I read for you the Social Contract (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

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Rousseau was a special case in the Enlightenment. He was not a Parisian. He prefered the Geneva countryside (where he originated) than the  worldliness of the city.

Unlike his contemporary philosophers, he believed that technological progress causes an accumulation of wealth that deepen inequalities.
In his letter to d’Alembert 1758, he even spoke of « moral decline ».

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The starting point: the discourse on the origin of inequality among men (1755)

« Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. » ROUSSEAU

The natural man

Rousseau imagines the first man, a plain man, a man in a state of nature. This man, for Rousseau, was led by his « self love », a survival instinct that drove him to « persevere in its being, » in the words of Spinoza.

This instinct has allowed the emergence of intelligence: humans, unlike other animals, was not endowed by nature claws, powerful jaws or running speed allowing him to chase or flee. Nature is hostile. To survive, man has had to develop tricks, ploys, reflection.

Rousseau also sees in the natural man, a man driven by compassion, pity; but as a free man (in the sense of free will), he was able to break away from « nature » to improve. Problems then started. For perfectibility led to progress, particularly technical, to the accumulation of wealth and inequality.

The politician (in the sense of urban man)

The pride (vanity) replaced self love. Vanity replaced compassion. The man was suddenly alone in the middle of the crowd of the city. The division of labor brought about the domination of the rich over the poor. The law and justice were built by the ruling class for its own benefit (Marx did not say anything when he described the State as the superstructure of the ruling class). It is a bad social contract.

His solution: the Social Contract (1762) – A people both sovereign and subject

In the social contract, Rousseau presents his solution, the remedy to inequality.

The first society: the family

Within the family, children obey (an interested manner) to the father, because he (the least Rousseau time) guarantees their subsistence. When children earn (finally) their lives, only conventions, tradition, can maintain the unity of the family. Thus we see a drawing of the life characteristics in society:

  • the child gives up his freedom in exchange for the comfort, safety afforded by the authority of the father;
  • the citizen renounces his original freedom (especially to harm his neighbor), in exchange for the security of life in society, thanks to the protective umbrella of the state.

Master and slave

The man was born there « slave » or « master. » The question was asked at the time of Rousseau. Indeed, the slave seems to accept his condition. But Rousseau does not think a man born a slave. The absence of rebellion among the slaves is explained by the fact that he was born a slave : everything has been taken away, to critical thinking, to his desire for emancipation.

Law of the jungle?

When one obeys the strongest, it’s obviously not for reasons of justice or morality. It’s a precaution. The right can not be associated with strength.

We can not reconcile « the right » and « obedience » in making legitimate right, accepted by all.

The example of the Monarchy

What a strange system! In the monarchy by divine right, the people accept the authority of one. Is it for safety reasons, to keep the people accept this state of submission? It indeed gives all the fruit of his work in one sovereign.

For Rousseau, this argument is not tenable in the light of history. This is actually the King who lives at the expense of its people and which leads into wars. That was the theme developed by la Boétie in his Sermon on the voluntary subservience. The people are crazy to give up without cons-part to his natural liberty. To prevent this madness, it is appropriate to establish conventions that govern relations between men. This is the purpose of the social contract.

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1789 – The Oath of the Tennis Court: citizens build the social contract


Rousseau did not like theater. The theater is a metaphor of the monarchy. He saw a transposition of royal power where spectators are isolated, in the dark, without access to each others. Their only contact is the stage, the image of the King, a third person who imposes his speech. He preferred the party symbol of democracy.

A sovereign people and about

First, create a sense of unity. Transform a multitude of individuals, monads in a people! Secondly, one can question the good ruler. The idea is to find a form of association between individuals, who protects all and alienates any. All citizens must for that participate in the development of the Act. The citizen is sovereign because it is his law. He is also « subject » because the law applies to him:

« Freedom is obedience to the law as it was prescribed. « ROUSSEAU

He is free in the sense that it develops its law and voluntarily submits.

Man Transformed

Leaving nature, man must force his instincts. Only reason must guide. He renounces his natural liberty, in particular dominate the weak, and in exchange receives the security offered by the group. The right to property is possible (and unlike legitimate possession by force which existed in nature) and guarantees by law.

The Social Contract of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: everything was in THE Leviathan of Hobbes

Hobbes (1588-1679), the most French of English philosophers, is known by THE LEVIATHAN, a monument (given the number of pages) of political philosophy.

It is in this Leviathan that Hobbes built the first foundations of the social contract (ie before ROUSSEAU). Hobbes saw, in the natural man, a wolf to man. Before the invention of the Social Contract, the land was a permanent battle field, where everyone was affecting his neighbor. The man’s life was difficulet. It was characterized by the lack of security. Tired, exhausted, human species on the brink of collapse decided to abandon the system that had made his misfortune.

An agreement was made between men. Each renounced his freedom (to harm his neighbor) and in exchange received the security offered by the group. Only the police and the military retained the right to legitimate violence, respectively inside and outside the group, but only with the aim of ensuring its security. It was the emergence of culture, commerce and especially of the party.

The man chosen security by renouncing his natural liberty!

And in our suburbs?

As the individual feels safe (material), he agrees that social contract which he is a beneficiary. If security is not obvious if the daily bread is no longer assured, it can be tried to regain his freedom. And this is how we burn cars in our suburbs.