Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU1712 – 1778. (pp10)


                                                                                    Links: Notes on Rousseau




Quote 1:

It is the common people who compose the human race; what is not the people is hardly worth talking about.  Man is the same in all ranks; that being so, the ranks which are most numerous deserve most respect. (Emile, quoted in Sabine p 579)


Discourse on Inequality:

Quote 2.

[society is result of the] fortuitous concurrence of many foreign causes... different accidents which may have improved the human understanding while depraving the species, and made him wicked while making him sociable... (p 82: page references are to the Everyman paperback edition of The Social Contract and Discourses, tr. G.D.H. Cole, first published 1973, reprinted 1990)


Quote 3.

Taught by experience that the love of well-being [amour de soi] is the sole motive of human actions, he found himself in a position to distinguish the few cases, in which mutual interest might justify him in relying on the assistance of his fellows; and also the still fewer cases in which a conflict of interest might give cause to suspect them... (p 86)


But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable…. Slavery and misery were soon seen (op cit p 92). The cultivation of the earth necessarily brought about its distribution; and property, once recognised, gave rise to the first rules of justice… (p 94)


Quote 4.

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine', and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.  From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling in the ditch, and crying to his fellows 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody'.  (p 84)




Quote 5: opening words of The Social Contract:

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.  One believes himself the master of others, and yet he is a greater slave than they.  How has this change come about?  I do not know.  What can render it legitimate?  I believe that I can settle this question. (Bk I, ch 1, p 181 – slightly different translation)


Quote 6: the problem of reconciling consent to the social contract with individual freedom:

Since no man has a natural authority over other men, and since might never makes right, it follows that agreements are the basis for all legitimate authority among men…(Bk I, ch 4, p 185)  [the fuller quote 9. below includes this statement]


Quote 7: the (theoretical) problem identified:

‘To find a form of association capable of defending and protecting with the total common force, the person and the property of each associate, and by means of which, each one, uniting himself with all the others, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as ever before.’  Such is the fundamental problem of which the social contract gives the solution. (Bk I, ch 6, p 191)


Quote 8: on existing social contracts:

‘You have need of me because I am rich and you are poor.  We will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to have the honour of serving me, on condition that you bestow on me the little you have, in return for the pains I shall take to command you.’ (Source?)


Quote 9: on the origins of civil society (Bk I, ch 2, p 182)

The oldest form of association, and the only natural one, is the family: and even here children only stay attached to their father as long as they have need to for their own safety and survival. As soon as this need goes, so does the natural bond.  Children, freed from the obedience they owed their father, the father, freed from responsibility for the children - all return to independence.  If they remain together, it is no longer by nature, but by convention.

This common freedom is a consequence of the nature of men. Their first law is their own survival, their first actions are to look after themselves; and as soon as he reaches the age of reason, as he alone is able to judge what is needed for his survival, then he is his own master.


...Since man has no natural authority over his kind, and since force does not produce right, then only convention can be said to form the basis of legitimate authority among men. (Bk I, ch 4, p 185) ...To give up one's freedom is to give up one's human nature, one's rights, and even one's duties. (p 186)


...I imagine a time arrived when the obstacles to the survival of man in the state of nature became so great that the individual alone could not resist them.  So this primitive state could not subsist, and unless it changed its way of living the human species would have died out.

Since therefore men could not create new forces but only unite and control those which existed already, they had no other means of survival than to form collectively a sum of forces which could overcome the threat to their survival... (Bk I, ch 6, p 190 - 1)

Quote 10: the terms and nature of the social contract: (Bk I, ch 6, pp 191 – 2)


These clauses, rightly understood, may be reduced to one: the total submission ("alienation") of each member with all his rights to the whole community. This follows, in the first place, because each individual giving himself up wholly, the circumstances are equal for all; and in the second place, because, the circumstances being equal for all, no one has any interest in rendering them burdensome for the others.


Moreover, this alienation being made without reserve, the union which results is as perfect as it is possible to be; and no associate has any special claims…


Finally, each one, in giving himself up to all, gives himself up to no one…


If, then, one reduces the social compact to its essence, it amounts to this: “Each of us puts his person and all his power to the common use under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”


Immediately, in place of the private person of each contractant, this act of association produces a moral and collective Body, composed of as many elements as the assembly has voices, and which receives form this same act its unity, its common identity, its life, and its will. This public person, which is formed by the union of all the particular individuals, was formerly given the name City, and is now called a Republic or Body Politic. Its members refer to it as the State when it is passive; the Sovereign when it is active… With regard to the associates, they are collectively called the people. When they are thought of as participating in the sovereign authority, they are called citizens; when they are thought of as submitting to the laws of the State, they are called subjects. (p 193)

This passage from a state of nature to a civil state produces a very remarkable change in man: it substitutes in his conduct a rule of justice for a rule of instinct and it gives to his actions a moral character which before they had lacked. Now, for the first time, appetite gives place to right… However much he deprives himself in this state of certain natural advantages, he acquires others so great, his faculties are so exercised and developed, his ideas so extended, his sentiments so ennobled, his whole soul elevated to such a point that, were it not for abuses which often degrade this state to a condition lower than the state of nature, he ought ceaselessly to bless the happy moment which snatched him from that earlier state and which changed him from a stupid and limited animal into an intelligent creature and a man. (Bk I, ch 8, p 195 – 6)


… What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to whatever he can get and hold on to. What he gains is civil liberty and the ownership of all that he possesses. In order not to be misled about the nature of these compensations, it is necessary to distinguish (i) natural liberty, whose limits are determined only by the power of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will, and  (Continued…)

(ii) possession, which is only the effect of force, or the right of the first occupant, from ownership, which has to be founded on a positive title.(p 196)


One could also add, to what has been said, moral liberty as one of the benefits acquired in the civil state. Moral liberty makes a man truly master of himself, for to be moved solely by appetites is slavery, and obedience to a law which one gives oneself is liberty. (Another translation of this last sentence reads: “Obedience to a law which we prescribe ourselves is liberty – the mere impulse of appetite is slavery.”) (Bk I, ch 8, p 196)


Quote 11: the general will and the will of all:


It follows from what has been said that the general will is always just and always aims at the common good; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always right. Man always aims at his good, but he does not always know what it is….


There is often a considerable difference between the general will and the will of all: the former aims at the common interest; the latter aims at private interests and is only a sum of particular wills. But if we take away from these wills the various particular interests which conflict with each other, what remains as the sum of the differences is the general will. (Book II, ch 3, p 203).


What makes the will general is less the number of voters than the common interest uniting them (Bk II, ch 4, p 206)



Quote 12: factions, voting, and disagreement within the state :


… when factions or parties are allowed to be formed at the expense of the whole association, the whole general will breaks up into a number of lesser wills, each of which… is particular in respect of the state as a whole (II, ch 3, p 203)


..when the decision goes against the vote of some members, this only proves that they were mistaken about what was actually to the advantage of the state as a whole…. The fact that the vote goes against me proves that I was wrong about what is the correct means to the common good. (Bk IV, ch 2, p 278)


If the social contract be not merely an empty formula, it tacitly implies a clause which alone gives force to the others, that any individual who refuses to obey the general will may be constrained by the whole body of citizens. This means nothing more than that such an individual will be forced to be free. (Bk I, ch 7, p 195)