The position of Rousseau on the Social Contract

Essay, 2001

5 Pages, Grade: A



Fugit irrevocabile tempus and as it goes everything changes - nature, world, people and life itself. As a person grows, becoming more mature and enlightened, his ideas, views and thoughts also change. Does it go without saying or it can be argued? Perhaps, it is not easy to do in general, so lets deal with particular. The example to be examined is the two works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. First one is Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, written in 1754, and the second one is On the Social Contract, written eight years later. The question is whether Rousseau maintains his position on the social contract as a trick of the rich over the poor in the second writing just as he suggested in the first one. Moreover, the clarification of the consequences of the compact in each work is proper to discuss.

The Position of Rousseau on the Social Contract.

It would be wrong and ignorant to give an answer to the posted question without the close examination of the two works of the philosopher. First, because the purposes of those writings are not identified; secondly, the motives of writing those books are not determined but might influence the outcome greatly. So, to be precise, the purpose of writing the Discourse is arguing what the roots and consequences of inequality among men are; and the motive is a prize competition of the Dijon Academy. The purpose of the work On the Social Contract is a presentation of “some legitimate and sure rule of administration in the civil order, taking men as they are and laws as they might be.” (Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p.141) The motive is offering “the most considerable” “part of a longer work” “ to the public”. (Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p. 140) Then, it follows that the social contract is not a main concern of the first work unlike the second one’s. Besides, the Discourse is one of the steps towards the larger work [which is focused on the social compact] and can be considered as a part of it. To have a complete picture of the compact from the point of view of the political thinker is impossible just having read just one of the works. They are written in different times and are the independent books, nevertheless they fit each other and are complimentary. Accordingly, the idea of the contract as a trick of the rich over the poor [as suggested in the Discourse] doesn’t contradict the philosopher’s position on the contract as a whole but is a part of it.

In On the Social Contract Rousseau also discusses the compact as a trick and does it when he examines the associations. A group of the rich can be viewed as a single association with a common goal, which is the preservation of property. A group of the poor is another union, which has a goal of the securing of their liberty and not being oppressed. “Finally,” according to the thinker,” when one of these associations is so large that it dominates all the others, the result is not longer a sum of minor differences but a single difference.” (Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p.156) Because Rousseau is an advocate of the general will, he certainly does not praise such domination and has a negative attitude towards it. That’s why it is viewed as a trick, but actually it is just supremacy of the rich as the association. “Let us unite, “he [the rich] says to them [the poor], “in order to protect the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitions, and assure everyone of possessing what belongs to him.” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.69) “They [the poor] all ran to chain themselves, in the belief that they secured their liberty, for although they had enough sense to realize the advantages of political establishment, they did not have enough experience to foresee its dangers.” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.70) The chapter where Rousseau explains the associations is called “Whether the General will Can Err” and it drives to think that such kind of the social contract is bad. (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p.69) Therefore, the compact as a trick is just one of the kinds of the compact, hence it doesn’t disagree with the general idea of the philosopher on this issue.


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The position of Rousseau on the Social Contract
American University of Central Asia
Modern Political Thought
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ISBN (eBook)
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413 KB
Rousseau, Social, Contract
Quote paper
Irina Wolf (Author), 2001, The position of Rousseau on the Social Contract, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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