Social Contract - Rousseau

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Rousseau?s Social Contract : Forced into totalitarianism, or forced to be free? Many critics of Rousseau argue that his declaration ?forced to be free? is in advocacy of a totalitarian form of government. However, with an examination of Rousseau?s Social Contract and the historical context in which it was written, it can be discerned that Rousseau is not a totalitarian, but an enlightenment thinker. In effect, when Rousseau says ?forced to be free,? he means not that a citizen in a social contract may be forced by a totalistic ruler to obey the will of the ruler, but he means that a citizen in a social contract may be forced by the other citizens (or a leader in representation thereof) to obey the general will.

Inherently linked to the statement ?forced to be free? is Rousseau?s concept of general will. The general will is the untainted desire of the whole body of citizens within a social contract. Rousseau states ?the general will is always rightful and always tends to the public good; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally right? (bk II ch 3). Essentially, Rousseau is saying that an individual within a social contract may have desires that are contrary to the general will. If something is contrary to the general will, then it is contrary to the good of the whole society. Therefore, any individual that is in defiance of the general will can be forced to conform to it. Hence, the individual is ?forced to be free?.

This does not mean, however, that Rousseau is writing a formula for totalitarianism. A tyrannical despot rules a totalitarian government, and has the power to force any citizen to do whatever he wishes. Nowhere in The Social Contract does Rousseau...