For Rousseau, this was the first steps toward inequality. Throughout it all, the individual maintains the ability to act freely, but loses her independence. So, out of pride grew a desire for attention and influence, and out of this social competition grew inequality. By taking part in the general will the individual is meant to regain the respite she once had from the gaze of others. Rousseau believes this can only be achieved when the members of a society are given something in return for the rights they relinquish in order to become a part of their community.
And a society governed by the general will is meant to provide that compensation. By entering into this agreement, one in which political authority is leveled, the general will relieves the pressure to compete for power by making those with influence subject to the same will as those without. With the removal of political inequality, so goes the need to appease the gaze of others.
Governed by the general will the individual need not judge herself against those around her in the society Rousseau envisions, for they have no status that she cannot also claim to hold. For Rousseau, the exchange of freedoms which takes place as we join the general will does not leave the individual short changed. She also reaps the benefits of its implementation. In particular, she regains the freedoms associated with the natural state Rousseau describes in the Second Discourse.
That is, not merely a freedom to act in accordance with her own will, but the independence that was lost as social structures formed. Riley, , p. In placing an emphasis on egocentrism, Rousseau suggests that the kind of freedom he means to restore for the individual is a freedom from opinion, a freedom from coercion, and a freedom from socially-driven appetites by removing the inequality that he believes leads to such subjection. It is with this in mind that the general will seems to do more than give the individual freedom by incorporating her own will into the legislative agenda.
It also works to eliminate the egocentrism that drove the individual into the state of inequality she finds herself in now.
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The general will seeks to recreate the freedoms once lost — both from the physical needs beyond what is required for basic survival as well as the dominion of others. About the author: Tyler Loveless is a graduate student from Mississippi who is studying philosophy at The George Washington University with interests in phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, and political theory.
Cullen, Daniel E. Masters, Roger. Princeton: Princeton University Press, McLendon, Michael Locke. Neuhouser, Frederick. Riley, Patrick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.
Edited by Donald A. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. In most contemporary societies, however, people lack even this physical freedom.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778)
They are bound to obey an absolutist king or government that is not accountable to them in any way. By proposing a social contract, Rousseau hopes to secure the civil freedom that should accompany life in society. This freedom is tempered by an agreement not to harm one's fellow citizens, but this restraint leads people to be moral and rational. In this sense, civil freedom is superior to physical freedom, since people are not even slaves to their impulses. In Rousseau's time, the sovereign was usually an absolute monarch.
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In The Social Contract, however, this word is given a new meaning. In a healthy republic, Rousseau defines the sovereign as all the citizens acting collectively. Together, they voice the general will and the laws of the state. The sovereign cannot be represented, divided, or broken up in any way: only all the people speaking collectively can be sovereign. There are as many different kinds of government as there are states, though they can be roughly divided into democracy the rule of the many , aristocracy the rule of the few , and monarchy the rule of a single individual.
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The government represents the people: it is not sovereign, and it cannot speak for the general will. For Rousseau, the questions of why and how human beings are naturally equal and unequal, if they are unequal at all, are fundamental to his larger philosophical enquiry. His conclusions and larger line of reasoning in this argument are laid out in the Discourse on Inequality , but the basic thrust of his argument is that human inequality as we know it does not exist in the state of nature. In fact, the only kind of natural inequality, according to Rousseau, is the physical inequality that exists among men in the state of nature who may be more or less able to provide for themselves according to their physical attributes.
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Accordingly, all the inequalities we recognize in modern society are characterized by the existence of different classes or the domination and exploitation of some people by others. Rousseau terms these kinds of inequalities moral inequalities , and he devotes much of his political philosophy to identifying the ways in which a just government can seek to overturn them. As Rousseau explains, the general will is the will of the sovereign, or all the people together, that aims at the common good—what is best for the state as a whole.
In a state where the vulgarities of private interest prevail over the common interests of the collective, the will of all can be something quite different from the general will. The most concrete manifestation of the general will in a healthy state comes in the form of law. To Rousseau, laws should always record what the people collectively desire the general will and should always be universally applicable to all members of the state.
Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment By Denise Schaeffer
The first is, how can we know that the will of all is really equivalent with the common good? The second is, assuming that the general will is existent and can be expressed in laws, what are the institutions that can accurately gauge and codify the general will at any given time? Most often, the sovereign took the form of an authoritative monarch who possessed absolute dominion over his or her subjects.
The people, as a sovereign entity, express their sovereignty through their general will and must never have their sovereignty abrogated by anyone or anything outside their collective self. In this regard, sovereignty is not identified with the government but is instead opposed against it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau —