Rousseau’s Social Misunderstanding In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposes a utopian type social contract that all citizens are informally entered into. In this contract, Rousseau calls for the people to sacrifice their natural freedoms in order to receive a greater and more beneficial state of civil liberty. Civil liberty being the state of being subject to laws that are for the benefit of the community opposed to the individual. Rousseau claims that these sacrifices will result in the common good, which is best for the state as a whole.
Rousseau’s critics “assert that his political thought, whose goal is a body of citizens who think alike, buttresses a dangerous collectivism and even totalitarianism” (M. Perry, 253). Rousseau opens The Social Contract to state that “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau, 45). Rousseau claims that the current state represses many natural freedoms, and provides no civil liberties to all citizens of the state. Not only does this apply to the working class, but it also includes the nobleman and the clergy. Everybody is somebodys dog or a slave o a certain something, and nobody truly possesses authentic freedom.
In order for a collective state to reach their full potential of freedom, Rousseau proposes a social contract. This social contract would not be something you sign, or formally buy into, but instead it would be a natural agreement of a governing principle that you were born into and informally bound to. Rousseau addresses the people of the state as the “sovereign”, a much different application and interpretation of the word than what we are used to today, to exemplify the importance and power of the collective itizens.. Today, we associate “sovereign” with the power of that of a monarch or group of absolute rule.
Rousseau defines the sovereign as the collective body of the citizens, driven by the general will, acting together for the common good and general benefit of the state. According to Rousseau, the sovereign should be considered a single body and addressed as an individual, and it should have absolute authority over public issues and governing. Rousseau believes that when individuals are able to set aside their personal interests, and are able to collectively pursue the general ill, then you will possess an ideal state. Rousseau’s utopian idea is followed with a great deal of controversy, and many contradictions.
One of the most common issues that the theory encounters is the relationship between freedom and liberty. Rousseau seeks to deliver and secure the freedoms of the people, but freedom is hampered by the agreement not to harm other fellow citizens. True theoretical liberty is unable to coexist with complete freedom. Rousseau breaches on a dangerous form of collectivism, and strays far from individual liberty. Rousseau tresses on the power and sovereignty behind the collective body of citizens, acting together for the general will.
By definition, collectivism is the practice or principle of giving a group priority and authority over the individuals that comprise it. Rousseau does Just that by stamping out any individuality and forcing all citizens to Join the collective state. Rosseau writes that “if anyone refuses to obey the general will he will be compelled to do so by the whole body; which means nothing else than that he will be reached when free will is eliminated. Rousseau also suggests the death penalty or violation of the social contract, and expulsion from the state for those who don’t observe the Church.
Such penalties may slightly persuade one’s free will and judgment. This no way to run a democracy, and when force disrupts free will and freedom of choice, you do not have true freedom. As the Latin author Turtullian says, miou cannot parcel out freedom in pieces because freedom is all or nothing. ” Rousseau also encroaches on totalitarianism, by allowing a “supreme chief” to be appointed during times of crisis. This supreme chief assumes the power of the overeign, and seeks to preserve the state during the crisis. This is where things get a little complicated and scary.
By giving such power to a single man in a state of crisis, it appears as though the sovereign would be handing over the reigns to that of a dictator. While Rousseau goes on to limit the supreme chief by giving him the power to do everything except make laws, I feel as if he is still dancing with the devil, and exploiting the state to a great deal of risk. Napoleon exemplifies this vulnerability by his rise and accumulation of power in the ensuing years of the French Revolution. But the question is how a man can be free and forced to conform to the will of others than himself.
How can those who are in opposition be free and subject to laws to which they have not consented? ” (Rousseau, 137). The answer is that man simply cannot. Rousseau has theorized a beautiful utopia in which man can come together and sacrifice their natural freedoms for the general good of the state and gain an even greater civil freedom, but the theory only contradicts itself. It is impossible to deliver true freedom to the people of the state when eliminating free ill and forcing them into an agreement.
Rousseau’s critics are completely right to accuse Rousseau of encroaching on a state that supports dangerous collectivism and even totalitarianism. Rousseau’s ideal state is the textbook definition of collectivism, and by stamping out the individual; the state is at great risk of danger. We’ve also seen in history through the Napoleon’s and Hitler’s how such states are vulnerable and open to the risk of totalitarianism. Rousseau’s biggest issue lies in the foundation of his entire theory, the sovereign.
By eparating the individuality from the individual, you create an inefficient, vulnerable sovereign that is unable to serve its citizens. Rousseau missed on a very key element of what makes a strong democracy so secure; the people, and all individuals included. Works Cited “Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. ” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N. p. , n. d. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2013. Print. Rousseau, Jean-Jacque . The Social Contract. New York : Oxford University Press, 1994. Print. “The Social Contract – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. ” Wikipedia, the free