In political philosophy, the general will (French: volonté générale) is the will of the people as a whole. The term was made famous by 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. General will, in political theory, a collectively held will that aims at the common good or common interest. The general will is central to the political thought of the Swiss-born French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and an important concept in modern republican thought. Rousseau distinguishes the general will from the particular and often contradictory wills of individuals and groups. In The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau argues that freedom and authority are not contradictory, since legitimate laws are founded on the general will of the citizens. In obeying the law, the individual citizen is thus only obeying himself as a member of the political community. As Rousseau discusses in the Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract, the state of nature is the hypothetical, prehistoric place and time where human beings live uncorrupted by society. The most important characteristic of the state of nature is that people have complete physical freedom and are at liberty to do essentially as they wish. That said, the state of nature also carries the drawback that human beings have not yet discovered rationality or morality. In different works, Rousseau alternately emphasizes the benefits and shortfalls of the state of nature, but by and large he reveres it for the physical freedom it grants people, allowing them to be unencumbered by the coercive influence of the state and society. In this regard, Rousseau’s conception of the state of nature is entirely more positive than Hobbes’s conception of the same idea, as Hobbes, who originated the term, viewed the state of nature as essentially a state of war and savagery. This difference in definition indicates the two philosophers’ differing views of human nature, which Rousseau viewed as essentially good and Hobbes as essentially base and brutal. Finally, Rousseau acknowledged that although we can never return to the state of nature, understanding it is essential for society’s members to more fully realize their natural goodness.
The Social Contract helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, who are sovereign, have that all-powerful right. In this desired social contract, everyone will be free because they all forfeit the same amount of rights and impose the same duties on all.
Rousseau would give his own account of the state of nature in the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men
Views on Monarchy
Aristotle considered monarchy a true form of government, but warned it could become a tyranny, which he considered a despotic form of government. The article on the Scholastic website explains that when a monarch such as a king or queen ruled only to increase the monarchy’s wealth and power, Aristotle considered that ruler a tyrant and his or her reign tyrannical. Monarchies work only when rulers make decisions based on what is for the greater good, such as increasing wealth for all citizens through job creation or increased trade. Ideas About Oligarchy
When a few elite ruled the government by making decisions in the best interests of all citizens, Aristotle considered that an aristocracy. However, when that group of people ruled for personal gain, it was considered a despotic oligarchy. The Constitutional Rights Foundation notes that Aristotle was cautious about a government run by aristocracy, as he felt that it put the interests of the rich against those of the poor, causing a fight for power. However, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Aristotle believed that a large middle class would help prevent an aristocracy from becoming an oligarchy by balancing the interests of the sovereign. Philosophy on Democracy
Aristotle considered democracy a despotic form of government because he felt that it caused competition between the classes, and it was vulnerable to leaders ruling by emotion rather than strict adherence to the law. However, Scholastic argues that democracies in Aristotle's time were different than today. Aristotle's "true" form of government in this category, called a polity, which is close to many modern-day democratic governments, relies on a strong middle class to hold leaders accountable to make objective decisions based on statute and not personal ideals or emotion.
Oligarchy - Aristotle uses oligarchy, literally "the rule of the few," to refer to a government controlled by a minority consisting of the wealthy. Unlike aristocracy, Aristotle believes, oligarchy is a bad form of government, as the ruling faction governs solely in its own interests, disregarding those of the poor. Democracy - Aristotle disparages democracy, literally "the rule of the people," as a type of government in which the poor masses have control and use it to serve their own ends. This involves the heavy taxation and exploitation of the rich, among other things. Among forms of majority rule such as democracy, Aristotle preferspoliteia, or constitutional government. Aristocracy - Aristotle highly esteems aristocracy, literally "the rule of the best," and considers it superior to oligarchy because it values everyone's interests. He contrasts aristocracy with oligarchy, democracy, and politeia by pointing out that these forms of government concern themselves only with questions of wealth. Aristocracy, on the other hand, confers benefits on the basis of merit, with the result that those who most deserve to govern do in fact govern. Tyranny - The rule of an individual interested solely in his own benefit. A perverse form of kingship, tyranny is unpopular and usually overthrown. In Aristotle's opinion, it is the worst type of government.