Customer Reviews


21 Reviews
5 star:
 (10)
4 star:
 (10)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are Rousseau's ideas essentially democratic or totalitarian?
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...
Published on 4 Feb 2011 by Derek Jones

versus
6 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A nasty book by a nasty man
I have a theory that while it's possible to be a bad man but a good engineer or scientist (von Braun, probably Einstein, in his dealings with women, maybe even Newton), you cannot be a bad man and a good philosopher, certainly not of ethics or political philosophy.

Rousseau, on this account, was a worthless man who wrote the ur-text of modern...
Published on 21 July 2009 by Charles Brewer


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are Rousseau's ideas essentially democratic or totalitarian?, 4 Feb 2011
By 
Derek Jones - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (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. Locke had postulated consent in the Social Contract and "tacit" consent thereafter, but for Rousseau consent requires all (male) citizens to meet regularly to determine the laws, for only thus could a general will emerge through which men find true freedom. Though this direct democracy is impractical in modern states (too large), the concept of participation won many supporters in the second half of the 20th century who argued that modern representative government provides inadequate opportunities for participation. The claim that people - all the people - must be the author of the laws is Rousseau's greatest claim to be a democrat. Others were later to assert that a "general will" existed in society without reference to a popular assembly, and Rousseau would have had no truck with that.

One idea that makes Rousseau seem very modern is his claim that freedom requires sufficient economic equality for no man to be dependent on another: that freedom and equality are inseparable. Not all modern democrats follow Rousseau in emphasising equality but an important group does.

Of the arguments for seeing Rousseau as authoritarian or totalitarian the most important is the extent to which Rousseau assumes each man's interest are synonymous with the common good. Rousseau says men must vote in the assembly on what they believe to be the general will and if in a minority should tell themselves they were "mistaken" rather than simply on the losing side. It is true that Rousseau constantly reminds us he is writing of small and homogeneous states, but even in the smallest states there are surely greater differences of wants than Rousseau supposes, and greater differences of opinion as to what constitutes justice.

The key feature of an authoritarian state is that decisions are made by a minority without majority participation in the previous discussions. The tools considered necessary by modern liberal democrats for "participation" and "discussion" are missing in Rousseau, for he discourages interest groups and political parties. However, the reason they are missing is because he insists on popular sovereignty, with the participation of all citizens in making the laws to establish a "general will". On the other hand, it is in this concept that elements of totalitarian democracy appear. Pluralist democrats assume men differ and that politics is the resolving of conflict between them. Rousseau assumes that politics is consensual, with a solution (a general will) waiting to be found. The word "authoritarian" is perhaps inappropriate, but his collectivism surely has totalitarian overtones. Yet Rousseau is perhaps more democrat than totalitarian by modern standards, arguing as he does that "each citizen should come to his own opinion." I don't think Stalin, Hitler or Mao ever said that.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incontournable, 16 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars a great French thinker, 14 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
The book Social Contract by J.J. Rousseau, a great French thinker, ideated a state built on the basis of a contract made by people. Social contract was thus conceptualized to legitimate democracy established by most of the modern states in the world. Yet if we study the origin of the state further, we may find that men’s behavior of making a contract may be studied in a deep-going way in view of the role played by language because when a contract is made, language must be used. Thus we may probe the origin of the state from the perspective of linguistic ontology to explain why the idea of social contract can be thoughtful and reasonable. In my study I find that language plays a role in the formation of the state. That is why Rousseau could vindicate the role of contract in the formation of the state. I mean that human community evolves from the tribe of the primitive society to the state of the civilized society. Language is the key for the explanation of the origin of the state. That is, the use of language extends the distance of communication step by step because media can be developed when language is used. When the distance of linguistic communication is extended because human chain linguistic communication as well as written communication can be performed, the community grows large in population and area. When language is used in communication, common interest of those who use that language is also formed. For example, common memory is kept and common religious belief is spread. Then the unity of the community is no longer maintained by kinship ties but by linguistic communication. In the meantime, in their mutual interaction, men gradually feel obligated to give certain rights to others and the need of gaining certain rights acceptable by others. A tacit contract is made. Such contract may be embedded in morality or the constitution. The state is born and the tribe is dissolved. Thus, if we study the theory of the state, we may look at the state from another angle instead of Rousseau’s angle. The traditional view of the origin of the state needs to be updated.

Commentator: Xing Yu, the author of the book Language and State: An Inquiry into the Progress of Civilization
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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 (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (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.

There are some excellent passages about political involvement, equality of rights and the fact that the State should always work in the interests of its citizens, but there are also some darker undertones about how all this is to be accomplished and the necessary relinquishment of individual liberties in favour of the State, which has historically made the book well-read by Totalitarians as well as by casual readers.

All this considered, it is still a very fine work and well worth the effort.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Politcal and Philosophical Tract for today., 24 Sep 2011
By 
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been much maligned and branded a totalitarian, dictator-in-waiting etc. Such superficial readings of his work is not surprising as essentially Rousseau argues for a socialist state: one set up and run by the people for the people through a streamlined administration.

Understanding what the 'General Will' is, as opposed to the individual-will or the will-of-all, gives the reader a real insight to what collectivism and self enfranchisement that underpins Rousseau's philosophy is.

The Social Contract has been besmirched as 'unworkable'. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 'Information Age' of the 21st Century, with secure data transmission and mobile technology, the need for individual decision making and ongoing referendums should be high on our list. What is the other option? To continue with elected governments making decisions (mainly about invading other sovereign nations - on some flimsy pretext masquerading as 'democracy' - when we all know that oil, weapons and capitalism are the only players in the game) based on nothing more than having the executive governmental power to do so?

Rousseau is not only workable, but a threat to the power interests of business and political party hegemony.

Read The Social Contract. It is as refreshing today as the day when it was written.

Rousseau: 'The Social Contract' and Other Later Political Writings: "Social Contract" and Other Later Political Writings v. 2 (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)

The Social Contract (Oxford World's Classics)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 9 Jan 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
Where did it all go wrong so much truth so little implementation. If only the powers that be could understand this ideology
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Great!!!, 31 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A classic that everyone should read. This book should form a part of everyone's library. I highly reccomend this book!..
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless classic, 29 Aug 2013
By 
M. Mostert (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll never learn so much in such a small book, 28 Jan 2007
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
This book is a work of genius for the whole, exquisitely written it offers wisdom on most pages and nonsense on the others. It's been a very long time since I learnt such a large amount, the language has a poetic beauty to it and anybody interested in governance should read this. The thesis of the book is well known (as it indeed should be) but there are some startling facts about the author. Rousseau was serial child abandoner; he seems to have left five children in foundling hospitals and when attacked by his critic, a certain Voltaire, his defence was that the he would have been a poor father and his children would fair better in a foundling hospital. A slightly implausible fact given the high mortality rate at the founding hospital. Still, we judge him for his ideas, not his actions so this book receives a resounding five stars.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars socialist precurser, 22 Mar 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
this book is not, as other readers claim, endorsing dictatorship, but rather is criticising bad democracy. surprisingly persuasive and well written, as a blueprint to later socialist theories eg Marx, it is fascinating.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature)
The Social Contract (Classics of World Literature) by Jean-Jaques Rousseau (Paperback - 5 Mar 1998)
£3.99
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews