The Social Contract

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Midterm Essay for History of Political Theory ~The Social Contract~

As Rousseau states “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”, man were truly free at first, but those rights were taken away, and we find ourselves with many constraints in modern states. Rousseau does not agree with the opinion that was popular in his days that states that political authority is found within the state of nature. He believed that the only form of authority within the state of nature is the authority of a father that he has against the preservation of his own child. “Since no man has any natural authority over his fellows, and since force alone bestows no right, all legitimate authority among men must be based on covenants” states Rousseau.

He agrees to Grotius’ idea that there is a covenant between the king and his people where the people agree to surrender their freedom to the king. Which is something like a “right of slavery.” But no one with the right mind would surrender their freedom for nothing in return. Rousseau states that it is impossible to surrender one’s freedom in a fair exchange. If one surrenders their freedom to the ruler, they must surrender all rights, and they lose the position to ask for something in return. Also, this means morality and humanity are both given up as well by giving up freedom. This is because actions can be moral only when those actions are done freely.

Rousseau assumes that there is a certain point where the obstacles to their preservation in the state of nature become more powerful than the strength each man has to preserve himself in that state. Beyond this point, the primitive condition of freedom and peace cannot endure because the human race will perish if it does not get out of this state. Since men cannot create any new forces, the only way left for them to preserve themselves is to unite their powers so that the combined power overcomes any obstacle. This sum of forces can only be produced by the union of separate men, but because each man’s strength and liberty is the key of his own preservation, it is hard to merge powers with others without putting himself at risk. Putting himself at risk becomes a contradiction in this situation, because this merging of the powers was proposed to preserve themselves. Rousseau believes that the social contract solutes this problem.

The social contract defines that individual must surrender himself unconditionally to the community as a whole. From this, Rousseau implies mainly three things. First is that because the conditions of the social contract are the same for everyone, everyone will want to make the social contract as easy as possible for all. Secondly, because people surrender themselves unconditionally, the individual has no right or power that can stand against the state. Lastly, because no one is set above anyone else, people do not lose their natural freedom by entering into the social contract. Rousseau states that “Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole.” This community is not just the sum total of the lives and wills of its members. It is a distinct and unified entity with a life and a will of its own. Rousseau referred to this as “city”, now known as “republic” or “body politic.” Rousseau explained further that in its passive role, it is a “state”, in its active role a “sovereign,” and in relation to other states a “power.” The community that forms it is “a people,” and individually they are “citizens,” and they are “subjects” as they submit themselves to the sovereign.

In Book II, Rousseau starts off by stating that the sovereign is inalienable. He believes that because sovereignty is just an exercise of the general will, it can never be alienated. Furthermore, it being a collective being, it cannot be represented by anyone but itself. Sovereignty is...
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