Archive for the ‘Rousseau’ Category

Section 003

In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote The Social Contract, where he believed in the popular sovereignty form of government.  That is, the government should be ruled by the people.  In his time, it would have been difficult to implement his form of government on an individual basis.  However, with today’s modern technologies, Rousseau’s ideas can be more readily executed and applied to today’s society.

Rousseau’s social contract consisted of two branches, a government and a sovereign.  The government is composed of magistrates while the sovereign is made of the people.  The magistrates enforce the laws passed by the sovereign or the will of the people (Rousseau 450).  In theory, this seems easy enough to put into effect.  The sovereign holds elections for the position of these magistrates.  This process is very similar to the way current elections are held today.  Other than for the non-law making part and being more administrative, Rousseau’s government closely resembles our government today.  The main problem with Rousseau’s ideas lies in the control of power by the people.

Because the sovereignty includes all the people in the state under the government’s control (Rousseau 450), it would have been inconceivable to gather everyone in the state to vote on a law back when Rousseau wrote his book.  Even today in the United States, people only vote during scheduled elections usually in November.  For the people to be really in control, there needs to be a quicker access to voting opportunities.  Modern forms of communication such as the internet, phone, and mail can help achieve this “gathering” of people more quickly and frequently.  Every person can vote on an issue almost instantly through these types of communication.  Of course, there must be a way to keep track of who has voted and to avoid voting fraud, which raises the question of how do we know if the “people” are responsible enough to govern themselves.

Rousseau also considered the egotist in the individual.  How can we be sure that people will vote rationally?  Typically, a person will vote for what is best for him or herself because that is just human nature.  Sometimes it’s hard to trust that everyone will do the right thing.  For instance, today’s politicians seem to care more about their party affiliation than what is best for the country.  In this sense, there is a certain amount of selfishness between the republicans and democrats.  So when people vote for a law in Rousseau’s government, people will definitely vote for their own interest.  Hopefully, however, the majority of the votes will reflect the society as a whole, so the majority will always rule in Rousseau’s government meaning that a law will pass or fail based only on the majority of the votes.  Even though self-interest may play a role in voting, we have to trust that the majority of people in this world are rational thinkers.  If we cannot assume this, then the world would be in a far worse condition than before because irrational people can do drastic things.  For example, if a group of people proposes to allow adults to carry guns in schools, there might be a few gun activists in favor of it, but I am confident the majority would be against it.  Therefore, if a majority of people is rational, then their votes will negate the irrational ones so that we will have an outcome that will benefit society as a whole.

Even though most of Rousseau’s ideals are very practical, I believe his idea of the “lawgiver” is not necessary.  A government of magistrates can fulfill the role of lawgiver by noting the issues that need to be addressed and sending them to the sovereign to vote on.  Also, the sovereign is capable of deciding the issues to vote on through petitions.  In conclusion, I believe that Rousseau’s social contract is much more practical today than when he wrote it.  With innovations in the modern communication technology, we can achieve a full representation of the people in government.

Rousseau, , Jean-Jacques .  “On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right.”

Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche.  Ed. David

Wootton.  Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc , 2008.  427-487.


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In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to assert America’s independence from Britain. European philosophers, including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, heavily influenced this document, demonstrating the significance of political theory because of its ability to inspire political action and affect the formation of new societies.

Jefferson’s justification for independence rested heavily on John Locke’s theory of natural rights because he believed that the British government was depriving the colonists of natural equality and liberty. He claimed, “All men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence); this idea is based on Locke’s belief that the state of nature is “a state also of equality” (Locke 287). Furthermore, Jefferson claims that people are “endowed… with certain unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence). In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he claims that people have a “right of self-preservation” (Locke 292)(i.e. the right to life), which extends to the right to things that “affords for their subsistence” (Locke 293) therefore creating the right to property. The colonists believed that the British government was violating the right to property because it was taxing American colonists without allowing them representation in British Parliament. Additionally, people living in Britain were allowed to vote for members of Parliament, but American colonists were not. This violated Locke’s theory of natural equality and liberty, which influenced the colonists to rebel against the British government.

Thomas Jefferson also used Rousseau’s social contract theory to justify his assertion of independence. Jefferson stated, “Governments are instituted… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence). The idea of consent stems from Rousseau’s On the Social Contract. He stated that this contract was a “reciprocal commitment” (Rousseau 433) between people in a society and the government they create. He believed a “social compact” (Rousseau 432) was needed to form a government in which people gave consent to the government being formed. During the American Revolution, American colonists believed that they were being subject to a government without their consent because of the “virtual representation” that did not allow them to vote for Parliament. They subsequently believed the government was not formed by a social contract as advocated by Rousseau so they rejected it. Furthermore, when they formed their new government, they used a social contract. They required at least nine out of the thirteen colonies to ratify the Constitution before it was adopted, and they instituted a government that allowed landowning males to vote for their representatives.

When the Americans decided to rebel against Britain, Jefferson justified the call for independence using the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This shows that these political theories are significant and help shape societies. In America, John Locke’s theory of natural liberty and equality influenced the colonists to rebel against a government that denied them liberty by taxing them (taking away their property) and did not grant them the equal right to vote for Parliament that it provided to British citizens. Furthermore, they believed that they did not form a social contract with the British government, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated, so they formed a new government based on the consent of the people.

Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 287-297. Print

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract.” Modern Political Thought. Ed.

David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 432-433. Print

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Now that the semester is coming to a close students are stressing out about what grades they are going to receive and many have started making excuses for why they did not get the grade they were aiming for. A majority of these excuses revolve around the professor; for example, “he/she grades too hard,” or, “it is impossible to get an A in his/her class.” If students are complaining about the professors they have now, imagine the amount of complaints there would be if some of the philosophers we have studied in this class were professors and they ran their classroom like they thought that political systems should be run—that would give students something to complain about; especially if Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau were their professors.

If Hobbes was a professor, students would legitimately never know what grade to expect. His political theory was that of an absolute sovereignty where whatever the sovereign does is justified because “every subject is author of every act the sovereign doth” (Hobbes 190). By enrolling into his class students would be entering into a social contract with him, thereby establishing him as their sovereign. He could grade however he wanted because his sovereignty would be absolute. If he wanted to fail the brightest student and give an A to the student who failed every assignment, there would be nothing anybody could do about it. The only time the students could resist his authority is if he put them in a situation where their life was in danger.

If Burke was a professor, his class would be extremely difficult. In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” he makes clear his belief that only “distinguished magistrates” and exemplary people should be ambitious because ambition is plausible only for them (Burke 507). He thinks that ambition shouldn’t be exercised by the “swinish multitude” because the “swinish multitude” can only ever be “swinish multitude”—nothing more, but possibly less (Burke 517). If the “swinish multitude” tries to be ambitious the only result is disappointment, or a fiasco like the French Revolution. Applying this idea to his classroom, only the few students that come from distinguished families or perform exceptionally well would pass his class. He would fail all the rest of the students to save them from the disappointment that would result from their own ambition.

Rousseau’s class would also be very difficult to excel in because in order to do well, one would have to be concerned solely for the proficiency of the class as a whole rather than concerned about being one of the best students in the class. In his treatise, “On the Social Contract,” he supported the idea that civil society can exist peacefully only when “each of us places his person and his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will and as one we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau 432). Rousseau says that the “general will” is not the wants of each individual but rather the common good of society as a whole; what is good for one person is not necessarily beneficial for society as a whole (Rousseau 437). Political systems become corrupt when people develop vanity and egocentrism. Therefore, to get an A in Rousseau’s class, students would have to be concerned more for the knowledge of the class as a whole rather than their own specific grade. If students care only about their grade and being better than all the other students, Rousseau would fail them because those actions are vain and egocentric and do not benefit the classroom as a whole. I think it would be hard to be in a class like this because it is difficult to put others before ones own self, especially when it comes to competing for grades.

Having Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau as a professor would be a one of a kind experience that would (for once) justify excuses for a disappointing grade.


Burke, Edmund. “Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 502-21. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.”Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 116-277. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 427-87. Print.

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In considering the social and political development of mankind, political theorists have evaluated factors such as religious influence, established psychological concepts, and even economic theories. However, few have debated the effectiveness of the anthropological field in answering widespread questions about our sociological past. One noted theorist who was able to break this regrettable pattern was Jean Jacques Rousseau. The opinions expressed in Rousseau’s works are in direct accordance with multiple anthropological beliefs that continue to be emphasized in modern day practices.

Rousseau’s piece “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” discusses his thoughts on how and why the human race came to be divided into economic and social classes. Rousseau discusses a common theme in political works- the state of nature- but theorizes that it could not have existed due to God’s influence on the natural hierarchy of mankind. Although he believes this to be true, Rousseau begins to explore how humans would have evolved had a state of nature existed.

Nearly all political theorists compare this state of nature to a state of anarchy: that is, a human assembly characterized by lack of rulership or enforced authority. In terms of anthropological phrasing, the state of nature can be compared to that of a of a hunter/gatherer society. Among other characteristics, the hunter/gatherer’s most prominent is that it is able to exist in an egalitarian state. The hunter/gatherers primary goal is survival, and for that to be possible, situational based leadership is established, but no one individual rules all aspects of their society. As far as anthropologists are concerned, this is the most basic form of societal complexity, and therefore is best juxtaposed with Rousseau’s imagined “state of nature”.

Rousseau declares that inequality of humans can be found in two types: natural/physical inequality or privilege inequality. Natural/physical is described as inequality of age, health, bodily strength, or quantities of mind. Much like this is the anthropological term “achieved status”, which is defined as those powers that are not born into, but worked for and attained. These powers might include skills in a certain craft, hunting ability, physical strength, or effort put forth to help the community. The opposite of achieved status is designated “ascribed status”- which is a status that one assumes at birth, and is not chosen or earned, but assigned. This term is closely related to Rousseau’s ideas about “privileged inequality”. Both are marked by an assignment process, where certain individuals are automatically given certain rights.

As previously stated, Rousseau’s hypotheses reflect those that are practiced today in anthropological field work. The Elman Service Classification System, for example, is a traditionally taught system for determining how a particular excavation site is categorized. A goal for many anthropologists has been explaining how groups of people move into ranks of higher societal complexity. Although many theories have arisen, numerous academics agree with Rousseau’s interpretation of this progression. He states, “It is useless to ask what is the source of natural inequality, because that question is answered by the simple definition of the word.” In other words, societal progression are made up of natural processes that begin at a state of nature, evolve into a complex population governed by laws, and eventually adopt a designated class system. This too can be supported by anthropological evidence, provided by former University of Michigan student, Elman Service. Service states that two theories about this natural progression exists: the managerial benefits theory, and the integration theory. Managerial benefits theory states that centralized leaders were created in these human assemblages because of the benefits that were provided by these leaders. Chiefs provide certain benefits to citizens, who provide certain benefits to other citizens, and soon classes are divided and bureaucratic organization emerges. To understand integration theory, more knowledge of the E. Service Classification System is required. Chiefdoms, the second most complex form of early societies, are distinguished by the first emergence of large-scale monuments. Service believes that the natural progression to unequal power created conflicts between political elite. To prove themselves, members of this elite built monuments to show their power over others. Thus, societies advanced to yet another rank on the classification model.

As previously shown, anthropological examination and evidence can be extremely advantageous to the political science field of study. Conceivably, future political theory researchers will seek the benefits that anthropological information provides about our past cultures and ways of life.

Bahn, Paul. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practices. New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2007.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. 1754. 8 December 2009 <http://www.constitution.org/jjr/ineq.htm&gt;.

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I actually started writing this a while ago, not long after we finished reading Rousseau, so some of this may seem fairly obvious now that we’ve begun reading Marx. Either way, I think this should be helpful for drawing parallels between the two writers.


The issue of inequalities between people has been the focus of the vast majority of our readings this semester. Indeed, the main job of government (according to some) is to negotiate and solve these issues of inequality. Two political theorists in particular, who’s works we have read in this class, address this issue, but do it in radically different ways. The purpose of this post is not to make an argument about whether one stance is better than the other, but instead to compare and contrast the political and economic (in the case of Marx) theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx.

Rousseau, in The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right discusses how to establish a government that will mediate issues of inequality in society. He sought to replace a hierarchical, dominating society (such as the vast majority of European monarchies) with an egalitarian government that was of, for and by “The People” (a concept that doesn’t really exist in Marx’s writing, which deals almost exclusively with Class.) Under a Rousseauian-style government laws are made by congresses of local people in accordance with the general will and are then enforced by an elected aristocracy who’s sole job is to enforce the laws, not to enact them. Also, he saw the development of human society as somewhat cyclical, in which every so often there would be new revolution to reestablish the aforementioned style of government. In a nutshell, Rousseau’s plan for dealing with the issues of war and inequality is a very direct democracy that is close to the people with frequent, somewhat low-level revolutions.

There are certainly similarities between the theories of Marx and Rousseau, but whereas Rousseau focused almost exclusively on a political solution, Marx advocated a more revolutionary cure for society’s ills. Marx claimed that capitalism, and the class struggle that it perpetuated was what was the cause for much of the negative aspects of the human condition.

While the economic situation is the crux of Marx’s philosophy, he does not neglect the political aspect of the strife of the proletariat. He argues that religion and political constructs are in place in order to keep the bourgeoisie in power over the proletariat. Essentially, the state was an extension of the wealthiest classes.

He viewed contemporary capitalism as creating tension between the laboring, wage-earning class (the proletariat) and the capital-owning middle class (the bourgeoisie). The inevitable conclusion of this tension was a violent (worldwide, ideally) revolution in which the proletariat overthrew the bourgeoisie and took control of the means of production. In Marx’s post-revolution world the end of capitalism would cause private property and class to slowly disappear, and because, according to Marx, the state exists to protect the property and wealth of the bourgeoisie government would soon disappear as well.

Marx and Rousseau were addressing the same issue: inequality between men. However, the chose to tackle the issue in similar, yet also very different ways. Both focused on the needs of the community and not the desires of the individual. Both also call for revolution, although Marx is significantly more adamant about the violent part. Where they differ is in how they view what drives the issue of inequality and where reform is most necessary. For Rousseau it was the political realm where change was needed. For Marx, radicalizing the economy (by abolishing it) would heal the wounds caused by inequality.

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Rousseau and the Modern Utopia

Many would say that the perfect society would be a world where everyone is treated truly equal and there is no crime or danger. While reading Rousseau’s discourse, I was led to believe that he believed an ideal state of nature is much like the utopia that many would like to live in. In Rousseau’s theory, our society started out as a utopia but over time move farther and farther away from equality. He says that there is no way now that we can go back to a utopian society; we are now at the point of no return. Rousseau has a very positive outlook on achieving a perfect society. It is no wonder his state of nature would be anything less than ideal lifestyle; a utopia.

In a Utopian society, the government and the people are all working for the common interest of doing what’s best for the general will. The laws are geared to treat everyone equally. When Rousseau writes to the Republic of Geneva he says, “I would have wanted to be born in a country where the sovereign and the people could have but one and the same interest, so that all the movements of the machine always tended only to the common happiness.” (pg 371) He thinks that if everyone is working toward making everyone happy in general, there will be less for people to rebel against. The government only does things that are in the people’s best interest.

Regarding the government, Rousseau does not believe in having multiple political parties. There cannot be a disagreement between two parties because there is only one way to help the greater good. Rousseau says, “In the state of nature, where everything takes place in such a uniform manner and where the face of the earth is not subject to those sudden and continual changes caused by the passions and inconstancy of peoples living together.” (pg 381) His ideal state of nature is where no one disagrees because the general will can only be benefited in a certain way. A utopia is usually portrayed in the entertainment industry as a place where there is no war or crimes being committed. People are happy to do what they are good at and contribute to society. They follow the laws and things are very harmonious. When many people think of a utopia, they usually think of a place such as described in the book, The Giver. Everyone happily does the same thing every day and they agree with everyone else. There is no disagreement among the society because they are told what to think by the government who ultimately makes the best decisions for society. They only believe in things and want things when it is for the betterment of everybody. This is similar to Rousseau’s belief in nature, as shown when he says society will be much happier when there is order in everyday life and where there is no disagreement between fellow citizens.

Rousseau said that the first civil society was formed as soon as someone got others to believe that they owned property. As soon as inequalities between men started to form because of differences in ownership, utopia started to fall apart. From that time, society has developed away from the perfect culture that used to exist. As he explains, “What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!’” (pg 395) This way of life before inequalities began to form between men is preferable because everyone in society is benefited, but it is virtually impossible to return to a utopia.

During my discussion section about utopias, everyone agreed that a utopia today could not be achieved. There are too many differences between people’s ideals and wants. People today are more geared toward self interest rather than the interests of the general will. Rousseau’s state of nature is the ideal state that people want to be in. The characteristics that have been given of a utopia by people today reflect much of what Rousseau was trying to get across in his state of nature. The perfect society described by many books, movies, and TV shows today is really what Rousseau was describing. Maybe Rousseau had it right all along, a utopia is where everyone works together for the betterment of the general will.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men.” Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008.

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Lawgiver in Literature

After finishing reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, the protagonist of the novel, Siddhartha, is very similar to Rousseau’s idea of the “Lawgiver.” In the novel, Siddhartha wishes to be enlightened and is not satisfied with his father’s teachings and the teaching of others. He feels that they are not enlightened and even if they are, they are incapable of passing their enlightenment onto him. Therefore, he sets on a journey to find enlightenment and his own form of religion, values, morals and way of life. Then one day, after years of studying and spending time at a river, a realization hits Siddhartha and he achieves enlightenment and passes on his own teachings to his friends and other followers.

Rousseau describes the “Lawgiver” as a “superior intelligence beholding all the passions of men without experiencing any of them would be needed” (Wootton). In other words, this person needs to have a superior intelligence that can understand which laws are good ones and persuades the people to believe in the values of these laws. This is seen in Hesse’s Siddhartha because he is described as an intelligent person who is “quick to learn [and] thirsty for knowledge” (Hesse). Furthermore, in the end, he holds all the “passions of men” but does not experience any of it because he doesn’t have a need to. Siddhartha has “learn[ed] how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished” (Hesse). Therefore, he is like the “Lawgiver” because he has the passions but does not need to experience it. Furthermore, Rousseau describes the “Lawgiver” as someone who “would have to be wholly unrelated to our nature, while knowing it through and through” (Wootton). Siddhartha is unrelated to man’s nature because he has detached himself from all of man’s vices and needs but understands them. Furthermore, Siddhartha is able to, “in the march of time, look forward to a distant glory, and, working in one century, to be able to enjoy in the next “(Wootton). Because Siddhartha “can love a stone, and also a tree or a piece of bark” and has the “smile of oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths” (Hesse) he is able to work in one century and enjoy the next because he loves and understands everything. He doesn’t have a sense of time which gives him the power to move “forward to a distant glory.”

Furthermore Siddhartha is able to “feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual, who is by himself a complete and solitary whole, into part of a greater whole from which he in a manner receives his life and being” (Wootton).  This means that a single person should become part of a “greater larger whole” to create a better society. Siddhartha as has this idea of wholeness. He believes that “everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life” (Hesse).  So he already has achieved this sense of life and can transform people to be part of this whole and togetherness. In the novel, Siddhartha first converts his friend, Govinda, and when converted, he saw this “greater whole.” “He saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously” (Hesse). These aspects are also the aspects needed for the “Lawgiver” in Rousseau’s “The Social Contract: Book II.”

So Hesse’s Siddhartha is very similar to Rousseau’s “Lawgiver” because they both have similar goals for society. It’s interesting to draw parallels between modern literature and something that was written centuries ago, especially in a character and how it mimics an idea in the “Social Contract.”


Modern Political Thought. Edited with Introductions by David Wooton. “The Social Contact: Book II”

Copy of Siddhartha at http://www.online-literature.com/hesse/siddhartha/

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For anyone who might be interested, for our group project Jake and I created a website that is similar to a “choose your own adventure” novel that ventures through the various states of nature we have encountered in this course.  There is a full introduction on the home page of that website (available at http://sites.google.com/site/statesofnatureexperience/), so I won’t bore anyone with all of the details here on the blog.  The one thing that I want to request, for those of you willing to try the website, is that you put which state of nature (Locke, Rousseau, or Hobbes) you wind up in under the comments below this post.  So far, I’m aware of one Locke and one Rousseau from the people who have already experienced the website.  Thanks for your time!

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In America’s modern political landscape, the presence of the two main political parties (the Republican Party and the Democratic Party) is a defining aspect of how our government is run.  Both parties seem automatically attracted to the opposite side of their opponents; in fact, the reaction that the majority of America seems to have when senators and representatives cross the aisle to get work done in washington is either one of complete amazement or outrage.

Congressmen are often afraid of not coming off as conservative or liberal enough for their party.  Without their party’s backing it becomes difficult to raise the funds and garner enough votes to retain their position.  The political parties have (in my own opinion) prevented our politicians from doing the job they were meant to do.  Instead of serving the interests of their constituents, they are serving the interests of their party.

We have seen many examples of this throughout the last few years.  Most recently we’ve seen Democrats attack [1] (while Republicans applaud) Democrats who voice opposition to healthcare reform.  Meanwhile Republicans are angered by the actions of Senator Olympia Snowe [2] and is championed by Democrats.  Both sides are open to bipartisanship, provided that it’s the opposition party that comes over to their side.

Despite general acceptance of the political system as it currently stands, I feel comfortable criticizing the effects that political parties have on American politics because I stand in the company of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and George Washington.

In his farewell address, George Washington warned Americans of the dangers of political parties.  He states, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.” [3]  He goes on to warn that political parties also open the country to the influence of foreign nations.

Rousseau also attacks the idea of political parties in On the Social Contract in Book II, Chapter III.  Rousseau is addressing whether or not the general will can err.  Rousseau states, “…when intrigues and partial associations come into being at the expense of the large association, the will of each of these associations becomes general in relation to its members and particular in relations to the state… the differences become less numerous and yield a result that is less general… the result is no longer a general will, and the opinion that dominates is merely a private opinion.” [4]  In other words, because politicians are representing the interests of the party instead of the interests of their districts and states, what happens in the government is determined by the interests of two entities instead of the interests of the entire nation.

Rousseau, Washington, and I agree when it comes to political parties.  What are your thoughts?


  1. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09315/1012505-473.stm
  2. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/11/is-snowe-popular-enough-in-maine-to-withstand-anger-from-the-right.php
  3. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp
  4. On the Social Contract Book II, Chapter III (pages 437 and 438 in our textbook)

*Bonus Link*

I thought some people might like this, since professor brought it up in lecture:


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On Tuesday, November 3, voters of Washtenaw County rejected a proposal to raise their property taxes.  The revenue generated by the millage was supposed to go to the Washtenaw County public school system, comprised of 10 districts with the money being distributed to these districts on a per-pupil basis. (Michigan Daily)  The debate over this millage sparked my interest as I began to consider the perspectives of Locke and Rousseau on this issue.  I’ve concluded that although both are democratic, Rousseau would likely have been opposed to the outcome of the vote, whereas Locke would have supported the voters’ decision.

Rousseau asserts that the answer to the disaster that society has become is to form an association “which defends and protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate” (Wootten, pg. 432). His ideal form of government acts in a manner that is consistent with the general will.  He states, “the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility” (Wootton, pg. 437).  He also warns that the populace is not corrupted, but it is often tricked (Wootton, pg. 437).  With the foundation for Rousseau’s thought in place, I hope to illustrate why Rousseau would oppose the outcome of the millage vote.  In a recent survey of Washtenaw County, 54% of adult voters favored a countywide enhancement millage for schools (mlive.com).  According to this statistic (which I am assuming to be a direct reflection of all Washtenaw County residents) a majority of residents favored education, so the proposed millage should have passed.  Yet the millage was not passed, and therefore Rousseau may have argued that the rejection of this millage is inconsistent with the general will.   Rousseau could also argue that the personal advantages of lower taxes may have “tricked” individuals into voting against the millage.  In this instance, it would be appropriate for the government (of Washtenaw County) to intervene and enact the millage, thereby “forcing” the voters to be free, since it is in the interest of the general will.  The fact that Rousseau would support government intervention to tax personal property is at odds with the purpose of government according to Locke.

Locke’s chief end of government was to protect the people’s property.  Locke states, “the power of society…can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good; but is obliged to secure everyone’s property” (Wootton, pg. 321).  With this statement, I will extrapolate to say that Locke would have supported the voters of Washtenaw County, who he sees as the supreme power in civil society.  Contrary to Rousseau, Locke would not support the government overriding the vote in favor of the “general will” as it infringes on the citizen’s personal property.  Therefore, the government would need the consent of the people before it could impose the tax suggested in the millage.

Ultimately, Locke and Rousseau would have agreed on the democratic principles involved in deciding on a public issue like the Washtenaw County millage proposal.  Yet, because a survey was released indicating a majority of Washtenaw county residents would have favored increased funding for local school districts, Locke and Rousseau would have disagreed on the outcome of the vote, with Locke supporting the millage rejection if residents felt it would infringe on their property rights.   Moreover, Rousseau would have argued the government could have acted in opposition to the vote and implemented the property tax because it was the general will to have increased funding for education.  Although we will never know exactly what each philosopher would argue, especially with the structure of Washtenaw County’s society being vastly different than any society they may have imagined, I still find it interesting to try and deduce what their reaction to an issue like this might be.



Modern Political Thought: readings from machiavelli to Nietzsche/ edited, with introductions, by David Wootton.-2nd ed.

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