The Effectiveness And Limitations Of Social Contracts In Rousseau's Works

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My goal in this article is to examine whether the ideal political society proposed in Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s book successfully resolve the problems of three types of the dependence identified in his book. To examine the effectiveness and the limitations of Social Contract in regard to the problems of dependence, I will look closely into botH. On the one hand, I will start by identifying three types of dependences, addressing the origin, and defining the consequences in society. On the other hand, I will focus on the solutions proposed by the Social Contract, explaining each aspect of the proposed political society and addressing the goals of it corresponding to the problems. Finally, by linking the solutions to the problems, I will argue the effectiveness and the limitations of Rousseau’s ideal political society.

In Rousseau’s book , he recognized two types of human dependences that result into the moral inequality as the consequences of human revolutions. The state of nature, as Rousseau argues, was initially a static condition where humans enjoyed their freedom and they were able to live on their own without outside influence. The human concerned only about his preservation (69)- things that would satisfy his own needs of food, sleep, and sex. However, as humans exited from the state of nature and started to form a society, various environmental forces, described as “difficulties”, multiplied, and such difficulties forced them to introduce corresponding differences in their lifestyles. The first evolution began when the human started to use tools and build habituations that host the families. People started to live with each other, and this sparked the cooperation. As the humans spent less time on their tasks, they began to use activities like dancing in their leisure time. It further helped to spread their relationships and tighten their bonds. They began to look at each other and wished to be looked at themselves and compared themselves to the others. This first type of dependence, social dependence, is therefore formed, as humans needed the others to validate their own self-worthiness. As humans continued living with each other, they began to split the complex tasks among labors. For Rousseau, this is when the second revolution started. The division of labor created the second type of dependence, the economic dependence, in human society. Rousseau illustrates the example of agriculture and metallurgy industries and he argues that labors of both industries rely on each other because the organized farming accelerated the agriculture production and the innovations on the iron tools stimulated the organized farming. Furthermore, the cooperation in agriculture constituted the institution of property, as man can apply his labors his own property. In order to preserve their dominations, the rich designed political societies and made the poor to believe that they agree to give up their freedom for the safety guaranteed by such political society. Therefore, the social and economic dependence finally led to the political dependence such that humans are able to find a way to protect their own properties. In the end, Rousseau points out that the economic and social dependence results in the political dependence that eventually made the poor to give up their freedom in the “chains” created by the rich, and Rousseau’s goal here is to measure how much physical freedom does the citizen need to give up in exchange to his civil freedom. To do so, he developed a social contract that represents not only the rich but every member in the society and form a government that represents the general will.

In Rousseau’s work , he proposed that the legitimate political entity should be the one that is founded upon a social contract that is agreed by all the citizens for their common preservation. He designs his ideal state from three aspects: administration, legislation, and executive power. Starting from the administration, he first defined the “sovereign” as the collective group of all citizens and argued that such “sovereign” should be viewed as an individual person. Here, the sovereign represents the general will that aims at the common good and the sovereign enjoys its absolute authority within its domain. People within its domain ought to be called regularly to address their opinions on the administration. Apart from the administration, Rousseau also requires the legislation system to follow certain rules. First, the general and abstract laws of this political entity will be clearly expressed by the general will and will be created by an impartial lawgiver who is not part of the society. Second, under any circumstances, all laws should preserve the liberty and equality. Thirdly, all the laws should be applied generally and fairly. Furthermore, Rousseau also sets up standards for the executive power. He argues that there exists different types of governments and, among all of them, the strongest one is the monarchy and the most stable one is aristocracies. Thus, from Rosseau’s perspective, such an ideal political society that is established upon the social contract will ensure citizens’ civil freedom at the expenses of their physical freedom embodied in the human nature.

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Now, I am going to examine whether Rousseau’s ideal political society will solve the problems of social, economic, and political dependence. I will start my arguments from the political dependence, followed by economics dependence and social dependence.

From my point of view, the political dependence is resolved under this proposed political system. Without the advent of the social contract, people are able to claim their ownerships by forces as long as they are powerful enough to do so. Since they are the powerful ones in the society, even though the properties they claim are not legitimate, they cannot be punished by the weak. Yet, the changes are made as the social contract is being generated, determined, executed, and monitored by all the citizens. Instead of protecting the property rights for rich people in the society, the social contract now protects the ownership of each individual. With this being said, a combination of rights comes as part of the general will to protect each individual’s property right. Unlike previously when the vulnerable man has to stand alone to protect his rights in front of the richer and more powerful individuals, the men now gives up its own rights to the group, unite with each other, and form a more powerful and protective entity to defend the ones who are against the general will. Such condition leaves no room for any man to hurt the other before hurting the whole group. It also makes it impossible to hurt the rights of the entire group without harming any individuals. Under no circumstances will anyone hold more power or enjoy more rights than the others. Therefore, the property rights of each individual in this society is protected.

Even though Rousseau’s Social Contract resolves the political dependence addressed in the Second Discourse, in my opinion, it hardly resolves the economic dependence. According to Rousseau, the economic dependence emerges as the humans started to cooperate in the production. As the industry diversifies, human cannot get what he/she wants solely on his own, they need to depend on others for the goods that they are not able to produce. I understand that the social contracts require human to give up their own desires in exchange for the common desire but giving over its own desire for the general desire does not mean that people are able to self-sustain themselves without the products offered by the others. I admit that by giving up his/her needs for the luxurious goods driven by the social interactions for the common goods, the economic dependence driven from the excessive desire for the consumable goods eliminated, but the economic dependence based on the basic needs of the man still exist. Although people might argue that, since the sovereign nowadays represents every individual in society, it could thus be viewed as an individual. If so, the sovereign could sustain itself without the dependence from the others. However, our discussion on the economic dependence stays on the individual level, and, consequently, Rosseau’s Social Contract fails to resolve the economic dependence.

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The Effectiveness And Limitations Of Social Contracts In Rousseau’s Works. (2021, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
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