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The social contract or principles of political right (Everyman's library) Unknown Binding – 1932


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Unknown Binding, 1932
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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 287 pages
  • Publisher: J.M. Dent (1932)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000878J1W
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,887,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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MAN was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Read the first page
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Derek Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
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 By Eric le rouge on 16 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback
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 By J. Astbury VINE VOICE on 21 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
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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By M. Mostert on 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 By Herr Holz Paul on 23 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
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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