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Now, we will focus particularly on this text, Social Contract and the formation of Body Politics.
That is the major text which we are going to focus. But of course, when we discuss about his views
on human nature and ‘state of nature’ and why there was a need to create a new form of political
community or political society, we need to engage with his Discourses. So, the philosophical
position that he took in the first discourse, where he argued that development and progress in art
and science had correcting influence on the individual. It was the guiding spirit in a sense. But it
was further developed in the second discourse on the origin of inequality among men and fully
articulated in a more comprehensive and systematic manner in the Social Contract for which he is
The Social Contract began with this famous statement that ‘man was born free and is everywhere in
chains’. So, naturally, for Rousseau, men were free from all ties, from all kinds of industries for all kind of attachments. Only in the society, their freedom was curtailed and tied to many chains due to
family, and social expectations. All these have corrective influences on the inherent good and moral
nature of men. This text, Social Contract began with this statement and then he tried to unravel the
process through which one could create a political community that would again make it possible for
men to live as free as they were before being put in chains by the society or community.
So, the central concern or primary objective of Rousseau in the Social Contract was to find a form
of association that would defend and protect the whole common force, the person and the goods of
each associate and while uniting himself with all, might still obey himself alone and remained as
free as before. That was the whole purpose of writing the Social Contract to argue that how in the
‘state of nature’, human beings were free from all kinds of ties. But the real or genuine freedom one
could experience in the society.
The civil or moral freedom were different from the freedom that human beings had in the ‘state of
nature’. Its realization was possible only in the political society or when human beings lived with
others in association with others. And in that sense, he was continuing with Aristotle’s idea of ‘Zoon
Politikon’, the man is the social animal. So, Rousseau, argued that the purpose was to how to create
a kind of associational life, where each would be part of the whole, and the whole would ensure that
each properly and person were protected.
And this relationship of each with all and all with each was fully developed in his notion, ‘general
will’ that we are going to do in the next class. But here, it is important to understand that the
freedom for Rousseau was very different from this ideal or liberal conception of freedom that deals
with the negative idea or positive conception of freedom, where it was seen as the procession of the
individual. In his personal life, he or she was free to do whatever she or he thought is right thing to
For Rousseau, the freedom could be experienced in association with others, in living the
associational life in community, where the self, merged with the larger self or collective self of
community. And thereby, the collective self would protect the individual self and individual self
would collect and live for the protection of collective self. And that kind of direct patriotic intimate
relationship with the self and community, he imagined in this Social Contract which would make it
possible for individuals to live the life as free as they enjoyed before the society or corrupting
influence of society that made their nature worst and corrupt.
In Rousseau, what we had was a controversial idea on freedom where he argued to the extent that
human beings could be forced to be free. Human beings might not know what is freedom and therefore, it is the obligation of society or community to force individuals to be free and that we will
discuss, how it leads to a totalitarian thinking in the twentieth century and many critics of
Rousseau’s ‘general will’.
His idea of freedom was based on self-living or living in association with the collective self. Thus,
the Social Contract began with a proposition as to how man could live as freely and equally in the
society as they were born in the ‘state of nature’. So, man was born free. But in the societies, he is
everywhere in chains. The purpose was how to create a political structure that would allow men to
live as freely and equally as they lead in the ‘state of nature’. Rousseau’s ideas on human nature
could be traced to his Discourses, the first and more importantly the Second Discourses.
In the first Discourse on arts and science, he argued that our unlettered forbears were brave, honest,
politically loyal and public-spirited. However, they were overeducated, descendants, or feeble,
dishonest, treacherous, and selfish. And that is the critic to the prevailing societies or behaviors of
human beings in city life such as in Paris. This idea that he articulated in the first discourse, he
continued in the second discourse, to understand what created the condition of unfreedom?
In the first discourse, he argued that it was the advancement in science and letters that made the
human being weak, feeble, immoral, dishonest or treacherous, and selfish. Whereas their unlettered
or uneducated forefathers were public-spirited, honest, and loyal. In the second discourse, however,
the reason for such inequality or moral corruption among the mankind he considered property or the
wealth as reason for moral corruption in the society.
In the second discourse, the distinction with the first discourse was that instead of arts and letters
and he regarded property as the main reason. Property in the sense of private property, when one
man occupied a part of land and made other people believed that part of land belonged to them and
that led to the everlasting controversy or crisis. The whole question of protecting the private
property through laws and institutions of state.
This idea, however, partly shifted the thinking of Karl Marx that he developed to the next level
which we will discuss, when we will study Karl Marx. But in the second on inequality, Rousseau
argued that how in the society, moral corruption was the result of private property or wealth. So,
according to Rousseau, early men lived an animal-like existence. He was a solitary creature, living
on his own abilities both physical and mental, and his association with others were casual, episodic
and need-based such as for hunting.
Thus, association with other men was very limited, need-based, and episodic. It was not permanent
as in the family, or society, or community. They had no family, fixed abode or community. In this state, men according to Rousseau had two natural sentiments – one is self-love ‘o amour de soi’ and
pity or compassion. These two sentiments governed human behaviors in the early states or ‘state of
nature’. The first emotions that governed their behavior was their self-preservation and care for self.
And they have the pity and compassion for others.
That means, those strangers who suffer some calamities or physical deformities, there is a kind of
universal in mankind of pity or compassion for others as well. Although, most of the actions are
guided by self-care or self-preservation. Human beings are capable of extending his compassion and
pity to other individual as well. So, human beings in the early state or ‘state of nature’ lived their
life freely without ties and distress, where there is no speech and language. And life was more care
free, according to the will of nature.
(Refer Slide Time: 46:06)
His views were very different from the Hobbesian ‘state of nature’. And if you recall, Hobbesian
‘state of nature’ was constantly at war of each against all. It was the state of permanent war or fear
that was nasty, brutish, and short which could not allow any kind of industry, prosperity or a
civilized life. In contrast, to that kind of Hobbesian human nature which according to Rousseau was
based on this bourgeois urban life of London or Paris. There is kind of C. B. Macpherson critic to
the social contract traditions characterization of human nature or ‘state of nature’. Rousseau argued
that this characterization of Hobbesian nature as nasty, brutish, and short was based on his
observation or bourgeois urban life in London or Paris. It did not characterize the natural men.
Natural men, according to Rousseau, was good or moral. Only in the society and community
through socialization, man becomes corrupt and his whole purpose in Emile and his philosophy on
education was how to prevent the corruptive influence of community or society on the inherent natural good and moral nature of men. Instead, Rousseau argued that this idea of Hobbesian human
nature was based on the bourgeois urban life of London or Paris. It did not characterize the natural
men. Instead, it was based on the socialized behavior.
Thus, the human beings acquired certain behaviors through socialization which Hobbes took as
natural. Therefore, according to Rousseau, the Hobbesian characterization of human nature was
bourgeois or the artificial socialized behavior of the human beings and not their natural disposition.
Rousseau in contrast depicted a natural man without the corrupting influence of society or culture as
good and innocence. However, he did not argue. It was virtuous. So, the idea of virtuosity comes
with society whereas in the ‘state of nature’, there is no society, association, ties, family. Therefore,
there were no bonding.
So, there is no question of virtuosity or virtuous action there. However, the human nature in the
‘state of nature’ was inherently good and moral. He lives according to his own abilities and
patience. But he did not want to do harm to others or enslave others as we see in the civilized
society and civilized is within the court, according to Rousseau’s understanding of civilization and
society. It actually corrupted the inherently good and moral nature of men.
Rousseau, further, wrote, in comparison to animals, human had a long period of immaturity and
dependency on their parents. In comparison to the animal’s child, human child was more vulnerable
in the initial stage of his or her life and needs care, and are dependent on their parents. However,
because of free will and capacity for self-improvement which Rousseau called perfectibility. Human
beings had transformed the conditions of their existence. That is the development in arts and
In comparison to animals what distinguishes human being is their capacity to transform themselves.
Their will or free will or question of choice where other species on the planet continue to live their
life as they lived throughout the millennium. But human beings in the same period of time have
transformed the conditions of his life. And that is something which he calls perfectibility. Human
being’s capacity to improve himself or herself. However, in the prevailing conditions of France or
the industrial society, he regarded the modern men or civilized men as morally corrupt. It was based
on inequality which did not give freedom and equality to majority of population.
And his whole project was how to create a political society or community that would enable
freedom and equality to each member of the political community and not just few. So, there was
differentiation between the animal and other species, and human beings. Their ability to selfimprovement. However, the institution of private property led to the understanding of mine versus thine, created a kind of acrimonious relationship between human beings. That means, those who
were propertied and those who did not have would be constantly at the loggerheads.
So, in the pre-modern and the hierarchical division in the society, where few at the top would enjoy
all the luxury and majority at the bottom would suffer all kinds of anonymities. This institution of
private property and distinction of ‘mine and thine’ led to inequality in the society and its further
consolidation through the institution of laws and state. Therefore, Rousseau was critical of natural
laws. Theorists argued that law and state worked for the benefit and welfare of all. That is the
legitimacy of modern state.
However, Rousseau, argued that in a society based on the private property distinguished those who
had the property and who did not or cannot create conditions for free and equal living for each
citizen. It laws, state, and institutions works only for few. However, it gives the illusion of the
welfare of all. And this idea was developed by Karl Marx later. However, in a more radical sense.
These institutions, although, it gives the illusion of working in the interest of all further protects the
interests of few in the society. Rousseau argued that a society could not be free, when one person
had the means and resources to buy the majority in that society through economic means or
resources. To create a society of free and equal citizens, the economic inequalities where one man
has the purchasing power to buy the rest of them. That society cannot be free or equal or just. (Refer Slide Time: 53:46)
Thus, for Rousseau, the question was how to create a political community that would allow the
individual to live as freely as before. That is before the formation of society and among the equal
members in the society. For him, the problem was what gives anybody legitimate right to impose
rules upon everyone in the society. That is the central question or problem in Rousseau’s thinking
that what kind of rule would be a legitimate rule and have the authority to command obligation
from the rest of population or in the society.
In other words, why should he obey the rules? And this is the question of political obligation as we
have discussed that unlike monarchy, the political obligation was not based anymore in the social
contract tradition or the divine right theory. That is the god that has divine authority to the king and
the king on the earth is the representative of god. Therefore, people as subject must obey the
command of the king.
Prior to the modern social contract tradition, the theory of political obligation was based on this god
given right of the king that enables the people or majority of people to obey the commands or order
of the king. However, the Social Contract exhibited how political obligation was something given
by the people themselves and not by any other authority. The whole legitimacy of the political
organization, government, state or sovereign were based on the consent of people.
Rousseau dealt or engage with this question of political obligation, where his theories stated what
kind of political authority would be a legitimate political authority. Or on what grounds, political
authority could legitimately command the obligation or expect the obligation from the people and
why we should obey the rules? And the rules, here, one has to understand were not for the
protection of individual interest or personal interest of few. But the interest of the community and how that rules would come about was the question of ‘general will’, when the rules were legislated
by the people themselves.
And it was based on the ‘general will’ that would create a society which would enable the
individuals to live freely and equally without any hierarchy or inequalities between man and man.
And pro-actively participate in the collective life of the community. So, be a theorist of popular
sovereignty. That means, the power and authority resides with the people. All forms of legitimate
authority were derived from the people. Even in modern democracies, all forms of government and
authorities were exercised in the name of people. So, if you look at the constitution of modern
democracy, it begins with preamble which says, we the people of India, or we the people of USA or
any other nation-states.
Being a theorist of popular sovereignty and republican form of direct democracy, democracy
according to Rousseau was not legitimate or did not create the condition of freedom, when it is
governed by the representative of people in some form of indirect manner. There they did not
exercise freedom in true sense. Freedom was realized and exercised when individual themselves
participated directly in the decision-making or legislating in the community. Thus, being a theorist
of popular sovereignty and republican form of direct democracy, Rousseau envisaged a kind of
small political community.
This form of direct democracy or republican form of government was not possible in a large society.
Where it was impossible for human beings to sit together, to discuss on the common affairs
corruptively. Some kind of representatives or indirect form of government in the modern democracy
such as India, US or UK, they ruled or governed themselves through their representatives. And they
elected their representatives periodically in episodic manner.
Thus, the participation of citizen in governing the nation-state or the political community was
limited to the election and Rousseau did not favored that form of democracy. So, to have a
republican or direct form of democracy, he envisaged a kind of political community which would be
a small political community, a face to face community. For instance, Geneva was a model, where
each citizen would participate in the governance and legislation. Thus, helping in constituting what
he called ‘general will’. On ‘general will’, we are going to have one lecture that would be the next
or concluding lecture on Rousseau.
This ‘general will’ was the controversial idea in Rousseau. It had been interpreted differently by
different thinkers in different century. However, this ‘general will’ was the idea based on the will of
everyone. When individuals or each citizen in the community directly participated in the legislation and thereby helped in developing this ‘general will’ or constituting this ‘general will’ of the
community that would be binding on each member of the community. In the Social Contract, he
envisaged a kind of political community which would be governed by ‘general will’. And the
‘general will’ was something based on the participation of each individual.
When they work or guided by the interest of the community and not by their personal interest and
more on this, we will have in the next lecture. Rousseau outlined how an individual could live the
life of liberty and equality in the political community under the same law that they themselves have
legislated. The idea of popular sovereignty, direct democracy, and the question of freedom and
equality are based on this idea that human beings are governed by their own laws. Thus, no other
authority or representative body governs them. The whole question of sovereignty resides with the
He outlined how an individual could live this life of liberty and equality in the political community
under the same law which they themselves legislated. Kant, further, developed this idea as
Categorical Imperative, where we will discuss, when we discuss in Immanuel Kant. According to
Rousseau, the attainments and protection of liberty and equality among men should be two primary
objectives of every political system and its legislation. So, the laws and legislation of their state or
political system are to ensure freedom and equality for each and not just for few in a property or
private property based society, where laws and state protects the interest of the few and not many.
Rousseau envisaged a kind of political system which would not only ensure the freedom and
equality of each. But how to protect them. That is the true purpose of political community or
political system or a state and its legislation, according to Rousseau. He further argued that men
could realize true civil and moral freedom only in political society, where state treats every citizen
as sovereign. So, in this kind of direct republican mode of government, when each citizen
participated in the decision-making or making of legislation, a state treats them as sovereign.
So, they were not subordinated to the will of other man. Because the rules that govern them were
something which he himself helped to legislate through ‘general will’. He was critical of British
parliamentary system and representative form of government that Rousseau argued. They did not
give individual freedom to actively participate in the functioning of society or community or in
realizing the true civil and political freedom in society.
That is all in the lecture today, on Rousseau’s personal life and his views on ‘state of nature’, human
nature and social contract. We will discuss on ‘general will’ and critic to many of his political or
philosophical positions in the next lecture. We conclude, Rousseau, by briefly summarizing the contribution of social contract tradition in the western political thought.
(Refer Slide Time: 64:24)
For this lecture, today, you can refer to some of these texts like David Boucher and Paul Kelly’s,
Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Gary Browning’s, A History of Modern Political
Thought: The Question of Interpretation is the good interpretation of Rousseau’s thought in
different centuries. Murray Forsyth and Maurice Keens-Soper’s text is again a very good text on
political philosophy, particularly, his views contained in the Social Contract. So, you can refer to
this text, A Guide to Political Classics, Plato to Rousseau and Shefali Jha’s text remains one of the
references in this course, Western Political Thought, From the Ancient Greeks to the Modern Times
you should refer to.
You can also read this small booklet by Robert Wokler, Rousseau: A very Short Introduction,
published by the Oxford University Press, and James Alan Ryan’s, On Politics: A History of
Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present. So, these are some of the texts which you should
refer to understand more about Rousseau, his personal life and views in the Social Contract. That is
all for today. Thanks for listening. Thank you all.
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