Attributes of living in a society

Attributes of living in a society

Attributes of living in a society: The social contract seeks the solution of a political problem formulated in chapter VI of book I: “To find a form of association which defends and protects with all the common force the person and the goods of each associate, and by which each one s uniting with all, however, obeys only itself and remains as free as before. Rousseau is therefore in search of a model of political organization; it must be as efficient as it is perfect, that is to say, combine utility and legitimacy, interest and right. The interest of each individual presupposes that association with others is useful to him; it’s right, that it remains legitimate. Uniting strength with freedom: such is the squaring of the circle that Rousseau seeks to solve.

1. The social pact

A. De jure and de facto companies

“Man was born free, and everywhere he is in irons”. The question that arises in the first book of the Social Contract is: by what, right? The first step is to examine the answers traditionally given to the question of the legitimate foundations of political society.

The king and his subjects would be an extension of the father and the children: the latter owe absolute obedience and respect to the former. However, a father commands his children for their good, a king for his own good; a father directs his children as long as they are not capable of directing themselves, and the subjects of a king take pleasure in their slavery only because they have been brutalized there.

He who commands would base his right on his strength; certainly, it is because he is the strongest that he commands, but that does not make it a duty to obey him: one must distinguish between being constrained (by force) and being obliged (by duty). “Might does not make right”, and if might made right, it would be legitimate to disobey as soon as one is the strongest.

Nature – force or natural authority – giving no legitimacy to political oppression, men must be subject to other men by convention. But who would agree to give up his person and his property, his freedom, without compensation? A legitimate society must be founded on a convention, but this convention must render obedience advantageous to all the contracting parties.

Attributes of living in a society

B. The social contract

The foundation of a political society is not the act by which the people gives itself a leader, but that by which it becomes a people. Obeying the same leader does not make the people a unit, but an aggregate which dissolves when it dies. It is by a first convention that a group of men decides to live together.

This convention is only legitimate insofar as it is fair for all, that is to say, advantageous to everyone, and subscribed to freely. The social contract is defined by the total alienation of the force, goods, and will of each individual to the community. Since everyone does the same, no one benefits (which would be tyranny), and everyone remains free; since the social contract weighs on everyone, no one has an interest in weighing it down in Attributes of living in a society.

As the citizenry as whole orders each of them in particular, he is called Sovereign*, and his orders are absolute; insofar as the whole of society obeys the sovereign, it is called State*. The Sovereign is therefore not the individual who holds power, but the entire assembly of citizens insofar as his decisions are irrevocable. The Sovereign, composed of individuals, protects each of them with all his strength; if, on the other hand, a citizen follows his particular interest against the general interest, the Sovereign has all the power over him to “force him to be free”. Only the foundation of the social contract requires the unanimity of the citizens; a simple majority suffices for legislative acts and involves the opposing minority.

By destroying natural liberty, the social contract gives birth to civil liberty; only then do human actions have moral significance.

2. Laws

A. The Sovereign

The Sovereign directs the State according to the general will, that is to say, according to the common interest of the subjects. The common interest is the “point in which all interests agree”; it is a rare and not very durable fact that a particular will coincides with the general will. Sovereignty is inalienable.

The power of the Sovereign cannot be broken down: there is no distinction of powers, on the contrary, all emanate from the same source. The executive, the power to deal with a foreign power, the levying of taxes, and the application of justice are not their powers, but derive from the sole power to lay down laws, which belongs only to the sovereign. Sovereignty is indivisible in Attributes of living in a society.

The general will is not the will of all: the second is the summation of particular interests, the first the cancellation of their reciprocal oppositions. The general will is the result of the subtraction of particular wills: it bears only on the State as a whole, never on particular cases. The limits of the Sovereign stop his power in the sphere of the universal.

B. Legislation

The will of the Sovereign is expressed only by laws. These laws are conventional and establish human rights in society; they are distinct both from the divine and natural justices (from human reason). The law of the state is carried by all the people, ruling over all the people; it never considers concrete persons, but always categories of persons. The order of a Head of State, which relates to an individual or a particular situation, is therefore not a law but a decree.

Only the people are the legitimate author of the laws; as he can err, his will must be enlightened by the mind of a great legislator, who convinces him neither by reasoning (which the people do not understand) nor by violence. “It would take gods to give laws to men,” says Rousseau, gods whose persuasive skill will consist in distorting men to such an extent that they can live in society.

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The two pillars of any good legal system are freedom and equality. Equality supports freedom, in the sense that it must not be strict in fortunes, but such that no citizen can buy another: the natural force of things tending to destroy equality, the force conventional legislation must tend to maintain it. The visible work of the legislator relates to the laws written and stated, but in reality tends in secret to reform manners, customs, and opinion: for it is the category of laws that forms the keystone of the legislative system.

Customs and public opinion form the fundamental laws of the social body. Legislative laws create mores, and mores create public opinion; as long as public opinion is right, the social body is in good health.

In antiquity, religion was confused with politics, theological morality with the mores of the nation and the laws of the state: each people, each city had its god. Now, says Rousseau, there are two sovereigns, two cities in one: that of God, that of men in Attributes of living in a society.

Attributes of living in a society

3. Governments

A. Forms of government

Like man, the body politic is animated by a will, legislative power, and the political force to serve it, executive power. The exercise of the latter must be ensured legitimately by the government*, which can just as easily be monarchical as aristocratic or democratic. There is a democratic government when the totality, or the majority, of the body politic, participates in the executive power; there is an aristocratic government when it is entrusted to a few, and a monarchical government when it is entrusted to a single person. Democracy is therefore not for Rousseau what it is for us.

“If there were a people of Gods, says Rousseau, they would govern themselves democratically. A government so perfect is not suitable for men.”

B. The death of the social contract

Like the animal body, the social body lives and dies. It cannot last forever. If external causes do not get the better of it, internal wear and tear will eventually destroy it.

The natural inclination of government is to substitute itself for the sovereign: “inherent and inevitable vice” which leads, sooner or later, to the death of the body politic or anarchy. Democracy degenerates into ochlocracy (government of the populace), aristocracy into an oligarchy (government of the richest). Monarchy degenerates into tyranny (usurpation of governmental authority) or despotism (usurpation of sovereign authority).

Since the death of the body politic is inevitable, we must seek to delay it as long as possible, that is to say, to preserve as long as possible the sovereign authority, or legislative power. The best way is to organize periodic meetings of the people as a whole, which suspend the authority of governmental power.

The death of the body politic is the effect of the domination of private affairs over public affairs. With disinterest in public affairs comes the institution of deputies: representatives of the people, they usurp its sovereignty, if they decide for themselves in the name of the general will. After the institution of government, a singular act of executive power by the Sovereign, where the social body temporarily becomes a democracy, affairs should not remain in the hands of the government alone.

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