformed into ambitious and contentious beings. The defining characteristics of natural individuals, self-love and natural pity, were transformed into amour propre and selfishness. The latter stems from the development of human rationality and the increase of social interdependence.

Thus, entering civil society, individuals lose their last vestiges of personal freedom and natural independence. They become, Rousseau argues, not only the slaves of new artificial needs but of other people as well. Social individuals are now faced with an inescapable dilemma: On the one hand, if they are rich, they need the service of the poor; on the other hand, if they are poor, they need the help of the rich.16 Social individuals are inescapably condemned to depend on others. Consequently, people in entering civil society exchange personal freedom for social bondage.

According to Rousseau, social individuals are essentially unhappy and alienated. At least four reasons can be adduced for this: (1) they are alienated from their original nature—from peaceful and benevolent beings, they have been transformed into selfish and belligerent individuals; (2) they are alienated from their natural freedom or independence—no longer able to act as they please, they are now bound by the norms and rules of society; (3) they are alienated from economic and spiritual self-sufficiency—they now depend on the recognition and labor of others for subsistence in society; and (4) their natural inequalities are transformed into greater artificial inequalities in civil society.

Significantly, however, Rousseau does not condemn inequality in general; he simply condemns those arti ficial inequalities, such as the excessive economic ones, that bring about political inequalities. For political equality, he argues, two basic conditions must be fulfilled: (1) the ascription of equal rights and duties to all citizens before the law, and (2) an equal opportunity for all citizens to change or modify the laws under which they live regardless of their differences in power, property, or prestige. Moreover, he condemns any kind of artificial inequality which might lead to forms of political inequality. This is why Rousseau advocates a simple way of life rather than the great accumulation of wealth.

What is most necessary and perhaps the most difficult in the government is rigorous integrity in dispensing justice to all and especially in protecting the poor against the tyranny of the rich. The greatest evil is already done when there are poor people to defend and rich men to keep in check. It is only at intermediate levels of wealth that the full force of the law is exerted.

It is one of the most important items of business for the government to prevent extreme inequality of fortunes, not by appropriating treasures from their owners, but by denying everyone the means of acquiring them, and not by building hospitals for the poor but by protecting citizens from becoming poor.17

Rousseau opposes great accumulations of wealth because it brings about political inequalities. Those with greater wealth also have greater access to political power and, therefore, they have greater freedom. They have the freedom to influence and perhaps even oppress those who have less political power. This is unjust, Rousseau contends. Justice is only possible when people enjoy political equality and have an equal opportunity to enact or change the laws.

Rousseau is not, however, against all kinds of inequalities; he defends the view that inequalities of rank and prestige are just if they are proportional to natural inequalities. In this sense, he is not a radical egalitarian. But he is a radical egalitarian in the political sense, because he believes that all citizens ought to have the same rights and duties before the law and an equal opportunity to participate in enacting or changing it. In short, he is a radical political egalitarian but not a radical economic egalitarian.

For Rousseau, natural as well as artificial inequalities are inevitable in civil society because people, once united in civil society, "are forced to make comparisons among themselves" and to take account of their differences in "wealth, rank, power and personal merit." Of these differences, wealth is the most important because it can buy rank and power in society.18

Although Rousseau is against amassing great wealth, he is not against private property per se. In fact he considers the right to private property "the most sacred of all the citizens' rights."19 Nor does he advocate that all citizens have the same degree of wealth. On the contrary, he writes:

With regard to equality, we must not understand by this word that the degrees of power and wealth should be absolutely the same; but that, as to power, it should fall short of all violence, and never be exercised except by virtue of station and of the laws; while, as to wealth, no citizen should be rich enough to be able to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.20

Rousseau is searching for the middle ground or the golden mean between the very rich and the very poor. Thus, in order to establish a state of social equilibrium in civil society, he favors a moderate middle class.

If, then, you wish to give stability to the state, bring the two extremes as near together as possible; tolerate neither rich people nor beggars. These two conditions, naturally inseparable, are equally fatal to the general welfare; from the one class spring tyrants, from the other, the supporters of tyranny.21

It follows from these considerations that a necessary condition for creating a just political order is bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. In a society where there is a great difference between the "haves" and the "have-nots" political equality is simply an illusion. He argues:

Under bad governments this equality is only apparent and illusory; it serves only to keep the poor in their misery and the rich in their usurpations. In fact, laws are always useful to those who possess and injurious to those who have nothing; whence it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only so far as they all have something, and none of them have too much.22

For Rousseau private property must serve a social function. It is permissible only if and so long as it promotes the well-being of the community. Political justice is possible, according to him, only if economic justice is also possible, and vice versa; one cannot exist without the other. Although we can conceive of political justice in abstraction, apart from and independent of economic justice, and vice versa, in reality both forms of justice are intertwined. They are in fact directly proportional to one another. Accordingly, Rousseau argues that "the social state is advantageous to men only when all have something and none have too much." Justice in general is possible only in a classless society.

The concept of the social contract is essential to Rousseau's political philosophy. He uses this concept in two different ways: (1) to explain the nature of legitimate political authority, and (2) to explain the genesis of the state, or how political society emerged from prepolitical society to protect and legalize the possessions of the rich. The poor agree to the institution of political society without realizing that they are instituting a positive legal system which sanctions the wealth of the rich and perpetuates their own misery. Arguing against this "evil contract," Rousseau writes:

the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, established forever the law of property and of inequality, changed adroit usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the entire human race to labor, servitude and misery.23

I agree with Iring Fetscher's interpretation of Rousseau on this point.24 He contends that, according to Rousseau, a necessary condition for the fulfillment of a "good" social contract is a degree of social and political equality among the citizens. Without this, the contract and hence the institution of political society would be unjust, for when there is conflict as a result of great socio-economic and political inequalities, a social contract is used simply as a subterfuge to end the conflict and perpetuate the status quo.

On the other hand, in The Social Contract, Rousseau uses the concept of a contract as a political and moral device to transform the unjust status quo of actual political life into a just political order. His main purpose in this book is to reconcile the claims of freedom with the claims of justice, the claims of right with the claims of self-interest, "so that justice and utility may not be severed." In order to do this, he proposes to take "men as they are and laws as they can be made."25 That is to say, he wants, while recognizing the power of self-interest, to form a political association in which laws enacted by all of its members will protect the interest of each without transgressing the interests of others. These laws will also protect and promote the freedom of all. He proposes the following enigmatic formula:

To find a form of association which may defend and protect with the whole force of the community the person and property of every associate, and by means of which each, coalescing with all, may nevertheless obey only himself, and remain as free as before.26

The problem with this formula is to explain how one can enter an association which imposes obligations on its members and, at the same time, obey only one's self. Clearly, at some point there is going to be some conflict between what a person wants to do or refrains from doing and what the association requires or forbids be done.

Rousseau believes that this is not necessarily the case because, given the plasticity of human nature, it is possible through education and legal constraint to encourage the members of the association to will or desire only that which is compatible with the general will of the association. So that if someone refuses to abide by the general will, "he shall be forced to be free."27 This is precisely the point—how can we be free, and obey only ourselves, when we are being coerced to act against our will?

The answer to this paradox is to be found in Rousseau's concept of liberty. He distinguishes among three kinds of liberty: natural, civil, and moral. I have already discussed natural liberty and its three different species: metaphysical, anarchical, and personal. Civil liberty, as contrasted with natural liberty, exists only where there are rules and norms to be respected. It involves acting according to the rules, norms, and social customs of a particular civil society. Moral liberty, on the other hand, consists, according to Rousseau, in "obedience to a self-prescribed law."28 Moral liberty differs from civil liberty in that the latter establishes a relation between the individual and the rules or norms prescribed by the community, whereas moral liberty is primarily a relation between person and conscience.

Apparently, the kind of liberty Rousseau has in mind when he uses the expressions "obeying only oneself and "being forced to be free," is moral as well as civil. However, moral liberty is the highest kind of liberty, since it "renders man truly master of himself." Rousseau maintains that a person "ought to bless … the happy moment that released him from it [the state of nature] forever, and transformed him from a stupid and ignorant animal into an intelligent being and a man."29

Rousseau's distinction between liberty and independence is important. He indicates this in his Letters from the Mountain when he writes:

When everyone does what he pleases, he often does what displeases others; and that is not called a condition of freedom. Liberty consists less in doing what we want than in not being subjected to another's will; it also consists in not subjecting another's will to our own.3"

For Rousseau independence, unlike liberty, consists in acting as one pleases without respect for others, whereas liberty is the ability to act according to self-prescribed rules that respect the rights of others. That being the case, the self-prescribed rules of an individual in a society must not conflict with the self-prescribed rules of others in this society. Otherwise liberty and independence would be synonymous. Freedom as independence is basically egoistic. This kind of freedom creates conflicts among individuals. For example, one is free in this sense only when one is able to satisfy wants and desires without any regard for other people's wants or desires. On the other hand, one is morally free only when one's self-prescribed rules are compatible with those of others.

What can guarantee that one's self-prescribed rules are not in conflict with the self-prescribed rules of the other members of society? At this point the idea of a collective self and the concept of the general will become crucial to an understanding of Rousseau's ideas. When he refers to the notion of moral freedom as involving self-prescribed moral rules, the term "self" is ambiguous, for it refers to the self of each particular member of the body politic and also to the self as a "moral or collective self. " This collective self emerges as a product of the social pact when "Each of us puts in common his person and his whole power under the supreme direction of the general will; and in return we receive every member as an indivisible part of the whole."31 The collective self emerges when associates give themselves and all of their rights to the community in order to preserve and promote the common good or general welfare. The means by which this collective self preserves and promotes the common good are through exercising the general will. This will, like that of each individual, aims at self-preservation.

The moral or collective self prescribes laws to the citizens. However, since this moral self is a product of the unity of the citizens' wills as each aspires to the common good, it follows that the moral self is simply an extension of the wills of particular selves as they aspire to generality. Moreover, the particularity or generality of a will depends on its object. If its object is the common good, it is general. If it is some private interest, it is particular.

We obey ourselves only when we act according to the preservation and promotion of the general will, since this will is simply an extension of individual wills as they aspire to generality or the common good. Whenever the citizens act contrary to the general will, they are acting for the sake of their egoistic wants and desires. In this sense, according to Rousseau, they are not morally free. They are slaves of their passions and appetites. They are morally free only when they act according to self-prescribed laws, that is to say, when they act according to the general will. Hence, Rousseau argues, whenever the citizens' actions are incompatible with the general will they must be forced to be free, which is to say that they must be constrained by the law to act according to the general will. But since the citizens consent to abide by the general will when they become participants in the social contract, and since this contract guarantees that all have a free and equal voice in the making of the law, it follows that they are not in fact constrained. Where there is consent there cannot be coercion, since a necessary condition of coercion is the absence of consent. This is true if one assumes, as Rousseau seems to do, that once one consents to a particular state of affairs one is bound by it to eternity. This, however, is too strong an assumption, since it undermines one's moral autonomy by disregarding future moral considerations that might outweigh the moral importance of one's initial act of consent. Consent, like promise, is an open-ended concept, and thus it cannot have absolute moral weight.

Iring Fetscher, in the spirit of Robert Derathé, argues that Rousseau is operating with a dual concept of reason.

Reason has a dual and sometimes even contradictory aspect, according to whether it is exercised in the service of the passions of amour propre or, "when the passions are silent," is considered with the perception of "order."32

Fetscher recognizes that the concept of reason which serves the passions is similar to the Humean concept of reason. He sees it as passive reason. However, reason as a perception of order is not passive but active. This is practical reason.

The above distinction corresponds to Rousseau's distinction between a will that is particular and a will that is general. When we are motivated by our selfish interests, our wills are particular. As a result we are unfree, according to Rousseau, because we are the slaves of our passions. On the other hand, when we are motivated by a will that is general, we are concerned with the common good or general welfare. At this level, active or practical rationality is operating. We are operating with a concept of a moral order. Therefore, it is at this level that we are morally free. This anticipates Kant's notions of freedom as respect for the moral law and practical rationality. According to both Rousseau and Kant, we are morally free insofar as we perform our duties for duty's sake and we are rational to the extent that we are moral.

Rousseau is rejecting the notion of freedom as the maximization of our selfish wants and desires—the result of egoism or amour propre. On the contrary, his concept of freedom as respect for the moral law is radically different from this egoistic concept of freedom. Since this law is discovered and instituted by the general will, it follows that we are free, in Rousseau's sense, only if and so long as we act according to the general will. The freedom of the citizen consists, as Fetscher argues, "in his not being dependent on any single man and his whim, but dependent solely upon the law,"33 which is a law that each citizen helps to establish. Furthermore, virtue consists, according to Rousseau, in acting in accordance with the moral law and hence also with the general will. I am a virtuous citizen provided that I am morally free, and vice versa. Thus Rousseau claims that if we want the general will to be accomplished, we must

make all private wills be in conformity with it. And since virtue is merely this conformity of the private to the general will, in a word make virtue reign.34

Later he says,

A country cannot subsist without liberty, nor can liberty without virtue, nor can virtue without citizens. You will have everything if you train citizens; without this you will merely have wicked slaves.35

The body politic must therefore educate its citizens to be virtuous—to be morally free.

The function of the law, in Rousseau's ideal Republic, is to protect and promote the common good rather than some private or class interest. Therefore, if the law in fact promotes or protects any private or class interest at the expense of the common good, it will lose its legitimacy and the social contract will be broken. This is why Lucio Colletti argues that Rousseau's social pact is different from the liberal natural law tradition:

while to Locke and Kant and the whole liberalnatural-law tradition in general, the contract "is not an innovation in the natural-legal order but tends to consolidate it…," to Rousseau, on the other hand, "the contract means the renunciation of the state and freedom of nature and the creation of a new moral and social order."36

If Rousseau's ideal Republic is to be realized, the terms of the social contract must be unconditionally observed. Rousseau argues for this when he asserts, "The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would render them vain and ineffectual." Moreover, if this pact is violated, "each man regains his original rights and recovers his natural liberty, while losing the conventional liberty for which he renounced it."37 By the terms "original rights" and "natural liberty," Rousseau refers to rights and liberties people enjoyed before entering political society. He does not, however, refer to a person's natural rights to life and liberty, since such a person is the bearer of these rights in virtue of his or her nature and, as such, they are inalienable. Only those social or conventional rights possessed in civil society are alienable. He defends the natural rights to life and liberty, although, unlike Locke, he considers the right to property to be a conventional rather than a natural right.38 Moreover, in The Social Contract he argues against the institution of slavery and defends the natural right to liberty on these grounds:

To renounce one's liberty is to renounce one's quality as a man, the rights and also the duties of humanity…. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature, for to take away all freedom from his will is to take away all morality from his action.39

Rousseau's contract is intended to guarantee both the enjoyment of civil and political freedom and the right to private property. It guarantees, among other things, the right to have an equal voice in the making of laws and hence the right to vote. Moreover, the right to political freedom derives from the natural right to liberty.

In The Social Contract Rousseau presents a dual account of freedom. Freedom has both a positive and a negative aspect. The latter consists in being independent of the will of others, the former in acting according to self-prescribed rules. These two aspects of freedom are necessary but not sufficient to exercise one's right to political liberty within the body politic. Two further conditions must be met if a citizen is to be politically free: (1) each citizen must be equally treated before the law, and (2) each must have an equal voice in the making of the laws. It follows that Rousseau favors literal self-government. People are politically free only if they can govern themselves. In this sense, Rousseau is a radical political egalitarian, since he advocates literal self-government or direct democracy. For Rousseau sovereignty is inalienable; it remains forever with the people.

Rousseau, like Hobbes, rejects the dichotomy between the social contract and the contract of government. Both postulate a single contract: a contract of society. This idea of a single contract constitutes, as Colletti contends, a revolutionary approach in political theory: "it implies that the government no longer appears as the 'receptacle' of a sovereignty transferred to it by the people …, but as a mere executive organ, or precisely a 'commission.'"40

The government, Rousseau argues, has "nothing but a commission," and its task is to respond to the needs and interests of the sovereign, which is the collectivity of citizens. Sovereignty remains always with the people. It is inalienable, indivisible, and incapable of representation. The supreme power of the state remains always in the hands of the sovereign, i.e., in the hands of the people. The sovereign can always, through its general will as expressed through the law, modify, limit, or even dismiss the government whenever it chooses. The sovereign is therefore above the law.

it is contrary to the nature of the body politic for the sovereign to impose on itself a law which it cannot transgress … whence we see that there is not, nor can there be any kind of fundamental law binding upon the body of the people, not even the social contract.41

Later Rousseau argues this point more explicitly when he writes:

there is in the State no fundamental law which cannot be revoked, not even the social compact; for if all citizens assembled in order to break this compact by a solemn agreement, no one can doubt that it would be quite legitimately broken.42

Otto Gierke argues that Rousseau's concept of popular sovereignty amounts to "the declaration of a permanent right of revolution, and a complete annihilation of the idea of the constitutional State."43 However, by the phrase "permanent revolution" Gierke does not mean a violent transformation of the body politic, but the always-present possibility of its legal restructuring. The sovereign can even, for example, choose to revoke the contract. But this can be accomplished only if there is a unanimous agreement to invalidate it. Thus Rousseau, unlike Locke, does not postulate a right to revolution against tyranny. He does not need this right because sovereignty remains always with the people. In Rousseau's Republic, tyranny or any sort of gross injustice on the part of the sovereign would be impossible. The general will of the people can never be unjust, "since no one is unjust to himself."44 The sovereign therefore is always what "it ought to be."45

Rousseau believes he has found the formula to reorganize the body politic in such a way that it will necessarily be a just society. For this society the general welfare will be above private interests. Moreover, formal or ideal justice will also coincide with distributive or material justice. Therefore, ideal and material justice will become functions of the law as it is expressed by the acts of the general will. For Rousseau, what the general will determines is what it ought to be.

To have moral weight, the law must be just. Otherwise the citizens are not obliged to obey it. The general will, however, is always right. Therefore, for Rousseau, unlike Locke, the citizens do not need to appeal to "heaven" for justice. They appeal instead to the general will which is determined by the will of the majority.46 The problem with Rousseau's principle of majority rule, however, is that neither he nor anybody else can guarantee that the majority will always be right nor that it will not impose its own will on the minority. That is to say, Rousseau's political theory does not provide any safeguards to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Locke provides at least for the right to revolution. He does so by maintaining that the citizens can delegate their sovereignty to a legislative body provided that this body does not violate their natural rights. Rousseau, as we have seen, cannot provide for this right because his ideal Republic is necessarily just, and therefore sovereignty is essentially inalienable.

This last claim is doubtful. For, as stated above, if the general will is concretely determined by the will of the majority, there is always a danger that the will of the majority, and thus the general will, will not be just, and that the majority will eventually tyrannize the minority. Rousseau might counter by claiming that if the will of the majority is not just, then it is not the general will, since this is always necessarily just. Yet if the only empirical test we have to determine the content of the general will is the will of the majority, then what will prevent this will from being recognized as having the moral and legal imperativeness of the general will? I do not think Rousseau presents a satisfactory answer to this question.

Colletti is partially right, I believe, when he argues that Rousseau's political theory leads to "the abolition or withering away of the State."47 There are two other possibilities. Rousseau's political theory might also lead to the tyranny of the majority over the minority, and to legal anarchism.

The withering away of the state is possible because, according to Rousseau, even though there is a distinction between the citizens and their government, the citizens have an inalienable right to enact the laws by which they will be ruled. Hence, they also have the right to appoint or dismiss their government. Nonetheless, he recognizes the need of government as an executive agency to administer the laws enacted by the sovereign. For Rousseau legislation is a function of sovereignty rather than government, which has only executive and judicial functions.

The tyranny of the majority is possible because if the general will is concretely determined by the will of the majority, as Rousseau argues, there is always the possibility that the majority might end up imposing its views on the minority. But no matter what the majority decides, it can never rightly suppress the rights of the minority to express its views and to vote. If the majority tries to do so, the social contract is violated and the minority ceases to be obliged by it.

Legal anarchism is the least probable of the three, but there is always the remote possibility that it might occur: since the citizens have the right to enact laws, they may start enacting and abolishing too many of them too often thus creating a feeling of insecurity and frustration among themselves. If this were to happen, it would bring about, as Otto Gierke indicates, "a complete annihilation of the idea of the constitutional state."

Rousseau's notion of the social contract is extremely important for his political philosophy for, like Locke, he grounds political obligation on the principle of consent. Thus, for Rousseau, the citizens are politically obliged to obey the law so long as the terms of the contract are observed: (1) the citizens are equally allowed to express their views publicly, and (2) they are equally allowed to vote in order to determine the content of the general will. It is clear in Rousseau's political philosophy that the citizens have an inalienable right to decide whom they are going to obey and the rules they are going to follow. If a citizen or a group of citizens violates this right by attempting to impose his views on the rest of society without their prior consent, the social pact is broken and the people are no longer obliged to abide by it. Whether the notion of the social contract can in fact justify political obligation remains to be seen.

At least three immediate objections can be raised against Rousseau's notion of consent, and since the social contract depends upon the latter notion, these objections will apply to it as well. First, Rousseau's notion of consent is hypothetical, and hypothetical consent is not actual consent and thus no consent at all. Second, even assuming citizens at some point in time consent to abide by the general will, it does not follow that, under different conditions, they will continue to consent to abide by it. Third, to claim that when citizens refuse to abide by the general will society, by punishing them, is "forcing them to be free" is simply to leave the door open for justifying coercion disguised as freedom. Punishment always constitutes an infringement of freedom, and since, regardless of what Rousseau says, the general will is always concretely determined by the will of the majority, nothing and nobody can prevent the majority from imposing its views on others by appealing to the idea of a so-called higher freedom.


1 C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, 8th ed. (1962; rpt., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1979), p. 3.

2 See Stephen Ellenburg, Rousseau's Political Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976).

3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Second Discourse), in On the Social Contract, trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolls: Hackett, 1983), p. 113.

4 Ramon M. Lemos, Rousseau's Political Philosophy (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977), p. 6.

5Second Discourse, p. 118.

6 Ibid., pp. 118-19.

7 John Plamenatz, Man and Society, I (New York: McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 374-75.

8Second Discourse, p. 125.

9 Maurice Cranston, Jean-Jacques (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983), p. 295.

10 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1950), p. 105.

11Second Discourse, p. 115.

12 Ibid., p. 135.

13 Ibid., p. 145.

14 Ibid., p. 140.

15 Ibid., p. 138.

16 Ibid., p. 147.

17 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy, in On the Social Contract, p. 176.

18Second Discourse, p. 157-58.

19Political Economy, p. 179.

20 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, ed. Lester G. Crocker (New York: Washington Square Press, 1967), p. 55.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid., p. 26.

23Second Discourse, p. 150.

24 Iring Fetscher, "Rousseau's Concept of Freedom in the Light of his Philosophy of History," in Nomos IV: Liberty, ed. Carl J. Friedrich (New York: Atherton Press, 1962), p. 37.

25The Social Contract, p. 5.

26 Ibid., pp. 17-18.

27 Ibid., p. 22.

28 Ibid., p. 23.

29 Ibid., pp. 22-23.

30 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Letters from the Mountain," in Man and Society by John Plamenatz, vol. 1 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), p. 402.

31The Social Contract, pp. 18-19.

32 "Rousseau's Concept of Freedom in the Light of his Philosophy of History," p. 42.

33 Ibid., p. 51.

34 "Political Economy," p. 171.

35 Ibid., p. 176.

36 Lucio Colletti, From Rousseau to Lenin, trans. John Merrington and Judith White (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), p. 152.

37The Social Contract, p. 18.

38Second Discourse, p. 154.

39The Social Contract, pp. 12-13.

40From Rousseau to Lenin, p. 183.

41The Social Contract, p. 20.

42 Ibid., p. 106.

43 Otto Gierke, Natural Law and the Theory of Society, I, trans. Ernest Barker (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1934), p. 150.

44The Social Contract, p. 40.

45 Ibid., p. 21.

46 Ibid., pp. 112-13.

47From Rousseau to Lenin, p. 184.

Daniel E. Cullen (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 21218

SOURCE: "The Achievement of Democratic Freedom," in Freedom in Rousseau's Political Philosophy, Northern Illinois University Press, 1993, pp. 70-116.

[In the following excerpt, Cullen analyzes Rousseau's concept of "negative " (in the state of Nature) liberty and its relationship to democracy.]

Are free relations possible? Can the avoidance of personal dependence characteristic of solitude somehow be imported into community? Rousseau's political thought is devoted to finding a form of association that avoids the inherent tendency of social relations toward domination and submission; its project is negative in that political relations are regarded as defensive relations designed to protect citizens from mutual domination.

Rousseau indicates that freedom might be susceptible to a political form, that there are circumstances in which freedom, nature, citizenship, and virtue might be compatible.

There are two sorts of dependence: dependence on things, which is from nature; dependence on men, which is from society. Dependence on things, since it has no morality, is in no way detrimental to freedom and engenders no vices. Dependence on men, since it is without order, engenders all the vices, and by it, master and slave are mutually corrupted. If there is any means of remedying this ill in society, it is to substitute law for man and to arm the general wills with a real strength superior to the action of every particular will. If the laws of nations could, like those of nature, have an inflexibility that no human force could ever conquer, dependence on men would then become dependence on things again; in the republic all of the advantages of the natural state would be united with those of the civil state, and freedom which keeps man exempt from vices would be joined to morality which raises him to virtue.1

Democratic freedom will involve putting the laws above men, a problem that Rousseau likens to squaring the circle.2 While a free society can be based only on the will of its members, the latter must will what is right if the conditions of freedom are to be maintained. The people must freely will the kind of yoke that alone may guarantee them against dependence on men. But the achievement of the condition of freedom will be the work of wisdom rather than of will. Rousseau describes putting the laws above men as a suprahuman task, by definition beyond the capacity of a self-governing people.


From the origin of man and natural freedom, we turn to the origin of political society and civil freedom. Rousseau describes how men have become what they are before turning to the legitimate principles of right. Understanding that process discloses the obstacles to the establishment of a community of right by revealing what the people must be in order to live according to its principles.

The rupture of the natural condition is coeval with the disequilibrium of power and need that renders the individual dependent on others. Rousseau assumes human development to have reached a point where self-preservation compels men to unite; but in becoming dependent, they remain selfish and uncooperative. In a chapter of the Geneva Manuscript that was omitted from the Social Contract, Rousseau depicts the unsociability of men as radically as possible, thereby underlining what it means to "take men as they are" as the elements of a new association: "Our needs bring us together in proportion as our passions divide us, and the more we become enemies of our fellow men, the less we can do without them. Such are the first bonds of general society."3 This fortuitous combination of "Hobbesian" individuals, generated by mutual need rather than by right, is wholly disordered.

This new order of things gives rise to a multitude of relationships lacking order, regulation and stability, which men alter and change continually—a hundred working to destroy them for one working to establish them. And since the relative existence of man in the state of nature in this later stage is dependent on a thousand continually changing relationships, he can never be sure of being the same for two moments in his life.4

From an individual who is entirely for himself, who acts on fixed and invariable principles, man becomes a relative and inconstant being, dependent and miserable. The kind of society that mutual need engenders aggravates this condition, and man "finally perishes as a victim of the deceptive union from which he expected happiness."5

In Rousseau's analysis of the last stage of the state of nature, a new dimension of natural freedom comes to light. By the "natural order of things" Rousseau now means a condition that is social (dependent) but precivil. In one sense, freedom has simply been lost and men are entangled in the relations of domination occasioned by amour-propre. But since the mutual subjection of slaves and masters is devoid of legitimacy, men retain natural freedom in the sense that they have not given up their power and discretion to provide for their needs.6 Still, natural freedom has ceased to mean independence based on isolation. Men retain their diverse quotients of power, but the latter is no longer in harmony with needs. Consequently, they find themselves in a vicious dilemma. Need exceeds individual power, compelling the assistance of others; but the latter corrupts and degrades by generating relations of "masters and slaves."7 The final stage of the state of nature resembles the Hobbesian war of all against all.8

In the Social Contract, Rousseau initially confines the "inconvenience" of the state of nature to the proliferation of obstacles to self-preservation and the inadequacy of individual power to surmount them. The problem is couched in terms of social physics:

I assume that men have reached the point where obstacles to their self-preservation in the state of nature prevail by their resistance over the forces each individual can use to maintain himself in that state. Then that primitive state can no longer subsist and the human race would perish if it did not change its way of life.

Now since men cannot engender new forces, but merely unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of self-preservation except to form, by aggregation, a sum of forces that can prevail over the resistance; set them to work by a single motivation; and make them act in concert.9

Now one might imagine a solution to the problem of preservation that did not require the union of forces to have a single motivation. That was the very point of Adam Smith's famous dictum that the butcher and baker work to someone else's advantage while being wholly uninterested in his well-being. But while Rousseau appreciates the ingenuity of asocial sociability, he condemns it for cementing a system of dependence that is spiritually debilitating. His exposition of the social contract is unique in its concern to exclude personal dependence in the new, civil mode of being.10


In a situation where each individual sees his maximum advantage in others' adhering to the law while he remains free of obligation, there appears to be no hope that the common good might prevail against particular interest.11 Contradicting the dominant thought of his time, Rousseau suggests that interest is a principle of separation rather than of union.12 Their disorderly evolution away from the pure state of nature leaves men competing in a zero-sum game. "The reason of each individual dictates to him maxims directly contrary to those that public reason preaches to the body of society, and … each man finds his profit in the misfortune of others." 13

Outside the pure natural condition, the "state of things" or the "new order of things" puts men at cross-purposes.14 No collection of such beings can be a community, and no mere sum of their interests can constitute a common good. "There are a thousand ways to bring men together; there is only one way to unite them." 15 An aggregation is not a viable political form, because the interest of each remains separate. "It has neither public good nor body politic."16 Establishing civil association would appear to be an insoluble problem.17 The qualities of men as they are in the final stage of the state of nature seem inimical to a common good. Rousseau keeps those dangerous propensities before our eyes:

Indeed, each individual can, as a man, have a private will contrary to or differing from the general will he has as a citizen. His private interest can speak to him quite differently from the common interest. His absolute and naturally independent existence can bring him to view what he owes the common cause as a free contribution, the loss of which will harm others less than its payment burdens him. And considering the moral person of the State as an imaginary being because it is not a man, he might wish to enjoy the rights of the citizen without fulfilling the duties of a subject, an injustice whose spread would cause the ruin of the body politic.18

In his critique of Diderot's understanding of natural right, Rousseau offers a stark portrayal of the problem of social cooperation. Diderot had argued that the existence of natural right was evident to any reflective person, although its precise determination might be elusive. Because the "general will" was "a pure act of understanding which reasons in the silence of the passions," the rules of natural right were accessible to any rational being. One who "refused to reason" would be guilty of "renouncing his human status" and would have to be regarded as a "denatured being."19

Rousseau replied that man's moral disposition is not, as Diderot supposed, a concomitant of his humanity. The consequence of man's natural asociality is that morality has no ground outside of society. Futhermore, while morality indeed implies that man consults his reason before heeding his inclinations, reason only directs him to seek his own good. Rousseau accepts Diderot's "violent reasoner" as the representative rational individual, and concludes that deliberation among such merely mirrors a recalcitrant egoism. Precisely so long as they listen only to their reason, men will fail to progress beyond considerations of private interest, to a common good.

Even if the general will is determined by a pure act of the understanding which reasons in the silence of the passions about what man can demand of his kind … where is the man who can thus separate himself from himself? And if the concern for his own preservation is the first precept of nature, how can he be forced to look at the species in general, to impose on himself some duties whose connection with his own constitution he does not see in the least?20

Whereas Diderot spoke of natural right as the expression of a "general will" or, more precisely, a universal understanding that signified the needs and goods of all men everywhere, Rousseau spoke of "political right," which could only be the expression of the will of a particular political community.21 Diderot believed that the general will could be discovered in the laws of "all nations." Rousseau insisted that a general will could only be attributed to this or that nation, for it is a will that one has in common with one's fellow citizens rather than one's fellow men.22 Morality is a political construct.

The way out of the final stage of the state of nature thus required a "new association" that would express the general will of a particular people, respect the qualité d'homme (defined as freedom rather than reason), and "denature" man into a citizen. Rousseau opposed Diderot's cosmopolitanism not out of a truculent misanthropy but on the basis of a superior political sense. The principles of political right must be rooted in a particular political context if they are to avoid the defect of natural law that is, in the final analysis, promulgated to no one: "It is only from the social order established among us that we derive ideas about the one we imagine. We conceive of the general society on the basis of our particular societies; the establishment of small republics makes us think about the large one, and we do not really begin to become men until after we have been citizens."23 Rousseau anticipates Edmund Burke, who declared, in a celebrated phrase, that our first attachment is to "our little platoon."24

The Social Contract conceives a rapprochement between individual and general interest.

The engagements that bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual, and their nature is such that in fulfilling them one cannot work for someone else without also working for oneself. Why is the general will always right and why do all constantly want the happiness of each, if not because there is no one who does not apply this word each to himself, and does not think of himself as he votes for all? Which proves that the equality of right, and the concept of justice it produces, are derived from each man's preference for himself and consequently from the nature of man.25

The play on the words "each" and "all" indicates that the social contract "cancels yet preserves" amour de soi in effecting the transition from individualism to social unity. But there is an important difference between the coincidence of individual and general interest and an identification of the two. At the beginning of the Social Contract, Rousseau insists that duty and interest not be divided. Since the great maxim of morality is "to avoid situations which put our duties in opposition to our interests," the terms of the contract must be acceptable to "men as they are," men with no prior disposition to duty.26 The free will of precivil man is the exclusive source of right and the sole ground of civic obligation.27 Each will consent to bind himself to authority only if it is manifestly in his interest, that is, if it conduces to his self-preservation and freedom.

Now "the total alienation of each associate, with all his rights, to the whole community" is not initially associated with an act of morality or virtue. As Rouseau first describes it, adherence to the contract appears to require nothing more of anyone than that he prefer himself.28 On the basis of Rousseau's preliminary account, solidarity with the moi commun rests upon the coincidence rather than the identification of public and private interests. However, as long as the citizen secretly regards his own good, while ostensibly considering the good of the whole, he has not adopted a "civic disposition" and not achieved a general will. The fact that the political good is contingent upon a civic orientation is a grave defect that repeats the very flaw Rousseau criticized in the "bourgeois" social contracts, which left men with one foot in and one foot out of civil association.29

Rousseau initially suggests that the social contract has the internal resources to withstand a secret appeal to each individual's calculation: "It is so false that the social contract involves any true renunciation on the part of private individuals that their situation, by the effect of this contract, is actually preferable to what it was beforehand."30 Each contractor (who has not surrendered his independent reason) will presumably recognize that the social pact is an advantageous bargain. This scenario is subsequently revealed to be facile.

To accomplish its purpose, the social contract must "lift" its adherents to a new plane that transcends the calculation of interest. It aims to integrate the individual into a community, to change the perspective of "each" to that of "us." Rousseau hints at the magnitude of this change in describing the social order in terms of "sacred right," but, as we shall see, its full significance emerges only gradually and in response to an inherent dilemma of the social contract.31

The political community is a new order of right in which individuals no longer relate to each other qua individuals. Each part must "act for an end that is general and relative to the whole."32 As Rousseau puts it: "Instantly, in place of the private person of each contracting party, this act of association produces a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which receives from this same act its unity, its common self, its life and its will."33

The social contract gives birth to a "moral being," with qualities separate and distinct from the natural beings who constitute it.34 As the operative principles of the moi communare elaborated, it becomes clear that a new identity is in the making: "The general will, to be truly such, should be general in its object as well as in its essence; … it should come from all and apply to all; and … it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed toward any individual, determinate object. Because then, judging by what is foreign to us, we have no true principle of equity to guide us."35 Citizens are now so far removed from their antecedent individualism that partiality toward individual interests is deemed alien to their (collective) judgment: it has become "foreign to us."36 Such is the goal of the juridical community that would repair the defects in the natural order of things.


Since they are compelled to establish a common power over themselves, and since there exists no natural basis for authority, nor even any predisposition toward social life, men will consent only to a form of association that leaves each as free as he was before. However, the pact of association involves the total alienation of each associate (with all his rights and powers) to the whole community. In what sense could this leave the individual free?

The peculiarity of Rousseau's contractual formula stems from the requirement that it reconcile individual and common good while avoiding personal relations:

This formula shows that the act of association includes a reciprocal engagement between the public and private individuals, and that each individual, contracting with himself so to speak, finds that he is doubly engaged, namely toward private individuals as a member of the sovereign and toward the sovereign as a member of the State.37

The contract is not an ensemble of mutual obligations one with another, but a form of contract with oneself. When "each unites with all," mutual relations are superseded by an exclusive relation of each part to the whole.38 Political relations are such that "each" encounters "all," but never "another," and so the individual preserves his independence in the very act of association.39 Each contractor considers himself in the relation of sovereign to individuals, or as subject to sovereign, but never as one individual toward another. For his own emphatic reason, Rousseau insists on the liberal-democratic principle of a government of laws and not of men. The fundamental purpose of civil association is to escape the evil of personal dependence, to restore the condition of natural freedom.

We may now appreciate the sense in which the social contract might fulfill the mandate to reconcile what right permits with what interest prescribes.40 On the level of right (as opposed to "the natural order of things"), the gulf between private and general interest can be bridged: "The Sovereign, formed solely by the private individuals composing it, does not and cannot have any interest contrary to theirs."41 The tie that binds individual and public is so tight that the citizen may regard the moi commun as his own self writ large. Since sovereignty is deemed to be fully compatible with the concern for self-preservation, and since it guarantees freedom from individual rulers, it can be said to restore the principal features of the natural condition.

But whereas the precivil mode of being was individualized, civil life must be socialized so that the common force has a single source and a single end. Only in this way can each individual, though uniting with all, obey only himself and remain as free as he was before.42 As Rousseau put it in the Second Discourse, "It is the fundamental maxim of all political right, that peoples have given themselves chiefs to defend their freedom and not to enslave themselves."43 If the purpose of civil association were merely utilitarian, the union of individual powers would not need to be absolute. One might, for instance, acquire in ad hoc fashion whatever assistance one needed under some market arrangement.44 However, in Rousseau's scheme, civil man must ascend to the plane of right if the tendency of amourpropre toward competition and domination (in a struggle for personal recognition) is to be forestalled. Existence on this level requires that a new disposition arise, one capable of adding force to "public reason." Amourpropre itself will have to be modified so that it attaches rather than detaches "men as they are."45


The logic of Rousseau's demand for the total alienation of the individual to the entire community emerges once the general will is understood to fulfill the structural requirements of natural freedom in a new form. Rousseau describes the general will sometimes as a will to generalize on the part of the individual who, as a natural being, may have a particular or private will, and sometimes as the predicate of a collectivity with a "moral personality."46 The general will is presented as both the subject and the object of political activity. In the first instance, the general will is an attribute of the individual as a newly constituted moral subject.47 In the second instance, the general will is the outcome of a process of voting subject to certain strictures.48

Rousseau portrays the social problem arising out of the destruction or corruption of the natural. The Second Discourse employs the myth of the statue of Glaucus to suggest that the original human soul has been so altered by society's effects ("a thousand continually renewed causes") that man no longer acts by "fixed and invariable principles."49 But in submitting to "the supreme direction of the general will," men may once again act according to a fixed and invariable principle, and recapture their original "constancy" as citizens. As Rousseau explains, the general will is "toujours droite"; if one follows it, rather than the variable principle of particular interest, one will always act rightly.50 When all submit to the direction of the general will, society will be governed exclusively on the basis of the common good.51

Rousseau juxtaposes the particular and general wills, emphasizing the latter's superior constancy: "The order of human things is subject to so many revolutions, and ways of thinking as well as ways of being changed so easily, that it would be foolhardy to affirm that one particular will, will want tomorrow what one wants today; and if the general will is less subject to this inconstancy, nothing can protect the private will from it."52 Because the citizen's good is bound up with the good of the moi commun, the general will becomes his pole star. It is "always right and always tends toward the public utility," which is to say, "the most general will is always the most just."53 The general will may be regarded as a collectivized form of amour de soi. 54 Like the latter, the general will is "always constant, unalterable, and pure."55

Through the social contract, the citizen exchanges one "fixed and invariable principle" for another.56 Thus "the remarkable change" produced by the transition from the final stage of the state of nature to the civil state nevertheless preserves an important feature of the original natural condition.57 Before the contract, the individual is exclusively self-regarding and merely follows his desires; after the contract, he is "forced to act upon other principles and to consult his reason before heeding his inclinations."58

The reference to force must be put in context. Rousseau means that the individual qua contractor chooses to submit to a new necessity, to act according to a new principle. Whereas natural man was immediately dependent on nature (and thereby independent of men), civil man must bring his immediate desires into agreement with the artificial necessity of laws to regain that independence. Since his particular interests and desires have unnaturally proliferated, and now subject him to the will of others, only adherence to law enables him to avoid such private constraints. As we have seen, in Rousseau's mind necessity is not inimical to human freedom so long as it excludes all traces of personal oppression. Accordingly, Rousseau envisions an equal subordination, on the plane of right, to the general will that restores individuals to the same footing they enjoyed in the natural condition. In the words of Eric Weil, "The general will is, in this sense, nature recovered, the human cosmos in whose bosom the individual is free."59

The order of right reflects the natural condition of freedom and equality. Each individual wills that order in willing the general, in submerging his particular interests and desires, in acting as "an indivisible part of the whole."60 The general will is "toujours droite" because it is the expression of a community that exists by right. It can be declared only by citizens who regard themselves as members of a collective body, never by individuals who define their good "idiosyncratically." According to the logic of principles of right, the sovereign "by the sole fact of being, is always what it ought to be."61

Patrick Riley has argued that a general will is a philosophical and psychological contradiction in terms: "Will is a conception understandable, if at all, only in terms of individual actions."62 Rousseau does suggest that will can be predicated of collective entities: the general will is "the will of the people as a body."63 At the same time, the general will can be expressed only if "each citizen gives only his own opinion."64 Rousseau himself certainly did not perceive a contradiction in the simultaneous attribution of the general will to the individual and to the collective, for he regarded it as a positive virtue: "Why is the general will always right and why do all constantly want the happiness of each, if not because there is not one who does not apply this word each to himself, and does not think of himself as he votes for all?"65

One purpose of the social contract is to blur the distinction between individual and collective altogether.66 Hence, when Rousseau states that the general will must be general in its essence or source, he plays on the latter's ambiguity: "It should come from all to apply to all."67 He might as well have said, "It should come from each and apply to all." If we resort to the "expansiveness" of moral freedom at this juncture, we can, I think, account for the ambiguities surrounding the "authorization" of the general will.

Riley's chief objection to Rousseau's formulation is that it requires the object of the will to be general ("will must take the form of general laws"), whereas "will tends to the particular."68 However, Rousseau does not say that will simpliciter tends toward the particular but, rather, that "The particular will tends by its nature to preferences, and the general will tends by its nature to equality."69 Or again, "Indeed each individual can, as a man, have a private will contrary to or differing from the general will he has as a citizen."70" The former will emanates from the individual's "absolute and naturally independent existence"; but the transformation that civil man undergoes invests him with a "moral existence," and the latter is the source of his general will, manifested in his capacity for moral freedom.71 Rousseau later distinguishes no fewer than three "essentially different" wills in the person of the magistrate.

First the individual's own will, which tends only toward his private advantage. Second, the common will of the magistrates, which relates uniquely to the advantage of the prince; which may be called the corporate will, and is general in relation to the government and private in relation to the State, of which the government is a part. The will of the people or the sovereign will, which is general both in relation to the State considered as the whole and in relation to the government considered as part of the whole.

In perfect legislation, the private or individual will should be null; the corporate will of the government very subordinate; and consequently the general or sovereign will always dominant and the unique rule of all the others.72

As Rousseau observed in the Political Economy, all private individuals who constitute the political association may also be members of other, partial associations: "A given man can be a pious priest, or a brave soldier, or a zealous lawyer, and a bad citizen."73 Conversely, the good citizen suppresses his possible particular wills when they might conflict with his general will. He cleaves to the civic identity, which is impersonal and general: "Several men together … [must] consider themselves to be a single body, so that they have only a single will, which relates to their common preservation and the general welfare."74

On the whole, the Social Contract is indeed more concerned with the object of the general will than with its source, because Rousseau is after a defense mechanism rather than a positive mode of "agency." In the apt formulation of Judith Shklar, Rousseau conceives "a politics of prevention." The object of the will must be general—the general will must never apply to individuals—to accomplish the condition of negative freedom.75 To summarize: Each individual, by generalizing his will, prescribes the law to himself and obeys only himself in an act of moral freedom. As a citizen and member of the sovereign, he is free in adhering to the general will because the latter can be said to be his own. His individual will qua citizen blends into the single will of the whole.


The Social Contract bears the subtitle Principles of Political Right. The goal is a community of right, rather than an association that is permanently challenged by the assertion of prepolitical rights. Herein lies the important difference between the Rousseauian and Hobbesian contracts. From Rousseau's perspective, Hobbesian civil society accomplishes nothing. It is both informed and limited by the right of the individual to self-preservation; but that right has no place inside the state so long as the sovereign maintains internal peace. In Hobbes's scheme, the people alienate their sovereignty for the sake of peace and prosperity; but the political consequence is merely the "neutralization of the war of all against all" rather than the institution of right.76 Right is only residual, an ultimate limit to a public order resting on force; there is no relation of right between the people and the sovereign.

Rousseau reconceives the form and purpose of sovereignty by attributing it to the people themselves and by barring its transfer to an agent. Hobbes acknowledged that the union of the people's wills was the legitimate basis of the civil order, but he thought that it could be "sure" only if the united popular will was alienated to a monarch. For Rousseau, sovereignty cannot be alienated from a collective to an individual, because while the former is only a moral being, the latter must remain a natural being. Sovereignty "consists in the general will, and the will cannot be represented."77 The significance of Rousseau's refusal to countenance such a transfer is that sovereignty no longer authorizes the domination of a monarch, but serves instead as the foundation of popular freedom. The revised purpose of sovereignty is to call into being a new (social) existence in right by confining human relations to relations of right. With Rousseau, the function of sovereignty shifts from being the principle of differentiation within the body politic to the principle that defends against differentiation: "The sovereign knows only the nation as a body and makes no distinctions between any of those who compose it. What really is an act of sovereignty then? It is not a convention between a superior and an inferior, but a convention between the whole body and each of its members."78 The political condition of freedom joins the force of sovereignty to the freedom of the people, so that "they obey and no one commands, that they serve and have no master, and are all the freer, in fact, because under what appears as subjugation, no one loses any of his freedom except what would harm the freedom of another."79 In relations of right, equality guarantees that sovereignty remains a principle of freedom rather than domination; political freedom will be egalitarian or democratic.

Rousseau's turn to popular sovereignty also underscores his abiding concern for negative freedom, for the avoidance of subjection to alien rule. In attributing sovereignty to the people collectively, Rousseau revises the traditional conception of sovereignty as a relation of ruler and ruled; as a consequence, he rigorously distinguishes sovereignty and government.80 The sovereign must never govern, because government involves administration or the cognizance of particulars, with the attendant threat of personal domination. To the criticism that the individual is powerless before an absolute sovereign, Rousseau replies that the one thing sovereign authority cannot do is oppress individuals: "The general will … changes its nature when it has a particular object; and as a general will, it cannot pass judgement on either a man or a fact."81 Indeed, the sovereign may not even punish one who has broken the social treaty.82 The absolute authority of the sovereign is designed as a guarantee against dependence on others. In Rousseau's view, it is individual authority or "private government" that truly menaces individuals, whereas the force of the state preserves the freedom of its members.83 Relations of right must be "enforced" because they establish only an artificial order that remains vulnerable to violation.

The absolutism of Rousseauian sovereignty is a corollary to the absolutizing of convention, which removes men from the last stage of the state of nature into new relations of right. No individual can be secure from the depredations of private power so long as some men remain in the state of nature while others are subject to the civil condition, or so long as all are only partly "civilized." It is the general and complete immersion in the civil order that prevents men from becoming wolves to one another.84 Identification with the sovereign authority, and adherence to its legitimate commands, is the only way for men who have become social and desire to avoid mutual oppression to recoup their independence. The sovereign people create the law that obliges them, and they are related to one another only through that medium. Law is the regulative principle of human relations on the plane of right.85

The purpose of Rousseau's democratic constitution is to avoid oppression, but for that reason it cannot dispense with force. The social contract would be an ineffectual guarantee against private oppression (the ruthless politics of difference) if it did not include sanctions. Citizens are admonished only to keep their word, to abide by the terms of their own contract. That is the straightforward reasoning behind the notorious injunction that whoever refuses to obey the general will must be forced to be free. Rousseau means that such a person would be "compelled" to obey his will, qua citizen. Since it is his will, the recalcitrant individual continues to obey only himself; but he now regards himself as citizen and no longer as private man in his relations with others. These are, again, right or moral relations. By Rousseau's lights, the force-freedom paradox arises only because the civil condition may need to be reattuned to the original condition of independent relations; public force aims only to defend everyone against the failure of anyone to be moral, and so merely elaborates what membership in the community of right entails.86 To force someone to be free is to pitchfork him into the condition of freedom on the civil plane. Rousseau believes that because this manifestly serves the individual's good, it is therefore not against his will. Let us turn next to the precise relation of morality and freedom in the context of defensive politics.


If both natural and civil freedom appear to be negative, one might still expect moral freedom to involve a positive project, and to point to a mode of being that transcends the desire for independence. Yet moral freedom is auxiliary to civil freedom; it, too, serves the goal of independence. Moral freedom is defined as obedience to self-prescribed law.87 The latter can refer only to general laws, which is to say, to expressions of a general will. In Rousseau's conception, a moral will is a general will, in contra-distinction to the particular will of a "natural" and independent being. When he remarks early in the Social Contract that "to take away man's freedom of will is to take away all morality from his actions," Rousseau does not mean that anything a man might freely will must be considered moral.88 His point is negative and fundamentally polit ical: there can be nothing legitimate about an act that represents a concession to sheer force, and no one can alienate his freedom to a master.

According to Rousseau, the height of immorality is to subject oneself to another. Only free conventions have moral weight.89 When Rousseau finally considers how one's actions do acquire moral status, he reveals that morality is indeed conferred by the operation of will, but it is a will aimed exclusively at general objects. The "moralization" of man signifies his admission into a community of right that entails adherence to the general will on the part of each individual.90

Moral freedom does emphasize one aspect of the general will: its source, as opposed to its object. Moral freedom involves the stance of the individual toward his particular civil obligation. Here the question for the citizen is not so much, How can acts of the sovereign collective be confined to general rather than particular objects? but, rather, Will I prefer the general will I have as a citizen and moral being to the particular will I continue to have as a "natural person"? Moral freedom involves "mastery of self" in the sense of preferring the moi commun to the moi particulier; the moral conquest is the victory of one's moi commun in achieving the vantage point from which one can then prefer the general to the personal. It is an elaboration of Rousseau's understanding of political existence on the plane of right.

Seen in this light, moral freedom is a precondition of civil freedom. The latter requires that the individual choose to regard himself as part of the whole, or regard himself under a new aspect. Through the practice of moral freedom, the citizen reaffirms his original integration in the civil unity. Rousseau analyzes this dimension of contractual obligation in the following passage from Political Economy:

If… men are trained early enough never to consider their persons except as related to the body of the State, and not to perceive their existence, so to speak, except as part of the State's, they will eventually come to identify themselves with this larger whole; to feel themselves to be members of the homeland; to love it with that delicate sentiment that any isolated man feels only for himself.91

Moral freedom aims at the achievement of an inner disposition modeled on that of l'homme isolé, who was independent outside the state. But the citizen can establish his independence only within the state on the basis of a polemical confrontation with his own volonté particulier. L'homme isolé, innocent and pure without effort because he lacks the corruption of social life, is the model for the citizen who must struggle to purge himself of the corruption that natural existence (in the last stage of the state of nature) threatens to import into civil existence. The "dualism" that menaced original man or l'homme isolé was that he would fall into social existence and become other-regarding; the dualism that menaces the citizen is that he will fall out of civic existence into a corrupt form of self-regardingness.

Civil freedom rests on the unique relation of the individual to the whole community and the consent of each to the supreme direction of the general will; but that relation, and that consent, assume a prior transformation in the relation of the individual to himself. If we unfold the concept of the general will, we discover that each individual must first prescribe it to himself. The general will emerges out of opposition to one's private and particular will.

Because the citizen never really sheds his natural and independent existence, and because "the private will tends by its nature toward preferences," moral freedom is a permanent political requirement. Preferences must be routinely examined and brought into conformity with equality, which is to say, the particular will must be generalized.92 Rousseau indicates that this cannot be accomplished once and for all.93 It is to the habit of self-scrutiny that Rousseau refers when he states that civil man is forced "to consult his reason before heeding his inclinations."94

Given Rousseau's fundamental assumptions about the goodness of the natural inclinations, as a stance toward oneself, the disciplinary act of moral freedom makes sense only as a means toward civil unity and civil freedom. The latter make possible the escape from the last stage of the state of nature, in which natural inclinations have become corrupt and disordered. Man must become "master of himself" because the victory against his particularity is a prolegomenon to rightful relations with others. The only moral will that concerns Rousseau is a general will; morality is inherently political. It provides no detachable ethics of individual conduct.95

I argued earlier that the Kantian perspective errs in construing the new imperative of moral freedom as a "higher will" that is somehow beyond the individual's good, or even at odds with his happiness. The "moralization" that the citizen undergoes, and that requires the suppression of particularity in his will, is understood by Rousseau to be in his interest as a member of a new association. To correctly appreciate the significance of Rousseauian moral freedom, instead of imagining a "higher self," we should picture a "larger self," the self "in association": a moi commun.

It is because Rousseau regards freedom in terms of a condition to be achieved that he subsumes moral freedom under political considerations. But then those very considerations come to overwhelm the activity of moral freedom itself. Because it is "a permanent political requirement," Rousseau seeks to guarantee the outcome of moral freedom, to do away with its contingency. As we shall see, this move becomes the recurrent tendency in Rousseau's political thinking.

"In order for the general will to be well expressed, it is … important that there be no partial society in the State, and that each citizen give only his own opinion."96 As an instance of self-legislation, moral free dom required that law conform to a person's will or, more precisely, that each freely prefer the general to an exclusive preference of his own. Moral freedom appeared as a "moment" of political freedom in which the individual gives the law to himself "before" expressing it as part of the sovereign. Political freedom per se requires that the law express the will of everyone who belongs to the community. In expounding on that criterion, Rousseau introduces a new attribute of the good citizen: the "constant will."

Rousseau explicitly denies that the "natural individual" has a constant preference for the general will over his particular will. "Though it is not impossible for a private will to agree with the general will on a given point, it is impossible, at least, for this agreement to be lasting and unchanging"; hence the need for recurrent exhibitions of moral freedom.97 Anticipating that at least some members of the community may find themselves at odds with the authoritative expression of the general will, Rousseau suggests that they remain free even while being forced to obey laws to which they have not consented. We are told that such members really have consented through their "constant will": "The citizen consents to all the laws, even to those passed against his will, and even to those that punish him when he dares to violate one of them. The constant will of all the members of the State is the general will, which makes them citizens and free."98 This thought echoes the suggestion that an individual might be "forced to be free." On what grounds can Rousseau adduce a constant will to conform to the general will when he had denied such constancy in particular individuals?

Rousseau defends his conclusion by introducing a distinction between choice and discovery.

When a law is proposed in the assembly of the people, what they are being asked is not precisely whether they approve or reject the proposal, but whether it does or does not conform to the general will which is their own. Each one expresses his opinion on this by voting, and the declaration of the general will is drawn from the counting of the votes. Therefore when the opinion contrary to mine prevails, that proves nothing except that I was mistaken, and what I thought to be the general will was not. If my private will had prevailed, I would have done something other than what I wanted. It is then that I would not have been free.99

The implict reasoning is that in the circumstances in which my particular will prevails, I will not be in a condition of freedom because I will have left the plane of right for the plane of "natural existence." In other words, the activity of moral freedom, which was to keep the individual from "relapsing" into the wrong existence, is now assumed. My mistaken choice is not a moral failure but merely an error that can be over looked because my good has been accomplished by the majority decision. Once again the substitution of what is good for a person for what that person wills, signifies that Rousseau's goal is the reestablishment of a condition; the agency that brings it about becomes a subordinate matter.

The notion of a constant will derives from the distinction between a private will and a general will. As a member of the sovereign body, the citizen is asked only to express a general will. In the terms of our earlier account, the citizen is presumed to have made the moral determination to choose the general over the particular (one might say that he has made a "general determination"). The argument also trades on another previous point: "The general will alone can guide the forces of the State according to the end for which it was instituted, which is the common good."100 Qua citizen, no individual wants his private will to dominate, because his interest is freedom, which can be secured only if the general will prevails exclusively.

What really is an act of sovereignty then? It is not a convention between a superior and an inferior, but a convention between the body and each of its members. A convention is legitimate because it has the social contract as a basis; equitable, because it is common to all; useful, because it can have no other object than the general good; and solid, because it has the public force behind it. As long as subjects are subordinated only to such conventions, they do not obey anyone, but solely their own will.101

The latter phrase refers to the people's own general will. Such a will is constant in that, qua citizen, no one can want anything other than the general good, for that is his insurance against harm.102 Rousseau can therefore maintain that "What generalizes the will is not so much the number of votes as the common interest that unites them."103

The common interest of each citizen is to avoid oppression, so there is really no objective disproportion between the individual good and the common good. Rousseau reasons from the perspective of the democratic citizen rather than of the free rider who seeks an advantage in every relation. The former's desire not to be oppressed gives him an interest in justice. The people desire only to be left alone.104 Rousseau suggests that democratic man seeks equality because it guarantees freedom, whereas the powerful and the rich want exemptions from general rules because, for them, the pleasure of domination exceeds the desire for freedom.

But what of the occasion when some individuals mistake what the common interest requires? Rousseau anticipated that eventuality in the following passage from the Geneva Manuscript:

But even if the bond of which I speak were as well established as possible, all the difficulties would not disappear. The works of men—always less perfect than those of nature—never go so directly toward their end. In politics as in mechanics one cannot avoid acting more weakly or more slowly, and losing force over time. The general will is rarely the will of all, and the public force is always less than the sum of the private forces, so that in the mechanism of the State there is an equivalent of friction in machines.105

The general will is not always the will of all because "the people's deliberations" are sometimes flawed.106 Rousseau explains that while one always wants one's good, one does not always see it. The people's good is nonoppression, and the general will always serves it. But since the people are made of flesh and blood, they are prone to substitute their private wills for the general will, or to fail to properly generalize their private wills. Even if the latter converge, the "will of all" remains the mere sum of private wills and forfeits its "rightfulness."

Rousseau suggests that to desire to follow one's private will in the civil order is to forsake one's own interest and, so to speak, to confuse one mode of being with another. He repeatedly reminds us that the state is only a "moral being," and that its members remain private persons, "whose life and freedom are naturally independent of it."107 But citizens must act as if they were "moral beings" with a general rather than a private will. The latter must now be viewed as a counterfeit relic of "natural independence," which has become "uncertain" and "precarious." Rousseau emphasizes the advantage in substituting the new "manner of existence" for the old by characterizing it as the exchange of independence for freedom. By the time civil relations have become necessary, man's "natural independence" no longer means his literal isolation, but merely his personal "right" and capacity to fend off others. That kind of independence no longer guarantees non-oppression, and thus no longer serves the individual's good.108

The great danger now is that relations of right will be ruptured by men who want to do as they please on the civil plane. It seems to be Rousseau's thought that it is not enough to punish violations, to force recalcitrants to be moral. It is necessary that no real violations be found, that political recalcitrance and the moral failure it reflects be explained away as errors.

What can account for this strange insistence? A possible explanation emerges when we recall that all "works of men" (as opposed to the works of nature) are peculiarly vulnerable. Because they are merely conventions, the relations of right are fragile. Presumably, repeated ruptures by some will eventually erode the hard-won disposition of others to live justly. The civil condition would be shattered, and individuals would revert to the old form of relations, dominating where they can, submitting where they must. Apart from reasoning such as this, it is difficult to account for Rousseau's desire for unity (for an implicit unanimity) rather than a norm of generality that would punish or correct violations. The appeal to a "constant will" seems designed to preserve the fiction that there are no authentic violations, that all citizens have "good will" or pure intentions, even when they fail to choose the general. Rousseau appears to transmute the actual expression of a free will into the assumption of a constant will because the latter guarantees a condition of independence, whereas the former necessarily leaves it contingent.

In a passage from Letters Written from the Mountain, Rousseau sharply distinguished "independence" from "freedom," asserting that "these things are so different as to be mutually exclusive." This statement seems to undermine the thesis that Rousseau's "ideal" is the condition of independence. However, seen in the context of the transition from the last stage of the state of nature to the civil condition, the difficulty is resolved. For it is only when mankind has progressed to the point where civil association becomes necessary that freedom and independence (understood as following one's private will) are at odds. Rousseau elaborates as follows:

When each person does as he pleases, he often does what displeases others, and that cannot be called a free condition. Freedom consists less in doing one's will than in not being subjected to the will of another; it consists further in not subjecting the will of another to our own. Whoever is a master cannot be free, and to rule is to obey. Your magistrates know that better than anyone, they who, like Otho, omit nothing servile in order to command. I would only regard as truly free a will which no one had the right to resist; in the common freedom no one has the right to do what the freedom of another forbids. Thus freedom without justice is a veritable contradiction; because however one looks at it, everything prevents the execution of a disordered will.

Therefore, there is no freedom without Laws, nor where anyone is above the Laws: even in the state of nature, man is free only because of the natural Law which commands everyone. A free people obeys, but it does not serve; it has leaders, but not masters; it obeys Laws, but it obeys only Laws and it is by the force of Laws that it does not obeymen … In a word, freedom is always tied to the fate of Laws, it reigns or it perishes with them; I know of nothing more certain.109

These remarks show that political freedom does not represent an entirely new value for Rousseau. It is not really distinguishable from independence, so long as one bears in mind the latter's fundamental meaning of insulation from the will of others. In the context of legitimate civil society, it is accurate to say that freedom from oppression is made more secure, because formerly it had been a mere fact of existence, which became nullified in the last stage of the state of nature. Through the social contract, that fact is converted into a right that cannot be canceled under any circumstances.

The essential identity of independence and freedom is clearly indicated in the following passage from Book 2 of the Social Contract: "Each citizen is in a position of perfect independence from all the others and of excessive dependence upon the City. This is always achieved by the same means, because only the force of the State creates the freedom of its members."110

Civil freedom is a new form of independence. It consists not in the power to do what one pleases but in the condition of independence from the particular wills of others. As we saw above, this is how the democratic citizen defines his good. And it is in this light that Rousseau concludes that "The constant will of all the members of the State is the general will, which makes them citizens and free.111


If the general will is a constant will, could it not be declared by an individual of superior constancy? Would not the declaration of the most virtuous citizen be the greatest safeguard of the integrity of the general will? Since there will always be friction in the political machine, since some citizens will inevitably either lose sight of their constant will or fail in their constancy, why rely on voting to discover the general will in each legislative situation? Granted that the general will alone should guide the forces of the state according to the ends of preservation and mutual independence, is it not a separate question as to who should declare it?112

Rousseau defends the inalienability of sovereignty by claiming that while a private will may sometimes agree with the general will, it is impossible for that agreement to be lasting.113 The reason is that the two are different sorts of will which pertain to different "modes of being": the former to a "natural and independent existence," the latter to a civil and communal existence. In the very place where Rousseau concedes a crucial role in the polity for "superior intelligence," he explains why such a person is disqualified from ruling. The Legislator's task is to convert man's natural and independent existence into a moral existence.114 But this artificer of the moral personality remains outside the moral horizon he creates; that is, he remains a natural, albeit superior, being. Rousseau understands sovereignty to be an attribute of moral beings exclusively, and he denies that moral personality can be predicated of an individual: "It is apparent … that the sovereign is by its nature only a moral person, that it has only an abstract and collective existence, and that the idea attributed to this word cannot be likened to that of a simple individual."115

Even assuming that the Legislator is the equivalent of Plato's philosopher-king, he cannot have any role within the polity. Rousseau insists that one who has authority over men should not have authority over laws; and, conversely, one who has authority over laws should not have authority over men. "Otherwise his laws, ministers of his passions, would often only perpetuate his injustices, and he could never avoid having private views alter the sanctity of his work."116 Since he stands apart from the collective moral personality, even the superior individual remains someone whose good is not united with that of others. Although Rousseau imagined a "superior intelligence, who saw all of men's passions yet experienced none of them," he recognized that such a being's happiness was independent of the people's.117 Such godlike indifference could never be a regular part of the polity; greatness of soul is incompatible with democratic equality.118

The people must have leaders who will, inevitably, exhibit the passions of men. The best of such leaders will be tied to the people by affection; but they should all be subordinate to the laws as well. Rousseau makes this point in distinguishing natural or paternal authority from magistracy:

Although the functions of the father of a family and of the prince should be directed toward the same goal, the paths they take are so different, their duties and rights are so dissimilar, that one cannot confuse them without forming the most erroneous ideas about the principles of a society, and without making mistakes that are fatal to the human race. Indeed, while heeding nature's voice is the best advice a father can heed to fulfill his duties, for the magistrate it is a false guide, working continuously to separate him from his people…. To do what is right, the former need only consult his heart; the latter becomes a traitor the moment he heeds his. Even his own reason should be suspect to him and he should follow only the public reason, which is the law.119

A correct understanding of the "principles of a society" excludes any authoritative individual expression of "the public reason" or, more precisely, the public will.120 When it comes to securing the people against oppression, there is greater safety in numbers than in the virtuous self-restraint of a few. Hence Rousseau's skepticism about the superior man: "Even if one were to suppose that this man had existed and worn a crown, does reason allow the rule for governments to be established on a marvel?"121

Considerations of prudence aside, as a matter of right, Rousseau flatly denies that sovereignty is transferable: "The people itself cannot, even if it wanted to, divest itself of this incommunicable right, because according to the fundamental compact, only the general will obligates private individuals, and one can never be assured that a private will is in conformity with the general will until it has been submitted to a free vote of the people."122

If the ascription of sovereignty to an individual, even a superior one, is illegitimate, how can Rousseau defend the undeniable dependence of the sovereign people on the activity of the Legislator?123 How can authority and will be reconciled? Rousseau's answer involves distinguishing dependence on the Legislator's wisdom from dependence on his will. While the latter would be destructive of democratic freedom, the former is not incompatible with it. The role of wisdom is to re-create the order within which freedom will be maintained. All of Rousseau's superior "artificers" (the Legislator, the tutor, Wolmar) are "ordinateurs."124 The wisdom of the latter consists in knowing how to remain faithful to the standard of nature, even in unnatural circumstances; they strive to make their artificial constructions perfect after the model of nature.125 Although the Legislator "dena tures" citizens to fit them for "moral relations," he can be said to "renature" the civic milieu by restoring the order conducive to freedom.


Rousseau's concern with wisdom or a superior intelligence reflects the conclusion he reached in his argument with Diderot about the essential incapacity of the individual to adopt a common or general perspective. That deficiency, we recall, was rooted in the relative power of reason and feeling. In another passage from the first version of the Social Contract, Rousseau elaborated on it:

Since the social union has a determinate object, its fulfillment must be sought as soon as the union is formed. In order for each person to want to do what he ought to do according to the engagement of the social contract, each must know what it is that he ought to want. What he ought to want is the common good; what he ought to avoid is the public ill. But since the state has only an ideal and conventional existence, its members have no natural, common sensitivity by means of which they are promptly alerted to receive a pleasant impression from what is useful to it and a painful impression as soon as it is harmed.126

Citizenship has a foundation in reason by virtue of the legitimate principles of political right; but the reason of "men as they are" only reinforces the feeling of particularity. This problem left the social contract subject to contingency, which in turn led to Rousseau's elaboration of a new form of (civil) existence that might escape it. Relations of right are a solution for men as they are, but they must undergo a "remarkable change" in order to make the transition from a disordered social existence (in the last stage of the state of nature) to the new order of right.

The political condition to be achieved is clear: "As long as several men together consider themselves to be a single body, they have only a single will, which relates to their common preservation and the general welfare."127 However, this corporate sensibility is a prodigious requirement that turns out to involve the "denaturation" of man by means of "public education." In the words of Émile, "Good social institutions are those that best know how to denature man, to take his absolute existence from him in order to give him a relative one and transport the 'I' into the common unity, with the result that each individual believes himself no longer one but a part of the unity and no longer feels except within the whole."128

The deep antagonism between the individual and society is the starting point of Rousseau's philosophy. As we have seen, he condemns not merely the injustice of this or that historical society but the social situation itself.129 Nevertheless, for human beings in their present predicament, "everything is radically connected to politics."130 It is because men's circumstances now require the perfection of the political order that Rousseau declares, "Everything that destroys social unity is worthless. All the institutions which put man in contradiction with himself are worthless."131

The latter point suggests that in the present condition, social unity and individual unity are linked. If Rousseau's principal concern is individual integrity, the latter now requires a seamless "integration" of the individual into the social whole.132 Social unity must be perfected so that the individual experiences others only as part of the undifferentiated whole to which he also belongs. As in the state of nature, where the individual's life is consumed in the activity of amour de soi, there is no "I-thou" relation in the perfected social state. The ego is fully integrated into a "moi commun," so that the "moi" imperceptibly becomes "nous." In a perfect metamorphosis, the utter self-regardingness of amour de soi would be collectivized without any rupture in the individual's consciousness of unity and independence. Civil man could avoid contradiction with himself so long as his ego was represented to him exclusively as a moi commun. The oblivion of otherness, which was characteristic of the natural order, is the extraordinary goal of Rousseau's political order. But the other to be avoided now includes a dimension of the self; in the civil condition, one's own particularity represents a threat no less than the particular wills of others. In Rousseau's considered judgment, the function of moral freedom is taken up by civic education, and the Legislator becomes the true artificer of the moral personality.133

While principles of right dictate that social contract be the indispensable foundation of political existence, contract does not by itself achieve the perfection of political order. We have seen that Rousseau's plan appears to hold out for nothing less. In conformity with the principles of political right, the perfection of generality must be willed, but Rousseau indicates that citizens will not freely choose the political remedy they desperately need. Notice that Rousseau does not say that "So long as men continue to submerge their particular wills and will only the general, they will have but a single will." That would imply that their community is, in the words of Renan, "a plebiscite every day," or that the community is indeed the ongoing project of a common will. Rousseau holds the opposite: men must regard themselves as a unified body if they are to have that will. The coming into being of community is not the effect of the unified will but its precondition. This fact is explicitly granted in the Social Contract:

For a nascent people to feel [sentir] the great maxims of justice and the fundamental rules of statecraft, the effect would have to become the cause, the social spirit which must be the product of the founding would have to preside over the founding itself, and men would have to be prior to the laws that which they ought to become by means of them.134

It might be suggested that the foregoing dilemma is confined to the problem of a nascent people, that is, to the circumstances of founding alone. It might then follow that after certain minimum conditions were established, the people would develop the capacity to legislate the common good on the basis of their own deliberations. But for Rousseau, the problem of founding reflects the essential problem of politics as such. For justice and interest to be reconciled, the diversity or plurality of men (in which none sees beyond self-interest) must give way to a unity that apprehends a common good. But individuals reject the common good even while seeing it, because understanding fails to move the will. The perfect political order can be conceived in theory, but its actualization depends on the denaturing art of the Legislator because man's "natural constitution" resists the disengagement of the self from its own particularity.

To be both legitimate and reliable, democracy must rest on contract and community. Rousseau's plan synthesizes a politics of obligation and a politics of solidarity, and strives to satisfy their respective imperatives. The requirement of solidarity arises from the inability of the rational will to lead each individual to choose on the basis of right (to will the general rather than particular interest), even though such a choice is both just and advantageous. On the level of right, the sovereign is always what it ought to be and the general will is always right; but men as they are must first ascend to that level. Rousseau is forced to confront the psychological obstacles to the community of right, and to consider how men as they are might be made to identify with the moi commun. In response to this problem he elaborates the politics of virtue.


As to the relation of virtue and civic education, the first thing to be said is that, for Rousseau, the polity does not exist for the promotion of virtue; rather, virtue exists for the sake of the polity. Virtue consists in putting the good of the whole before one's particular good; it aims at the same goal as the generalizing of one's will. Virtue involves a suppression of one's natural existence in favor of a different identity.135 Rousseau took over from Montesquieu an understanding of civic virtue as a passion for self-renunciation.136

We recall that, initially, the social contract was to avoid any real renunciation.137 To participate in the general will, the citizen was only to consult his reason.138 But as the Social Contract unfolds, we learn that citizenship must have a foundation in the passions, and that the formation of citizens is a task not for principles of right but for political art. The intervention of the Legislator is required to denature men, to transform them from individuals who prefer themselves into members of a body who cannot conceive of themselves apart from it, to create "a larger whole from which [the] individual receives, in a sense, his life and his being."139 This requirement is "concealed" in the original statement of the terms of the contract; it comes to light if we unfold the notion of "moral freedom," which Rousseau does not choose to do in the Social Contract. One reason for that hesitation may be that civic virtue is overtly problematical in a way that moral freedom was not. Virtue cannot be accounted for by the principles of political right, because citizens do not make themselves virtuous through an exercise of choice. Civic virtue is the work of the Legislator, and thus cannot be grounded in the civil constitution.140 The denaturing of men into citizens who choose the common good involves educating or "conditioning" the will rather than expressing it. This requirement indicates the gulf between the legitimate and the reliable constitution of the state. To use more familiar language, the constitutional framework must be supported by a "political culture."141

Rousseau conceives civic education as a process that takes over the function and purpose of moral freedom in the operations of "political economy." "If it is good to know how to use men as they are, it is better still to make them what one needs them to be. The most absolute authority is that which penetrates to the inner man and is exerted no less on his will than on his actions. It is certain that people are in the long run what the government makes them."142 The function of government extends beyond the execution of the sovereign will to encompass the formation of citizens inclined to will the common good. As we shall see, the activity of the Legislator is merely the first instance of a continuing "governmental" function devoted to strengthening the social tie.

Civic education is a disciplinary management of the passions, but one that emphatically does not involve the subordination of the passions to reason. The passions themselves are to be manipulated or redirected, by reconstituting their objects. As Émile's tutor declares: "One has a hold on the passions only by means of the passions. It is by their empire that their tyranny must be combatted; and it is always from nature itself that the proper instruments to regulate nature must be drawn."143 Passion can be made to counteract passion. "Love of country can be more ardent than love of a mistress."144 Once modified, amour-propre can become the foundation of civic virtue; its force can be harnessed for the common good.145 A skillful manipulation of this passion can inspire enthusiasm for the laws.146

Rousseau was not the first to contemplate the management of the passions; Descartes had already indicated the path toward transforming virtue into a science of the passions.147 But Rousseau advocates the kind of dirigisme that Michel Foucault would later associate with the "disciplinary society." Rousseau's regime resembles a dirigiste or plebiscitary democracy, with the twist that the citizen submits willingly, indeed lovingly, to discipline. The themes of Poland, The First Discourse, and Rousseau's meditations on civic virtue in general point to the disciplinary society as the sine qua non of democratic freedom:148

Do you want the general will to be fulfilled? Make sure that all private wills are related to it; and since virtue is only this conformity of the private will to the general, to say the same thing briefly, make virtue reign.

If political theorists were less blinded by their ambition, they would see how impossible it is for any establishment whatever to function in the spirit of its institution if it is not directed in accordance with the law of duty.149

Civic virtue is not part of the legitimate constitution, but it is nevertheless in tune with its spirit. Without virtue, citizens will fail to regard themselves as a single body, and they will consequently lose the freedom guaranteed by the sovereignty of the general will.

The operation of civic education and the rule of virtue make what ought to be the effect of civil life become its cause. But must not free men be their own cause? This is the question mark left after moral freedom is absorbed by civic education. If the "moralization" of men is the effect of political economy or "governance" rather than of their own reason, does not civic virtue eclipse the freedom of the citizen altogether by superseding the function of the will?150

Rousseau's answer appears to be that civic education serves the free regime by protecting the sovereign will from the danger of its own contingency. In one sense the very purpose of civic education is to overcome the obstacle that sovereignty presents to the perfection of the disciplinary regime or, more generally, to reconcile will and order. Sovereignty by its nature inescapably weakens the force of the law. The yoke of the laws is a fiction, since the sovereign citizenry remains paramount to all laws, including the social contract; will is inherently threatening to order, and a disorderly or particular willfulness permanently threatens to rupture the relations of right that guarantee freedom. It is because Rousseau understands freedom as a condition of order rather than an agency that wills (always contingently) order into being that he emphasizes the stability of sovereignty over its activity. Rousseau's political economy imagines how to perfect the illusion of being bound by law, and finds the answer in attaching citizens to their country by their passions.151 The goal is to bind the heart of the citizen with its own enthusiasm for the law, to exploit the spontaneity of the affections by directing them toward what ought to be the object of the will: the maintenance of civil order; the effect (allegiance) becomes the cause.

This conception is clearly at odds with the model of a citizenship understood as the exercise of rational will.152 "Political economy" and "political right" constitute separate spheres. The latter concerns the legitimate foundations of political institutions, while the former concerns their artful design and operation. The tension between freedom and authority inheres in this distinction. The principles of political right make freedom the cause and the effect of political obligation. The contract is "the most voluntary act in the world," and leaves each contractor "as free as he was before." The ineluctable meaning of sovereignty is that men remain above the law. However, when Rousseau reflects on the requirements of political order, he finds that the best social order puts the law above men.153 Civic virtue aims to resolve this dilemma by changing the perspective of men such that when they look up, they see the law they must obey as an inflexible necessity. Although his sovereignty is incontrovertible, the virtuous citizen regards the law as his master.

For Rousseau, obedience to law enables freedom: "the force of the State creates the freedom of its members." It is only the sovereignty of the general will that guarantees the citizen against all personal dependence. By causing the citizen to generalize his will, "by giving each citizen to the patrie," civic virtue becomes the fence to freedom.154

Whereas rational or deliberative citizenship is legitimate, passionate citizenship is "sure." Without denying that citizens, by right, are masters of their laws, Rousseau argues that the practice of citizenship must nonetheless involve a passionate affirmation of the laws that seems incompatible with genuine choice. At stake, then, in this scheme is the conception of citizenship as a rational choice versus the product of spontaneous identification. Rousseau's hesitation about the capacity of reason to produce the remarkable change in man, his conviction about the primacy of the sentiments, his equivocation about the rank order of laws and moeurs as the regulative principles of civil relations—all these ambivalences can be traced to the difficulty of reconciling legitimacy and reliability, of perfecting political order. Genuine choice calls for the exercise of deliberation, but Rousseau regards the latter more as an opportunity to undo the general will than to express it.

Rousseau's perfected constitution thus entails a community of right and a parallel "community of the heart" which promotes political freedom by ensuring that the general will is not menaced by eruptions of partiality. In the democratic regime, strict fidelity to constitutional forms is one barrier to the "unforming" of the general will; but that formalism must be supplemented by a disposition of communal sentiment which transcends respect for formal procedures. The planes of right and fact must be joined in such a way that men as they are act as if they considered justice alone.

Rousseau elaborates on this requirement in his discussion of the Legislator and the character of the people. The relative existence of the citizen in the community of right, which is a relation only to a whole, is reiterated for the patriotic citizen through membership in a community of the heart. Political freedom is refracted in these two theoretically distinct but experientially united communities. Each fulfills a requirement of freedom (will and order), but on separate planes. This dualism accounts for the complexity of Rousseau's political formulas.155


In light of the dual imperatives informing the design of the free regime, two separate questions arise: What would the terms of a free association be? And what kind of government would be required to make men respect those conditions? We have seen how Rousseau struggles to conceive a reestablishment of freedom in a political condition, and we have tried to unravel his logic in articulating the operative assumptions of the sovereignty of the general will. The Social Contract strains even more, however, when it addresses the second question, for it concerns the issue of political economy or governance, which cannot be approached with the same directness and confidence as matters of political right.156 One might say that the complete argument of the Social Contract evinces both a liberal concern for protecting individuals from oppression (albeit predicated on Rousseau's redefinition of the threat) and a conservative regard for the character of the people, but not out of an ambivalence concerning the relative merits of individualism and collectivism. Both concerns arise out of the present crisis of human affairs; their divergence bespeaks the underlying dilemma of human relations as such: men are not naturally suited for social relations.

Rousseau first grapples with the problem by casting the question of social relations in the precise terms of contract: What sort of contract will be legitimate and reliable from the standpoint of free men? This orientation signals what James Miller has called an "epochal transvaluation" of democracy. As Miller describes it, that transvaluation is rooted in a conviction that "all human beings possess, in their own free will, the capacity and the desire for goodness essential to govern themselves."157 But Rousseau also problematizes that very assumption. Although the autonomy and integrity of the principles of political right (to say nothing of human beings themselves) would seem to be fatally compromised if their actualization required something beyond consent, Rousseau is persuaded of that requirement. He reveals that the social contract faces a communitarian imperative, which it cannot fulfill through the agency of contract alone. Legitimate principles of political right depend on a practice of virtue, which itself is without legitimate foundation.158 Men require a certain education, a discipline of their opinions, passions, and interests, in order to be capable of respecting their contractual obligations. This requirement that the free regime be "governable" is not concealed in the Social Contract, but its full significance emerges belatedly. In the Political Economy, Rousseau acknowledged the need forthrightly:

The homeland cannot subsist without freedom, nor freedom without virtue, nor virtue without citizens. You will have all these if you train citizens; without doing so, you will only have wicked slaves, beginning with the leaders of the State. Now training citizens is not accomplished in a day, and to have them as men they must be taught as children. Someone may tell me that anyone who has to govern men should not seek, outside of their nature, a perfection of which they are not capable; that he should not want to destroy their passions, and that the execution of such a project would not be any more desirable than it is possible. I will agree the more strongly with all this because a man who had no passions would certainly be a very bad citizen. But it must also be agreed that although men cannot be taught to love nothing, it is not impossible to teach them to love one thing rather than another, and what is truly beautiful rather than what is deformed. If, for example, they are trained early enough never to consider their persons except as related to the body of the State, and not to perceive their own existence, so to speak, except as part of the State's, they will eventually come to identify themselves in some way with this larger whole.159

In this seminal passage, Rousseau describes a synergy among political stability, freedom, and virtue. Citizenship is the key to freedom and stability of right. Recognition of the true principles of political right requires that political life be constituted on a foundation of reason and law rather than of force and violence, and the Social Contract offers a juridical doctrine which accomplishes precisely that. At the same time, reason and law must be supplemented by a force in the soul for which the principles of right do not account.

Citizens must be virtuous enough to prefer the common good to their particular good. In Rousseau's terminology, the virtuous citizen will be a good subject.160 The suppression of private interest manifests itself in obedience to law, which becomes the emblem of the citizen's identification with the moi commun. Rousseau maintains that the citizen is simultaneously sovereign and subject.161 But since sovereignty consists in the maintenance of the general will, dutiful obedience becomes the "effectual truth" of citizenship. The task of the citizen is not to participate in the steering of the general will from issue to issue but to identify with it. For this reason, the relation between the collective citizenry qua sovereign and the same collective qua subject is, in Starobinski's words, "almost narcissistic."162

Contract and community involve two separate and contradictory operations. Citizens must be denatured to accept the dictates of droit politique, and "renatured" to become members of a patrie. Although an austere stance toward oneself is required for the moral choice of the general against the particular, Rousseau's patriot will also be a citizen by inclination and passionate choice. Democratic freedom thus oscillates between the logics of legitimacy and reliability, vibrating here with forms of a legitimate constitution and there with the spontaneity of a community of feeling.163 This variation might be unobjectionable were spontaneous feeling only a reinforcement of legitimate democratic procedures; but the former threatens to supplant the latter altogether by supplying the consensual unity that democratic procedures aim at but cannot guarantee.

The argument of the Social Contract consequently shifts from juridical to "sociological" considerations.164 Whereas contract and community are initially portrayed as coeval, their simultaneity is later acknowledged to be fictitious. On the juridical level, members unite in an association of free and equal partners. But that association, to be a true community, must be rooted in a unity of feeling. The sovereignty of the general will is the first principle of political right, but the latter abstracts from what the people must be in order to express a unified will. Only contract can confer sovereignty, because civil association must be voluntary; however, only the Legislator's art can give rise to solidarity, without which sovereignty is unreliable.165 Contract itself does not give rise to community.


Already in his early writings, Rousseau had indicated the usefulness of "political and moral researches." "The mind revolts," he wrote in the preface to the Discourse on Inequality, at "the violence and oppression of society."166 Yet there was evidence that "All these vices belong not so much to man as to man badly governed."167 "It is certain that peoples are in the long run what the Government makes them be." Indeed, Rousseau's plan for a comprehensive political teaching began from this conviction:

I came to see that everything was connected radically to politics, and that however one took it, any people would only be what the nature of its government would make of it, thus this great question of the best possible government seemed to me to reduce itself to this. What is the nature of Government capable of forming a People, the most virtuous, the most enlightened, the wisest, and ultimately, the best, taking this word in its widest sense.168

These considerations suggested to Rousseau that men might be bound together in an association without succumbing to domination and servility. The Social Contract is an exploration of that possibility. It inquires whether men as they are can be united and subjected to authority, and yet remain free. But how is submission to authority compatible with freedom? Rousseau asked and answered this question in the first version of the Social Contract: "By what inconceivable art could the means have been found to subjugate men in order to make them free; … to bind their will by their own consent? … How can it be that all obey while none commands, that they serve and have no master? … These marvels are the work of the laws."169

Rousseau's proposed reconciliation of freedom and authority was already implied in his famous statement of the fundamental political problem: "Each one, uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before."170

The act of identification with the whole is the means of reconciling the requirements of authority and freedom.171 While Rousseau maintains the distinction between "participants" in authority and "subjects" of authority, he means to erase the distinction between one or some privileged members of the political association and others; the sovereign is no longer understood as someone apart from the people, and obedience no longer appears as submission to an alien will.172 But this abolition of the traditional sovereign-subject separation is predicated on the unification of "each" to "all," which is fraught with difficulties.

The idiom of governability pervades Rousseau's discussion of what the people must be in order to bear the civil constitution of freedom. He refers to "subjection to laws," "discipline," "molding," overcoming the "centrifugal force" of each people, "the true yoke of the laws."173 The physical nature of the task is exemplified in a military analogy: "For the time when the State is organized, like that when a battalion is formed, is the instant when the body is least capable of resisting and easiest to destroy."174 The genesis of democracy is the creation of an identity, which may entail the destruction of the old. But, his forthright avowal of force notwithstanding, Rousseau's exemplary founding advances against minimal resistance. The people will be docile, passive, and accepting.175 The force of the Legislator must be sufficient to create a new identity, but not so great as to break the free spirit of the people. Presumably, if the latter experience their subjection to law as a painful yoke, they may become either rebellious or slavish as a consequence. Rousseau suggests that the discipline of law is eased by the preexisting habits of communal identity, although this chronology would seem to lie outside real political time.176 Together, law and communal character make a people free and governable.


The foregoing considerations amply testify to Rousseau's clear-eyed appraisal of the political problem. A social contract is necessary to restore human beings to a condition of freedom, but men as they are, are disinclined to take contract seriously. Government, in the most comprehensive sense, is devoted to instilling that disposition. Is the cause of freedom betrayed by an overriding concern for the governability of democracy, for the inculcation of conservative habits? Rousseau challenges the dichotomy by conceiving (and implicitly justifying) civic virtue as the fence to freedom. The government or management of the people is dedicated to preserving a civic identity that is indispensable to the general will (that is its sole rationale); and it is only the mutual subordination to the supreme direction of the general will that guarantees each individual against all personal dependence.

However, this apology for authority does not yet render it safe. Beyond the founding activity of the Legislator, the need for ordinary government imports a dangerous inequality into real political time. While acknowledging its exigency, Rousseau wants to limit the inequality of the government and the governed, and, to some extent, disguise it. He is adamant that the institution of government in no way implies a pact of submission.177 Government necessarily entails inequality, and Rousseau maintains that it can be legitimated only by consent. Government is only a device that the sovereign requires as a mediator of its relations with subjects, who are the same individuals considered under a different aspect.178 Rousseau's model aims to avoid the subordination to government that characterized previous sovereign-subject relations. The evils of traditional politics stemmed from the confusion of government and sovereignty, a false connection that Rousseau severs. As a consequence, government fulfills a single function, regardless of its form.

On the basis of Rousseau's reinterpretation, the form of government is no longer a regime question, and governmental power is somewhat disguised by the impersonality of the rule of law. No one emphasized more than Rousseau the distinction between a government of laws and a government of men. The law embodies no other will than our own, and it guarantees us against personal dependence. But there remains the necessity for particular applications of general rules, which entail the exercise of power by a separate and distinct political body. Although the Social Contract evinces a superficial hostility to government, Rousseau does not flinch at what the governability of democracy may require. If things can be so arranged that tout va tout seul (everything goes of itself), if the people govern themselves through moeurs and right opinion, the weight of the laws will be light and the need for government diminished. On the other hand, Rousseau acknowledges that circumstances might require a period of dictatorship to repair the essential defects of a government of laws.179

The question of government is a matter of "social physics," and Rousseau precisely calculates the appropriate quotient of "strength" required for good government. Some readers may see in this exercise only an arcane enthusiasm for mathematics; but Rousseau's recondite discussion points up a fundamental issue.180 The state is artificial, and consequently permanent vigilance must be exercised over the forces acting upon this "moral body." It turns out that numerous departures from direct democracy are required to preserve the free regime: the Legislator, fundamental law, formalism, tribunes, elective aristocratic government, a redesigned Roman Senate, censorship, civil religion—all of these devices (or their equivalents) may be necessary to the stability of democracy.

Rousseau's republicanism thus has a pronounced conservative strain. His vaunted radicalism stems from an insistence on legitimacy; however, his practical political proposals are crafted in response to the defect of political legitimacy. Consequently, Rousseau's model of popular participation is very much an exercise in "legitimation," in both its positive and pejorative senses. When it comes to the civil order, Rousseau is no anarchist, despite his essential objection to relations of rule. On the civil plane he condemns not government simply, but arbitrary and illegitimate government. His aim in books III-IV of the Social Contract is to show how institutional hierarchies can serve freedom rather than destroy it.

The complexity and ambivalence of Rousseau's thoughts on government derive from the vexatious problem that political inequality poses for legitimacy. His tendency is to portray inequalities as hierarchies, not to exacerbate their power but to mitigate it. Rousseau intuited that the sacred character of authority masks its occasional illegitimacy and softens its effect.181 Masks are necessary insofar as the political problem is to get a free people "to obey with freedom and bear with docility the yoke of public felicity."182 The basic dilemma is evident in the notion of "legitimate chains." Rousseau declares early in the Social Contract that "the social order is a sacred right," and later notes that founders are moved to attribute their wisdom to communication with the divine. In the Poland, Rousseau identifies Numa, who created Rome's religion, as Rome's true founder.183 Although the fundamental legislative task is accomplished at the beginning, it must be continuously shored up: "A thousand situations for which the legislator has made no provision can arise."184 Civil religion routinizes the activity of the Legislator, as does, to a lesser extent, the function of the Tribunate.185 Democracy's need for civil religion is one of the most controversial aspects of Rousseau's political theory; but its rationale can be traced to the essential reliance of the free regime on authority. Rousseau proposes civil religion out of a sense that the power of the sacred could provide the "legitimate and surest way" to preserve the condition of democratic freedom.186


In Rousseau's account of civil association, the analytical task of elucidating the terms of the social contract gives way eventually to the managerial task of forming citizens who will take their contract seriously by submitting themselves to the supreme direction of the general will. The principles of political right themselves require a movement away from active or autonomous citizenship. Certainly Rousseau invests the democratic citizen with an unprecedented dignity; but at the same time, his role is carefully circumscribed and managed by a tutelary power.

I have suggested that Rousseauian freedom is ill understood as the activity of moral autonomy or self-realization, in the sense made popular by Kant. Rousseauian citizenship is similarly distorted when regarded as the fans et origo of participatory democracy. Rousseau's unique moral and political perspective is nicely captured in the following fragment from the Project on the Corsican Constitution: "I will not preach morality to them because sermons do not make one act. I will not order them to have the virtues, but I will put them in such a position that they will have the virtues without knowing the word; and they will be good and just without having to know what justice and goodness are."187 Citizens will be good without knowing it, virtuous without virtue. In Rousseau's theory, virtue first appears as a way to achieve the condition of freedom at the cost of a devaluation of genuine willing, or freedom as agency. In the final reckoning, civic virtue itself depreciates.

As Rousseau thinks through the difficulties of a legitimate and reliable democratic freedom, his conception of citizenship declines from the activity of rational deliberation, to virtuous dedication to the common good, to patriotic enthusiasm for one's own. A comprehensive political art guarantees the result that citizens will the common good. And although this scheme to "determine" the will threatens to undermine its integrity, Rousseau seems convinced of its necessity. "It is not enough to say to citizens, be good. They must be taught to be so…. Patriotism is the most effective means…. for every man is virtuous when his private will conforms on all matters with the general will, and we willingly want what is wanted by the people we love."188

Rousseau may have regarded this formula as an adequate resolution of the aforementioned difficulty. Both virtue and freedom are served by the conformity of the private will to the general will, which is nevertheless achieved by passion. Since men can be taught to love one thing rather than another, they can be made to love their country. And because we freely will what is willed by the people we love, patriotism does not appear to offend against the legitimate principles of political obligation. This reasoning reassigns to love the legitimate capacities of will. In this model, passion is central and love of country bridges the gulf between the (internal) consent of the individual and the common good, which is external to the individual and is embodied in the patrie. Rousseau hopes through civic education, "[c]itizens will learn … to love one another as brothers, never to want anything other than what society wants."189

In this way, an attentive and well-intentioned government, ceaselessly careful to maintain or revive patriotism among the people, prevents from afar the evils that sooner or later result from the indifference of citizens concerning the fate of the republic, and confines within narrow limits that personal interest which so isolates private individuals that the state is weakened by their power and cannot hope to gain anything from their good will.190

Just as Émile's tutor "prepares from afar the reign of freedom," government guarantees that citizens will what they ought to will.

Rousseau was fully aware of the obvious objection. "Whatever sophisms may be used to disguise all this, it is certain that if someone can constrain my will I am no longer free."191 He distinguishes constraining the will from binding the will with its own consent. On the other hand, Rousseau forthrightly acknowledges that government involves a tutelage of the will. The true statesman extends his respectable dominion over wills even more than actions, and

If he could create a situation in which everyone did what was right, he himself would have nothing further to do, and the masterpiece of his works would be to remain idle. It is certain, at least, that the greatest talent of leaders is to disguise their power to make it less odious, and to manage the State so peacefully that it seems to have no need for managers.192

Disguised power is a continuing theme in Rousseau's writings, and many critics have duly condemned it as the seed of totalitarianism. Yet Rousseau had his reasons: it is precisely the regime of democratic freedom in which power requires the mantle of respectability. Although freedom and authority are not antithetical, for Rousseau, authority must be made respectable in the eyes of citizens, that is, in the greatest possible accord with legitimacy. The principles of political right exclude disguised power from the sphere of legitimacy. The defect of legitimacy occasions Rousseau's search for an "authoritarianism" that does not constrain the will. The search for a political path to freedom led Rousseau occasionally to cross (if not forget) the boundary between freedom and authority: "The most absolute authority is that which penetrates to the inner man and is exerted no less on his will than on his actions."193

"By what inconceivable art could the means be found to subjugate men in order to make them free?" Rousseau's political theory is an attempt to think the unthinkable, which explains its paradoxical character. The elaboration of democratic freedom begins with the kind of contract to which individuals will consent autonomously, and then shifts to the kind of community that will respect such a contract. Antinomies are generated at each stage of the argument: precivil man lacks the identification with the whole that would dispose him to generalize his will; the patriotic citizen identifies so much with the whole that his will appears to be coopted.

While Rousseau's cosmopolitan contemporaries undoubtedly regarded his rehabilitation of patriotism as an irony, or perhaps a rustic eccentricity, it was in fact both a serious and an ingenious attempt to cope with a dilemma of the human condition as Rousseau understood it. His model of citizenship is Janus-faced because it confronts the dichotomous requirements of contract and community, freedom and governability. The pervasive tension in Rousseau's political theory arises out of his effort to attune the political to the natural condition. The philosophic center of his political theory is the revaluation of the natural condition in protest against the conclusions of previous political thought. In the theories of Hobbes and Locke in particular, it is the deficiencies of the natural condition that inform the construction of the civil state; the state of nature becomes the negative standard for civil society. But on the basis of his revaluation of the state of nature, Rousseau makes the natural condition positively normative—as a condition of freedom. The complexity and perplexity of his thought stem from the effort to perfect that condition on the civil plane.


Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne
Du contrat social
Discours sur l'inégalité
Discours sur les sciences et les arts
Essai sur l'origine des langages
Discours sur l'économie politique
Manuscrit de genéve
Les rêveries du promêneur solitaire

O.C. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, eds., 4 vols. (Paris: Pléiade, 1964-). Roman numeral after abbreviation indicates volume number. The works listed above, with the exception of EOL, are found in this edition.

Citations are normally first to the Pléiade edition of the Complete Works, followed by page reference to an English translation, if available. For example, EP 242/210 refers first to the Pléiade text and then to the corresponding page in the Roger Masters translation of Political Economy. Quotations in the text are from available translations in the editions cited below. I have occasionally modified them for greater literalism. Other translations are my own. I have used the following translations of Rousseau's works:

Émile or On Education, Allan Bloom, ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1979).

The First and Second Discourses, Roger Masters, ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964).

The First and Second Discourses and the Essay on the Origin of Languages, Victor Gourevitch, ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), for EOL and preface to Narcissus.

On the Social Contract, with Geneva Manuscript and Political Economy, Roger Masters, ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978).

Politics and the Arts: Letter to D'Alembert on the Theatre, Allan Bloom, ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960).

The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Charles Butterworth, ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).


1 E 311/85; cf. 362-63/119-20, "There is no subjection so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom," and CS II.7.10, "… so that the peoples, subjected to the laws of the state as they are subjected to those of nature, and recognizing the same power in the formation of man and in that of the city, obey freely and wear docilely the yoke of public happiness."

2 CGP 955.

3 MG I.2.2. The most accessible meaning of the term "men as they are" appears in the second chapter of the first version of the Social Contract, "On the General Society of the Human Race." Intended as a reply to Diderot's article "Natural Right" in the Encyclopedia, Rousseau rejects Diderot's version of the "general will of the human race" and clarifies his own. He here unites the topics of laws as they can be and men as they are. In the final text, Rousseau does not attend to this question until the second book, where he devotes chapters to the Legislator and the people. The Legislator's activity is the bridge between men as they are and laws as they can be. In the Social Contract Rousseau takes up the latter issue first, outlining the community of right before asking, "What people then is suited for legislation?" CS II.8.5.

4 MG I.2.3.

5 MG I.2.4.

6 CS I.4.1: "No man has natural authority over his fellow man." See also Rousseau's statement that civil men lose their natural freedom, which was limited only by their power. CS I.8.2.

7 Cf. CS I.1.1. Rousseau routinely uses these loaded terms to emphasize the calamity of social dependence.

8 Note that Rousseau denied that this antagonism existed in the pristine natural condition. See DI 193/180: "… this is not the original condition of man … it is the spirit of society alone."

9 CS I.6.1-2.

10 CS I.6.3-8. These six paragraphs were added in the final version of the Social Contract.

11 It is false that in the state of independence, reason leads us to cooperate for the common good out of a perception of our own interest. Far from there being an alliance between private interest and the general good, they are mutually exclusive in the natural order of things, and social laws are a yoke that each wants to impose on the other without having to bear himself." MG I.2.10.

12 Preface to Narcissus, pp. 104-05.

13 DI note I, 202/194.

14 MG I.2.3.

15 MG I.5.1.

16 CS I.5.1. Rousseau employs the organic metaphor "body politic" only to emphasize the distinction between an aggregation and an association. He knows very well that it is imprecise. Indeed, a true association is best described as an artificial being rather than an organism, for its foundation cannot be simply natural.

If the general society did exist somewhere other than in the systems of philosophers, it would be … a moral being with qualities separate and distinct from those of the particular beings constituting it, somewhat like chemical compounds which have properties that do not belong to any of the elements composing them…. The public good or ill would not merely be the sum of private goods and ills as in a simple aggregation, but would lie in the liaison uniting them. It would be greater than this sum, and public felicity, far from being based on the happiness of private individuals, would itself be the source of this happiness. MG I.2.9.

Michel Launay has noted that Rousseau uses three metaphors for political association in the Social Contract: the first is organic, the second mechanical (political machine), the third architectural (political edifice). "L'Art de l'écrivain dans le Contrat social," in Études sur le contrat social (Paris: Société Belles Lettres, 1964).

17 Cf. David Braybrooke, "The Insoluble Problem of the Social Contract," which adopts a "rational choice" perspective and outlines in a sophisticated manner the dilemma on which Rousseau meditated in the Geneva Manuscript. Dialogue 15 (March 1976).

18 CS I.7.7.

19 "Renonçant à la qualité d'homme, doit être traité comme un être dénaturé." Denis Diderot, "Droit naturel," in Political Writings of Rousseau, C.E. Vaughan, ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1962 rpt.; 1915) vol. 1, pp. 430-31. Rousseau would later invest Diderot's categories—general will, qualité d'homme, être dénaturé—with his own meanings. See Edna Kryger, La notion de la liberté chez Rousseau (Paris: Librairie A. G. Nizet, 1978), p. 173.

20 MG I.2.14. See Terence Marshall, "Rousseau and Enlightenment," Political Theory 6 (November 1978), 429-30.

21 See Patrick Riley, The General Will before Rousseau, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 202-11, and Roger Masters, The Political Philosophy of Rousseau, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 257-76.

22 Hence Rousseau's rejection of natural law in favor of the particularity of the conventions of this or that community. See DI, preface, for his critique of natural law. Rousseau could not subscribe to Diderot's universalism for two related reasons. Will had to be distinguished from reason or understanding. Will can be predicated only of a "moral being," and Diderot's alleged "general society of the human race" does not qualify, since universal humanity remains an abstraction rather than a covenanted body. Second, a "law of reason" is an incoherent concept since the development of reason is preceded by the emergence of passions that neutralize it. "Concepts of the natural law, which should rather be called the law of reason, begin to develop only when the prior development of the passions renders all its precepts impotent." MG I.2.8.

23 MG I.2.15.

24 Thomas H. D. Mahoney, ed. Quoted in Charles Murray, In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 260. Murray avers that

Strongly bound communities, fulfilling complex public functions, are not creations of the state. They form because they must. Human beings have needs as individuals (never mind the "moral sense" or lack of it) that cannot be met except by cooperation with other human beings. To this degree, the oftlamented conflict between "individualism" and "community" is misleading. The pursuit of individual happiness cannot be an atomistic process; it will naturally and always occur in the context of communities. The state's role in enabling the pursuit of happiness depends ultimately on nurturing not individuals, but the associations they form. (italics in the original)

From a Rousseauian perspective, Murray's political conclusion is generally correct, but his crucial assumption is wrong. One ought indeed to forgo appeals to the moral sense and concentrate on the pull of mutual needs in conceiving civil association; and, second, that association must be "nurtured." But according to Rousseau, strongly bound communities are political constructs precisely because "the pursuit of individual happiness" is no longer natural and does not naturally point to community. Furthermore, it is the very unnaturalness of human needs that will require "strong community," not in order to satisfy those needs so much as to keep them in check. Cf. Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers (Hammondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1984), pp. 110, 114: "For Rousseau, the spiral of needs is a tragedy of alienation…. For what Rousseau saw so clearly was that the very processes which freed men from their enslavement to natural scarcity in turn enslaved them to social scarcity."

25 CS II.4.5.

26 OC I, 56.

27 One meaning of the phrase "man is born free" is that man acknowledges no duty from a source outside himself.

28 In the first version of the passage quoted above, Rousseau explained that the general will is always right, and all constantly want the happiness of each because "there is no one who does not secretly apply this word 'each' to himself." MG I.6.6; my emphasis.

29 Cf. OC III, 510; E 249/40.

30 CS II.4.10.

31 CS I.1.2. I.7.3. refers to the "sanctity of the contract," and IV.8 describes the "sacred dogmas" of civil association. Cf. DI 186/170: "Human governments" need "a base more solid than reason alone." "Divine will" must "give sovereign authority a sacred and inviolable character." It is the need for an inviolable commitment from a free will that generates a political conundrum.

32 MG I.2.8.

33 CS I.6.10.

34 See Derathé's useful discussion of the concept of "des êtres moraux" in his Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la science politique de son temps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950), appendix.

35 CS II.4.5.

36 In the first version Rousseau wrote, "judging what is not us," thereby emphasizing even more the idea of a new "personality." What is individual is no longer part of the collective identity. MG I.6.6.

37 CS I.7.1.

38 CS I.6.4.

39 In Rousseauian democracy, the "encounter with difference" is the one thing to be avoided. Cf. Sheldon Wolin, The Presence of the Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 191.

40 CS I. pref. 1.

41 CS I.7.5.

42 CS I.6.4.

43 DI 181/164.

44 On the Smithian vision of achieving independence through market transactions, see Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers, p. 121.

45 Rousseau explained, in his more practical works, how amour-propre might be redirected away from discrete individuals toward the civic whole, so that the "fureur de se distinguer" (the furious desire to distinguish oneself) would play itself out in heroic service to the polity. This patriotic strategy is developed very clearly in both Corsica and Poland; the theoretical foundation for the rechanneling of amour-propre is expressed in Émile IV: "Let us extend amour-propre toward others, we will transform it into a virtue." E 547/252.

46 Compare CS I.7.7 with I.6.10.

47 CS I.8.1. One might say that with the passage of the individual into the moi commun, Rousseau's primary focus shifts accordingly from the psychology of the individual contractor to "the people," although his attention does oscillate back and forth between them.

48 See chapter 4 below.

49 DI 122/91. Rousseau identified those principles as amour de soi and pity, both of which are anterior to reason; however, pity turns out to be only a variation of amour de soi, an application of it, so to speak. Pity involves the identification of oneself with the suffering of another being. DI 126/95, 155-56/131-32.

50 CS II.3.1.

51 CS II.l.l.

52 MG I.4.4.

53 CS II.3.1; EP 246/213.

54 Bertrand de Jouvenel, "Essai sur la politique de Rousseau," in Du Contrat social (Genève: Éditions Cheval-Ailé, 1947), p. 98.

55 CS IV.1.6.

56 DI 122/91. Apropos the general will, Rousseau states flatly: "Either the will is general or it is not." CS II.2.1.

57 Turning to the metamorphosis associated with citizenship, Rousseau writes: "This passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his behavior and giving his actions the morality they previously lacked. Only then, when the voice of duty replaces physical impulse and right replaces appetite, does man, who until that time only considered himself, find himself forced to act upon other principles and to consult his reason before heeding his inclinations." CS I.8.1.

By "civil state" Rousseau means the community of right established by the social contract rather than the general condition wrought by mankind's historical evolution. A sense of justice must forestall any citizen's attempt to use the laws to private advantage. Similarly, being "forced to act upon other principles" is but an elaboration of the meaning of being forced to be free; "right" and "duty" are characteristic of man's new juridical personality. Whereas in the natural order of things men experienced "a multitude of relationships lacking order, regulation and stability," their passage into the community of right endows them with moral relationships that they did not have before.

58 CS I.8.1.

59 Eric Weil, "Rousseau et sa politique," in Pensée de Rousseau, Gerard Genette and Tzvetan Todorov, eds. (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1984), p. 16.

60 CS I.6.9.

61 CS I.7.5.

62 Patrick Riley, "A Possible Explanation of Rousseau's General Will," American Political Science Review 64 (March 1970), 86.

63 CS II.2.1; cf. I.6.10.

64 CS II.3.4.

65 CS II.4.5.

66 See CS I.6.9.

67 CS II.4.5.

68 Riley, "A Possible Explanation," p. 95.

69 CS II.1.3: "car la volonté particulière tend par sa nature aux préférences, et la volonté générale à l'égalité."

70 CS I.7.7.

71 CS II.7.3.

72 CS III.2.5-6.

73 EP 246/212.

74 CS IV.1.1.

75 CS II.4.5; II.6.6. Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 165-84. In his critique of populist or "Rousseauist" democracy, William H. Riker fails to notice that the general will is intended to express a negative freedom, the value promoted by contemporary "libertarians." Liberalism against Populism: A Confronta tion Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1982). For Riker, "The theory of social choice is a theory about the way the tastes, preferences, or values of individual persons are amalgamated and summarized in the choice of a collective group or society." Ibid., p. 1. But the issue between "Rousseauist democracy" and the "liberal" (Madisonian) system advocated by Riker is precisely the assumption that preferences be understood as given, that is, as intractable to political leadership and considerations of justice or "right." Rousseau's goal is to reconcile what right permits with what interest prescribes (CS, preface), which foreshadows his argument that while particular wills must be acknowledged, they are not to be regarded as sacrosanct. Rousseau's teaching is that on the latter premise, freedom cannot be established at all. I am indebted to William T. Bluhm for this point. See his "Liberalism and the Aggregation of Individual Preferences: Problems of Coherence and Rationality in Social Choice," in The Crisis of Liberal Democracy, Kenneth Deutsch and Walter Soffer, eds. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), pp. 280-90.

76 Weil, "Rousseau et sa politique," p. 29.

77 CS III. 15.5; cf. II.1.

78 CS II.4.8.

79 EP 248/214.

80 Shklar, Men and Citizens, p. 168.

81 CS II.4.6.

82 CS II.5.5.

83 CS II.12.3.

84 To prevent men from harming one another, each must live as a "moral person" rather than as a "man." CS II.5.4.

85 CS II.12.1.

86 CS I.7.8. For twentieth-century thematic discussions of membership, see Joseph Tussman, Obligation and the Body Politic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 23-57; and Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983), pp. 31-63.

87 CS I.8.3.

88 CS I.4.6.

89 CS I.4.1. The original version of this discussion should be consulted. MG I.5.10.

90 CS I.8.1.

91 EP 259/222. Rousseau's conception would seem to differ from "the self-forgetting of the modern idealist," whose cause, according to Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., is "not the public good but always someone else's good." "Thomas Jefferson," in American Political Thought: The Philosophic Dimension of American Statemanship, Morton J. Frisch and Richard G. Stevens, eds. (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1971), p. 50. The citizen's cause is the public good, but for reasons linked to his own good. The general will remains in service to the individual's own good by guaranteeing him against personal dependence. Once again, the fact that Rousseau maintains a connection between happiness and independence would seem to mark a decisive break between his project and that of Kant and post-Kantian idealism.

92 See Hilail Gildin, Rousseau's Social Contract (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 53-57.

93 CS II.1.3.

94 CS I.8.1.

95 On Rousseau's view of ethics as a branch of politics, see Kryger, La Notion de la liberté, pp. 162-63.

96 CS II.3.4.

97 CS II.1.3.

98 CS IV.2.8.

99 Ibid.

100 CS II.1.1. Rousseau expressed his point more clearly in the first draft, when he added, "Now since the will always tends toward the good of the being who wills, since the private will always has as its object private interest and the general will common interest, it follows that this last alone is or ought to be the true motivation of the social body." MG I.4.2.

101 CS II.4.8.

102 "A general will cannot pass judgement on a man or a fact." CS II.4.6.

103 CS II.4.7.

104 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, bk. VI, and Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, bk. I, ch. 5.

105 MG I.4.6.

106 CS II.3.1.

107 CS II.4.2. In the first draft, Rousseau said, less confusingly, "life and existence." MG I.6.3.

108 CS II.4.10.

109 O.C. III, 841-42; my emphasis.

110 CS II.12.3.

111 CS IV.2.8. Once again, the Rousseauian case against Rikerian social choice theory would emphasize the folly of granting an unlimited domain to preference. For if we understand freedom (as libertarianism seems to) as an infinitely variable preference, we can never establish it in a political regime. The latter requires that freedom or independence be construed as a constant preference to which variable preferences must accede.

112 CS II.1.1. Pousseau concedes that sometimes the general will need not be positively expressed by the people themselves: "This is not to say that the commands of leaders cannot pass for expressions of the general will, as long as the sovereign, being free to oppose them, does not do so. In such a case one ought to presume the consent of the people from universal silence." CS II.1.4. This concession opens the door to the possibility that the people might legitimately be confined to a passive, or at least reactive, legislative role.

113 CS II.1.3.

114 CS II.7.3.

115 MG I.4.1; my emphasis. See also Letters écrites de la montagne, O.C. III, 807. I have profited from Robert Derathé's illuminating "La Notion de personnalité morale et la théorie des êtres moraux," which traces Rousseau's formulations to Samuel Pufendorf and the early modern school of natural right. Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la science politique de son temps, pp. 397-413.

116 CS II.7.4.

117 CS II.7.1.

118 Cf. E 546-48/252-53, where the same theme is introduced from a different perspective.

119 MG I.5.7.

120 Rousseau occasionally equates these terms. Cf. MG I.2.14.

121 MG I.5.7.

122 CS II.7.7. Eventually, the "free vote of the people" will (as we saw above) be interpreted in such a way as to reflect a constant preference for the general on the part of all, thereby calling into question Rousseau's commitment to freedom qua agency. In the passage under consideration, Rousseau cleaves to the requirements of legitimacy and resists the conclusion that sovereignty be in any way represented. As we shall see, the tension between what is legitimate and what will make the good reliable will become irrepressible in Rousseau's theory.

123 While he admits that "a people is always the master to change its laws—even the best laws," Rousseau concedes that the best laws will be the gift of the Legislator. CS II. 12.2; II.7.1.

124 Cf. Shklar, Men and Citizens, ch. 4.

125 Order, in Rousseau's mind, is associated with an "artful" fidelity to the natural. In its perfect expression such an order confounds the distinction between nature and artifice. As Julie teaches Saint-Preux, who is awed by her garden: "Nature has done everything, but under my direction, and there is nothing there that I have not ordered." La Nouvelle Héloise, O.C. II, 472.

126 MG I.7.2.

127 CS IV.1.1.

128 E 249/40.

129 Biographers and psychologists have little difficulty presenting evidence that Rousseau himself experienced the evils he condemns, but one cannot conclude that he merely rationalized his personal resentment in his social criticism. Rousseau's historical and autobiographical portraits are indeed evidentiary. They point, however, to what Baczko has called "general anthropological questions: the relation of man to nature and his own history; human freedom and man's alienation from his products and activities." Bronislaw Baczko, Solitude et communauté (Paris: Mouton, 1974), p. 290.

130Confessions IX, O.C. 1, 404.

131 CS IV.8.17.

132 As Derathé observes in his annotation of this passage, Rousseau develops the theme of avoiding contradiction with oneself at length in Émile. O.C. III, 1503. Arthur Melzer has made the theme of unity of soul the centerpiece of his interpretation of Rousseau's thought and the key to his explanation of the natural goodness of man. See "Rousseau and the Problem of Bourgeois Society," American Political Science Review 74, no. 4 (December 1980); and The Natural Goodness of Man, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 20-23.

133 CS II.7.3.

134 MG II.2.13.

135 EP 259-60/222-23, 314, 381; E 248-49/39-40 (but cf. 600-01/290-91).

136 Montesquieu's paradigmatic community of virtue was the ascetic monastery. "Why do monks love their order so much? It is precisely due to what makes it unbearable for them. Their rule deprives them of all the things the ordinary passions press after: there remains therefore this passion for the very rule which afflicts them. The more austere it is, that is to say, the more it cuts off their inclinations, the more force it gives to the only one left to them." Spirit of the Laws IV.12. Cf. Thomas Pangle, Montesquieu's Philosophy of Liberalism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 81-83.

137 CS II.4.10.

138 CS I.8.1,I.8.3,

139 CS II.7.3.

140 CS II.7.4.

141 CS II.12.5.

142 EP 251/216.

143 E 654/327.

144 EP 255/219.

145 As an artificial passion, amour-propre is malleable; it can express itself as civic pride as well as vanity. O.C. III, 937-38.

146 EP 251-52/16-17.

147 See Richard Kennington, "René Descartes," in History of Political Philosophy, Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., 2nd ed. (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1972).

148 Leo Strauss described this aspect of Rousseau's vision as the "totalitarianism of a free society." What Is Political Philosophy? and Other Essays (Glencoe, I11.: The Free Press, 1953), p. 51.

149 EP 252/217.

150 Michel Foucault coined the term "governmentality" to characterize Rousseau's political economy. See his essay by that title in Ideology and Consciousness 6 (1979). Cf. James Miller, Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), pp. 196-98.

151 Cf. Reinhart Kosselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), p. 164: "The citizen gains his freedom only when he participates in the general will, but as an individual this same citizen cannot know when and how his inner self is absorbed by the general will. Individuals might err, but the volonté générale never does."

152 Cf. F. M. Barnard and Jene Porter, "Will and Political Rationality in Rousseau," paper presented at the 1983 annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Vancouver, Canada.

153 Letter to Mirabeau, 26 July 1767, in Political Writings, Vaughan, ed. vol. 2, pp. 159-62.

154 CS I.7.8.

155 Cf. Riley, The General Will Before Rousseau, pp. 182, 205, 208-10, 245, 247.

156 Roger Masters has stressed Rousseau's distinction between "maxims of politics" and "rules of right." The Political Philosophy of Rousseau, pp. 291-93, 369-409.

157 Miller, Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy, p. 203; Riley, The General Will Before Rousseau, p. 245: "Do Rousseau's notions of education—private and civic—leave will as the autonomous producer of moral effects that he originally defines it as?"

158 On the relation of educative authority to will, see Riley, The General Will Before Rousseau, pp. 245-48; cf. Miller, Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy, pp. 196-98.

159 EP 259/222.

160 CS I.6.10.

161 Ibid.

162 Samuel Baud-Bovy, ed., Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Neuchâtel: Éditions de la Baconnière, 1962), p. 96.

163 The latter topic is treated in detail in chapter 4.

164 See Bernard Groethuysen, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), p. 109.

165 Sovereignty is created out of the wills of dissociated, precivil men; its being derives solely from contract. CS I.7.3.

166 DI 127/97.

167 Preface to Narcissus, p. 106.

168Confessions, O.C. I, 404-05.

169 MG I.7.3.

170 CS I.6.4.

171 Cf. Richard Flathman, The Practice of Political Authority (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 197-201.

172 CS I.6.10.

173 CS II.8.

174 CS II.10.3.

175 CS II.10.5.

176 Since "civilization" must await the preparation of a common identity, only in rare circumstances will a people be ripe for subjection to laws. Rousseau points out the mistake by Peter the Great, who attempted to civilize his people prematurely. "He wanted first to make Germans and Englishmen, whereas it was necessary to begin by making Russians." CS II.8.5.

177 CS III.16.4.

178 CS I.7.1.

179 CS IV.6.6.

180 For a careful treatment of Rousseau's political geometry, see Masters, The Political Philosophy of Rousseau, pp. 340-48; and Richard Carter, "Rousseau's Newtonian Body Politic," Philosophy and Social Criticism, 7 (1980), 143-67.

181 Notice that the Legislator must pretend to intercede with the divine to effectively communicate with the people. CS II.7.10.

182 Ibid.

183 CGP, ch. 2. Cf. Machiavelli, who was prepared to disguise inequality by manipulating titles while preserving actual power. Discourses on Livy I.2.

184 CS IV.6.1.

185 The Tribunate resembles the Legislator himself. It is not a constituent part of the city, and it has no portion of the legislative or executive power. Yet in its role as defender of the laws it is, according to Rousseau's description, more sacred and revered than either the sovereign or the prince. CS IV.5.3.

186 Cf. CS IV.6.10 on Cicero's "error."

187 O.C. III, 948; my emphasis.

188 EP 254/218.

189 EP 261/223.

190 EP 262/224.

191 EP 248/214.

192 EP 250/215.

193 EP 251/216.

Further Reading

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Starobinski, Jean. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988, 464 p.

A psychological and philosophical study of Rousseau's life and works.


Bloom, Allan. "Jean Jacques Rousseau: 1712–1778." In History of Political Philosophy, edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, second edition, pp. 532-53. The University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Discusses Rousseau's political and social theory, focusing on the tension between the individual within a civil society and society as a whole.

Cassirer, Ernst. The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Translated by Peter Gay. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1954, 129 p.

This noted essay attempts to make sense of contradictory interpretations of Rousseau's writings by making an objective analysis of his work as a whole.

Cranston, Maurice, and Richard S. Peters. Hobbes and Rousseau: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1972, 505 p.

A collection of essays on Rousseau by several critical noted scholars.

Crocker, Lester G. An introduction to The Social Contract and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967, 258 p.

An overview of two of Rousseau's major works, that examines the relationship of his ideas to totalitarian thinking.

Delia Volpe, Galvano. Rousseau and Marx. Translated by John Frasser. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979, 206 p.

Compares problems associated with Rousseau's idea of individual merit and social rewards with Marxist ideas.

Ellenburg, Stephen. Rousseau's Political Philosophy: An Interpretation from Within. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976, 335 p.

Argues for the coherence of Rousseau's political philosophy, explores its core framework of non-individualism, and contrasts it to traditional liberalism.

Ellis, Madeline B. Rousseau's Socratic Aemilian Myths. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977, 433 p.

Analyzes the relationship between The Social Contract and Émile.

Fetscher, Irving. "Rousseau's Concept of Freedom in the Light of His Philosophy of History." In Nomos IV: Liberty. Edited by Carl J. Friedrich, pp. 29-56. New York: Atherton Press, 1962.

Analyses the relationship between social equality and the effectiveness of the social contract.

Ferrara, Alessandro. Modernity and Authenticity: A Study in the Social and Ethical Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Albany: State University of New York Press, 188 p.

Study of Rousseau's thought that both elucidates "the interpretive frame of reference used for reconstructing the unity of Rousseau's oeuvre" and investigates certain tendencies of today's culture "through Denkfiguren typical of Rousseauean social theory."

Green, F. C. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A Critical Study of his Life and Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955, 376 p.

Offers a useful examination of the personal and political contexts for the development of Rousseau's ideas and works.

Jones, W. T. "Rousseau's General Will and the Problem of Consent." Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (January 1987): 105-30.

Discusses the problem of individual liberty with respect to Rousseau's concept of the general will.

Lemos, Ramon M. Rousseau's Political Philosophy: An Exposition and Interpretation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977, 262 p.

A comprehensive analysis of the philosophical ideas in the Discourses and The Social Contract.

Melzer, Arthur. "Rousseau and the Problem of Bourgeois Society." American Political Science Review 74, vol. 4 (December 1980): 1018-33.

Compares Rousseau's ideas of the unity of the soul with those on the natural goodness of man.

Masters, Roger D. "The Structure of Rousseau's Political Thought." In Hobbes and Rousseau: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by Maurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters, pp. 401-36. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972.

Analyzes The Social Contract in order to gauge the structure and development of Rousseau's political thought.

Miller, James. Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, 272 p.

Compares Rousseau's thought with concepts of modern democracy.

Mitchell, Joshua. "Rousseau: The History of Diremption and the Politics of Errancy." In Not By Reason Alone: Religion, History, and Identity in Early Modern Political Thought, pp. 98-124. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Examines Rousseau's secular conception of atonement.

Noone, John B., Jr. Rousseau's "Social Contract": A Conceptual Analysis. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980, 222 p.

This study aims to clarify contradictory interpretations of The Social Contract by "extract[ing] a [logical] system of ideas from what too often seem to be random, casual and even purposeless particulars."

Riley, Patrick. Will and Political Legitimacy: A Critical Exposition of Social Contract Theory in Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982, 294 p.

Examines Rousseau's social contract theory in the context of modern political thought.

——. The General Will Before Rousseau: The Transformation of the Divine into the Civic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, 272 p.

Important study of the transformation of the idea of "the general will of God to save all men into a political [idea], the general will of the citizen to place the common good of the city above his particular will as a private self, and thereby to 'save' the polity."

Russell, Bertrand. "Rousseau." In A History of Western Philosophy, pp. 684-701. New York: Simon and Schuester, 1945.

An overview and analysis of Rousseau's major political and theological ideas, and description of his place in the Western philosophical tradition.

Wolker, Robert. "Rousseau's Two Concepts of Liberty." In Lives, Liberties, and the Public Good: New Essays in Political Theory for Maurice Cranston. Edited by George Feaver and Frederick Rosen, pp. 61-100. London: The Macmillan Press, 1987.

Closely examines Rousseau's concepts of "positive" and "negative" liberty.

Additional coverage of Roussau's life and career is contained in the folowing sources published by Gale Research: Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 14; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; and World Literature Criticism.

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau World Literature Analysis