Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Published 1762

Well, I can see that America's Founding Fathers read Rousseau's The Social Contract. Not really sure if that was a good thing or not.

This short essay is a political idea that Rousseau worked out, based on previous political thought, concerning man's natural rights and how government should work in order to protect man's rights. At least, that is what I got out of it.

Rousseau recognized that man had a natural state and that man was equally free and happy in his natural state. Unfortunately, as society increased, the issue with private property and possessions spoiled his nature. He became greedy and envious of his neighbor and his neighbor's possessions. This caused competition and other complications. Something needed to be done to protect man's property and possessions; hence man willingly entered into a social contract with everyone else.

This social contract should represent the common and collective general will of the people. It would be enforced by the State -- other citizens who have been given authority to make rules and laws -- agreed upon by the people, though the people would have the power to remove this contract, if they found that it was not working for them. Essentially, the people give up their rights in order to submit to the general will of the community, which, in essence, provides new freedoms and protections to all of the people. And then all will be happy and equal again because they will have all mutually agreed with one another. (I suppose.)

Well, it may look good on paper, I ponder, but Rousseau did not understand that man has always been greedy and discontent. That is his nature, too. And no matter what Rousseau thinks causes man's corruptible nature, no political social contract or construct or form of government is going to create a happy natural state of man unless he individually gets right with God first.

All of this political science and theory is the same. Man thinks he can create a utopia through his own ideas, while not having a right understanding of man's sinful nature while leaving God out of the equation. I am not suggesting that Rousseau was completely wrong -- he found human government problematic, and he was and is RIGHT -- he just did not understand the WHY for man's inability to ever be happy or equal or free under man's form of government.

The United States may have come pretty close to a good form of government; yet, because of man's corruptible nature, look still how unequal and unhappy and in chains we are!

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778

This is essential political science and theory. If you are into that, you need to get into this. It's super short, but full of political ideas and thoughts and opinions. If you are interested in the French Revolution, this is also a good reason to read Rousseau because he contributed to the fire of the Enlightenment, which led to the political climate and changes of that time period, a time when man no longer wanted to trust God [the Church] or government [the Monarchy] with their lives, and they believed man and nature had better solutions.


Rachel said...

I may read this book someday, but I am unlikely to enjoy it very much. It would purely be for the purpose of educating myself.

Ruth said...

Exactly. There was not a whole lot enjoyable about it, unless you are deeply interested in politics and government.

Marian H said...

So glad you shared your review of this! I first encountered Rousseau in European history class, then was just reminded of him while reading my library book "Philosophy 101." I completely agree with you, there is no system of government which will solve the world's problems, even the most basic ones. And the problem with the "general will" structure as it only pacifies the majority, not necessarily ensuring morality or equality for all. We still end up with all kinds of moral dilemmas...

Ruth said...

This is very true.

I felt like Rousseau assumed everyone thought alike; but we don't. So it is impossible for a true majority to be met...and actually, I think he did admit that there were problems with this in a democracy. Nonetheless, he still thought the general will would make everyone happy. He sometimes was contradictory.

Jean said...

Yeah, I have PROBLEMS with Rousseau, but I guess I ought to read him properly.

Cleo @ Classical Carousel said...

Rousseau always strikes me as a very intelligent little boy which is a direct contrast and thus perhaps it's not so surprising that his ideas, while interesting are unworkable. I can't wait to get to this one but first I need to get back on to my WEM challenge!

Ruth said...

Cleo and I found his Confessions quite entertaining. It was a great microscope into his emotional state. In fact, reading The Social Contract was like reading a completely different individual, compared to Confessions.

Ruth said...

Like I told Jean just now...reading TSC was like reading a different author compared to his Confessions. He was emotionally unstable for sure...but The Social Contract was definitely intellectual. I just don't think all his ideas were well thought out or feasible. Maybe I'm wrong, or maybe we just have the ability to know more because we have lived through much of what he imagined. ???