The Social Contract

A review of the book “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

This paper examines the “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau which argues that we are all born free and equal, yet do not live either freely or equally. It discusses the argument that the construction of the General Will is the means by which people can achieve freedom. The General Will is the social contract where all members of society agree to obey the General Will to be part of society. Rousseau argues that by this General Will, the separate wills of each member of society converge into one and that freedom is achieved because every citizen is equal, each being a single unit of the General Will and having the same amount of influence over it. It considers the implications of the General Will and the social contract and how Rousseau’s version of freedom and equality may never be truly attained, however this may be a reality of a society, rather than a downfall in the theory.
Rousseau differentiates between two types of freedom, personal freedom and social freedom. Personal freedom is an individual’s own selfish choices, where an individual will carry out only those actions that are of benefit to them. Social freedom is the freedom achieved when an individual carries out those actions that the General Will requires. Rousseau argues that social freedom must be achieved at the expense of personal freedom. This is the cost of being part of a society. Thus while an individual is born free, their freedom in society cannot exist until they give up their personal freedom. Giving up their personal freedom for social freedom, means all individuals act in accordance with what is best for society as a whole, not their own needs and wants. It is true in this, that individuals do give up freedom.

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