The Republican Party, since its first convention in Michigan in 1854, has had a philosophy that has remained
relatively unchanged. Its oath entices Americans to believe that “good government is based on the individual and
that each person’s ability, dignity, freedom and responsibility must be honored and recognized” How do the
Republican philosophies hold up to the ideas of some of the political thinkers that we have discussed in class. In the
selection to follow, I will examine the Republican’s main philosophies and will describe how Rousseau would agree
or disagree with their position. I will be using the Republican Platform of 1996 to aid in my discussion. Ideas that
will be of focus will be the role of the government, property rights, and freedom of the individual.
The Role of the Government
“We are the party of small, responsible and efficient government? We therefore assert the power of the American
people over government, rather than the other way around”.
The view of the Republicans across the Nation is that the role of government should be kept to a minimum. In this
section, I will discuss certain views of the Party and how they would be accepted or rejected by Jean-Jacques
Rousseau. The Republican notion has been that less government is better. Rousseau’s notion was that of extrication.
He states that the fundamental political problem is “to find a form of association that defends and protects the person
and the goods of each associate with all the common force, and by means of which each one uniting with all,
nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before” (Cahn, 367). The Republicans would agree with
Rousseau’s idea. They (Republican Party) state that the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution should
be the basis for the role of government. The Tenth Amendment states:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to
the States respectively, or to its people.
Republicans, while holding the majority in both the House and Senate have taken it upon themselves to apply all
laws to Congress, so that those who make the rules have to live by them. Rousseau agrees in respect that no
association should be above the laws it makes. In his treatise entitled Of the Social contract or Principles of Political
Right, Rousseau states, “Indeed, each individual may, as a man, have a particular will contrary to, or divergent from,
the general will which he may have as a citizen” (Cahn, 426). What Rousseau is suggesting is that a person may feel
one way, but he/she must act in accordance with the general will of his/her fellow citizens. The Republicans would
insist that the proper role of the Government is to provide only what can be considered critical functions that can’t be
preformed by individuals or private organizations; and that the best government is that which governs least. They
plan to streamline the government and make it more effective by !
competition and privatization. Rousseau agrees by saying that simple government is best, because it is simple.
Democracy. On the subject of Democracy, Rousseau would point out that there has never been, nor will there ever
be a true Democracy. He says, “It is contrary to the natural order that the greater number should govern and the
lesser number should be governed” (Cahn, 448). Republicans would tend to lean towards the fact that people in the
United States need to have more say in how the government is ran.
Signs of a Good Government. Rousseau says that there is no way to find out the best Government, because there are
as many solutions as there are combinations. He does give people an idea on how to determine if when a
Government is working. “All other things being equal, the Government under which, without naturalizations,
without colonies, the Citizens become populous and multiply most is infallibly the best” (Cahn, 456).
The subject of property and the rights to it have instigated many heated debates over time. Rousseau’s argument is
for that of first occupant. “The right of the first occupant, altough more real than that of strongest, becomes a true
right only after the establishment of property [ownership]” (Cahn, 428). Rousseau goes on to explain that the right of
the individual over his/her property is subordinate to the right which the community has over it. The Republicans
oppose the view of Rousseau. They consider private property rights to be the cornerstone in America. They plan to
safeguard those rights by the Fifth Amendment. This Amendment states that no man shall be deprived of property
without compensation. Rousseau agrees with the Republican Party claim by saying that, “Every man has by nature a
right to all that is necessary to him” (Cahn, 428). He agrees that the seizure of land without compensation is in itself,
not in the best interest of the government. In conclusion, the r!
ight of property to Rousseau was not as important as it is to the Republican Party.
Freedom of the Individual
Many people believe they have their freedom, but most do not know how much they have lost. In this section, I will
discuss the view of the freedom of individuals.
Slavery. Rousseau states from the beginning that every man born into slavery is born for slavery. He continues by
saying, “force made the first slaves?” (Cahn, 421). What Rousseau is arguing is man has no right to bind his fellow
man. He says that a man giving up his freedom, to him was an absurd idea. He also states that a person is not in their
right mind for doing so. “To renounce one’s liberty is to renounce one’s quality as a man” (Cahn, 423) Rousseau
closes his argument on slavery by stating the following:
Thus, in whatever way we view things, the right of slavery is null, not only because it is illegitimate, but [also]
because it is absurd and meaningless. These words, slavery and right, are contradictory; they are mutually exclusive.
Whether addressed by a man to a man, or by a man to a people, such a speech as this will be equally foolish: I make
a convention with you wholly at your expense and wholly for my profit, which I shall observe as long as I please
and which you also shall observe as long as you please (Cahn, 424).
The philosophy of the Republican Party has been to renounce the act of slavery. They have fought for the freedom
of individuals through the Civil War and as well as with the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s. They believe that an
individual’s right to equality was important. This is one area where Republicans have remained solid.
General Will. The final aspect of freedom is the will of the people. Rousseau believes that the general will of the
people make the social contract possible. According to him, it is possible not to just act in self-interest, but for the
interest of people of the state. Rousseau goes on to state that you gain civil liberty in a social contract. He agrees
with the philosopher Spinoza in that we are slaves to our passions. With respect to the Republican Party, they
believe, like Rousseau that the will of the majority should take precedence. In regards to justice, the Republican
Party states the following:
The delicate balance of power between the respective branches of our national government and the governments of
the 50 states has been eroded. The notion of judicial review has in some cases come to resemble judicial supremacy,
affecting all segments of the public and private endeavor.
In closing, Rousseau envisioned several different forms of government. They were based on certain principles that
would make each one run effectively. The criteria of size and population mattered just as importantly as anything
else that has been discussed. He would probably think that the United States was not best ran in a democratic
structure due to its size and the diversity of its population. The Republican Party, contrary to Rousseau’s claim,
believes that the form of government is not the problem, but how that government has been ran ineffectively. They
continue by stating that their philosophy has been to let government, by which its people are free, run without
intervention of it’s representatives. Those people, who represent, should follow the laws that are made for the
protection of citizens.
Cahn, Steven M. Classics of Modern Political Theory. Oxford University Press. New York. 1997