Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s General Will

In the reading, Jean-Jacques Rousseau discusses and examines some of his most important political philosophy beliefs. Rousseau's principles are concerned with "universal will," which is an important aspect of his social contract theory. Rousseau asserts that "universal will" is indestructible and that a state can only survive by adopting and obeying it. According to Rousseau, the contempt of general will by private groups leads to the collapse of a state. In an ideal world, general will is something that everyone in the state accepts, whether they like it or not (225).

Rousseau states it is not about what people want or need, but the duty of everybody to conform to general will to secure the prosperity of state. When individuals disregard common will and allow private interests to prevail over the common good arguments, debates and quarrels arise that lead to the dysfunction and disorganization of a state (Rousseau 224). Rousseau came up with General Will to illustrate how it was ignored in the 17th century France. He saw the decline of state and anticipated the Revolution, pointing out the exact mechanisms of injustice.

Arguments to Be Focused on

Rousseau’s argument originated from the negative influence of French absolutism. During his life Rousseau noticed and tried to resolve with his writings numerous political and social oppressions. That is because in the 17th century France absolute monarchy allowed discriminations to exist and even depended on them. For example, personal freedoms were oppressed in different ways, which included negative economic conditions of the majority of population. In France under absolute monarchy, 90% of commonwealth belonged only to 10% of population. This enormous disproportion left 90% of people in poverty without their interests being either represented or defended. This injustice was the reason why French Revolution happened, when the wealth was taken away from nobility and clergy to be shared among all people, no matter what their class or origins were. The main objective of Rousseau’s explorations in political philosophy was, therefore, to prove to people that they can be free and that they deserve everything other people own, because during Rousseau’s life, the majority of people were born free, but doomed to live in bondage of the unjust political, social, and economic oppressions. General Will was ignored in France under absolute monarchy, because the private interests of only 10% of population prevailed over it.

Part 2

Uncertainty in the Author’s Reasoning in Places

One may be curious why Rousseau chose to target his contemporary political and social conditions, even though they were traditional. Monarchial rule was the way French society existed for almost a thousand years, starting from Charles the Great. People in France were very happy, when Louis XIV ruled and transformed France into a powerful modern state. Therefore, it is interesting why when a smart and truly great monarch succeeds in ruling a state, nobody talks about oppressions, but when another monarch fails to produce benefits with the power granted to him, not only his personal identity becomes criticized, but the whole political system?

Connection of Themes Raised in the Reading with Other Issues that Have Come Up

Why did Rousseau decide it was wise to vote, with the majority of population being easily manipulated? He says that a simple and straight peasant is difficult to trick. One might not be willing to agree, because the opposite view sounds twice as logical. Poor peasants were easily manipulated, and it was their influence that put France in complete chaos for five years during the French Revolution. Therefore, why does Rousseau suggest voting when people can sell their votes? Why does the question of voting even arise, when during Rousseau’s life, everywhere in the world, only a small amount of people was given a possibility to vote for something or somebody? Is it because he predicted that democracy will prevail in future as the most dominant and widespread political system, or because he wanted it be so, and people today should be grateful first and foremost to him for the possibility to represent their interests and control politicians?



Rousseau, J. (2012) Basic Political Writings. D. A. Cress (Ed. and Trans.). Boston: Hackett Publishing.

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