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Rousseaus Social Contract Essay Research Paper JeanJacques

Rousseau`s Social Contract Essay, Research Paper Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a fascinating individual whose unorthodox ideas and passionate prose caused a flurry of interest in 18th century France. Rousseau’s

Rousseau`s Social Contract Essay, Research Paper

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a fascinating individual whose unorthodox ideas and

passionate prose caused a flurry of interest in 18th century France. Rousseau’s

greatest work were published in 1762 -The Social Contract. Rousseau society

itself is an implicit agreement to live together for the good of everyone with

individual equality and freedom. However, people have enslaved themselves by

giving over their power to governments which are not truly sovereign because

they do not promote the general will. Rousseau believed that only the will of

all the people together granted sovereignty. Various forms of government are

instituted to legislate and enforce the laws. He wrote, ?The first duty of the

legislator is to make the laws conformable to the general will, the first rule

of public economy is that the administration of justice should be conformable to

the laws.? His natural political philosophy echoes the way of Lao Tzu: ?The

greatest talent a ruler can possess is to disguise his power, in order to render

it less odious, and to conduct the State so peaceably as to make it seem to have

no need of conductors.? Rousseau valued his citizenship in Geneva where he was

born, and he was one of the first strong voices for democratic principles.

?There can be no patriotism without liberty, no liberty without virtue, no

virtue without citizens; create citizens, and you have everything you need;

without them, you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the

State downwards.? In the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate

rule of administration, men being taken as they are and laws as they might be.

In this inquiry we shall endeavor always to unite what right sanctions with what

is prescribed by interest, in order that justice and utility may in no case be

divided. We enter upon this task without proving the importance of the subject.

We shall be asked if we are the prince or the legislator, to write on politics.

We answer that we am neither, and that is why we do so. If I were a prince or a

legislator, I should not waste time in saying what wants doing; I should do it,

or hold my peace. As we were born citizens of a free state, and a member of the

sovereign, we should feel, however feeble the influence of our voice can have on

public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it our duty to study them: and

we are happy, when we reflect upon governments, to find the inquiries always

furnish us with new reasons for loving that of our own country. Man is born

free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others,

and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? we

do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question can be answered. If we

took into account only force, and the effects derived from it, ?as long as a

people is compelled to obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake

off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its

liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming

it, or there was no justification for those who took it away.? But the social

order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights. Nevertheless,

this right does not come from nature, and must therefore be founded on

conventions. Before coming to that, we have to prove what has just been

asserted. The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural,

is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so

long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the

natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed

to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children,

return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no

longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only

by convention. This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law

is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes

to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole judge

of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own

master. The family then may be called the first model of political societies:

the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all,

being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own advantage.

The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the father for his

children repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the state, the

pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have

for the peoples under him. The strongest is never strong enough to be always the

master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty. Hence

the right of the strongest, which, though to all seeming meant ironically, is

really laid down as a fundamental principle. But are we never to have an

explanation of this phrase? To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of

will at the most, an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a duty? Suppose

for a moment that this so-called ?right? exists. Maintained that the sole

result is a mass of inexplicable nonsense. For, if force creates right, the

effect changes with the cause: every force that is greater than the first

succeeds to its right. As soon as it is possible to disobey with impunity,

disobedience is legitimate; and, the strongest being always in the right, the

only thing that matters is to act so as to become the strongest. But what kind

of right is that which perishes when force fails? If we must obey perforce,

there is no need to obey because we ought; and if we are not forced to obey, we

are under no obligation to do so. Clearly, the word ?right? adds nothing to

force: in this connection, it means absolutely nothing. Obey the powers that be.

If this means yield to force, it is a good precept, but superfluous: we can

answer for its never being violated. All power comes from god, we admit; but so

does all sickness: does that mean that we are forbidden to call in the doctor? A

brigand surprises me at the edge of a wood: must we not merely surrender my

purse on compulsion; but, even if we could withhold it, are we in conscience

bound to give it up? For certainly the pistol he holds is also a power. Let us

then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey

only legitimate powers. In that case, my original question recurs. Since no man

has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must

conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.

If an individual, ?can alienate his liberty and make himself the slave of a

master, why could not a whole people do the same and make itself subject to a

king?? There are in this passage plenty of ambiguous words which would need

explaining; but let us confine ourselves to the word alienate. To alienate is to

give or to sell. Now, a man who becomes the slave of another does not give

himself; he sells himself, at the least for his subsistence: but for what does a

people sell itself? A king is so far from furnishing his subjects with their

subsistence that he gets his own only from them. Do subjects then give their

persons on condition that the king takes their goods also? It will be said that

the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they

gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity,

and the vexations conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own

dissension?s would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they

enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is

that enough to make them desirable places to live in? To say that a man gives

himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is

null and illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his

mind. To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and

madness creates no right. Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not

alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to

them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before they come to

years of judgment, the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for their

preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them irrevocably and without

conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the

rights of paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimize an

arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should be in a

position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the government would be no

longer arbitrary. To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender

the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no

indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to

remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts.

Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one

side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. Is it not

clear that we can be under no obligation to a person from whom we have the right

to exact everything? Does not this condition alone, in the absence of

equivalence or exchange, in itself involve the nullity of the act? For what

right can my slave have against me, when all that he has belongs to me, and, his

right being mine, this right of mine against myself is a phrase devoid of

meaning? The victor having, as they hold, the right of killing the vanquished,

the latter can buy back his life at the price of his liberty; and this

convention is the more legitimate because it is to the advantage of both

parties. But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered is by no

means deducible from the state of war. Men, from the mere fact that, while they

are living in their primitive independence, they have no mutual relations stable

enough to constitute either the state of peace or the state of war, cannot be

naturally enemies. War is constituted by a relation between things, and not

between persons; and, as the state of war cannot arise out of simple personal

relations, but only out of real relations, private war, or war of man with man,

can exist neither in the state of nature, where there is no constant property,

nor in the social state, where everything is under the authority of the laws.

War is a relation, not between man and man, but between state and state, and

individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens, but

as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders. Finally,

each state can have for enemies only other states, and not men; for between

things disparate in nature there can be no real relation. Furthermore, this

principle is in conformity with the established rules of all times and the

constant practice of all civilized peoples. Declarations of war are intimations

less to powers than to their subjects. The foreigner, whether king, individual,

or people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects, without declaring war on the

prince, is not an enemy, but a brigand. Even in real war, a just prince, while

laying hands, in the enemy’s country, on all that belongs to the public,

respects the lives and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his own

are founded. The object of the war being the destruction of the hostile state,

the other side has a right to kill its defenders, while they are bearing arms;

but as soon as they lay them down and surrender, they cease to be enemies or

instruments of the enemy, and become once more merely men, whose life no one has

any right to take. Sometimes it is possible to kill the state without killing a

single one of its members; and war gives no right which is not necessary to the

gaining of its object. These principles are not those of grotius: they are not

based on the authority of poets, but derived from the nature of reality and

based on reason. The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of

the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the

conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right which

does not exist. No one has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make

him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the

right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make him buy at the

price of his liberty his life, over which the victor holds no right. Is it not

clear that there is a vicious circle in founding the right of life and death on

the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life and death?

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, we maintain that a

slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master,

except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent

for his life, the victor has not done him a favor; instead of killing him

without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring

over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war

continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it,

and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention

has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of

war, presupposes its continuance. So, from whatever aspect we regard the

question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate,

but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right

contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally

foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: ?I make with you a

convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as

long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like.? Even if we granted

all that we have been refuting, the friends of despotism would be no better off.

There will always be a great difference between subduing a multitude and ruling

a society. Even if scattered individuals were successively enslaved by one man,

however numerous they might be, we still see no more than a master and his

slaves, and certainly not a people and its ruler; we see what may be termed an

aggregation, but not an association; there is as yet neither public good nor

body politic. The man in question, even if he has enslaved half the world, is

still only an individual; his interest, apart from that of others, is still a

purely private interest. If this same man comes to die, his empire, after him,

remains scattered and without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves into a heap

of ashes when the fire has consumed it We suppose men to have reached the point

at which the obstacles in the way of their preservation in the state of nature

show their power of resistance to be greater than the resources at the disposal

of each individual for his maintenance in that state. That primitive condition

can then subsist no longer; and the human race would perish unless it changed

its manner of existence. But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite

and direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than

the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the

resistance. These they have to bring into play by means of a single motive

power, and cause to act in concert. This sum of forces can arise only where

several persons come together: but, as the force and liberty of each man are the

chief instruments of his self-preservation, how can he pledge them without

harming his own interests, and neglecting the care he owes to himself? This

difficulty, in its bearing on the present subject, may be stated in the

following terms: ?the problem is to find a form of association which will

defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each

associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey

himself alone, and remain as free as before.? This is the fundamental problem

of which the social contract provides the solution. The clauses of this contract

are so determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would

make them vain and ineffective; so that, although they have perhaps never been

formally set forth, they are everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted

and recognized, until, on the violation of the social compact, each regains his

original rights and resumes his natural liberty, while losing the conventional

liberty in favor of which he renounced it. These clauses, properly understood,

may be reduced to one – the total alienation of each associate, together with

all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives

himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no

one has any interest in making them burdensome to others. Moreover, the

alienation being without reserve, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no

associate has anything more to demand: for, if the individuals retained certain

rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the

public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the

state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily

become inoperative or tyrannical. Finally, each man, in giving himself to all,

gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over whom he does not

acquire the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent

for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what

he has. If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence,

we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms: ?each of us puts

his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the

general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an

indivisible part of the whole.? At once, in place of the individual

personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a moral

and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes,

and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its

will. This public person, so formed by the union of all other persons formerly

took the name of city, and now takes that of republic or body politic; it is

called by its members state when passive. Sovereign when active, and power when

compared with others like itself. Those who are associated in it take

collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing

in the sovereign power, and subjects, as being under the laws of the state. But

these terms are often confused and taken one for another: it is enough to know

how to distinguish them when they are being used with precision. This formula

shows us that the act of association comprises a mutual undertaking between the

public and the individuals, and that each individual, in making a contract, as

we may say, with himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the

sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of the state to the

sovereign. But the maxim of civil right, that no one is bound by undertakings

made to himself, does not apply in this case; for there is a great difference

between incurring an obligation to yourself and incurring one to a whole of

which you form a part. Attention must further be called to the fact that public

deliberation, while competent to bind all the subjects to the sovereign, because

of the two different capacities in which each of them may be regarded, cannot,

for the opposite reason, bind the sovereign to itself; and that it is

consequently against the nature of the body politic for the sovereign to impose

on itself a law which it cannot infringe. Being able to regard itself in only

one capacity, it is in the position of an individual who makes a contract with

himself; and this makes it clear that there neither is nor can be any kind of

fundamental law binding on the body of the people not even the social contract

itself. This does not mean that the body politic cannot enter into undertakings

with others, provided the contract is not infringed by them; for in relation to

what is external to it, it becomes a simple being, an individual. But the body

politic or the sovereign, drawing its being wholly from the sanctity of the

contract, can never bind itself, even to an outsider, to do anything derogatory

to the original act, for instance, to alienate any part of itself, or to submit

to another sovereign. Violation of the act by which it exists would be

self-annihilation; and that which is itself nothing can create nothing. As soon

as this multitude is so united in one body, it is impossible to offend against

one of the members without attacking the body, and still more to offend against

the body without the members resenting it. Duty and interest therefore equally

oblige the two contracting parties to give each other help; and the same men

should seek to combine, in their double capacity, all the advantages dependent

upon that capacity. Again, the sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals

who compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; and

consequently the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects, because

it is impossible for the body to wish to hurt all its members. We shall also see

later on that it cannot hurt any in particular. The sovereign, merely by virtue

of what it is, is always what it should be. This, however, is not the case with

the relation of the subjects to the sovereign, which, despite the common

interest, would have no security that they would fulfil their undertakings,

unless it found means to assure itself of their fidelity. In fact, each

individual, as a man, may have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the

general will which he has as a citizen. His particular interest may speak to him

quite differently from the common interest: his absolute and naturally

independent existence may make him look upon what he owes to the common cause as

a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will do less harm to others than

the payment of it is burdensome to himself; and, regarding the moral person

which constitutes the state as a persona ficta, because not a man, he may wish

to enjoy the rights of citizenship without being ready to fulfil the duties of a

subject. The continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the undoing of

the body politic. In order then that the social compact may not be an empty

formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the

rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so

by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be

free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country,

secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working

of the political machine; this alone legitimizes civil undertakings, which,

without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful

abuses. The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very

remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct,

and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when

the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite,

does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act

on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his

inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages

which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are

so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled,

and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition

often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless

continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a

stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man. Let us

draw up the whole account in terms easily commensurable. What man loses by the

social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he

tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the

proprietorship of all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing one

against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded

only by the strength of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by

the general will; and possession, which is merely the effect of force or the

right of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a

positive title. We might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires in

the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself;

for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we

prescribe to ourselves is liberty. But I have already said too much on this

head, and the philosophical meaning of the word liberty does not now concern us.

Each member of the community gives himself to it, at the moment of its

foundation, just as he is, with all the resources at his command, including the

goods he possesses. This act does not make possession, in changing hands, change

its nature, and become property in the hands of the sovereign; but, as the

forces of the city are incomparably greater than those of an individual, public

possession is also, in fact, stronger and more irrevocable, without being any

more legitimate, at any rate from the point of view of foreigners. For the

state, in relation to its members, is master of all their goods by the social

contract, which, within the state, is the basis of all rights; but, in relation

to other powers, it is so only by the right of the first occupier, which it

holds from its members. The right of the first occupier, though more real than

the right of the strongest, becomes a real right only when the right of property

has already been established. Every man has naturally a right to everything he

needs; but the positive act which makes him proprietor of one thing excludes him

from everything else. Having his share, he ought to keep to it, and can have no

further right against the community. This is why the right of the first

occupier, which in the state of nature is so weak, claims the respect of every

man in civil society. In this right we are respecting not so much what belongs

to another as what does not belong to ourselves. In general, to establish the

right of the first occupier over a plot of ground, the following conditions are

necessary: first, the land must not yet be inhabited; secondly, a man must

occupy only the amount he needs for his subsistence; and, in the third place,

possession must be taken, not by an empty ceremony, but by labor and

cultivation, the only sign of proprietorship that should be respected by others,

in default of a legal title. In granting the right of first occupancy to

necessity and labor, are we not really stretching it as far as it can go? Is it

possible to leave such a right unlimited? Is it to be enough to set foot on a

plot of common ground, in order to be able to call yourself at once the master

of it? Is it to be enough that a man has the strength to expel others for a

moment, in order to establish his right to prevent them from ever returning? How

can a man or a people seize an immense territory and keep it from the rest of

the world except by a punishable usurpation, since all others are being robbed,

by such an act, of the place of habitation and the means of subsistence which

nature gave them in common?. We can imagine how the lands of individuals, where

they were contiguous and came to be united, became the public territory, and how

the right of sovereignty, extending from the subjects over the lands they held,

became at once real and personal. The possessors were thus made more dependent,

and the forces at their command used to guarantee their fidelity. The peculiar

fact about this alienation is that, in taking over the goods of individuals, the

community, so far from despoiling them, only assures them legitimate possession,

and changes usurpation into a true right and enjoyment into proprietorship. Thus

the possessors, being regarded as depositaries of the public good, and having

their rights respected by all the members of the state and maintained against

foreign aggression by all its forces, have, by a cession which benefits both the

public and still more themselves, acquired, so to speak, all that they gave up.

This paradox may easily be explained by the distinction between the rights which

the sovereign and the proprietor have over the same estate, as we shall see

later on. It may also happen that men begin to unite one with another before

they possess anything, and that, subsequently occupying a tract of country which

is enough for all, they enjoy it in common, or share it out among themselves,

either equally or according to a scale fixed by the sovereign. However the

acquisition be made, the right which each individual has to his own estate is

always subordinate to the right which the community has over all: without this,

there would be neither stability in the social tie, nor real force in the

exercise of sovereignty. This shall end this essay by remarking on a fact on

which the whole social system should rest: i.e., That, instead of destroying

natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical

inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and

legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become

every one equal by convention and legal right.

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