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Mill and Rousseau: A Comparison of Their Ideas of Liberty

”5 As Rousseau further felt, “The body politics is...a...moral being possessed of a will; and this general will, which tends always to the preservation and welfare of the whole and of every part, and is the source of the laws, constitutes for all members of the state, in their relations to one another and to it, the role of what is just or unjust.”6

For Rousseau, the tendency to form societies is a universal trait; whenever individuals have a common interest they form a society, permanent or transient, and every society has a general will which regulates the conduct of its members. The social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights. The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain free as before.

Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. Society substituted justice for instinct and gives man’s actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, it made him an intelligent being and a man. Apart from society there would be no scale of values in terms of which to judge well being. The general will represents the collective good, “In some sense society lives its own life, fulfills its own destiny and suffers from its own fate. It may be said to have a will of its own, the general will.”7 Rousseau states that if “the state is a moral person whose life is in the union of its members, and if the most important of its cares is the care for its own preservation, it must have a universal and compelling force in order to move and dispose each part as may be most advantageous to the whole.”8

The rights of individuals like...

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Mill and Rousseau: A Comparison of Their Ideas of Liberty. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:26, August 19, 2017, from
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