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Rousseau Freedom

In The Social Contract, Jean Jaques Rousseau basically presents his argument that we, as individuals who agree to form a society, are citizens and subjects, both ruling and being ruled simultaneously. When it comes to individual freedom, then, we are presented with a paradox. If we agree to give up our state of complete freedom in uncivilized nature and posit absolute power in the state over all its members in order to join civilized society, are we not merely slaves to the state with little freedom if any? Rousseau tried to resolve this paradox by arguing that individuals gain much more by being members of society than they ever could individually in the isolated chaos of nature. Rousseau argues that rights like liberty, equality, and property are not individual rights at all. They are only civil rights, that is, ones bestowed upon us by our membership in the community. However, even as Rousseau makes this argument, we see that his explanation of it is sometimes contradictory:

The social contract gives the body politic absolute power over all its members. Each man alienates, I admit by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the sovereign is sole judge of what is important. But the sovereign, for its part, cannot impose upon its subjects any fetters that are useless to the community. We can see from this that the sovereign power, absolute, sacred, and inviolable as it is, does not and cannot exceed the limits of general conventions, and that every man may dispose at will of such goods and liberty as these conventions leave him.

The problem becomes that even though Rousseau is arguing that the only rights are ones conferred upon the individual by society and that liberty is necessary for the general good, he cannot define the general will on any deeper level. He is basically saying that rights are social in nature ...

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Rousseau Freedom. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:55, June 24, 2019, from