Is Rousseau’s Conception of the General Will Compatible with the Liberal Commitment to Individual Freedom ?

Topics: Political philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sovereignty Pages: 4 (1184 words) Published: March 29, 2011
Is Rousseau’s conception of the General will compatible with the liberal commitment to individual freedom ?

To answer this question I will analyze chapter 6 “the social pact” and chapter 7 “Sovereign” of Rousseau’s book (The Social Contract), I will link his, theory the social contract and state of nature in general terms, to the individual need of freedom within liberal commitment.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 Jun 1712 – 2 July 1778) a Genevan political thinker and philosopher, his teachings has made a great impact on both the French and American revolutions, his On The Social Contract considered as a cornerstone in the contemporary political and social science, he was a philosopher and great contributor to music, his Novel Emile On Education is a great source of education for the whole person on citizenship.

Rousseau was not immune from criticism, Voltaire considered Rousseau’s biggest crime, was the rejection of all forms of luxuries and graces of civilised existence, And declared that Rousseau wanted us to “walk on all fours” Like animals and behave like savages, believing them creatures of perfection. From these interpretations, plausible but inexact, spring the clichés Noble Savage and Back to Nature. (1)

After the French revolution, some pointed the figure on Rousseau’s teachings of being a potential danger by what they described as an antique conception of virtue among modern world citizenry in respect of education, public holidays, citizen militia and so on, Defenders of social hierarchy have also attacked Rousseau on his views of romantic belief in equality, During the cold war some liberals like Karl Popper criticized Rousseau for his association with nationalism and its attendant abuses which became known later as “totalitarian thesis”.

The social contract in general has outlined a unique version of social relations theory it has concentrated on popular sovereignty, although Rousseau considered the British at that time to be the freest...

References: J-J Rousseau, The social Contract ( Cambridge U.P.)
Roche,Kennedy F., Rousseau-Stoic & Romantic, London:Methuen & Co 1974
I Hampsher-Monk, A History of modern political thought, Ch. 4.
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2001).
Great Political Thinkers / From Plato to Rawls
Nottingham Trent University
S Zeidan 2010 / 2011-03-08
Module Leader Dr Karl Haselden
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