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Discourse on Political Economy and The Social Contract (Oxford World's Classics) Reissue Edition
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Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The Social Contract has been seen as democratic by some and as a harbinger of totalitarianism by others. It is not difficult to portray Rousseau's ideas as authoritarian or totalitarian. He denied citizenship to women (though this was normal for thinkers of his age). He used language such as" forced to be free" and "trained to bear with docility the yoke of the public happiness". The Censorial Tribunal and the insistence on a civil religion seem illiberal to the modern mind. He argued that monarchy (single ruler) government is best in large states, and elsewhere aristocracy (preferably elective) is generally best for democratic governments often suffer internal strife; "If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men." He requires citizens to cede all rights to the community, whereas modern democracies usually stress individual rights. Finally, Rousseau condemns representative government and dislikes political parties and pressure groups, for they tend to create mini general wills that make it difficult for the General Will to emerge.
Some of these points can be countered more or less successfully.Read more ›
Discourse on Political Economy essentially takes the next step of asking how we can legitimize and improve such a corrupt society. It does not have easy answers but does reject the seemingly obvious one that we return to a primitive state; Rousseau has often been charged with this, but he actually explicitly denies it. This Discourse is far less original but has several salient points and is well-written. It is an important contribution to the question that has dominated Western thought since at least Plato and essential reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in it.
On Social Contract is now considered Rousseau's most important work, and it is easy to see why. He of course did not invent the social contract; Thomas Hobbes' 1651 Leviathan is generally considered its foundation, but elements are visible at least as far back as Plato. It had dominated Western political thought since Hobbes, though, and Rousseau's contribution is one of the most important. He looks at the question more thoroughly and systematically than anyone since Hobbes and, though he admired the latter, comes to almost the opposite conclusion.Read more ›