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The Social Contract [Paperback]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau , G.D.H. Cole
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 2008 1605203971 978-1605203973
Wise men, if they try to speak their language to the common herd instead of its own, cannot possibly make themselves understood. There are a thousand kinds of ideas which it is impossible to translate into popular language. Conceptions that are too general and objects that are too remote are equally out of its range: each individual, having no taste for any other plan of government than that which suits his particular interest, finds it difficult to realize the advantages he might hope to draw from the continual privations good laws impose. -from VII: "The Legislator" How does human nature impact politics and government? What is the "social contract," and what are our obligations to it? Is the "general will" infallible? What are the limits of sovereign power? What are the marks of "good government"? What constitutes the death of the body politic? How can we check the usurpations of government? Swiss philosopher JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) was a dramatic influence on the French revolution, 19th-century communism, the American Founding Fathers, and much modern political thought, primarily through this 1762 work, his most influential. Here, he explores concepts of civil society, human sovereignty, and effective government that continue to be debated-and not yet settled-in the 21st century. A classic of modern thought, this is required reading for anyone wishing to be considered well educated.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Great Ideas... is the right name for these slim, elegant paperbacks... They are written with precision, force, and care. (The Wall Street Journal) Penguin Books hopes to provide an economical remedy for time-pressed readers in search of intellectual sustenance. --(USA Today) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Cosimo Classics (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605203971
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605203973
  • Product Dimensions: 0.4 x 5.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,457,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant ideas regarding a model society December 23, 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Inspired by the unfair treatment of France by their king, J.J. Rousseau wrote this book and ideology based on the equality of men. In this book, Rousseau gives the reader detailed information on his view of the model society. The reader is consumed by the principle stating that no man has any authority over the other, and the balance of man's losses and gains gives the reader a sense of hope in this form of community. This is a must-read for any lover of deep thought and classic literature.
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable Piece of History... April 26, 2004
Format:Paperback
This is a valuable historical document, because it shows us the thinking that led up to the French Revolution. Rousseau wrote: "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains." What Rousseau means by this is that Man is born free in the State of Nature - it is society, government, and urban life that are the corruptive forces. Without those things, Rousseau argues, man would exist in peaceful co-habitation. What is striking to the modern reader about this claim is how blatantly wrong it is. Rousseau was trying to refute Thomas Hobbes who wrote that the State of Nature is the same as the State of War. Apparently Hobbes got the better of the argument because, as soon as the French Revolution took effect, peaceful liberty went out the window in favor of the Reign of Terror.
But, back to Rousseau. He claims that, even though men in nature peacefully co-exist, it is more beneficial for them to come together to form a society. Thus they SHOULD come together and form a Social Contract. The ideal contract for Rousseau would entail the individual GIVING UP ALL HIS RIGHTS on entering the contract with the understanding that he will get them all back from the Sovereign. Who is the Sovereign? Well, for Rousseau, the Sovereign is the People. If Rousseau's Ideal State were an organism, it would be a large one-celled organism with no differentiation. This is very much unlike Hobbes' Leviathan, with the Sovereign at the head and each part assigned its individual task. For Rousseau, only the SOCIETY AS A WHOLE has the right to govern.
Of course, this system is incredibly unwieldy, that is why - in Rousseau's world - there are a whole bunch of little city-states, like ancient Athens. HERE COMES THE SCARY PART.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Enlightenment Crossroads November 19, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
"The Social Contract" is an important read that marks a crossroads in Enlightenment thought. This crossroads has made significant differences in the past 300 years in political history.

The crossroads specifically begins, to me, with philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I, for one, am a Lockean. The influence of Locke is best observed in the USA's Constitution and emphasis on the "Rule of Law" (though this has waned over time due to the popularity of Rousseau-like ideologies). Locke, considering his reasoning was perhaps not sexy or exciting enough, was the philosophy road less traveled. His view was summarily that man was an individual who had rights to liberty and property. Governments were formed among men to protect individual liberty and property through means of negative rights.

Rousseau, to me, is Locke's polar opposite. His view is "Rule of the People." The descendants of his philosophy can be seen as early as the French Revolution that led to the Reign of Terror. Robespierre was an avid follower of Rousseau. Rousseau's ideas can be greatly seen in Socialist and Communist philosophy as well.

One should definitely find the time to read Locke. In regards to "The Social Contract", Rousseau has moments of contradiction and obscurity. He writes that "man must be forced to be free." A paradox that sums up Rousseau.

Rousseau believed that man is selfish without the State. With the State, man goes from being an animal to truly being a man. Through the State, man acquires moral liberty. The State is master of all goods. Every man has a right to everything he needs. A man must occupy only the amount he needs for subsistence. A man's estate is always subordinate to the community. These are the only ways to make man equal.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Intellectual January 8, 2003
Format:Paperback
Jean Jacques Rousseau is truly a great intellectual.His Discourses and The Social Contract are some of the best in Enlightenment thinking. In the Discourses Rousseau exalts the "noble" savage free from the corrupting influence of modern civilization. He believes that civilization has corrupted man from his original, yet ignorant state. I found the Discourses to be a little flighty and unrealistic. The Social Contract was a different story altogether. This is a monumental work. In it Rousseau shows his vast knowledge of the Roman Republic and Empire and the reasons for it's rise and collapse. Rousseau also denounces monarchy and aristocracy as forms of government and exalts republicanism. He also decries the power of organized religion in the oppression of mankind. With his "General Will" theory of the social contract he shows true brilliance. A great buy.
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36 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Rousseau's treatise on the nature of people and their government has left a lasting imprint on political discourse. Though at times passionate and persuasive, most of the short book was simply too vague for Rousseau's semantic games to be indisputable, and sometimes even comprehensible. Some of his ideas are simply wrong, such as the "noble savage", while others quite clearly debatable, such as the social contract itself. I, for one, would fear to live in Rousseau's ideal world, where every right I have is only mine so long as the majority (who never can be wrong) wills it.
Whether you agree with him or not, plowing through Rousseau's 150 pages is a necessity for anyone who wants to carry on high-level political discourse.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
This book is everything i was expecting for, i have no complaiments to make about it, just want to thank you guys.
Published 2 months ago by Pedro Henrique Harrison Froide
5.0 out of 5 stars A blogger before his time
I love Rousseau because he attacks many subjects almost as if he were blogging way back when. Maybe 2 pages on a topic and then move on to the next topic. Read more
Published 8 months ago by rob kramer
1.0 out of 5 stars terrible
This book is a jumbled mess! Half of the time it won't let me find page numbers (only locations). It's missing a large portion of the book and many pages the words are all jumbled... Read more
Published 8 months ago by abigail bolin
5.0 out of 5 stars I great book!
It is a difficult read but hey it was free! I love to read this especially in relation to its fundamental role in the Declaration of Independence.
Published 9 months ago by Sean D. Parshall
4.0 out of 5 stars Base of all political utopias
For the author the man is born good and society corrupts. It is repetitive in this matter. And is the man who must govern, in a kind of community, a socialism. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Eric Mascarin Perigault
5.0 out of 5 stars A social contract is a tricky thing
"Social contract" is a term that is thrown about pretty widely in our society. People will talk in a casual if sometimes facile manner about the idea that people willingly give up... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Paul Haspel
4.0 out of 5 stars The Social Contract
Jean Jacques Rousseau lived from 1712 to 1778. The Social Contract was published in 1762. The translation used for this review is by G.D.H. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Sam Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic!
A must read if you're interested in politics!! It helps you understand the underlying reasoning of democracy. Worth every penny in it.
Published 14 months ago by Amber
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Classic
An amazing collectors edition of one of the most essential philosophical classics of all time. A must read and a must have.
Published 15 months ago by Vivienne Moxham-Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT
GREAT , JUST THE WAY IT WAS SAID TO HAVE BEEN ON THE PAGE. SURELY GLAD I BROUGHT IT !
Published 15 months ago by Ramon Ortiz
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