Social Contract by Rousseau

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Rousseau: The Social Contract

In Book I of the Social Contract, Rousseau suggests that towards a certain stage in the state of nature, people feel the need to bind themselves to one another. Individuals bind themselves to a larger community and form a social contract. Rousseau’s main argument in Book I is that the community that is formed by the gathering of individuals is not simply an aggregation of the interests of all the individuals that form it. It is a distinct entity –in a way, a distinct individual- that acts on its own. Rousseau defines this entity collectively as “the sovereign” and individually as “citizens”. All citizens are committed to this higher entity (the sovereign) and to each other. However, the sovereign is not bound by or committed to anything. Even though Rousseau implies that the sovereign is not bound by any force, he states that it is still obligated to act in the best interest of its citizens. The sovereign might be tempted to act as an independent existence and take measures considering solely its own interests. However, if it took a measure that would hurt its citizens, it would also be hurting itself. As a result, the sovereign is always supposed to act in the best interest of its constituents.

Insofar as the sovereign is limited to acting in the best interest of its citizens, individuals are also limited to acting in the best interest of the collective will and the sovereign. Some individuals might act in their own interest only, while still enjoying all the benefits and freedoms that the sovereign provides to them. Therefore, Rousseau suggests that individuals need to be “forced to be free”: that citizens need laws that force them to abide by the measures taken by the general will. Although individuals are able to follow any liberty and instincts in a state of nature, they become limited in the civil society, by rules that are based on reason and general will. This way, they become more noble and civil. By entering...
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