Notes on Jean Jacques Rousseau – Social Contract Theorist

(Remember this is a hypothetical society)

The oldest society is the family. Children remain bonded to their father as long as they need them. When they are of age his responsibilities are gone as is their need, but they may remain bonded by convention.

Might (strength) does not make Right, because then as soon as you can disobey it, who is right?. and man has no natural authority over another, so convention is how we work.

- despotism may keep the despots subjects safe, but what good is that if their safety is a misery? (he says) - It is only a convention for the minority to submit to the vote of the majority. Why should 10 who want no master be forced because 100 around them do want a master? - Man has his freedom and strength. He must unite them in a way so that the sum of forces may overcome resistance. - ‘Each of us puts in common his person and his whole power under the supreme direction of the general will and in return receive in a body every member as an invisible part of that body’ - You cannot attack one of the members without attacking the body, you cannot attack the body without the members feeling the consequences, thus members give mutual assistance. - If we want to disobey the soverign then we are prevented from doing so and are ‘forced to be free’. E.g. Odysseus gets his men to tie him to the mast so he can resist the song of the sirens. - We do lose parts of our nature to be part of a society but the benefit is easily worth it – instead of being ‘stupid and ignorant’ creatures we are intelligent men.

Social contract:

- What a man loses in the social contract is his natural liberty (limited only by force of the individual) and an unlimited right to anything which tempts him and he is able to attain (but that is still true, you just have to get away with it..)

- He gains a civil liberty (limited by genral will and possession) and the ownership of all that he possesses.

Right of the first occupant – weak in the state of nature, but strong in a civil society. One respects not so much what belongs to others but what does not belong to oneself. - one can take unoccupied land and occupy only the area needed for his subsistence. He takes possession of it not by an empty ceremony but by labour and cultivation. In the absense of legal title labour/cultivation is the only respectable mark of ownership. Stepping foot on it and performing ceremony cannot suffice. Catholic Spaniards set foot on south America and clamined it theirs – it was not theirs, there were inhabitants already (it definitely wasn’t theirs before invading it!).

- Ancient kings didn’t twig that by calling them the ‘king of the persians’ or ‘king of the macedonians’ (instead of king of Persia) they are calling themselves chiefs of men instead of kings of countries – of land, which kings of an area of land keep.

- Important: Civil society doesn’t destroy the natural equality, because there was none, that was based on strength, instead it substitutes that inequality that nature imposed for a moral and legitimate equality where they all become equal by convention or legal right.

- That which is common to peoples different interests forms the social bond and it is only on this common interest that the society should be governed. Soverignty is inalienable.

- The people are never corrupted but they can be decieved to will what is bad .

- When factions and associations are formed you can say there are no longer as many voters as there are men, but only as many as there are associations. When one becomes so large it overcomes the rest you no longer have a sum of small differences but a unique difference – there is no longer general will and the opinion which dominates is only a private opinion… we seem to have part of that but not totally.

- Nature gives man absolute power over his limbs and the social pact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members. If that power is directed by the general will it bears the name of sovereignty.

- Soverign is not superior but is a convention of each of its members

- Memebers are protected all their lives, they may have to fight for the ‘fatherland’ but no one ever has to fight for himself- worth it he says

- People will the laws directly – see notes online yours here are lacking!


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