Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "The Social Contract" (1762) Essay

1104 Words Apr 19th, 2016 5 Pages
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “The Social Contract” (1762)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a leading intellectual during the French Enlightenment period, published his seminal work, “Du contract social ou principes du troit politique” in Holland in 1762. This is translated as “Of the social contract or principles of political right” and as the name suggests, is a political treatise outlining the principles that Rousseau felt would reform political society. The Age of Enlightenment existed in seventeenth century Europe, and was essentially a cultural movement of intellectuals who wanted to challenge set ideas or advance knowledge. Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot, among others, were known as ‘philosophes’ and their goal was to bring attention to
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The book was banned immediately in France and soon after in Geneva, but this only produced interest and the desired controversy resulted.
Rousseau himself states the purpose of the “social contract” in his introduction, ‘I mean to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they are and laws as they might be’ (Rousseau cited in Brophy et al. 2012 p.245). Scott (1994 p.481) interprets ‘men being taken as they are’ in two ways. First, it refers to the human nature of man (which is spontaneous) and second, to man as he has become in society (present nature of man). Therefore, one could say that any legitimate political authority must be able to adjust to the transforming state of people from natural to civil or individual to collective.
One of Rousseau’s most famous quotes is ‘Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains’ (Rousseau p.245). Love (p.108) states man is in chains ‘because he has had to exchange the state of nature for the state of civilization’ and Froese (2001 p.585) explains the metaphor of the chain as a dilemma that people will always be in. ‘Humans are born into social structures, but also have an ingrained desire to escape them’. One way that Rousseau proposes to overcome this situation is by forming a social contract, whereby ‘Each of us puts his person and all his power

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