In several speeches relating to political science, the state has been the focal point. This can be traced from Plato’s scholarly works to Karl Marx, who also delved into a study of the manner in which a state’s structure and responsibilities have increasingly changed over time. There was no meeting of the minds of any of these prolific academics as many of them had divergent opinions on the fundamental hypotheses that are considered to contribute to the creation of a society. The theory of the social contract is one of the ideas that has stood out. This paper seeks to dissect the theory in order to enumerate the key points that stem out from it as was discussed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The discussion will also highlight the manner in which the theory is important in the understanding of the American government.
Rousseau was of the opinion that a government needed to provide the opportunity to every one of its residents to realize some level of freedom. The Social Contract specifically is Rousseau’s endeavor to envision the type of a state that adequately confers individual rights and freedom to its citizens, with a degree of limitation that is necessary for order within the society. Rousseau recognized that the in so far as property and laws were present, individuals can never be completely free in the contemporary society. This remark was reiterated by Karl Marx. Rousseau firmly had faith in the presence of specific standards of a state that, if instituted, can ensure that that the citizens within a given territory can attain a degree of autonomy to undertake their own affairs without the intrusion of the leaders. In The Social Contract, Rousseau is dedicated to illustrating these standards and how they might be given expression in a practical present day state.
Characterizing the Natural and the State Of Nature
For Rousseau to prevail with regards to figuring out which societal foundations and structures repudiate man’s freedom and natural goodness, he should first understand the meaning of the “natural”. Rousseau departs from all the ideologies that have formulated the society’s understanding of the manner with which people are supposed to live among each other and draws an inference that a large number of the thoughts we underestimate, for example, moral disparity, property, and law, really have no premise in nature. According to Rousseau, the contemporary society, by and large, has a close proximity to the state of nature.
As Rousseau talks about in The Social Contract, the condition of nature is the theoretical, ancient place and time where people lived without being influenced by the society. The distinguishing factor in the state of nature is that individuals have the autonomy to undertake any activity they would want to without being limited by a sovereign. It should further be noted that the state of nature additionally conveys the downside that individuals have not yet found discernment or ethical principles. Rousseau also underlines the advantages and setbacks of the state of nature. One of the advantages includes not being restricted by the coercive impact of the state and society. The manner in which Rousseau approaches the state of nature is almost similar to the school of thought that Thomas Hobbes ascribes to. He only seems to build upon the theory that Hobbes had initially put forth that the state of nature was basically a condition of war and brutality. This slight distinction demonstrates the two scholars had divergent beliefs on human nature. Hobbes perceived it as violent and brutal whereas Rousseau saw it as good. However, Rousseau ended up recognizing that in spite of the fact that it is not possible to re-live the state of nature, comprehending its underlying principles is important in order for people to be cognizant of the fact that indeed human nature was premised on doing good.
The Danger of Need
Rousseau incorporates an examination of human need as one component in his correlation of the contemporary society and the state of nature. Rousseau highlights the fact that, “needs” result from the interests, which make individuals covet a particular thing or activity. In the condition of nature, human needs are entirely constrained to those things that guarantee survival and proliferation, including sleep, food, and sex. The more the society evolves the more people desire things that do not add value to their lives such as possession of luxuries, entertainment, and friendship. As time passes by and these sorts of requirements progressively become enshrined in everyday life, they move toward becoming necessities. In as much as a significant number of these unnecessary things are at first pleasurable and even useful for people, people in the contemporary society end up being enslaved to them due to the fact that the entire of society is bound together and molded by their interest. It is, therefore, important to note that these ‘unnecessaries’ are the establishment of contemporary ethical and moral. This is because the quest for necessities definitely implies that people will be compelled to work to satisfy the other people’s needs and some will command their colleagues when in a position to do so.
Rousseau’s perception of need, and particularly the ones that have evolved in the contemporary society, are the practical components of his theory which can be applied at the present time. Given a number of resources that a nation has, for example, the United States and the degree to which consumerism is the main thrust behind its economy, Rousseau’s ideologies ought to provide the much-needed insight to anybody who is worried about the ways the American culture sustains a considerable number of people who are progressively being subjugated by fake needs.
The Possibility of Authenticity in Modern Life
In relation to Rousseau’s general endeavor to see how the contemporary society contrasts from life in the state of nature is his focal point on the subject of how genuine the life is in current society. Rousseau attempts to discern the authenticity of life by looking at how intently the life of present day man mirrors the positive characteristics of his true character. As anyone might expect, Rousseau feels that individuals in the contemporary society lead fake lives devoid of their natural self.
The entire framework of fake needs that oversees the present society makes credibility in the manner with which people interact with each other impossible. Since people are continually attempting to shortchange or potentially rule their fellow citizens to meet their selfish needs, they tend to hide their true character. Rousseau stated that the lack of credibility of the modern man is due to the fact that they are surrounded by fake things and fake needs. He advanced the fact that modern civilization in its entirety is not genuine and this can be seen when the person who first came up with the concept of privatization of companies. The individual simply enclosed a parcel of land and told the people who were around him that the enclosure was now his to the exclusion of the entire world yet he had no basis for taking the land.
The Unnaturalness Of Inequality
One of the fundamental questions that Rousseau sought to decipher was in relation to the equality of people in the society. He felt that this was a major point in the society and in most cases is the root cause of some of the problems that people have to contend with in the modern society. Rousseau highlighted the fact that the problems that arise as a result of social disparities are no natural occurring and therefore can easily be cured if only people put their hearts and minds to it. Nonetheless, he points out that physical inequality is the only sought inequality that people are born with and are rather difficult to change though not impossible. Issues such as physical appearances are natural inequalities but socio-economic status is an artificial inequality that can be changed.
In the American society today there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor in the society. The government needs to put in place some form of affirmative action that will enable the people from destitute backgrounds to eventually make both ends meet. This will ensure that we bridge this gap in order to avoid social problems such as theft that often arises due to the need to sustain one’s self. Rousseau’s notion of equality is deemed to have been particularly influential in both the French and American Revolutions, where people in the low class revolted against the ruling class in the respective territories.
The General Will and the Common Good
Maybe the most intricate idea in Rousseau’s political theory is the principle of the general will. As Rousseau clarifies, the general will is the will of the person who is in authority, or the general public collectively, that goes for the benefit of everyone—what is best for the state in general. With as much as every individual may have his or her own specific will that communicates what is beneficial for him or her, in a solid state, where individuals effectively strive to do good at the expense of their personal desires, the amalgamation of every single specific will, the “will of all,” is proportional to the general will. In a state where the people’s individual interests supersede the basic interests of the group, the will of all can be something very distinct from the general will. The most solid indication of the general will in a sound state is derived from the law. According to Rousseau, laws ought to dependably record what the general population wants as a group (the general will) and ought to be able to be applied in all facets of life within a given territory. Laws ought to exist to guarantee that they protect the rights and fundamental freedoms of all the people within the country. This will ensure that people willingly will uphold the leadership of a sovereign.
In the United States, the government needs to ensure that it enacts laws that ensure equal protection before the law without undue regards to the discriminatory practices. The government at all levels should also ensure that they protect the civil rights as envisioned in the 14th amendment to the constitution since this is the only way that they will recognize the authority of the various institutions and the leaders that have been put in place.