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On the Social Contract by Jean-Jacques…
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On the Social Contract (1762)

by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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  rouzejp | Sep 2, 2015 |
I continue to love the Penguin Great Ideas series. Though the simple inclusion of a date of original publication would be very nice.

Anyway, the book is a discussion of governments. Ideal governments vs. real governments, the best government for a given state, the nature of governance and governors. The historical and mythical examples were interesting, but in many places the extent to which various theoretical constructs were being compared got a bit tiring. Despite all that, there were more than enough points to ponder to make the book worth the reading. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Here Rousseau introduces the idea of the "Social Contract" as being the establishing force behind structured civil society, governments, and states. The social contract is a mutually beneficial agreement between the members of the society, and is crucial to the existence of any society. What is agreed upon between the members of the society (either subjects or citizens), is that they will forgoe their rights to carry out certain behaviours on the understanding that others will not produce these behaviours either, which leads to the formation of laws based on the general moral will of human nature.
For example, it is beneficial for a given member of society to assent to a minor relinquishment of liberty (agreeing that they won't steal/ murder/ carry out other crimes), in order for them to maintain the greater part of their liberty by not having their own posessions stolen, or themselves murdered. In living in such state, one implicitly agrees that if this contract is broken, then the individual must be punished. This deterrent preserves the general liberty of the people, and is the reason that we have laws. On the political spectrum, Rousseau tends towards the Conservative.
Rousseau also discusses various other matters relating to forms of government, democracy, Roman law, religion, and matters of state in general, though these are of much less important than the earlier chapters pertaining to the central thesis of the Social Contract.
The ideas presented here are largely relevant to modern politics, and as this is a short and easily read book, I would recommend it to those interested in law, politics, history, or sociology. It is much more accessible than some other political philosophies, such as Aristotle's Politics, though not as comprehensive as either this or Plato's Republic on many matters. However, it is a good volume to read as an introduction to politics, and to the idea of the social contract which is integral to the liberty of civilised society everywhere. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jul 18, 2014 |
This fascinating commentary on the way society works is packed full of wisdom. Rousseau explores the unspoken agreement each individual makes with the society in which they operate. He contends that many of our basic rights are not rights at all, but silent commitments everyone within our society makes to each other. The whole book is a wonderful resource and in lieu of a review I’ll leave you with some of my favorite lines.

“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.”

“The greatest kings whose praises history tells were not brought up to reign: reigning is a science we are never so far from possessing as when we have learnt too much of it, and one we acquire better by obeying than by commanding.”

“No one has a right to demand that another shall do what he does not do himself.”

“I prefer liberty with danger to peace with slaves.”

“Men always love what is good or what they find good; it is in judging what is god that they go wrong.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Jun 11, 2014 |
The one star rating does not mean I don’t recommend reading The Social Contract. Everyone should. It’s that important, that influential and reading this was certainly eye-opening. One star does not mean this was tedious, dry or difficult. In fact this treatise is not long, is easy to understand and can be read in a few hours. And Rousseau can certainly turn a phrase. Lots and lots that’s quotable in this book. But I don’t simply not like the book (which on Goodreads means one star) I absolutely despise this book and everything it stands for. Leo Strauss called Machiavelli the “teacher of evil” and goodness knows I have nothing kind to say about Marx. But both feel clean and wholesome in comparison to Rousseau. Machiavelli at least is open about urging there is no place for morals in politics, but Rousseau is positively Orwellian.

He begins the first chapter of Social Contract with the stirring worlds: Man is born free and everywhere is in chains. But though he speaks of liberty and democracy it’s clear that his ideal state as he defines it is totalitarian. Those who don’t want any part of his state, who won’t obey, should be “forced to be free.” Locke argued inalienable rights included life, liberty, and property; governments are instituted to secure those rights. For Rousseau, life, liberty and property are all things you give wholly to the state “retaining no individual rights.” Rousseau states:

Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body... the social contract gives the body politic absolute power over all its members... when the prince says to him: “It is expedient for the State that you should die,” he ought to die.

Even Rousseau thought his ideal system couldn’t work in large territories. He ideally wanted direct democracy, with all citizens meeting in assembly such as in the ancient city-state of Athens, not representative democracy, which he doesn’t see as true democracy. (And the larger the state, the more absolute in its powers and more autocratic the government should be lest it fall into selfish anarchy.) Alissa Ardito says in the Introduction to my edition that: “Politics... is also about language, talking, negotiating, arguing; and for that Rousseau had no need and little patience. The goal in The Social Contract is always about consensus, and in the end one suspects what Rousseau finally wanted was silence.” You cannot have liberty or democracy while shutting up and shutting down anyone who dissents from the “general will.” And then there’s Rousseau’s urging of a civil religion, where one literally worships the state. What you get then is the obscenity of a state as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” whose only nod to democracy is in the name, and where its leader takes on a quasi-religious status.

Can I see any good in this treatise? I can see the form the United States took in the discussion of a mix between monarchy (President), aristocracy (Senate, Supreme Court) and democracy (Congress) and checks and balances between them. But such features are also discussed in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, both of which predate The Social Contract. In fact, Rousseau's categories of government can even trace its roots to Aristotle. So, what good I can see in it is hardly original. Well, and The Social Contract did argue for sovereignty being lodged in the people rather than a Divine Right of Kings--it’s supposed to have inspired the French Revolution, and its cry of “liberty, equality, fraternity.” If so, it’s easier to understand why the French Revolution turned into the Reign of Terror. I do consider this a must-read, and I’m glad I read it. It’s enlightening, like turning over a rock to see all the nasty things that were hiding underneath. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Jun 28, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (94 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Jacques Rousseauprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burgelin, PierreIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cole, G. D. H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roermund, G. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My purpose is to consider if, in political society, there can be any legitimate and sure principle of government, taking men as they are and laws as they might be.
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Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140442014, Paperback)

'Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains' - these are the famous opening words of a treatise that has not ceased to stir vigorous debate since its first publication in 1762. Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or 'social contract', that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power. From this fundamental premise, he goes on to consider issues of liberty and law, freedom and justice, arriving at a view of society that has seemed to some a blueprint for totalitarianism, to others a declaration of democratic principles.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:03 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

?Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.? Thus begins Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influential 1762 work, On the Social Contract, a milestone of political science, and essential reading for students of history, philosophy, and social science. A progressive work, it inspired world-wide political reforms, most notably the American and French Revolutions, because it argued that monarchs were not divinely empowered to legislate. Rousseau asserts that only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have that all powerful right. On the Social Contract's appeal and influence has been wide-ranging and continuous. It has been called an encomium to democracy and, at the same time, a blueprint for totalitarianism. Individualists, collectivists, anarchists, and socialists have all taken courage from Rousseau's controversial masterpiece.… (more)

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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140442014, 0141018887

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