Rousseau’s terms for the social contract



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Rousseau’s terms for the social contract

The idea of force as held by Rousseau negates the need that a contract be entered into willingly. The concept of contract allows people to refrain from entering into a contract. However, Rousseau argues that even people who disagree with components of the social contract must consent to put up with it or risk being punished. On the other hand, this paradigm does not take into consideration the idea that social contract concept is more of a philosophy than a real contract. Therefore, the concept is not held to similar principles and standards. Rousseau goes ahead to argue that taking up residence in a civilized society implies that people consent to what the social contract dictates. This might not hold true for every resident because it is difficult to guarantee that every individual is entirely cognizant of the social contract specifics.

According to him, although men are born free, they are chained everywhere. He describes the numerous ways in which the civil society’s chains repress the natural rights of individuals. Rousseau holds that there is nothing that the civil society does to enforce the individual liberty and equality promised to individuals when they entered into a particular society. This to some extent holds true even in today’s World. For him, the only legitimate and legal political authority is the authority agreed upon by all individuals that have consented to such administration or government by getting into a social contract for their mutual preservation sake.

The ideal forms of the social contract and their philosophical underpinnings discussed by Rousseau tend to give insight into understanding the perspective of the social contract. Although, they all might contradict the ideas of other scholars and receive some form of criticism, they seem to reflect on some reality about the concept. The collective grouping of all individuals according to Rousseau, who enter into a civil society, is referred to as the sovereign. The sovereign may be though of as a person who has unified will. This is what is found in today’s societies. It is essential to understand this principle as the sovereign represents the general will of individuals, despite variations in people’s wants and wishes. The collective need or the general need of all individuals is what is known as the common good of all. This may seem true as he even uses examples to prove the idea that even large nations with many individuals may be governed by one sovereign.

Rousseau also states that the most essential role of the general will is to notify the establishment of the State’s laws. The laws and rules in a state must express the general wishes of individuals and must also uphold individual freedom and equality among citizens. This is what is required in all sovereign states, and this is what the principle of the social contract holds. Therefore, according to Rousseau, some form of government is required to perform the executive role of law enforcement and oversee the daily functioning of the State. It does not matter the type of government a state supports, what matters is that the government performs its essential roles. Hence, although Rousseau’s arguments might receive some form of criticism, his arguments on the first societies, the right of the strongest, the social compact, and the sovereign seem to hold true not only for states during his time, but also the modern state.


Works Cited

Wraight, Christopher D. Rousseau’s the Social Contract: A Reader’s Guide. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.

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