Ensiform's Reviews > The Social Contract

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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Jul 25, 2014

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bookshelves: non-fiction, french
Read in November, 1996

translated and with an intro by Lester Crocker

I don’t know what to make of this. There’s a lot in here that’s factually wrong (such as Rousseau’s view of the progression of governmental systems through history) or contrary to common sense. And there are views that did not foresee modern communication abilities (types of government are dictated by country size, so, he argues, democracy cannot work in a large state). But many of the ideas are intriguing: the General Will, which is always right and is different from the majority – if you voted against the General Will, you were “mistaken” in your view; the integration of religion into the state, but only as a call to virtue, and without say in the laws or a way to intolerance; the people should be sovereign, legislative and executive power should be separated, the gap between rich and poor should always be narrow; and so on. Despite these democratic ideas, there are streaks of totalitarianism here: censorship is necessary to guide popular opinion; particular will should be subdued; discussion is deemed destructive to the social order; unscheduled assemblies should be illegal; etc. There is an undercurrent of thought that the pure, simple, natural peasant-farmer is virtuous, and that “learned, polished” people are “effeminate” (a word he uses a lot) and immoral. Very interesting stuff.
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