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The Social Contract

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  38,578 ratings  ·  979 reviews
With an Introduction by Derek Matravers.

In The Social Contract Rousseau (1712-1778) argues for the preservation of individual freedom in political society. An individual can only be free under the law, he says, by voluntarily embracing that law as his own. Hence, being free in society requires each of us to subjugate our desires to the interests of all, the general will.

Paperback, 139 pages
Published March 5th 1998 by Wordsworth Editions (first published 1762)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Du Contrat Social = Principes du droit Politique = The Social Contract = Principles of Political Rights, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract, originally published as On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a 1762 book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society, which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754).

The Social Contract help
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jun 10, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Good Reading: 100 Signficant Books
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 ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Ahmad is right - this is an important (and not dry!) book that we all Need to Revisit!

Remember when Freedom was a glorious ideal - a fresh, untrammelled new territory to explore at will? Look back! Think of Thomas Paine in America, Edmund Burke in England, Rousseau’s bright confrères among the philosophes - all of them trumpeted the Dawn of a Fresh New Day.

Of course - all of our own early days were filled with its fresh air!

And then, back then - the early days of the Enlightenment, th
‘It is always an evil,’ opines Rousseau near the end of this treatise, ‘to unite several towns in one nation,’ and you think – hang on – that's all nations, isn't it? Except, perhaps – aha! – for the Swiss republics like Rousseau's own native Geneva, where state and city were coterminous and political theories could be tested and discarded like strains of bacteria in a petri-dish. It must have been a blow when the Genevans turned against him and burnt his books en masse.

And they were not his las
Hussam Elkhatib
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Philosophies

Philosophy implies thinking; and thus, indicates a certain type of thought. That is exactly what this book has accomplished — combined three books that summarized a brief view of numerous philosophers’ ways of perceiving the world. Aside from all that, Social Contract theory was the heart and soul of this phenomenal manuscript. Should it be followed, its practices would eliminate quite a few of the useless egoism and its selfish consequential behaviors. If you’d like a moment
Julian Worker
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am so pleased I finished this book.

Laws are binding only when they are supported by the general will of the people.

I found myself understanding most of this book.

Particularly accurate are the following:
1) Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests.

2) The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved.
João Fernandes
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
'Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains'

Rousseau does give great leaps in logic sometimes, but his ideals are solid and have refaced human society since the French Revolution. A must read for its historical importance and ideas on personal freedom versus societal duties.
David Sarkies
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Political Theorists
Recommended to David by: The Bible College Library
Shelves: philosophy
Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains
20 September 2010

This is how Rousseau, an 18th Century philosopher, opens his treatise on good government. The writing is not so much about a good form of government, but rather how government should run to be the best for the people. Of some of the ideas he proposes is that the law giver and the sovereign are two different people. To have the ability to make and execute the laws in the same hands is repugnant to Rousseau. In fact, though he does
Paul Haspel
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: switzerland
“Social contract” is a term that is thrown about pretty widely in our society. People will talk in a casual if sometimes facile manner about the idea that people willingly give up the theoretically total freedom of a state of nature in exchange for the benefits that life in a civilized society provides. But what Jean-Jacques Rousseau means by the term, as expressed in his classic work The Social Contract (1762), is much more complex and much more nuanced.

“Man was born free, and he is everywhere
Aug 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
He has some interesting and not so hard to understand ideas, but he contradicts himself pretty often and even though he preaches tolerance, he is intolerant towards atheists. He’s basically saying that those who don’t embrace the dogmas should be banished from the state. He assumes that believing in God implies obeying the law, hence atheists aren’t to be trusted to obey the law, given the fact that they have no fear of a divine punishment. But it’s more than obvious that having faith in a highe ...more
The Social Contract, along with Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, is one of the classics of political and social thought. I'm glad I have finally read it.

Rousseau sets out to answer the question of whether there can be a legitimate government, and what conditions a legitimate government must meet. At the beginning of Book I, he writes:

"I mean to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they are and laws as th
Jan 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first contact with the Social Contract transpired back in those doldrums which is usually just dumped into a general catch-all called teenage. It was profound, it was moving and enlightening, so naturally I didn’t know anyone else I could discuss this book with as nobody else seems to be pondering the bigger things in life; my classmates and peers were completely useless in my hopes to talk about this work, and the societal elders I was familiar with were equally ignorant of the importance of ...more
Jul 09, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"The average man of each new generation has said to himself more clearly and consciously than his predecessor: 'My neighbor is not my enemy, but my friend, and I am his, if we would but mutually recognize the fact. We help each other to a better, fuller, happier living; and this service might be greatly increased if we would cease to restrict, hamper, and oppress each other. Why can we not agree to let each live his own life, neither of us transgressing the limit that separates our individualiti ...more
Julie Rylie
This amazingly inspiring book starts to the following sentence "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they"

More insights:

Man's first law is to watch over his own preservation; his first care he owes to himself; and as soon as he reaches the age of reason, he becomes the only judge of the best means to preserve himself; he becomes his own master.

But if there are slaves by nature, it is only because there
Jafar Isbarov
"It would take gods to give men laws."

The Social Contract is an attempt by Rousseau to compose his ideal of social compact. Its text is divided into four books. First book introduces the social contract within historical context, and advocates for it. Second book outlines the principles of the social contract without going into particulars of some government, while third book does its reverse: it explains the different forms government, their distinctions and common properties. Fourth book reads
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
In Du Contrat Social (1762), Rousseau sets out to explain how an ideal political society should be constituted. This is arguably Rousseau's biggest blunder and his most obscure work. I certainly didn't like it; it is dry, boring and lacks overall cohesion.

Its contents have been hailed as the biggest ideological force behind the French Revolution and the foundation for the future forms of totalitarianism. This is also the background knowledge with which I started reading this book. But as with a
“Every man having been born free and master of himself, no one else may under any pretext whatever subject him without his consent. To assert that the son of a slave is born a slave is to assert that he is not born a man.”

In a historical context where political power was becoming less feudal and more globally commercial, Rosseau publishes his influential treatise "The Social Contract" (1762).
" Man is born free and is everywhere in chains" According to Rosseau, we all have both prominent traits
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Surely we need a new social contract, an update to the old one. The new one should go beyond the agricultural and industrial revolution and cover the 3rd and 4rd revolution (tech and genetics). Basically one should read first Plato Republic before reading this book plus Utopia ,then is easier to understand the context and from where he got inspiration
Jul 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a huge fan of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, and was hoping to appreciate this book just as much. There is a telling irony in that in the former text, Rousseau sees civilization as incapable of being repaired, and the source of most of the problems of inequality through wealth and politics. Private property is an overall pariah to him, which ought not to exist.

As Rousseau got older he seems to have changed his mind a bit, and tempered that anarcho-primitvism. In the Social Contract we
'The word 'finance' is the word of a slave; it is unknown in the true republic.'
I would've chosen this line as the quotable motto of The Social Contract instead of 'chains'..

Chapter 11 of Book III 'The Death of the Body Politic' stood out for me, and a surprise to realize, that 'If we wish, then, to set up a lasting constitution, let us not dream of making it eternal.' 'And although even the best constitution will come to an end, it will do so later than any other, unless some unforseen hazard
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The idea of a social contract theory came into being before Jean Jacques Rousseau. Yet the Frenchman brought it to another level in his masterly book.
Rousseau believed that people should be forced to be free. For instance people decide what is best for themselves only when they act collectively. As a society agrees on a specific general will this has to be obeyed by everybody else. Thus people disobeying the law, do wrong for themselves because law does not limit our freedoms but in fact represe
Wiom biom
"Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains."

Having read Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality (1755) which, to me, was really radical and thought-provoking, I had really high expectations for this text, especially since I remember he was critical of Locke's conception of the Social Contract in which people exchanged their freedoms for security. So I wondered, how would he define the social contract i.e. the reasons why we transitioned from a state of nature to a state of society, and the co


"We, who are just as good as you,

Swear to you
who are no better than ourselves,

To accept you as our king and sovereign lord

Provided you observe all our liberties and laws

But if not, NOT."

The sheer audacity and self-confidence of this declaration never ceases to jump out and seize me by throat and heart.I first read it in 1970 in Stephen Clissold's book "Spain", page 57 and copied it into my book of quotes which presently rests in my lap. Cli
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
Oct 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains."

So begins Rousseau's treatise on his view that only the people have the right to legislate, as a time when Europe was overflowing with absolute monarchies. While we don't have the same situation in the 21st century, we still have the absolute rulers (a la Gaddafi) who will always claim some sort of special right, be it divine or lineage, to put their paw prints on the people's treasuries.

Reading this always makes me think, just what is freedom?
Another book I had to read for my Western Civilization class. Rousseau was a very important part of the Enlightenment period in Europe. It is a very dry read, and not something I would have normally been interested in. I'm happy to have read it but will never do so again. He put across some interesting points about treating people equally, but it is definitely a product of its time and it comes across as dry and hard to read at least to me. If you want to know more about that part of history I r ...more
Madeleine Tope
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: omnibus
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”

Let me be clear, I do not agree with this book or this quote. I start out every review of mine with a quote, so this is no exception. Allow me to be clear, too, that I rate this two stars, not because it is poorly written - on the contrary - but that I don’t agree, and that it is inconsistent. I will explain why.

My first problem with it is Rousseau’s beginning quote (the one that this review began with). The fact that he states that man is born
Rousseau's criticism of representational politics (or democracy in relation to political participation) is very straightforward and deep.
I enjoyed reading his ideas of Body-politics which gave me a foundation to understand Foucault's biopolitics. Although, there is an obscurity toward this book in the way he uses the word "People", when he describes the politics (the notion that ideal government, would act according to the will of "people"), without spelling out the differences between peoples
This is one of Penguin's "Great Ideas" books, which I am a big fan of. They're short books, for about 1000 yen a pop, and some of the most important writings in Western history. And I'm a big fan of important writings. So, when I went back to Junkudo, I picked up a couple more editions.

Before this, I opened up An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom by Cicero, which presented an interesting dilemma - can I include in the reading list a book that I almost finished? I mean, I slogged pretty far through t
Apr 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of the classic social contract theorists, the "If God doesn't exist, what the fuck is society?" theorists, Rousseau seems to be the most radical and, consequently, most truthful; in Freudian terms, if Hobbes is the id and Locke the ego, Rousseau is the superego. Rousseau wants to know how we can get rid of rulers, and how we can become truly free. Certainly Hobbes is no visionary of freedom - Rousseau equates his reasoning with that of Caligula. Again, Locke is suspect of desiring chains to pres ...more
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau remains an important figure in the history of philosophy, both because of his contributions to political philosophy and moral psychology and because of his influence on later thinkers. Rousseau's own view of philosophy and philosophers was firmly negative, seeing philosophers as the post-hoc rationalizers of self-interest, as apologists for various forms of tyranny, and as pl ...more

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“Every man having been born free and master of himself, no one else may under any pretext whatever subject him without his consent. To assert that the son of a slave is born a slave is to assert that he is not born a man.” 147 likes
“In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and none has too much.” 114 likes
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