Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the Institute of Government

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Contemporary Civilizations

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the Institute of Government

Rousseau’s notion of General Will possesses a direct correlation to the idea of general welfare and the common interests of a people as a whole. In On The Social Contract he explains the philosophy being the idea of General Will by stating that "So long as several men together consider themselves to be a single body, they have but a single will, which is concerned with their common preservation and the general well-being" (Social Contract IV.1). This implies that the General Will is the natural and instinctive desire of all people within a group to act in favor of the perpetuation and common good of the group as a whole. In his discussion on General Will, Rousseau states directly that the General Will “is always right and always tends towards public unity” (Social Contract II.3). In theory, the validation of this claim can be supported by his further elaboration about the fact that “there is a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will. The latter considers only the general interests, whereas the former considers private interests and is merely the sum of private wills” (Social Contract II.3). By this explanation the General Will consists only of the desires of the populations completely devoid of private interest. In many ways, this makes the General Will and extremely theoretical concept, as it involves an assumption of human nature and the presumed separation of individual facets. On the assumptions about human nature that the idea of General Will implies, Rousseau estimates that "Each man, in detaching his interest from the common interest, clearly sees that he cannot totally separate himself from it; but his share of the public misfortune seems insignificant to him compared to the exclusive good he intends to make his own. Apart from this private good, he wants the general good in his own interest, just as...
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