Rousseau: What is the Social Contract?June 27, 2021
Rousseau goes on to explain his social reform principles in his famous work called The Social Contract: Here, he reflects and examines the democratic form of government as a form of government in which humanity can regain the freedom and ethical values lost as a bad result of transition to civilized life.
In a way, it can be said that he reconsidered the idea of the contract: According to this, “The state is a political organization based on a social contract in which citizens participate through their inherent and indispensable rights for freedom and equality and their power of self-determination.” (cited in Sahakian, 1997: 155). In this respect, Rousseau deals with Locke’s ideal of democracy.
All laws must be realized as the expression of the general will. The general will represents the common interest or benefit of people. Individuals’ right to be free can only be limited by the moral will of society. When the general will is represented in laws, it means that people obey these laws and are also free. As long as the will of the person is compatible with the interests of the society, the individual will have achieved real freedom.
Rousseau’s theory of the general will is the basis of the idea of democracy. In this way, people have had a say in the administration by getting rid of being pushed into the background by the society. Sovereignty belongs only to the people, decisions must be taken democratically by voting. But one must vote for the common good and not for selfish interests, only then will the general will be fulfilled. A democracy can flourish when the general will prevails. Sovereignty always belongs to the people, and the people cannot transfer their sovereignty to any person or group anywhere and under any circumstances.
According to Rousseau, the state is a political organization based on a social contract in which citizens participate through their innate, inalienable rights to freedom and equality and their power of self-determination.
Rousseau’s impact on world history was great: his views on education were accepted by great educational theorists such as Basedow, Pestalozzi and Froebel. His views on political theory found expression in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789. He also influenced great German thinkers such as Kant, Schiller, Herder and Goethe with his thoughts. Kant states that he learned to be sensitive to the masses of the people from Rousseau.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: People’s Sovereignty by Contract
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a thinker who bases popular sovereignty on the social contract. By transforming the social contract into a partnership agreement, not a relationship of submission to the sovereign power, he left the sovereignty of the monarch to the will of the people (Kriegel 2010, p. 142).
In his works titled The Source of Inequality Between People and the Social Contract, he put forward his view of society and the state based on the concepts of freedom and equality. Rousseau’s state doctrine is based on the concept of natural law (Dinçer 2010, p. 195).
According to Rousseau, the first man lived happily in the state of nature, in a state of complete equality and freedom. This state of freedom and equality continued until the foundation of society. Rousseau attributes the end of the state of nature to the emergence of property and the abolition of equality. He says, “The first person who could fence off a piece of land and find people naive enough to believe it, was the founder of civilized society” (Rousseau 1982, p. 155).
The rise of private property thus led to the end of natural equality, and thus of the state of nature. Thus, the concepts of “right” and “injustice” emerged. Man’s self-love, which is harmless in the state of nature, has taken the form of egoism, and this has increased inequality. The disappearance of natural equality forced people to come together with a contract and a “civilized society” emerged. But once the society is established by contract, freedom has completely disappeared. With this contract, property and inequality are consolidated endlessly. The establishment of a state led to the establishment of other states, and wars began between states. However, according to Rousseau, all these are against the law of nature; inequality is not in conformity with natural law.
According to the law of nature, all people are equal and free. People are born free and equal by nature. Therefore, the state of inequality is against natural law. However, there is no possibility of returning to the state of nature again. No matter how bad it is, the emergence of culture is an inevitable phenomenon. So what needs to be done is to try as far as possible to eliminate the bad consequences of the emergence of culture. The way to do this is to bring the cultural life of the civilized society as close to the state of nature as possible. Modern civilized society is not just something that emerges from the union of individuals, it is a whole with a legal order.
Rousseau describes the situation that emerges with the social contract as follows: “The life and property of each of the members must be found such a form of society that defends and protects with all common strength, where each man is united with everyone but still at his own command.