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The Social Contract (Penguin Classics)

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 201-5140442014
ISBN-10: 0140442014
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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.
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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 (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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This is a valuable historical document, because it shows us the thinking that led up to the French Revolution.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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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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By A Customer on February 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
This are great works important in the history of political philosophy. But this particular edition does not give as many footnotes as it should, to explain refrences to Classical literature, and certain Latin phrases that students of today may not be familiar with. Still, it combiners three influentional political essays in one covenient volume.
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By CB on August 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
I am a huge fan of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality, and was hoping to appreciate this book just as much. There is a telling irony in that in the former text, Rousseau sees civilization as incapable of being repaired, and the source of most of the problems of inequality through wealth and politics. Private property is an overall pariah to him, which ought not to exist.

As Rousseau got older he seems to have changed his mind a bit, and tempered that anarcho-primitvism. In the Social Contract we see Rousseau setting himself the task, he would have once found impossible: developing a legitimate state, in the interest of the sovereign, that constantly develops towards equality, and not away from it. Unfortunately we are given zero insight into how the old ideology of the corrupt states, and rotten civilization are to be overcome at the moment of developing this grandiose social contract; this is a serious problem of praxis, probably not fully taken up until Gramsci.

Now it is worth pointing that Rousseau's contract is significantly more radical, or left-wing, than anything Locke, Hegel, or Hobbes proposed. Rousseau does see excess property as a problem (unlike Hegel), and unlike Locke, Rousseau does see the origin of property as corrupting, and not beneficial. Moreover, Rousseau categorically rejects the idea of slavery, and a wage slave. Locke doesn't touch upon the former, and in a single line in his entire Treatise, says a wage slave is A-OK. Given the overall momentum of the Treatise, it's a perplexing passage. Rousseau asserts that labor ought to create products for itself and some excess for the community (so long as the community is doing the same), but not for private owners to capitalize on.
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