Aspects of Political Thought

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Aspects of Political Thought

By | September 2005
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Critical Thinking
Joseph Wood

Aspects of Rousseau's Political Thought

Kateb begins this article with the statement that there is common agreement that the center of Rousseau's political thought is the idea of the general will. Almost everyone also acknowledges that they are somewhat confused as to the meaning of this general will, and that some of the confusion can be blamed on Rousseau's himself. This confusion is apparently eliminated, according to the author, once we see that the "aim of the general will is justice." (1) This concept of justice removes any doubt regarding if Rousseau was writing from the position favoring collectivism, despotism, totalitarians, or individualism. Two other concepts come into play in Rousseau's political thought, the concept of moral autonomy, and the concept of fair play.

According to Kateb, Rousseau was writing about the idea of distributive justice as "giving every man his due," or the condition where the rights of every citizen are protected. (2) Society can only be just when the life, liberty, and property of each citizen are protected. Next Kateb explains that autonomy is derived from the ability of man to make laws and give them to himself. Finally, fair play is described as man's willingness to obey society's laws, even when he must sacrifice something in order to obey these laws. Once these three principles are understood, their connection can be seen. If a society is good, all people take part directly in framing laws; these laws embody justice (distributive), and therefore call into being the idea of fair play. A good citizen will be present during the framing of laws, to ensure that they are just and fair. The citizen will then willingly obey these laws. Rousseau intended to have these principles guide the political process whenever possible.

A just society will follow these principles, and a just citizen will fulfill their obligations in order to preserve life, liberty, and...
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