Social Stratification

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Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Concept of People
1
Patrice Canivez
The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Philosophy and Social Criticism, June 2004; vol. 30, 4: pp. 393-412, by SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved. http://psc.sagepub.com/

Abstract
Rousseau’s political theory apparently leads us to choose between patriotism and cosmopolitism. The two major works published in 1762, On the Social Contract and Emile, would represent the two sides of the alternative. However, the opposition between patriotism and cosmopolitism is the ultimate development of an internal tension between two aspects of Rousseau’s political concept of people: the intersubjectivity that permits the formation of the general will; and the individual’s devotion to the state. On the one hand, the political community appears as a distributive totality. On the other hand, it is viewed as a collective totality. When generalized, intersubjectivity leads to the formation of both the social concept of people and the moral concept of humanity, while patriotism requires the individual’s loyalty to the nation. In order to maintain the coherence of the very political concept of people and to solve the main political problem – which is to reconcile security and liberty – it is necessary to overcome the dichotomy between cosmopolitism and patriotism. Emile and Rousseau’s original plan for On the Social Contract are consistent on that point. Key words cosmopolitism · general will · intersubjectivity · nation · patriotism · people In 1762, Rousseau published two major works: On the Social Contract and Emile. The first book contains Rousseau’s theory of the state. In the second book, Rousseau describes a young man’s education, from his birth to his marriage. In this book, Rousseau’s purpose is not only to put forth his ideas on education: Emile is a long meditation on the human condition. Rousseau is a singular philosopher. He takes up problems in different ways, in different books, without taking much pain to relate (394) all these perspectives. Each book is written from a certain point of view, and from this point of view Rousseau’s reflection may be consistent. But he does not seem to care about the coherence of the results obtained from these different standpoints.

This peculiar feature of Rousseau’s thinking appears especially in the two books published in 1762. In the Social Contract, Rousseau develops the idea of a strongly united state, of a political community that is shaped in many respects on the model of the Greek city-states and Patrice Canivez. J.-J. Rousseau’s Concept of People 2 of the Roman Republic. Rousseau’s theory of the state is nonetheless modern, inasmuch as it bases the legitimacy of the state on a common will, a social contract. The social contract provides the only rational foundation for the state. This can be interpreted in two ways. The first interpretation would be that legitimate states are founded on the social contract, while illegitimate states do exist, established by mere force. The second interpretation is that no genuine state exists without a social contract. In this view, the social contract is tacitly admitted in every existing state, though its clauses may not be observed or even clearly understood. Every existing state reposes on the social contract, but all states are more or less deviating from the norm.

The second interpretation is the right one. According to Rousseau, no political power can be established by mere force. In every state, the citizens agree on the precise terms of the contract he formulates in On the Social Contract.

The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of the act that the slightest modification would make them vain and ineffective; so that, although they have perhaps never been formally set forth, they are everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and recognized

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On the Social Contract does...
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