Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762 and condemned by the Parlement of Paris when it appeared, it became one of the most influential works of abstract political thought in the Western tradition. Building on his earlier work, such as the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men whilst at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law. Whilst Rousseau argues that sovereignty should thus be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between sovereign and government. The government is charged with implementing and enforcing the general will and is composed of a smaller group of citizens, known as magistrates...Much of the subsequent controversy about Rousseau's work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free....In other words, the magistrates decide what's best for the people. As I said before, "there's a philosophy that's fit for (dare I say it?) Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russian, and Mao's China." I rest my case.
Rousseau was one of the first modern writers to seriously attack the institution of private property, and therefore is often considered a forebearer of modern socialism and communism (see Karl Marx, though Marx rarely mentions Rousseau in his writings). Rousseau also questioned the assumption that the will of the majority is always correct. He argued that the goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority....[emphasis added]
Saturday, August 14, 2004
In two earlier posts (here and here) I tore into a blogger for his presumption that we don't deserve what we earn. The blogger is, apparently, a proponent of Rousseau, who penned The Social Contract. Here are some tidbits about The Social Contract from Wikipedia: