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General Will and Rousseaus Social Contract

When Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote the Social Contract, the concepts of liberty and freedom were not new ideas. Many political theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and
John Locke had already developed their own interpretations of liberty, and in fact Locke
had already published his views on the social contract. What Rousseau did was to
revolutionize the concepts encompassed by such weighty words, and introduce us to
another approach to the social contract dilemma. What would bring man to leave the state
of nature, and enter into an organized society? Liberals believed it was the guarantee of
protection - liberty to them signified being free from harm towards one’s property.
Rousseau’s notion of freedom was completely different than that of traditional liberals. To
him, liberty meant a voice, and participation. It wasn’t enough to be simply protected
under the shield of a sovereign, Rousseau believed that to elevate ourselves out of the
state of nature, man must participate in the process of being the sovereign that provided
the protection.
The differences between Rousseau’s theories and those of the liberals of his time,
begin with different interpretations of the state of nature. Thomas Hobbes described the
state of nature as an unsafe place, where the threat of harm to one’s property was always
present. He felt that man could have no liberty in such a setting, as fear of persecution and
enslavement would control his every action. From this dismal setting, Hobbes proposed
that man would necessarily rise and enter into a social contract. By submitting himself to
the power of a sovereign, man would be protected by that same power, thereby gaining his
liberty. Rousseau’s version of the state of nature differs greatly. He makes no mention of
the constant fear which Hobbes believed would control man’s life in the state of nature,
rather he de...

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The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau

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