History Exam Review:
Politics and Society:
Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Social Contract
• “chains” of civil society supplies the natural birthright of man to physical freedom
•Rousseau thus seeks the basis for a legitimate, political authority in which people must
give up their natural liberty.
•He sets two conditions for a lawful polity and creates several clauses to ensure that they
are carried out. First, there must be no relationships of particular dependence in the state,
and second, by obeying the laws, an individual only obeys himself.
•Rousseau's solution to the problem of legitimate authority is the "social contract," an
agreement by which the people band together for their mutual preservation
•This act of association creates a collective body called the "sovereign." The
sovereign is the supreme authority in the state, and has its own life and will. The
sovereign's interest, or the "general will," always promotes the common good.
• This is in contrast to the private will of each citizen, which strives only for
• The law expresses the general will, and must only make regulations that affect the
• The goal of legislation is to protect liberty and equality and to promote the
•civil society does nothing to enforce the equality and individual liberty that were
promised to man when he entered into that society
• the only legitimate political authority is the authority consented to by all the people,
who have agreed to such government by entering into a social contract for the sake of
their mutual preservation
• the sovereign: a collective grouping of all people who by their consent enter into a civil
• the sovereign as a whole express the general will of all the people
• Rousseau defines this general will as the collective need of all to provide for the
common good of all
• the most important function of the general will is to inform the creation of the laws of
• all law must uphold the rights of equality among citizens and individual freedom
• their particulars can be made according to local circumstances functions of the
state and overseeing the daytoday functioning (monarchy, aristocracy,
• sovereign and government have frictional relationship, as the government is sometimes
liable to go against the general will of the people
• the sovereign must convene in regular at which point it is imperative and for individuals
• The people exercise their sovereignty by meeting in regular, periodic assemblies.
•It is often difficult to persuade all citizens to attend these assemblies, but
attendance is essential to the wellbeing of the state. •When citizens elect representatives or try to buy their way out of public service,
the general will shall not be heard and the state will become endangered.
•When voting in assemblies, people should not vote for what they want personally,
but for what they believe is the general will. In a healthy state, the results of these
votes should approach unanimity.
•To prove that even large states can assemble all their citizens, Rousseau takes the
example of the Roman republic and its comitia.
• As the natural tendency of every government is to usurp sovereignty and to invalidate
the social contract, the government's interests are always in conflict with those of the
•The best means of restraining the executive is holding periodic assemblies. Although this
may seem difficult, Rousseau cites Ancient Rome to show that this can be achieved even
in large states.
•When the people convene, they must decide whether they approve of the current
form of government and their leaders.
•Periodic assemblies can prolong the life of a state, but eventually every state will
fall because of the usurpations of government. However, all citizens must fulfill
their civic duties while the state exists. They cannot employ representatives to
articulate the general will because sovereignty cannot be transferred. They also
cannot use money to avoid their responsibilities, because this corrupts the state
and destroys civil liberty.
•Although the sovereign must allow for the religious freedoms of its members, it can
impose a set of values that are necessary to being a "good" citizen.
•This system of beliefs, which Rousseau calls "civil religion," consists of belief in
a God and the afterlife, universal justice, and respect for the sanctity of the social
•The state has the power to banish from the state anyone who opposes the tenets
of civil religion.
Adam Smith: A Wealth of Nations
• aims to create a new understanding of economics
• Smith writes largely against the mercantile system that existed at the time of writing,
but, along the way, gives a complicated but brilliant account of an economic system based
in human nature and deeply rooted social dynamics
• focuses on developing the idea of the division of labor, and describing how this division
adds to the opulence of a given society by creating enormous surpluses, which can be
exchanged among members
• The division of labor also fuels technological innovation, by giving intense focus to
certain tasks, and allowing workers to brainstorm ways to make these tasks more efficient
• This, again, adds to efficiency and grows surpluses.
• Surpluses may be either traded or reinvested. In the latter case, technologies are likely
to improve, leading to even greater efficiencies.
• people are motivated primarily by their own selfinterest. Selfinterest
•for Smith, does not have many of the negative connotations that it does today. •Instead, Smith means to make the point that it is entirely natural, appropriate, and
indeed necessary for society that each person look after his own welfare, and not
put the burden of his maintenance upon others.
•It is this propensity that allows human economies, left largely to themselves, to
thrive as if it were in their very nature to do so.
• the greatest improvements in the productive power of labor lie in the division of labor.
Even in the production of very simple products, division of labor always increases
•Smith offers three reasons for this increase in productivity.
•First, the division of labor creates specialized knowledge of a particular trade or
task. This, in turn, makes the laborers engaged in this task more dexterous, and
therefore more productive.
•Secondly, the division of labor saves the laborer time. In focusing on one task,
rather than passing from one task to another, a process that requires him to use
different tools and materials, he is able to maximize his time, thus increasing
• Finally, the amount of time spent by laborers on an isolated task leads to
innovation in the methods and tools employed in the task, and therefore to
technological innovation that ultimately makes that task easier.
•Therefore, increased division of the labor involved in the production of a
particular product leads to increased productivity.
•By increasing productivity, the division of labor also increases the opulence of a
particular society, increasing the standard of living even of the most poor.
• Division of labor also means that many people are involved in the production of each
and every manufactured product.
•This is a testament to the interconnectedness not only of the laborers employed in
manufacturing, but of all the branches of commerce.
•At the beginnings of a particular society, it may have been talent that decided which
member carried out which task.
•Division of labor by skill set would have allowed for modest efficiencies and surpluses.
•These surpluses would have allowed one member of society to trade the fruits of his
labor for other objects that were needed.
•In this way, instead of each man struggling to produce some of the things he needed,
each man would specialize, producing an excess of one thing, and exchange to gain all or
most of required.
•This would increase the wellbeing of each member of society that was engaged in such
production and trade.
•The division of labor is not the result of oversight and regulation by an authority, but of
human nature. Part of what makes us human, according to Smith, is our propensity to
truck, barter, and exchange items.
•This propensity can be observed in any society, including the most primitive. It is, in
turn, the assurance of being able to trade what one produces with others that encourages the division of labor. When two parties enter into a trade with one another, both come
away with something they were previously lacking. The division of labor will continue to
be a powerful force so long as this condition is fulfilled.
•Adam Smith goes on to insist that it is not natural talent that determines the profession of
most people, but habit, custom and education.
• This system of specialization and extensive education in particular subjects or trades
would be impossible if human beings were not endowed with the propensity for trade.
•In the absence of this propensity, each person would be forced to acquire a wide variety
of skills in order to sustain himself.
•Adam Smith uses this property to distinguish human beings from animals, who do not
have the propensity for trade.
•That the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market It is the size of the
market that regulates the extent of the division of labor that it can support.
John Stuart Mill: On Liberty
• Mill expounds his concept of individual freedom within the context of his ideas on
history and the state
• society progresses from lower to higher stages and that this progress culminates in the
emergence of a system of representative democracy
• civil liberty is defined as the limit that must be set on society’s power over each
• mill undertakes a historical review of the concept of liberty, beginning with ancient
Greece and Rome and proceeding to England
• In the past, liberty meant primarily protection from tyranny
• over time, the meaning of liberty changed along with the role of rulers, who came to be
seen as servants of the people rather masters
• this revolution brought about a new problem: the tyranny of the majority, in
which a democratic majority forces its will on the majority
• this state of affairs can exercise a tyrannical power even outside the political realm,
when forces such as political opinion stifie individuality and rebellion
• Mill observes that liberty can be divided into three types, each of which must be
recognized and respected by any free society
• 1. there is the liberty of thought and opinion
• 2. liberty tastes and pursuits or the freedom to plan our own lives
• 3. there is liberty to join other likeminded individuals for a common purpose
that does not hurt anyone • Mill examines the question of whether one or more persons should be able to curtail
another person’s freedom to express a divergent point of view
• Mill rejects attempts, either through legal coercion or social pressure, to coerce people's
opinions and behavior.
•He argues that the only time coercion is acceptable is when a person's behavior harms
other peopleotherwise, society should treat diversity with respect.
• Mill justifies the value of liberty through a Utilitarian approach
• His essay tries to show the positive effects of liberty on all people and on society as a
• Mill links liberty to the ability to progress and to avoid social stagnation.
• Liberty of opinion is valuable for two main reasons
• First, the unpopular opinion may be right.
• Second, if the opinion is wrong, refuting it will allow people to better understand
their own opinions.
•Liberty of action is desirable for parallel reasons. The nonconformist may be correct, or
she may have a way of life that best suits her needs, if not anybody else's
Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophical Manuscript
• classical economics begins with the fact of private property, but it gives no explanation
• economics conceives of the material process that private property actually goes through
in general, abstract formulas which it makes into laws
• economics provides no explanation of the basis of the division of labour and capital, or
of capital and land
• for instance, when economics determines the relation of wage labour to the
profit of capital, it accepts the interest of the capitalists as the final principles
• Under the economic system of private ownership, society divides itself into two classes:
the property owners and the propertyless workers. In this arrangement, the workers not
only suffer impoverishment but also experience an estrangement or alienation from the
• This estrangement occurs because the worker relates to the product of his work
as an object alien and even hostile to himself.
• The worker puts his life into the object and his labor is invested in the object, yet
because the worker does not own the fruits of his labor, which in capitalism are
appropriated from him, he becomes more estranged the more he produces.
• This first type of alienation is the estrangement of the worker from the product
of his work.
• The second type of alienation is the estrangement of the worker from the activity
of production • The third form of alienation is the worker’s alienation from “speciesbeing,” or
• The fourth and final form of alienation is the “estrangement of man to man.”
The Manifesto of the Communist Party:
• “history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”
• They argue that all changes in the shape of society, in political institutions, in history
itself, are driven by a process of collective struggle on the part of groups of people with
similar economic situations in order to realize their material or economic interests.
• The bourgeoisie have risen to the status of dominant class in the modern industrial
world, shaping political institutions and society according to its own interests
• The bourgeoisie is the most spectacular force in history to date
• The bourgeois view, which sees the world as one big market for exchange, has
fundamentally altered all aspects of society, even the family, destroying traditional ways
of life and rural civilizations and creating enormous cities in their place
• Under industrialization, the means of production and exchange that drive this process of
expansion and change have created a new subordinate urban class whose fate is vitally
tied to that of the bourgeoisie
• The factory is the arena for the formation of a class struggle that will spill over into
society at large.
• Modern industrial workers will come to recognize their exploitation at the hands of the
• The bourgeoisie, through its established mode of production, produces the seeds of its
own destruction: the working class.
John Rawls: A Theory of Justice
• explains how the logical ordering of principles of justice may answer such questions as
how should society be structured, how should basic rights and duties be assigned to
individuals, and how should social and economic advantages be distributed to all
members of society
• concerned with defining the principles of justice which would regulate an ideal society,
rather than with describing how justice may be restored to an unjust society
• argues that the principles of justice which would establish the basis of an ideal society
are principles which would be chosen by every individual if every individual were in an
‘original position’ o