- Paperback: 100 pages
- Publisher: BN Publishing (September 28, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9568356215
- ISBN-13: 978-9568356217
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,817,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Social Contract
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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Top Customer Reviews
The work is often quotable, but without getting too far into detail I am troubled with the sometimes ambiguous nature of the text. This allows for multiple readings and interpretations which trouble me.
However, I do understand how this can be a foundational text for enlightenment and post-enlightenment thinkers, so I will not allow myself to be troubled and just accept the work as an important historical document.
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. Once the whole population gets together and makes a decision, that decision is infallible. "THE GENERAL WILL CANNOT BE WRONG." Those minorities who are disaffected by this general rule shall be "FORCED TO BE FREE." In the case of the French Revolution, that was the freedom of one's head from one's shoulders.
According to Simon Schama in his wonderful book, Citizens, the importance of the Social Contract has been overestimated. Rousseau's love of the State of Nature (which was the spirit of the French Revolution) had more of an effect on the public through his novels Emile and La Nouvelle Heloise.
The Social Contract must be viewed in its historical context as a piece of history in itself. If one reads it for philosophic reasons only, it will come of sounding either frightening or painfully naïve. One sentence caught my imagination however - Rousseau saw the island of Corsica as the perfect candidate for his ideal state. "I have a presentiment that this little island will one day astonish Europe." It did. It produced the greatest warlord the world had ever seen - Napoleon.
This gets to the crux of reading Rousseau; he probably invokes the greatest reaction disparity of all philosophers. One almost literally either loves or hates him. Many have idolized and based their whole lives and philosophies on him; at least as many have done the opposite. Those who value originality and writing qualities like general lucidity and conciseness will likely love Rousseau, as he here excels nearly all philosophers and even many literary writers. However, empiricists and others who value truth and facts above all, as well as those who are eminently practical, may well loathe him. Discourse on Inequality's infamous statement that it will ignore facts because they have no bearing on the issue has appalled many ever since publication. Even so, Rousseau's importance and influence are such that anyone seriously interested in philosophy or political thought must read him. Not everyone will agree with him, but he has been at least as valuable to dissenters as to advocates, and the trend continues.