Eric's Reviews > The Social Contract

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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's review
Mar 06, 10

bookshelves: political-philosophy
Read from January 24 to March 06, 2010

I found The Social Contract a frustrating read. What is offered with one hand is taken away with the other. I found that although Rousseau makes many individually insightful points that offer a remarkable assessment of reality, he fails in assessing reality on other points thereby weakening his overall conclusion.

One example of Rousseau wanting to have his cake and eat it too may be the following. He famously writes, "Man is born free and he is everywhere in chains." (Book I Chapter I) and follows it up with great themes of liberty. However in the same philosophy he argues that things should be so arranged that every citizen shall be "perfectly independent from all his fellow citizens and excessively dependent on the republic." (Book II Chapter 12) The word 'excessive' is significant. He thinks such dependence on the state can never be too great. In one way this makes sense and is reconcilable; depend on the state to protect your civil rights. But I think this is where he fails to recognize reality. Reality is that dependence equals power. Reality is that power corrupts.

In many ways he is both an individualist and simultaneously a collectivist and it clouds his philosophy in my opinion.

I am happy to have read it as he does make some great points but I dont think The Social Contract philosophy is as strong and "bulletproof" as the social and political philosophies of John Locke or Ayn Rand for example.

I read it because it was on the list of top 100 books that shaped world history. I was interested to see what he had say compared to other philosophers on the subject.
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