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Slides on Rosseau's social contract theory for an undergraduate course in Political Thought that I taught between 2003-2005.

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  1. 1. The Social Contract (Rousseau)
  2. 2. Overview <ul><li>Jean Jacques Rousseau </li></ul><ul><li>The State of Nature </li></ul><ul><li>The General Will </li></ul><ul><li>Liberty and Equality </li></ul><ul><li>Sovereignty and the Preservation of the State </li></ul>
  3. 3. Jean Jacques Rousseau <ul><li>1712-1778 </li></ul><ul><li>Petit bourgeoisie </li></ul><ul><li>Penetrated aristocratic circles from the bottom-up </li></ul><ul><li>Contributor to the Encyclopédie (1751-1772) </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Premise <ul><li>“ Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Jean-Jacques Rousseau </li></ul>
  5. 5. Man in the State of Nature <ul><li>Possesses natural liberty </li></ul><ul><li>Acts on instinct and impulse </li></ul><ul><li>Makes no moral considerations </li></ul><ul><li>Does not act on principle </li></ul><ul><li>Hence, man is not secure </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Social Contract <ul><li>“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.” </li></ul>
  7. 7. The Social Contract <ul><li>Creates a condition of equality among men and ensures freedom </li></ul><ul><li>Entails surrendering one’s rights to the entire community </li></ul><ul><li>It gives an objective moral dimension to human action </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Social Contract <ul><li>The contract creates an incorporated entity akin to a human person </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The body is collective </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It is also moral </li></ul></ul><ul><li>That collective body represents the general will </li></ul>
  9. 9. The General Will <ul><li>The general will pertains to that which can direct the state to the common good </li></ul><ul><li>Individual interests may differ with the general will </li></ul><ul><li>However, all are compelled to obey the general will </li></ul>
  10. 10. The General Will <ul><li>It is not the sum of individual interests in the state </li></ul><ul><li>Rather, it is the sum of the differences in these interests </li></ul><ul><li>∑ (Interest 1 – Interest 2 …Interest n ) </li></ul>
  11. 11. Implications <ul><li>Because power is vested in the general will, “sovereignty” resides in the people </li></ul><ul><li>Equality of rights and justice only arise because of the general will </li></ul><ul><li>A state thrives on plurality </li></ul>
  12. 12. Implications <ul><li>Man surrenders natural liberties in return for civil and moral ones </li></ul><ul><li>The general will presupposes obligations and duties towards others and the state </li></ul>
  13. 13. On Sovereignty <ul><li>The public person formed by the social contract has many dimensions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>State = when passive </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Power = when compared to others of the same kind </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sovereign = when it is active </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. On Sovereignty <ul><li>An act of sovereignty pertains to authentic acts of the general will </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Legitimate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Equitable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Useful </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stable </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Preserving the State <ul><li>Because the state is a “fictive” entity, it can be designed to work well </li></ul><ul><li>“Good” states are relative to the context within which they exist (consistency is key) </li></ul><ul><li>Sovereign power is the life principle of the state </li></ul>
  16. 16. Preserving the State <ul><li>The general will is manifested in the will of the majority </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Particularly in the implementation of laws </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The people possess legislative power (explicit or tacit) </li></ul>
  17. 17. Preserving the State <ul><li>Hence, a state thrives through popular assemblies and public service </li></ul><ul><li>Further, legislative and executive power must be separate </li></ul>
  18. 18. On Law and the State <ul><li>Legislative power is the most vital power of the state </li></ul><ul><li>Laws are necessary since: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Individual people often turn away from what is in their interest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A state generally knows what is in its interest, but not how to achieve it. </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. On Democracy <ul><li>Rousseau contends that there has never been a truly democratic state </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It must be small </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Issues must be simple </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>There can be little or no luxury </li></ul></ul>