"Man Is Born Free, And Everywhere He Is In Chains"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In The Social Contract, Rousseau's best known and most influential work, an effort is made to establish the thesis that the authority of the people of a state or nation is absolute and should reside in them rather than in a sovereign. The people make up a body politic composed of members all of whom are equal. That such a situation does not exist, says Rousseau, is attributable to man's having exchanged natural liberty for civil liberty and natural law for manmade law. Consequently, he now finds himself, as Rousseau writes in the opening sentence of the first chapter, no longer free:

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Many a one believes himself the master of others, and yet he is a greater slave than they. How has this change come about? I do not know. What can render it legitimate? I believe that I can settle this question.
If I considered only force and the results that proceed from it, I should say that so long as a people is compelled to obey and does obey, it does well; but that, so soon as it can shake off the yoke and does shake it off, it does better; for, if men recover their freedom by virtue of the same right by which it was taken away, either they are justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for depriving them of it.