Rousseau in the Social Contract Essay

Download this Essay in word format (.doc)

Note: Sample below may appear distorted but all corresponding word document files contain proper formatting

Excerpt from Essay:

Thus, it becomes necessary for society to compel this individual to act in accordance to the general will in order to stall a descent into arbitrary standards and meaningless identifications, and because acting in accordance with the general will means exercising reason and the freedom of thought and expression, this compelling takes the form of forcing someone to be free. The individual is ultimately compelled by society to utilize the full extent of his or her reasoning capabilities, which is ultimately the only means of achieving any true freedom, as freedom of action can only come from freedom of thought, expression, and an accurate, reasonable view of objective reality.

It is important to note that even in the instance where society compels an individual to obey the general will, the individual is still not suffering any kind of undue infringement of rights, because by definition the force exerted on that individual is available to that individual in equal measure. Put another way, the force used to compel the individual in this instance is actually made up of the force of every individual in society, and thus the individual being compelled is actually quantifiably complicit in their own compelling to exactly the same degree as every other member of that society. This is why the society is legitimized in compelling the individual; by nature of that individual's membership in society, every other member of society has been given implicit authority over that individual, to precisely the same degree that that individual has authority over anyone else.

When viewed with a clearer understanding of what Rousseau means by the general will, the passage regarding forcing someone to be free becomes less jarring and actually seems fairly reasonable. In fact, Rousseau's theory is actually fairly agreeable in general, because he does not attempt to argue that the legitimacy of a society comes from anywhere other than the people who make it up, and furthermore, he does not attempt to argue in favor of any one particular legal or representative framework (other than a kind of raw democracy). However, problems do arise when one attempts to either enact Rousseau's theory in the real world, or else look for examples of it in historical cases. Even then, however, one cannot truly fault Rousseau, because many of these problems arise due to technological limitation, rather than any hard barrier. For example, not until very recently has it been possible for reason and debate to occur at the scales necessary for ensuring that every individual has a voice, and that every individual will and argument is weighed against every other. Even now that is impossible, but the advent of the internet and mobile communication technology seems to point towards a time when everyone can communicate with everyone else in a seamless manner, to the point that a true democracy might be possible, with geographically-distant individuals debating and voting for the policies of society as a whole. Of course, society must still overcome those groups and individuals with a vested interest in undermining reason and its application to civil society, but it seems as if the increased communication made possible by new technologies will ultimately lead to the dissolution of these groups.

Rousseau's theory of the social contract includes some statements that at first glance appear quite radical, but are actually quite reasonable when considered in the context of the larger argument. For example, the passage about needing to compel individuals to obey the general will, forcing them to be free, appears confusing and even contradictory at first, but when one considers it in the context of the general will as outlined by Rousseau elsewhere, its meaning becomes clear. Rousseau is not proposing some bizarre society wherein individuals are forced to enact their freedom of action at all times, but rather is acknowledging that the legitimacy and continued function of a society depends upon the individual members of that society exercising their reason, in order to participate in the process by the which the general will is determined and enacted.

Works Cited

Kant, Immanuel. "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? ." Literary Link. N.p.,

1784. Web. 19 Sep 2012. . '

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Trans. G. DH Cole the Social Contract.…[continue]

Some Sources Used in Document:


Cite This Essay:

"Rousseau In The Social Contract " (2012, September 19) Retrieved October 28, 2016, from

"Rousseau In The Social Contract " 19 September 2012. Web.28 October. 2016. <>

"Rousseau In The Social Contract ", 19 September 2012, Accessed.28 October. 2016,

Other Documents Pertaining To This Topic

  • Rousseau s Work on the Social Contract Begins

    Rousseau's work on The Social Contract begins with a legendary ringing indictment of society as it exists: "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains" (Rousseau 1993, p. 693). Before examining Rousseau's theory of government in greater detail, however, it is worth noting what assumptions are contained in this first sentence of The Social Contract, which is perhaps the most famous line that Rousseau ever wrote. It contains

  • Social Contract Jean Jacques Rousseau s

    He based his theories and ideas on these laws and his property related theories also related to the same ideals. Rousseau differed with Locke in his perception of the ideal government. His work 'Social Contract' dealt with the issues related to governments, society, people and property. "Rousseau was one of the first modern writers to seriously attack the institution of private property, and therefore is sometimes considered a forebear

  • Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau in

    Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau In The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau addresses the problem of political obligation and individual freedom. The work consists of four books, each comprising a number of sections that address the above-mentioned issue from several angles. The first book then deals with the troublesome aspect of a human being's apparent perpetual slavery. Book II concerns the issue of sovereignty. Rousseau now shifts his focus

  • Rousseau s Social Contract Theory Man

    " This voice allows a civilized person to put aside his or her self-interest, in order to uphold an abstract "general good." A person who has accepted the social contract therefore puts aside the anti-social natural inclinations described by Hobbes. In their place, a person agrees to abide by the rules of society and the social order. In a sense, the acceptance of the social contract makes society possible. At first,

  • Social Contract Rousseau Argues That We Are

    Social Contract, Rousseau argues that we are all born free and equal, yet do not live either freely or equally. Rousseau then goes on to argue that the construction of the General Will is the means by which people can achieve freedom. The General Will is the social contract where all members of society agree to obey the General Will to be part of society. Rousseau argues that by this

  • Rousseau the Social Contract War

    Perhaps war is sometimes necessary. But always soldiers must remember they are not fighting as individuals, they have sacrificed their individuality for the common benefit, so others, paradoxically, can enjoy being individuals in society. The contradictions of war can never be fully resolved -- for the rest of their countrymen to live safely and not live in a brutal state of nature, soldiers kill. To be individuals and to be

  • Social Contract and Discourses on

    The Sovereign can only demand from the citizens those services that serve for the purpose of the community (Rousseau, 15). Rousseau explains why the general will "is always in the right" in a civil society (idem). The society is always conditioned by "the true principle of equity" (idem) that should guide its laws. A civil society binds its citizens under the same conditions and gives them the same rights. The

Read Full Essay
Copyright 2016 . All Rights Reserved