Rousseau: Social Contract Summary

rousseau social contract

Analysis of the Social Contract by Rousseau

The Social Contract by Rousseau, whose full title is The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right (1762) is an analysis of the contractual relationship to any legitimate government, so that are articulated principles of justice and utility to to reconcile the desire for happiness with the submission to the general interest. This is the major work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the heart of his philosophy.

Rousseau expresses his republican ideals into four parts:

– Waiver of our natural rights in favor of the state, which by its protection, reconcile equality and freedom

– The people almighty backup through a legislature, the general well-being against the interest groups

– Democracy should maintain its purity by legislatures

– Creation of a state religion, or civil religion.

 Rousseau and justice

According to Rousseau, justice can not be defined as “the right of the stronger.” If justice were so, the most powerful individuals will always be more accurate. Rousseau justice consists in individual acts harmony with the civil authority. But individuals are forced to act as if the authority is legitimate.

In order to protect themselves and their property, people agree on a contract by which individuals agree to accept various functions and obligations in exchange for the benefits of social cooperation.

Rousseau and the general will

Each individual may have a particular will differ from the general will, but as part of the contract, the individual will be compelled to submit to the general will. The general will is not equivalent to the desire of all people, because it is not the sum of all interests. The general will can indeed be a sum of individual wills insofar as their purpose is opposite, the first being inspired by the common good.

Sovereignty is the general will. This is embodied in the sovereign body politic. Sovereignty, according to Rousseau, is inalienable and indivisible, in the sense that a republic divided sovereignty is no longer a republic and can no longer represent the public interest.

To fight against groups of individuals wishing to monopolize the general will and divert it to their advantage, Rousseau imagined only to create an institution oriented towards the common good: it is the legislator.

Rousseau uses the term “republic” to refer to any society governed by law or which is governed by the general will of the people. A civil right is an act of the general will, according to Rousseau and the general will must be obeyed by all. Thus, obedience to civil law is required for all individuals by the terms of the social contract. However, the institution of government is not a contract, but an act of the general will.

As a result of the social contract, civil laws are decided by a majority vote of the judges who are elected to represent the people. The minority that opposes the will of the majority must accept all acts of the general will, and it can not refuse to submit to the general will, without violating the terms of the contract.

The social contract implies total and unconditional surrender by each individual of his own natural rights in order to obtain the rights associated with citizenship. It is not necessary for the sovereign power to ensure civil liberties and legal rights of his subjects, because their interests are identical to those of the people. If someone refuses to comply with the general will, the citizen may then be forced to comply by the body politic is the meaning of the famous passage in which Rousseau claims that citizens can be “forced to be free “.

Nevertheless, Rousseau was aware that the perfection of the democratic regime was part of a political ideal: “If there were a people of gods, he govern democratically. So perfect a government is not for men […] There has never been a real democracy and it does not exist. ” (see also Rousseau Quotes)

It is clear that the social contract is the best work influence the political philosophy of the Enlightenment.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Rousseau: Social Contract Summary, March 16, 2013, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, March 16, 2013,

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