PHIL 240 Who Should Rule? - Rousseau and the General Will

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27 Sep 2011
Rousseau and the General Will
Will of all: the personal interests of a group of persons
General Will: general interest of the collective group
Believes that legislative power belongs to the Sovereign (all citizens), and that,
because laws must meet the General Will, no law will be restrictive against one
An Executive of elected aristocrats will administer the law, but will not decide
what the law is.
Rousseau also believes in a certain level of economic equality, as his ideas hinge
upon a classless society.
Recognizes the vulnerability of his system to interest groups; solution according to
Rousseau is to abolish or severely limit political parties and other interest
Also requires individuals to vote for general will rather than particular interest;
Rousseau's solution is to have individuals made to identify very strongly with the
group as a whole. This is done through devices such as education, as well as
censorship and civil religion.
Education: correct upbringing cements social bonds, consolidating inherent
community links
Censorship: official censor whose role is to encourage acting according with
popular morality; mainly concerned with encouraging/discouraging types of
Civil religion:
1) Submission to some form of religion, for this incurs love of one's
2) Diversity of religions tolerated, but only religions which practise
3) All citizen must subscribe to it
1) The General Will
Contemporary societies will never be so closely unified, nor embrace equality to
such an extent. Differences are not just economic, but religious, cultural, ethnic
and moral as well. Policies that could be in the equal interest of all simply may not
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