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Lecture 5: 13/10/10
1. General Will
-What is it?
-It can never be mistaken?
-General will vs. will of all
-How can we find it, how it, discover it, create it?
There is a certain kind of argument Rousseau is making until the question of the
legislature (change in tone) – before this, it is an abstract theory and the question he
is asking is “what would make laws legitimate?” (What are the abstract rules true to
every society) and the answer is that it lies in a certain kind of consent. The General
will is, first, an idea of the common good. He talks about the general will because he
wanted to talk about people “willing” it – something we choose. It has to do with
when we will the common good. Or, it can be put hypothetically “what we would
choose if we were looking at questions from a point of view that is good for the
whole.” Two ways of looking at things: “is this going to be good for me?” And, “is this
going to be good for the whole.” Sometimes these coincide, but a lot of the time they
don’t. Alternative view of democracy (pluralist): it is ok to go into the political arena
looking out for one’s personal goals/gains. This is not Rousseau’s picture, to him,
democracy is not about competing interests but looking at public questions with the
point of view of what is good for the group. The general will is not the aggregate of
individual wills, but when everyone wills together for what is in the common good.
-What about democracy?
-Can use neither force nor reason
Can the general will be real in all societies? No. It only comes in very particular
circumstances. The problem: some societies are too corrupted already to ever enact
the general will; some people are not sophisticated enough (underdeveloped). This is
sort of a chicken and the egg question – we need a third party to determine if a
society is at a point between being too sophisticated/corrupt and too
unsophisticated/underdeveloped. If a society is at that point, then the general will
must grow organically. People need to be socialized into thinking of themselves as a
nationality (Canadian, Roman, etc.) and it must happen in a society with good laws
and good people before the common will can grow. The legislator is not a democratic
figure (a top down figure) who does not ask for consent – the argument is that
democracy requires an individual to found its preconditions.
Page 163: “he who dares to undertake the establishment of a people should feel so to
speak he is in a situation to change human nature…to alter man’s constitution”
Rousseau has this malleability of human nature and our character is shaped over
time. We need an intervention (a great founder) who can set up the right constitution,
values, ideals so that people who grow in this constitution develops an identity that is
conducive to the common will.
How does the legislature bring this about? Page 164: “since therefore the legislator is
unable to use force or reasoning…can persuade without convincing”
Why can’t the legislator use force or reasoning? Through divine authority –
Machiavelli makes the same argument that a divine authority must be used to
persuade/convince people to follow you.
The legislator needs the proper material to work with…
3. The People
-Not everyone is suited to freedom
-6 qualities required for freedom:
a) Has no laws but forms a society
b) No deeply rooted customs
c) No external threats
d) Each member can be known to all
e) Self-sufficient; neither rich nor poor
f) Stability of the ancients and docility of the young
The state must be small enough that even people we don’t know aren’t really
strangers – a strong sense of identity.
Page170: “and what makes success so rare is the impossibility of finding the
simplicity of nature with the needs of society…In Europe, there is still one…”
This is a very depressing note. It might be that Rousseau is saying that the Social
Contract is what could have been but we are too far gone down the path to be able to
set up such a situation.
Others still say that the Social Contract attempts to instill a sense of commonality in
political unions and participation.
4. On the Social Contract Book III
1. Deputies and Representative
-What is the difference?
-Finance is a slave’s world
-The what do I care syndrome
Rousseau preferred deputies to representatives. Why does he not like
representatives? Because he says people use representatives because they are too
lazy to participate themselves.
Page 198: “once someone says, “what do I care about the state,” the state should be
The deputies are merely agents – a medium –
The English people believe themselves to be free – this is only true during election –
afterwards, people become slaves to their elected members.
People say “What do I care?” is because they are most interested in making money.
Another necessity is allegiance and political obligation to the political state, not
founded in reason. Society must reproduce the non-rational feelings of allegiance. In
order to sustain real people, the argument moves away from reason to the feeling of
5. Civil religion
-Religion of man, citizen and priest