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The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) [Kindle Edition]

Jean-Jaques Rousseau , Derek Matravers
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Some have seen in this the promise of a free and equal relationship between society and the individual, while others have seen it as nothing less than a blueprint for totalitarianism. The Social Contract is not only one of the great defences of civil society, it is also unflinching in its study of the darker side of political systems.

Product Description


THE first and most important deduction from the principles we have so far laid down is that the general will alone can direct the State according to the object for which it was instituted, i.e., the common good: for if the clashing of particular interests made the establishment of societies necessary, the agreement of these very interests made it possible.

From the Author

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The social contract came to me when I was fairly young, living in Geneva. It is unlike a convential book, which may take a few years to write, in that that it was in the making throughout my entire life.
If you find some of the ideas are not to your liking, then I make no excuse for them. They are my own so I cannot disown them. We can do only that which we think to be right.
The Social Contract lays out my view of soceity, and how I feel it should be

Jean Jacques Rousseau,

17th April 2004

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 920 KB
  • Print Length: 161 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions (1 Feb. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00H3EXVU2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #92,782 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By Derek Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER
It is not difficult to portray Rousseau's ideas as authoritarian or totalitarian. He denied citizenship to women (though this was normal for thinkers of his age). He used language such as" forced to be free" and "trained to bear with docility the yoke of the public happiness". The Censorial Tribunal and the insistence on a civil religion seem illiberal to the modern mind. He argued that monarchy (single ruler) is best in large states, and elsewhere aristocracy (preferably elective) is generally best because democratic governments often suffer internal strife: "If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men." He requires citizens to cede all rights to the community, whereas modern democracies invariably stress rights. Finally, Rousseau condemns representative government and dislikes political parties and pressure groups, for they tend to create mini general wills that make it difficult for the General Will to emerge.

Some of these points can be countered more or less successfully. On the question of language Rousseau is employing rhetorical flourish. On democratic government, Rousseau's preference for aristocracy is not all-important because the democratic elements of his theory concern the sovereignty of the people, not the form of government. On pressure groups and political parties, Rousseau wishes to discourage rather than ban them, and Rousseau has certainly not been the only critic of representative government.

In what ways is Rousseau's thought democratic? The elements are consent, participation and majorities.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incontournable 16 Jun. 2013
A crucial book that is regularly included in school's programs in France.

The reading is not easy and one must really make an effort to read this book as the ideas are densely packed.

I have read this book when I was very young and just read it again and it has lost nothing of his power.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, on the whole. 21 Oct. 2009
By J. Astbury VINE VOICE
I actually fell in to a slight, but common, trap when thinking about buying this book (as the Introduction explains). Rousseau's brilliant first line "Man is born free, and everywhere he is chains" immediately suggests that mankind must throw of the shackles of oppression, in order to be free from the powerful few, who wish to control the many by depriving them of their liberty. With this in mind, I thought that this book might be similar in message to the great works on Liberty by, for instance, John Stuart Mill or Thomas Paine. In fact it says the opposite - I even believe it goes farther than Machiavelli argues in The Prince in the need to be a strong but not necessarily free society (at least as far as Personal Freedoms are concerned). This is a book about how Rousseau thought different societies ought to be run, and not about liberating man from all repression.

The central idea is that each citizen should give over to the State whatever the State requires, and in return he would become part of a moral entity, whose General Will - composed of all its citizens' individual consciences - is always to act in the interests of the State, therefore ultimately benefiting its citizens. In such a way, the citizen becomes part Sovereign of the State. This is the Social Contract. There is nothing particularly illiberal about all this, except that Rousseau places the interests of the State infinitely higher than that of Personal Freedom; condoning the use of whatever measures necessary to ensure that the General Will is enacted, by means of authoritarianism if necessary.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless classic 29 Aug. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not much I can say that couldn't be read in the other comments. Personally I think Rousseau has a balanced theory of society, compared to other books I've read, such as Hobbes or Machiavelli.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Political Philosophy 23 Feb. 2011
In The Social Contract Rousseau aims to convey his theories on the way in which society operates through governance. Being the result of many years of work by the author, he abandoned the greater bulk of it after reaching the conclusion that he had `reached his limitations`. In a moment of cynicism, I might venture to surmise that there may have been other more pragmatic considerations surfacing in the publishing industry.

This work resides in the genre of Political Philosophy. It is concerned primarily with the interplay of interests and influence within society which in turn necessitates laws and government. A significant emphasis is placed on the theory of the General Will. Rousseau argues that upon man's emergence from his primitive state, `there was a remarkable change in him` and there was a `substitution of justice for instinct in his conduct, giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and the right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations`.

`The first societies governed themselves aristocratically. The heads of families took council together on public affairs. The young bowed without question to the authority of experience. The savages of North America govern themselves in this way even now, and their government is admirable.` (1750s). `When among the happiest people in the world, bands of peasants are seen regulating affairs of State under an oak, and always acting wisely, can we help scorning the ingenious methods of other nations, which make themselves illustrious and wretched with so much art and mystery`.
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