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The Social Contract (Penguin Classics)

56 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 201-5140442014
ISBN-10: 0140442014
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Editorial Reviews


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

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (June 30, 1968)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 23, 1997
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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67 of 78 people found the following review helpful By JR Pinto on 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This is a valuable historical document, because it shows us the thinking that led up to the French Revolution.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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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By G. F Gori on 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Rousseau is one of the most influential of all social thinkers. He is generally considered to be a major influence in creating the climate of opinion that brought about the French Revolution.

The myth of a primal virtous state of human nature which is increasingly corrupted by human civilization is presented in his work on "Second Discourse in Equality". Here he develops the mythic idea of a human social contract in which individuals sacrifice certain liberties to come together and form one unified General Will.

A scatching critique of his ideas is presented in an article from "The Catholic Encyclopedia".

"It is quite intelligible that the Contrat Social should have come to be considered by some as the gospel of freedom and democracy, by others as the code of revolution and anarchy. That it contains serious contradictions is undeniable. For instance, Rousseau assigns as the essential basis of the general will the unanimous consent of the people, yet he assumes that this general will is expressed in the plurality of suffrages; he affirms that parents have no right to engage their children by a contract, and yet children from their birth will be subject to the primitive contract; he affirms that a man has no right to alienate himself, yet he bases the social contract essentially on the total alienation of personal rights and personality in favour of the community. If there are some true considerations and reflections in this book--as, for instance, on slavery and the dignity of man, on the adaptation of the divers forms of government to the character of the people, etc.--its fundamental principles--the origin of society, absolute freedom and absolute equality of all--are false and unnatural."
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39 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Chad M. Brick on August 21, 2001
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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