The Social Contract

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The Social Contract is a 1762 book by the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The complete original name is “The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right.” An important note is that we should not confuse this book with “social contract” as a political theory. Of course, the two have a lot in common.

In this work, Rousseau loosely follows his thoughts from Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. That is a work he released seven years before, in 1755. He criticizes the feudal system and describes the natural state. Besides, Rousseau also points out problems of a commercial society which is the basis of inequality. 

The second half of the 18th century in France, where Rousseau lived, anticipated a changing society. It was the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution was around the corner. Besides, Rousseau was one of the scholars that laid the groundwork for the coming shifts.

The Social Contract
It is available in the Online Library of Liberty

On The Social Contract

The Social Contract has perhaps one of the most famous opening lines ever. It says, “‘Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” That is a fundamental thought of Rousseau’s philosophy. People are born free, and they cant act as they wish. They give up some of these rights to create a state. Hence, they agree to a social contract.

However, they should not give in to slavery. Society should be free, genuine political liberty must be in place, and it ought to provide safety. That proves his support of republicanism. He despised the monarchy

In his version of the theory of the social contract, people give up their individual will. Instead, they unite in a “general will.” That is the will of society as a whole. Through the general will, people themselves must make the laws. That is the concept of direct democracy rather than the representative form, which is common today. 

Besides, the general will is where Rousseau sees the sovereignty of the state. That is a crucial difference from others’ views on sovereignty. Generally, the government is its source, but according to Rousseau, it is the people and their will.