Rousseau vs Self Interest and Progress

Topics: Democracy, Political philosophy, Social contract, Popular sovereignty, Government, Monarchy / Pages: 7 (1529 words) / Published: Oct 9th, 1999
Rousseau vs. self-interest and progress

In The Social Contract, Rousseau asserts the idea of the people's General Will being the ideal governing force of the state. This idea is essentially the total alienation of each individual to the entire community, thus constructing the Sovereign. The collective body rules in the common interest, acting without individual bias or selfish concerns, to decide the laws that the Sovereign itself is to follow. However rightly intended, this concept is flawed because it requires people to put the community's needs above their own. Rousseau distorts basic human nature by committing the fallacy of assuming people value the common good over their own personal interest. Ideally, civic politics would be the most important thing to every citizen, but in reality it is almost impossible to make a unanimous decision without the influence of self-interest. The General Will has good intentions, but its spirit would better be carried out through a more feasible concept of democracy. Rousseau forms the Social Contract as a way to preserve freedom through self-government by eliminating individual self-interest, basing his theory on the optimistic assertion that society will voluntarily follow the General Will. However, self-interest is the catalyst of progress, and for a state to advance and prosper there must be a government, such as the modern form of democracy, that allows for more opposition and individuality.

The fundamental problem facing mankind, according to Rousseau, is that "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains."(Social Contract, 181) His "freedom" can only be attained when each man is independent and is not ruled by the private interests of any individual or group. Until this is accomplished, each person is still a slave to others and his freedom is forfeited. Man united form a civil society, but Rousseau is dissatisfied with the one they form. He feels the people are still oppressed and are only equal in

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