Overview Of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On The Social Contract

In his text, Jean-Jacques Rousseau analyses social contracts. For him, justice can not be defined as the law of the strongest because of it was the case stronger individuals would always be right. Justice, for him, consists in the alignment of individual acts and civil authority, individuals being forced to obey legitimate authority. To protect themselves and their property, individuals create contracts where they agree to accept diverse functions and obligations in exchange for the advantages offered by social cooperation. Every individual can have his own will which differs from the general will but within the scope of the social contract individuals are obligated to follow the general will. The general will is not a sum of each individual will as they are all opposed to one another; the general will is for the common good. Sovereignty and general will are embodied by the political system, what he calls a republic (any society ruled by law or by the by the general will of the population). For Rousseau, a State should be governed by its people. But that does not mean that the general will is always the best solution and that it is the right thing to follow? His text was written in 1762 in France, under Louis XVI reign and few years before the French Revolution. The revolution in itself can be considered as the general will of the population rising up against the King and the injustices of the royalty system where the king has an absolute power over his subjects and is above the law. We could even say that he is the law himself as his power is unquestionable. But the revolution led to a period that is called “La Terreur” (reign of terror), where every Nobleman, Clergy member or people considered as threat to the first French Republic were systematically executed. Le Terreur is a purge of the population. At the time there is a functioning government, with three political parties; these parties are very attached to the people’s will and willing to radicalize to match with people outburst of anger against the old system and thirst for a new system representing them and exempt of any privilege. It’s paradoxically while defending the principle of liberty and human rights with the support of the people than a real political dicature was appointed.

A revolutionary court house is put in place in order to “lawfully judge” anyone considered an enemy of the Republic. Thus the general will isn’t always the wisest decision as the population may sometimes become violent seeking revenge against people who harmed or abused them instead of seeking justice and the individual judgment of people according to how implicated they were. Republics rising from a revolution, public rage and chaos might find it hard to ease the population and act lawfully treating everyone in an equal way.

10 December 2020
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