Rousseau excerpts


Rousseau, The Social Contract (1763) (excerpt);  from  Second Discourse (On Inequality) (1755) (full text); "On Childhood" from Emile (1762),  (Hanover) Forced to Be Free! and Rousseau's Ideal Form of Government; Rousseau on The Lisbon Earthquake; Perry Excerpt: Enlightenment Political Thought


On Good and Evil:


I do not see how one can search for the source of moral evil anywhere but in man.... Moreover ... the majority of our physical misfortunes are also our work….

[T]he misfortunes nature imposes upon us are less cruel than those which we add to them....   (Rousseau's "Letter to Voltaire Regarding the Poem on the Lisbon Earthquake", August 18, 1756)


Man in the State of Nature: ‘the first promptings of humanity’


The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty [ie accept restrictions] only for their own advantage. The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have for the peoples under him. (The Social Contract)


Men, from the mere fact that, while they are living in their primitive independence, they have no mutual relations stable enough to constitute either the state of peace or the state of war, cannot be naturally enemies. (The Social Contract)


The Origin of Evil: the Right to Property:


In the original state of nature there was little difference between individuals, but this natural equality ended when private property emerged, with disastrous results: insatiable ambition, jealousy, rivalry. Force and guile swept away the natural man’s goodness and pity. Rousseau believed that civil society had been invented to protect property. (Perry)


Natural, instinctive, feeling man was morally superior to thinking man of modern society. Because of his recognition and glorification of emotion’s primitive power, (Perry)


On Human Responsibility


Force is a physical power, and I fail to see what moral effect it can have. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will. . . . [Force] does not create right, and we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. . . it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. (Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762))


The Social Contract:

To find a form of association which would defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and remain as free as before. (The Social Contract

The General Will


The clauses of the contract . . . may be reduced to one--the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others. . . (The Social Contract

Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole. (The Social Contract

The General Will resembles the Stoic conception of ‘right reason’, of thinking purged of self-interest and unworthy motives so that it accords with the natural law underlying the universe. For Rousseau, true freedom consists of obedience to laws that coincide with the general will, that serve the community’s common interests. (Perry)

At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting party, this act of association creates a corporate and collective body, composed of as many members as the assembly contains voters, and receiving from this act its unity, its common identity, its life, and its will…. Those who are associated in it take collectively the name of people, and severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign authority, and subjects, as being under the laws of the State. . . . (The Social Contract

By entering into the social compact, man gives up his natural liberty or unlimited right to everything which he is desirous of and can attain. In return for this, he gains social liberty, and an exclusive property in all those things of which he is possessed. (The Social Contract

To the end, therefore, that the social compact should not prove an empty form, it tacitly includes this engagement, which only can enforce the rest, viz. that whosoever refuses to pay obedience to the general will, shall be liable to be compelled to it by the force of the whole body. And this is in effect nothing more than that they may be compelled to be free... (The Social Contract

Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. (The Social Contract