Ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, by Theme

[Swiss, 1712 - 1778, Born in Geneva. Died in Paris.]

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2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 1. On Reason
Reason leads to prudent selfishness, but overruling natural compassion
     Full Idea: Reason is what engenders egocentrism ...turns man in upon himself ...and separates him from all that troubles him and afflicts him. Philosophy is what ...moves him to say at the sight of a suffering man 'Perish if you will; I am safe and sound'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: He goes on to observe that fights in the marketplace are stopped by women, while the philosophers have all run away! This thinking leads to the sentimental movement, and then to romanticism.
2. Reason / B. Laws of Thought / 2. Sufficient Reason
Both nature and reason require that everything has a cause
     Full Idea: Under the law of reason nothing takes place without a cause, any more than under the law of nature.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.04)
     A reaction: Is this the influence of Leibniz? Note that the principle is identified in two different areas, so in nature we may say 'everything has a cause', and in rationality we may say 'there is a reason for everything'. But are these the same?
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 1. Knowledge
No one would bother to reason, and try to know things, without a desire for enjoyment
     Full Idea: We seek to know only because we desire to find enjoyment; and it is impossible to conceive why someon who had neither desires nor fears would go to the bother reasoning.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: This appears to be an echo of Hume's pessimism about the autonomy of reason. This downgrading of reason is a striking feature of the Enlightenment, which presumably culminates in the romantic movement.
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 5. Generalisation by mind
General ideas are purely intellectual; imagining them is immediately particular
     Full Idea: Every general idea is purely intellectual. The least involvement of the imagination thereupon makes the idea particular.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: This thought is in Berkeley, who seemed to think that general ideas were impossible, because imagination was always required. Rousseau is certainly an improvement on that.
Only words can introduce general ideas into the mind
     Full Idea: General ideas can be introduced into the mind only with the aid of words.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Hm. How did humanity manage to invent general words. Do animals not have general thoughts, e.g. about food, shelter, predators? Roussea goes on to deny that monkeys see nuts as a 'type' of fruit.
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 5. Concepts and Language / a. Concepts and language
Language may aid thinking, but powerful thought was needed to produce language
     Full Idea: If men needed speech in order to learn to think, they had a still greater need for knowing how to think in order to discover the art of speaking.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: I take language to be a consequence of the emergence of meta-thought in humanity, so I thoroughly endorse Rousseau's view. The idea that rationality, and even consciousness, are mainly facilitated by language strikes me as quite wrong.
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 4. Beauty
Without love, what use is beauty?
     Full Idea: Where there is no love, what use is beauty?
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Rousseau seems to be thinking of sexual attractiveness, but the aphorism seems to have universal application.
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / h. Good as benefit
If we should not mistreat humans, it is mainly because of sentience, not rationality
     Full Idea: If I am obliged not to do any harm to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Pref)
     A reaction: How should sentience and rationality be weighted here? Kant demands instrinsic respect for beings on the grounds of their rationality. What could ever justify doing needless harm to anything? An open goal for virtue theory here.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / g. Moral responsibility
Without freedom of will actions lack moral significance
     Full Idea: If you take away all freedom of the will, you strip a man's actions of all moral significance.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.4)
     A reaction: Rousseau is (in the context) guilty of the basic error of confusing freedom of action with freedom of the will. If the will has scope to act, it has freedom of action; if the will is not contrained in its decision by prior causes, it has freedom of will.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / b. Rational ethics
Rational morality is OK for brainy people, but ordinary life can't rely on that
     Full Idea: Although it might be appropriate for Socrates and minds of his stature to acquire virtue through reason, the human race would long ago have ceased to exist, if its preservation had depended solely on the reasonings of its members.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: He takes our natural compassion to be the basis of morality. Hume combines that with a natural social prudence. Apes live successfully together in groups, without a Socrates. See MacIntyre on the failure of reasoned morality.
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 2. Golden Rule
The better Golden Rule is 'do good for yourself without harming others'
     Full Idea: Instead of the sublime maxim of reasoned justice 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you', pity inspires a less perfect but perhaps more useful one: 'Do what is good for you with as little harm as possible to others'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: His revised maxim is like J.S. Mill's formula for liberalism. The first maxim seems more contractarian, the second more utilitarian.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / f. Compassion
The fact that we weep (e.g. in theatres) shows that we are naturally compassionate
     Full Idea: Every day one sees in our theatres someone affected and weeping at the ills of some unfortunate person ...Nature, in giving men tears, bears witness that she gave the human race the softest hearts.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Lovely. Of course, tears in infants are for their own misfortunes, but adults more commonly weep over the sufferings of others. But we somewhat laugh at people who easily cry over dramas about suffering.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 6. Authentic Self
Feelings are prior to intelligence; we should be content to live with our simplest feelings
     Full Idea: To exist is to feel, our feeling is undoubtedly earlier than our intelligence, and we had feelings before we had ideas. …Let us be simpler and less pretentious; let us be content with the first feelings we experience in ourselves.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Emile: treatise on education [1762], p.210), quoted by Kevin Aho - Existentialism: an introduction 6 'Moods'
     A reaction: Beginning of the sentimental movement, and precursor to romanticism, but here seen as the basis for the existentialist concept of authenticity. Wallowing in emotions doesn't appeal to me, but you have to make space for them. Rousseau loved walking.
24. Applied Ethics / B. Moral Rights / 3. Animal Rights
Both men and animals are sentient, which should give the latter the right not to be mistreated
     Full Idea: Since being sentient is common to both animals and men, that should at least give the former the right not to be needlessly mistreated by the latter.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Pref)
     A reaction: This is why utilitarianism led to the founding of the RSPCA in Britain. There is a disturbing picture of people smashing up animals for fun, if they can only persuade themselves that the animals are not sentient. I've heard fishermen claim that.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 1. A People / a. Human distinctiveness
Humans are less distinguished from other animals by understanding, than by being free agents
     Full Idea: It is not so much understanding which causes the specific distinction of man from all other animals as it is his being a free agent.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: I'm not sure how deep Rousseau takes 'free' to go. Having little enthusiasm for free will, I would say that we are distinguished by the complexity of our decision making. But I attribute that to meta-thought, the mark of humanity.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 1. A People / b. The natural life
Primitive man was very gentle
     Full Idea: Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: This summarises Rousseau's view of the earliest stage of mankind, when there was little rivalry, and little motivation or opportunity for viciousness.
Most human ills are self-inflicted; the simple, solitary, regular natural life is good
     Full Idea: Most of our ills are of our own making, and we could have avoided nearly all of them by preserving the simple, regular and solitary lifestyle prescribed to us by nature.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: It is important that he is not really disagreeing with Hobbes's pessimistic view of natural life as 'nasty'. Rousseau attributes that to a later stage, when people are ineptly beginning to emerge from the state of nature. I'm an optimist here.
Is language a pre-requisite for society, or might it emerge afterwards?
     Full Idea: Which was more necessary: an already formed society for the invention of languages, or an already invented language for the establishment of society?
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Rousseau declines to attempt an answer. Ants and bees seem to do well, but have some means of communication. Ape colonies are quite sophisticated.
I doubt whether a savage person ever complains of life, or considers suicide
     Full Idea: I ask if anyone has ever heard tell of a savage who was living in liberty ever dreaming of complaining about his life and of killing himself.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Rousseau's state of nature is much too remote from any current tribal life for this to be tested. It is a nice speculation. Do apes ever attempt suicide?
Savages avoid evil because they are calm, and never think of it (not because they know goodness)
     Full Idea: We could say that savages are not evil because they do not know what is good; for it is neither enlightenment nor legal restraint, but the calm of the passions and the ignorance of vice which prevents them from doing evil.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Suggests one of my favourite ideas (Idea 519). While his hopes for savages and the state of nature may be optimistic, the idea that you won't do evil if it never crosses your mind (and it won't if you are a calm person) is very powerful.
Savage men quietly pursue desires, without the havoc of modern frenzied imagination
     Full Idea: Imagination, which wreaks so much havoc among us, does not speak to savage hearts; each man peacefully awaits the impetus of nature, gives himself over to it without choice, and with more pleasure than frenzy; then all desire is snuffed out.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Interesting to identify imagination as a source of trouble. The idea that the savage lacks imagination seems implausible. Better to say that modern imagination has been poisoned by competition.
Leisure led to envy, inequality, vice and revenge, which we now see in savages
     Full Idea: People developed leisure pursuits, and wanted esteem, which was the first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards vice. Vanity, contempt, shame and envy were born, and acts of revenge. This is the stage of savage people we know of.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: [very compressed] This is important in understanding Rousseau, because his happier 'state of nature' is prior to what is described here, which is the violent warlike state which impressed Hobbes.
Our two starting principles are concern for self-interest, and compassion for others
     Full Idea: One principle prior to reason makes us ardently interested in our well-being and self-preservation; the other inspires a natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Pref)
     A reaction: This is strikingly like Hume's nascent utilitarianism. These two principles are the key to Rousseau's vision of the state of nature, from which the union around a general will leads to the formation of a state. Note that animals get included here.
Natural mankind is too fragmented for states of peace, or of war and enmity
     Full Idea: Men are not naturally enemies, for the simple reason that men living in their original state of independence do not have sufficiently constant relationships among themselves to bring about either a state of peace or a state of war.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.4)
     A reaction: He sees people in a state of nature as more or less solitary, and certainly in groups any more organised than a small family. One might then be in a state of permanent feud, rather than war, but without settlements people can move away.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 1. A People / c. A unified people
Rousseau assumes that laws need a people united by custom and tradition
     Full Idea: Rousseau assumes that there should already be bonds of custom and tradition uniting a people before it is fit to receive laws.
     From: report of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762]) by Jonathan Wolff - An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Rev) 3 'Rousseau'
     A reaction: In unusual circumstances, such as the arrival of a large population at a new colony, it might be that the laws would create the missing customs and traditions.
The act of becoming 'a people' is the real foundation of society
     Full Idea: The act by which people become 'a people' is the real foundation of society.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.5)
     A reaction: The difficulty with many older countries is that it is impossible to identify such an act. Mythologies are created to fictionalise such acts; in Britain we refer back to King Alfred, and to Magna Carta. I suspect 1660 is the key year.
To overcome obstacles, people must unite their forces into a single unified power
     Full Idea: Men have no other means of maintaining themselves but to form by aggregation a sum of forces that could gain the upper hand over the resistance of obstacles, so that their forces are directed by means of a single moving power and made to act in concert.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.6)
     A reaction: I prefer the Aristotelian view, that men are naturally gregarious and social (like bees and ants), so this act of solidarity in superfluous. A human people is only broken up by violence or disaster, like kicking over an ants' nest.
Human nature changes among a people, into a moral and partial existence
     Full Idea: The establisher of a people is in a position to change human nature, to transform each individual into a part of a larger whole from which the individual receives his life and being, to substitute a partial and moral existence for natural independence.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.07)
     A reaction: The 'partial' part is obvious, in the compromises of society, but he says we only become moral in a people, and even more so when that people constitute a state. In the state of nature, morality seems to be unneeded, rather than absent.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 2. Natural Values / a. Natural freedom
A savage can steal fruit or a home, but there is no means of achieving obedience
     Full Idea: A savage man could well lay hold of the fruit another has gathered, the cave that served as his shelter. But how will he ever succeed in making himself obeyed? What can be the chain of dependence among men who possess nothing?
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: You'd certainly need language to express an enduring threat, like excluding someone from all of the local caves. You need to be able to say 'I'll be back', which animals can't say. Huge muscular men must have dominated in some way.
No man has any natural authority over his fellows
     Full Idea: No man has any natural authority over his fellows.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.4)
     A reaction: This is, of course, specifically denying that superior strength is the same as a natural right. 'Right' might be a better word than 'authority'. If strength doesn't bestow a natural right, then presumably neither does weakness.
Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains
     Full Idea: Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.1)
     A reaction: I've always liked the second sentence, though it may be wishful thinking. It is probably rather fun owning slaves. The idea that man is 'born free' strikes me as nonsense. Man is a highly social animal, which only flourishes if enmeshed in a culture.
25. Society / A. State of Nature / 2. Natural Values / b. Natural equality
In a state of nature people are much more equal; it is society which increases inequalities
     Full Idea: There must be much less difference between one man and another in the state of nature than in that of society, and natural inequality must increase in the human species through inequality occasioned by social institutions.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: This is the main idea of his essay - the answer to the question set by the essay prize. Slavery is common in fairly basic societies, but that is at a much more advanced stage than Rousseau is thinking of. It's hard to disagree with him.
It is against nature for children to rule old men, fools to rule the wise, and the rich to hog resources
     Full Idea: It is obviously contrary to the law of nature, however it is defined, for a child to command an old man, for an imbecile to lead a wise man, and for a handful of people to gorge themselves on superfluities while the starving multitude lack necessities.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: I wonder if gregarious animals ever starve to death during a time of plenty, because of social exclusion? I bet this idea was quoted widely in 1780s Paris. The massive inequality is not just nasty, but 'contrary to the law of nature'.
25. Society / B. The State / 1. Purpose of a State
The measure of a successful state is increase in its population
     Full Idea: The government under which, without external means, without naturalisations, without colonies, the citizens become populous and multiply the most, is infallibly the best government.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.09)
     A reaction: I'm not sure if this was true in the eighteenth century. Birth control has entirely changed the picture, since affluent people seem less inclined to breed. Presumably poverty increased famine and infant mortality.
A state's purpose is liberty and equality - liberty for strength, and equality for liberty
     Full Idea: The greatest good and purpose of every legislative system boils down to liberty and equality. Liberty because dependence takes force from the body of the state, and equality because liberty cannot subsist without it.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.11)
     A reaction: The idea of 'taking force' seems to cover the modern welfare state. Rousseau likes robustly self-sufficient citizens. To ensure equality, however, it may be necessary to restrict liberty.
The greatest social good comes down to freedom and equality
     Full Idea: The greatest good of all, which ought to be the goal of every system of law, comes down to two main objects, freedom and equality.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.11)
     A reaction: He goes on the specify the nature of the equality (Idea 7248). A rival pair of goods might be security and opportunity. On balance, I think I prefer my pair to Rousseau's.
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / a. Sovereignty
People accept the right to be commanded, because they themselves wish to command
     Full Idea: Citizens allow themselves to be oppressed only insofar as they are driven by blind ambition; ...they consent to wear chains in order to be able to give them in turn to others. It is difficult to reduce to obedience someone who does not wish to command.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: Beautiful. This produces what I call the 'military model of management', where people love tree diagrams showing chains of command, and their place in the hierarchy. Life becomes 'either give orders, or obey'. I like democratic teams.
Rousseau insists that popular sovereignty needs a means of expressing consent
     Full Idea: Rousseau's idea of popular sovereignty is a much more radical idea of self-government, because he insists that the consent of the people has to have a real means of expression.
     From: report of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762]) by Johanna Oksala - Political Philosophy: all that matters Ch.5
     A reaction: Presumably Hobbes's 'contract' is forgotten in the mists of time, and ceases to be of any interest to a ruler (such as Charles I, who thought God must have appointed him). Perhaps Britain needs an annual ceremony reaffirming the monarch.
Sovereignty is the exercise of the general will, which can never be delegated
     Full Idea: Since sovereignty is merely the exercise of the general will, it can never be alienated, and the sovereign which is only a collective being, cannot be represented by anything but itself. Power can perfectly well be transmitted, but not the will.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.01)
     A reaction: Part of the post-Hobbesian revolution, which sees sovereignty as residing in the will or consensus of the people, rather than in a divine right, or a right of power. In 2016 this isn't going very well. A people choosing to obey is thereby dissolved.
Just as people control their limbs, the general-will state has total control of its members
     Full Idea: Just as nature gives each man an absolute power over all of his members, the social compact gives the body politic an absolute over all its members, which is the power directed by the general will, and bearing the name sovereignty.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.04)
     A reaction: A highly organic view of the state, and his favourite political metaphor. Does the metaphor include disease and madness? In the 1930s Germany went insane. The man may be happy, but are his limbs happy? If I burn my hand? Etc.
Political laws are fundamental, as they firmly organise the state - but they could still be changed
     Full Idea: The laws regulating the relationship of the sovereign to the state are political laws, which are also fundamental. There is one way of organising a state, and people should stand by it. ...But a people is always in a position to change its laws.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.12)
     A reaction: Constitutions take on a sacred and inviolable quality, but Rousseau clearly thinks 'the Sabbath is made for man'. I think the USA is crazy not to change its constitution on the subject of bearing arms.
The sovereignty does not appoint the leaders
     Full Idea: The election of leaders is a function of government and not of the sovereignty.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.3)
     A reaction: The point is that the general will only establishes the form of government, and not its content. In Britain we accept leaders who are appointed by their own party, and not by the electorate.
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / c. Natural authority
Force can only dominate if it is seen as a right, and obedience as a duty
     Full Idea: The strongest is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.3)
     A reaction: Presumably the people only accept force as a right and obedience as a duty if they appear to be in the people's interests - because the alternative looks worse. In other words, they are terrified.
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / d. Social contract
The social order is a sacred right, but based on covenants, not nature
     Full Idea: The social order is a sacred right which serves as a basis for all other rights; and as it is not a natural right, it must be one founded on covenants.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.1)
     A reaction: I think Rousseau is offering a contradiction here, when he suggests we have a 'sacred' right, which is nevertheless only based on 'covenants'. You can't have it both ways. This is an abuse of the word 'sacred'.
The government is instituted by a law, not by a contract
     Full Idea: The act that institutes the government is not a contract but a law.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.18)
     A reaction: This is a law which implements the general will. There is nothing for citizens to make a contract with, since the sovereign is an abstraction, whereas a social contract is made between actual people. I like Rousseau's big idea.
25. Society / B. The State / 2. State Legitimacy / e. General will
The social pact is the total subjection of individuals to the general will
     Full Idea: The essence of the social pact is that 'each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.6)
     A reaction: This is alarmingly like totally subjecting yourself to the 'Will of God', where the big problem is a bunch of priests (or worse) insisting that they know better than you do what that Will consists of. I have no idea what the current Will of Britain is.
We need a protective association which unites forces, but retains individual freedom
     Full Idea: The problem is to find a form of association which protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate, by means of which each one, while uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.6)
     A reaction: This is the clear purpose of Rousseau's famous concept of the General Will. The idea is that you submit to the general will because you helped formulate it, so you remain free. It is a lovely idea, but notoriously difficult to implement.
To foreign powers a state is seen as a simple individual
     Full Idea: In relation to a foreign power, the body politic is a simple entity, an individual.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.7)
     A reaction: This is strikingly contrary to the spirit of liberalism, in which I may be appalled by the foreign policy of my own government, and protest strongly against it. Rousseau might be considered as freedom's greatest champion, and greatest enemy!
Laws are authentic acts of the general will
     Full Idea: The laws are nothing other than the authentic acts of the general will.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.12)
     A reaction: I wonder how you tell whether an act of the general will is 'authentic'? Nevertheless, in a modern democracy there seems a lot of truth in it; when controversial legislation is in the offing, governments have to be very attentive to the people.
Assemblies must always confirm the form of government, and the current administration
     Full Idea: The opening of assemblies, which solely aim to preserve the social treaty, should always start with two separate propositions: 1) does it please the sovereign to preserve the present form of government?, 2) ...and to preserve the present administration?
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.18)
     A reaction: I would love it if the British people were allowed to discuss our form of government, but it now seems completely ossified. Being a monarchy, with the consequent patronage, almost guarantees this stasis.
The more unanimous the assembly, the stronger the general will becomes
     Full Idea: The more harmony reigns in the assemblies, that is to say, the closer opinions come to unanimity, the more dominant too is the general will.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.2)
     A reaction: This seems important, because the general will comes in degrees. A decision from the assembly would come with an index number indicating its strength. His dream is obviously to get close to unanimity on all decisions. Maybe! Brexit 52%!
The act of association commits citizens to the state, and the state to its citizens
     Full Idea: The act of association is a reciprocal commitment of public and private individuals, and each individual, contracting with himself, is under a twofold commitment, as a member of the sovereign to individuals, and as a member of the state to the sovereign.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.7)
     A reaction: This seems to be expressed in modern terms as a mutual entailment of rights and duties. Where the traditional social contract is just between individuals, this seems to be a contract with a unified abstraction, of state commitment to citizens.
Individual citizens still retain a private will, which may be contrary to the general will
     Full Idea: Each individual can, as a man, have a private will contrary to or different from the general will that he has as a citizen. His private interest can speak to him in an entirely different manner than the common interest.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.7)
     A reaction: So why I accept the general will when these two clash (apart from threat of punishment - which may be capital if I am recalcitrant!)? Usually the general will is also for my good - but not always. Idealist love of the people?
Citizens must ultimately for forced to accept the general will (so freedom is compulsory!)
     Full Idea: To avoid the general compact being an empty formula, it tacitly entails the commitment that whoever refuses to obey the general will will be forced to do so by the entire body. This means merely that he will be forced to be free.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.7)
     A reaction: Rousseau obviously enjoyed this paradox (which sounds like US foreign policy). Apart from anarchism, any political system will need a bit of force to back it up. Should democratic voting becoming compulsory, if the turnout declines too far?
The general will is common interest; the will of all is the sum of individual desires
     Full Idea: The general will studies only common interest, while the will of all studies private interest, and is indeed no more than the sum of individual desires.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.03)
     A reaction: This invites the obvious liberal response (given later by utilitarians: Idea 3778) that there can be no more to any great 'will' than the sum of the individuals (which leads to Margaret Thatcher's famous 'there is no such thing as society').
The general will is always right, but the will of all can err, because it includes private interests
     Full Idea: The general will is always right. ....There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will. The latter considers only the general interest, but the former considers private interest and is merely the sum of private wills.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.03)
     A reaction: Hence in order to get an expression of the general will, voters must exclusively focus on the general good. I do that in general elections, only to find that the people around me vote for their own interests. I wish we all did the same thing.
If a large knowledgeable population votes in isolation, their many choices will have good results
     Full Idea: If, when a sufficiently informed populace deliberates, the citizens were to have no communication among themselves, the general will would always result from a large number of small differences, and the deliberations would always be good.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.03)
     A reaction: An obvious weak point in the electorate being well informed, if someone controls the sources of information. All the optimism of the Enlightenment is in this idea - that rational beings converge of the truth. All pubs closed in the month of an election?
If the state contains associations there are fewer opinions, undermining the general will
     Full Idea: If there are partial association in the state ...there are no longer as many voters as there are men, but merely as many as there are associations. The differences become less numerous and yield a result that is less general.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.03)
     A reaction: This appears to entirely reject political parties, and similar groups, which he had seen forming in England. It goes with his interesting faith that the more separate views there are, the more the right choice will emerge.
The general will changes its nature when it focuses on particulars
     Full Idea: Just as a private will cannot represent the general will, the general will, for its part, alters its nature when it has a particular object.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.04)
     A reaction: Is the general will, then, in danger of being much too general, because as soon as it gets close to anything practical it becomes distorted. It can design the constitution, but can it give a view on capital punishment, or is that too personal?
The general will is always good, but sometimes misunderstood
     Full Idea: By themselves the people always will what is good, but by themselves they do not always discern it.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.06)
     A reaction: This sounds like a can of worms. It invites someone to step in as interpreter - a spin doctor, perhaps, or a newspaper proprietor. The first proposition strikes me as absurdly optimistic. Think of the people of Europe in August 1914.
25. Society / B. The State / 4. Citizenship
We all owe labour in return for our keep, and every idle citizen is a thief
     Full Idea: In a society where a man has to live at others' expense, he owes in labour the price of his keep; and that is without exception. Work, then, is an indispensable social obligation. Rich or poor, powerful or weak, every idle citizen is a thief.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Emile: treatise on education [1762], Bk III)
     A reaction: Presumably rich landowners who live on rents can justify their position by good husbandry, at a higher level than tilling the soil. But Bertie Wooster won't last long in Rousseau's new world. This is a big challenge to the welfare state.
Citizens should be independent of each other, and very dependent on the state
     Full Idea: Each citizen should be perfectly independent of all the others and excessively dependent on the city.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.12)
     A reaction: Unlike many other of his pronouncements, this sounds a bit like a welfare state, though I doubt if he means that. Rousseau's state, founded by the general will, seems to have a quasi-religious quality, like a devotee's love of God.
A citizen is a subject who is also sovereign
     Full Idea: The words 'subject' and 'sovereign' are identical correlatives, whose meaning is combined in the single word 'citizen'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.13)
     A reaction: 'Citizen' was the favourite post-revolutionary label, probably based on this remark. I've heard foreigners tease Britons for being 'subjects' of the monarch, where they are pure citizens. But we are all subject to the law, made by others.
25. Society / B. The State / 5. Leaders / b. Monarchy
Ancient monarchs were kings of peoples; modern monarchs more cleverly rule a land
     Full Idea: Ancient monarchs called themselves King of the Persians or Scythians, regarding themselve merely as the leaders of men. Today's monarchs more shrewdly call themselves King of France or England. By holding the land, they are sure of the inhabitants.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.9)
     A reaction: This matches the Germans being earlier defined by speaking the language, and now defined by a territory. It is more to do with the rise of the modern state than to do with the shrewdness of the monarchs.
The highest officers under a monarchy are normally useless; the public could choose much better
     Full Idea: Those who attain the highest positions in monarchies are most often petty bunglers, swindlers and intriguers, whose talents serve only to display their incompetence to the public. The populace is much less often in error in its choice than the prince.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: Many monarchs have had famously good advisers, such as Lord Burleigh. The worst thing about bad leaders, at any level, is the bad appointments they make.
Hereditary monarchy is easier, but can lead to dreadful monarchs
     Full Idea: Some crowns are hereditary. So by substituting the disadvantage of regencies for elections, an apparent tranquillity has been preferred to a wise election, the risk of having children, monsters or imbeciles for leaders is preferred to choosing good kings.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: Henry VI is the prime English example. The regents feuded, and then when he grew up it became obvious that he was hopeless. How many English monarchs would have been elected? But we would have missed Good Queen Bess.
Attempts to train future kings don't usually work, and the best have been unprepared
     Full Idea: A great deal of effort is made to teach young princes the art of ruling. It does not appear that this education does them any good. It would be better to teach them the art of obeying. The most celebrated kings were not brought up to reign.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: King Alfred is our prime example of a success, But if only we had had Charles I's late brother Henry, instead the untrained Charles.
25. Society / B. The State / 5. Leaders / d. Elites
Natural aristocracy is primitive, and hereditary is dreadful, but elective aristocracy is best
     Full Idea: There are three sorts of aristocracy: natural, elective, and hereditary. The first is suited only to simple people; the third is the worst of any government. The second is the best; it is aristocracy properly so-called.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.05)
     A reaction: This seems like the modern idea of 'meritocracy'. The Chinese civil service exams, introduced into Europe in the nineteenth century.
Natural aristocracy is primitive, hereditary is bad, and elective aristocracy is the best
     Full Idea: There are three types of aristocracy, natural, elective and hereditary. The first is suited only to primitive peoples; the third is the worst of all governments; the second is the best, and this is aristocracy in the true sense of the word.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.05)
     A reaction: Presumably he means what we call 'meritocracy', and it seems a bit optimistic to hope that democracy will deliver that. I don't think Plato would expect a democracy to elect his Guardians.
Large states need a nobility to fill the gap between a single prince and the people
     Full Idea: With a large state in the hands of one man there is too great a distance between the prince and the people, and the state lacks cohesiveness. This requires intermediate orders of nobility to fill them. A small state is ruined by all these social levels.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: [compressed] This seems to be a justification for the French ancien regime. Presumably this bit was not quoted much in 1789. Why must the gap be filled by 'nobility'? What about an elected house of lords?
25. Society / B. The State / 6. Government / a. Government
The state has a legislature and an executive, just like the will and physical power in a person
     Full Idea: Every free action has a moral cause, the will, and a physical cause, the power to act. ...The body politic has the same moving causes, namely the legislative power, and executive power. Nothing should be done without their concurrence.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.01)
     A reaction: [compressed] This terminology is now standard in political philosophy. An absolute monarch like Edward III presumably embodies both branches.
Law makers and law implementers should be separate
     Full Idea: It is not good for the one who makes the laws to execute them.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.04)
     A reaction: He doesn't give his reasons here, but this piece of wisdom is widely supported. There is a problem when the executive find themselves trying to enforce bad, discredited laws. Maybe the police know best what the law should say? Or not!
25. Society / B. The State / 6. Government / c. Executive
I call the executive power the 'government', which is the 'prince' - a single person, or a group
     Full Idea: I call 'government' or supreme administration the legitimate exercise of executive power; I call 'prince' or magistrate the man or body charged with that administration.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.01)
     A reaction: Whether the prince is one person or many is left up to the legislative body, which is the general will. Rousseau has no view on the matter.
25. Society / B. The State / 6. Government / d. Size of government
Large populations needs stronger control, which means power should be concentrated
     Full Idea: The government becomes slack as the magistrates are multiplied, and the more numerous the people the greater should be the increase of repressive force - ...so the number of leaders should decrease in proportion to the increase of the number of people.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.02)
     A reaction: This bit sounds Stalinist! A vast population seems to require a dictator. When his state is Geneva-sized Rousseau seems comfortable, but his plans for bigger states are a bit disturbing.
Democracy for small states, aristocracy for intermediate, monarchy for large
     Full Idea: Democratic government is suited to small states, aristocratic government to states of intermediate size, and monarchical government to large ones.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.03)
     A reaction: Is he thinking of France for the large state? What would he have made of 1789? Does this progression go on to increase the power of the monarch as the state gets even larger, into dictatorship?
25. Society / B. The State / 7. Changing the State / c. Revolution
Revolutionaries usually confuse liberty with total freedom, and end up with heavier chains
     Full Idea: If people try to shake off a yoke, they put more distance between themselves and liberty, because in mistaking for liberty an unbridled licence which is its opposite, their revolutions usually deliver them over to seducers who make their chains heavier.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Intro letter)
     A reaction: This 'Animal Farm' thought was presumably ignored in 1789 and 1917. There must be basic rules for revolutionaries, of which priorities they must never drop from sight, and which priorities are dangerous and misleading.
If inhabitants are widely dispersed, organising a revolt is much more difficult
     Full Idea: The greater the area occupied by the same number of inhabitants, the more difficult it becomes to revolt, since concerted action cannot be taken promptly and secretly.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.09)
     A reaction: Revolutions since then have all occurred in large cities, which have become huge. The dispersal of the rest of the population (as in Russia) doesn't matter.
The state is not bound to leave civil authority to its leaders
     Full Idea: The state is no more bound to leave civil authority to its leaders than it is to leave military authority to its generals.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.18)
     A reaction: He assumes that a meeting of the citizens can articulate a new expression of the general will, but this idea also endorses revolution, if the prince or magistrates refuse to call this national AGM.
25. Society / B. The State / 8. Culture
We seem to have made individual progress since savagery, but actually the species has decayed
     Full Idea: Evidence confirms that the savage state is the youth of the world, and all subsequent progress has been in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, and in fact toward the decay of the species.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: This strikes me as an attack on the new rising philosophy of liberalism, and a plea for communitarianism. We should judge humanity as a whole, and not just look at some individual lives which seem to be going well.
25. Society / B. The State / 8. Religion in Society
By separating theological and political systems, Jesus caused divisions in the state
     Full Idea: In separating the theological system from the political system, Jesus made the state to cease being united and caused internal divisions. Since this new idea of an otherwordly kingdom had never entered the heads of pagans, they saw Christians as rebels.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: This is the sort of stuff that made Rousseau a vast number of enemies, which embittered him. It is the sort of cool assessment which became commonplace in Germany sixty year later.
Every society has a religion as its base
     Full Idea: No state has ever been founded without religion serving as its base.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: It is not clear to me that the ancient Greek cities had religion as a 'base', though they all had a religion, and expected conformity. Religion doesn't figure much in Thucydides. Communist Russia was the first explicitly atheist state, I think.
Civil religion needs one supreme god, an afterlife, justice, and the sanctity of the social contract
     Full Idea: Dogmas of civil religion should be simple. The existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent divinity that foresees and provides; the life to come; the happiness of the just; the punishment of the wicked; the sanctity of the social contract and laws.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: Notice that he gratuitously makes the social contract sacred (even though it can be voluntarily abandoned, and the general will can be changed). Presumably the foundation of any society, such as the ballot box, has to be sacred.
All religions should be tolerated, if they tolerate each other, and support citizenship
     Full Idea: Tolerance should be shown to all religions which tolerate other religions, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of a citizen.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: Quite a good guideline for the attitude of western countries to middle eastern religious practices which arrive in their midst. Rousseau says the state has a minimal core religion (Idea 19852), which thus tolerates most other religions.
25. Society / B. The State / 8. Culture
The flourishing of arts and letters is too much admired
     Full Idea: Times in which letters and arts are known to have flourished have been admired too much.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.09 n9)
     A reaction: I assume most marxists would agree with this thought. Eighteenth century France is a good candidate for this judgement. The arts always needed patronage.
25. Society / B. The State / 9. Population / a. State population
A state must be big enough to preserve itself, but small enough to be governable
     Full Idea: Like a well-formed man, there are limits to the size a state can have, so as not to be too large to be capable of being well governed, nor too small to be capable of preserving itself on its own.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.09)
     A reaction: Geneva was his model, and it is close to the size of a Greek polis. Presumably even Scotland would be thought ungovernable, never mind the United States. Luxembourg might be his ideal nowadays. Thousands of them!
Too much land is a struggle, producing defensive war; too little makes dependence, and offensive war
     Full Idea: Too much land makes its defence is onerous, its cultivation inadequate, and its yield surplus, which causes defensive wars. If there is not enough land, the state is at the discretion of its neighbours for what it needs as surplus, causing offensive wars.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.10)
     A reaction: This sounds much too simplistic, like the causes of squabbles in a kindergarten. Certainly inequalities between nations (such as the USA and Mexico) produces frictions. Advances in agriculture technology have transformed this problem.
If the state enlarges, the creators of the general will become less individually powerful
     Full Idea: The ratio of the sovereign to the subject increases in proportion to the number of citizens. The larger the state becomes, the less liberty there is.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.01)
     A reaction: This is because we remain equally subjected to the state whatever its size, but have less power to influence if there are more citizens. In modern states we all feel pathetically powerless, because of the numbers.
If the population is larger, the government needs to be more powerful
     Full Idea: In order to be good, the government must be relatively stronger in proportion as the populace is more numerous.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.01)
     A reaction: This could either imply a larger government, or more powerful laws for a fairly small government. Rousseau implies an almost mathematical law (of ratios) which determines the size of the government.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 2. Social Freedom / a. Slavery
Enslaved peoples often boast of their condition, calling it a state of 'peace'
     Full Idea: Enslaved peoples do nothing but boast of the peace and tranquillity they enjoy in their chains and they give the name 'peace' to the most miserable slavery.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: It seems to be a sad truth that enslaved peoples are less upset about their condition than outside observers are, especially in modern times, where slavery is usually deemed unacceptable. Slavery might be the best you can hope for.
People must be made dependent before they can be enslaved
     Full Idea: It is impossible to enslave a man without having first put him in the position of being incapable of doing without another.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: Ah yes. The key to running a slave plantation is not the threat of violence, but control of the shelter and food supply.
If the child of a slave woman is born a slave, then a man is not born a man
     Full Idea: The jurists who have gravely pronounced that the child of a slave woman is born a slave, have decided, in other words, that a man is not born a man.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: The hidden premise of this enthymeme is that man is born free. A key issue of liberalism is the status of children. Are the children of religious believers automatically members of that sect? Can I be born a West Ham supporter?
Sometimes full liberty is only possible at the expense of some complete enslavement
     Full Idea: There are some unfortunate circumstances where one's liberty can be preserved only at the expense of someone else's, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only if the slave is completely enslaved. Such was the situation in Sparta.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.15)
     A reaction: Rousseau wrote just before the moment when it was seen that slavery in European empires might be abolished, but he was not in the forefront of thought on this one. Greek philosophy would probably never have happened without slavery.
We can never assume that the son of a slave is a slave
     Full Idea: To decide that the son of a slave is born a slave is to decide that he is not a man.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.2)
     A reaction: Obviously this is because men are 'born free', though I am not clear how that maxim can be reached. I take it for granted that African slaves in the Americas found themselves born into slavery. No justification was required.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 2. Social Freedom / e. Freedom of lifestyle
Like rich food, liberty can ruin people who are too weak to cope with it
     Full Idea: Liberty is like those solid foods or full-bodied wines appriopriate for strengthening robust constitutions that are used to them,, but which overpower, ruin and intoxicate the weak and delicate who are not suited to them.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Intro letter)
     A reaction: Rousseau vision of a successful society involves robustly self-sufficient citizens (as in the American ideal), rather than people who are free, but easily led into dependence (in a 'nanny state').
Appetite alone is slavery, and self-prescribed laws are freedom
     Full Idea: To be governed by appetite alone is slavery, while obedience to a law one prescribes to oneself is freedom.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.8)
     A reaction: An interesting formulation, sitting somewhere between Aristotle and Kant. The problem is to find a metaethic which will justify the prescription and nature of the self-imposed law.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 3. Social Equality / a. Grounds of equality
Three stages of the state produce inequalities of wealth, power, and enslavement
     Full Idea: Stage one gives law and property (producing inequalities of rich and poor), stage two gives a magistracy (producing weak and strong), and stage three is legitimate power becoming arbitrary (producing master and slave).
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: This is the final answer to the prize essay question (with Idea 19772). What a beautiful analysis - and he didn't even win the prize this time!
The social compact imposes conventional equality of rights on people who may start unequally
     Full Idea: Instead of destroying natural equality, the fundamental compact substitutes a moral and legitimate equality to any natural physical inequality. ...so that men all become equal by convention and by right.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.9)
     A reaction: This does not pretend that equality is a natural right. The imposition of equality is virtually the main point of forming a state. Effectively, the state operates like an insurance company, treating all contributors as equal.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 3. Social Equality / d. Economic equality
The pleasure of wealth and power is largely seeing others deprived of them
     Full Idea: If one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of greatness and fortune while the mob grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former prize the things they enjoy only to the extent that the others are deprived of them.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: This seems to be an accurate picture of ancien régime France, and it still applies to modern plutocrats. The pleasure of nice house is not that is very good, but that it is better than other house. Inequality gives a lot of pleasure!
No citizen should be rich enough to buy another, and none so poor as forced to sell himself
     Full Idea: Where wealth is concerned, no citizen should be rich enough to buy another, and none should be so poor as to be forced to sell himself.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.11)
     A reaction: Rousseau is thinking of slavery, but this also points to prostitution as a key indicator of social equality. In Victorian Britain it seems that extensive prostituion was unavoidable; nowadays it looks more like a voluntary choice (for indigenous Britons).
25. Society / C. State of Nature / 4. Legal Rights / b. Alienating rights
If we all give up all of our rights together to the community, we will always support one another
     Full Idea: The social compact reduces to a single clause, namely the total alienation of each associate, together with all of his rights, to the entire community. Since this condition is equal for everyone, no one has an interest in making it burdensome for others.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.6)
     A reaction: He speaks elsewhere of basic natural rights which can never be alienated, such as self-defence. It is what small groups do all the time, if they start off as equals. Difficult to manage with large groups. Factions are the problem.
In society man loses natural liberty, but gains a right to civil liberty and property
     Full Idea: What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and the absolute right to anything that tempts him; what he gains is civil liberty and the legal rights of propery in what he possesses.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.8)
     A reaction: It is an appealing idea that the purpose of society is to increase liberty, not to restrict it. That, on the whole, is my view. American libertarianism opens up the world to gun crime, vigilantes, pornographers and bounty-hunters.
We alienate to society only what society needs - but society judges that, not us
     Full Idea: Each person alienates, by the social compact, only that portion of his power, his goods, and liberty whose use is of consequence to the community; but we must also grant that only the sovereign is the judge of what is of consequence.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.04)
     A reaction: The weakness here is how society sees its needs. He seems to assume that two societies will arrive at almost identical general wills, but Spartans, Prussians and Serbs may require the lives of your children for the state.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 4. Legal Rights / c. Property rights
Persuading other people that some land was 'owned' was the beginning of society
     Full Idea: The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say 'this is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: A wonderful riposte to Locke, who thought political legitimacy was based on property! Locke is way too simplistic about whether someone has a true right to their property. Highy dubious claims become ossified after a generation or two.
What else could property arise from, but the labour people add to it?
     Full Idea: It is impossible to conceive of the idea of property arising from anything but manual labour, for it is not clear what man can add, beyond his own labour, in order to appropriate things he has not made.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: A thorough endorsement of Locke's labour theory of value. It is not clear to me why you have to 'add' something in order to achieve ownership. Don't you own firewood just by picking it up? Golfers give ownership of a lost ball to the first one to see it.
Land cultivation led to a general right of ownership, administered justly
     Full Idea: From the cultivation of land, there necessarily followed the division of land; and from property once recognised, the first rules of justice. For in order to render everyone what is his, it is necessary that everyone can have something.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: This looks rather obviously correct. You don't plant crops if you are not protected in your right to reap what you have sown, and you would expect to re-sow from the proceeds. Other people will want you to do this.
If we have a natural right to property, what exactly does 'belonging to' mean?
     Full Idea: Others have spoken of the natural right that everyone has to preserve what belongs to him, without explaining what they mean by 'belonging'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Pref)
     A reaction: This is aimed at Locke. What Marxists will challenge is the legitimacy of property ownership, granted by patronage, enclosure, exploitation and conquest. These start as injustices, but that fades after a few generations. Locke has a labour-theory.
Private property must always be subordinate to ownership by the whole community
     Full Idea: Each private individual's right to his very own store is always subordinate to the community's right to all, without which there could be neither solidity in the social fabric nor real force in the exercise of sovereignty.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.9)
     A reaction: This may sound a bit drastic, but every country practices this principle, seen in compulsory purchase orders (e.g. to build a railway line). In liberal democracies you expect good compensation. In communist Roumania you were just moved. Also taxation.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 5. Right to Punish / a. Right to punish
We accept the death penalty to prevent assassinations, so we must submit to it if necessary
     Full Idea: Whoever wills the end also wills the means. ...The death penalty inflicted on criminals can be viewed from more or less this point of view. It is in order to avoid being the victim of an assassin that a person consents to die, were he to become one.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.05)
     A reaction: This seems to be roughly the spirit in which Socrates submitted to his death. I doubt whether many criminals agree with harsh punishments dished out to other criminals who get caught.
A trial proves that a criminal has broken the social treaty, and is no longer a member of the state
     Full Idea: The legal proceeding and judgement are the proofs and the declaration that a criminal has broken the social treaty, and consequently that he is no longer a member of the state.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.05)
     A reaction: This seems to be a plausible rationalisation of capital punishment, but what about lesser crimes. Is the interior of a prison a sort of temporary exile from the state? Hence the significance of whether prisoners are allowed to vote. But 19811.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 5. Right to Punish / b. Retribution for crime
Primitive people simply redressed the evil caused by violence, without thought of punishing
     Full Idea: More primitive men regarded the acts of violence that could befall them as an easily redressed evil and not as an offence that must be punished; they did not even dream of vengeance, except as a knee-jerk response.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: This may be Rousseau at his most optimistic, trying to deny a rather more aggressive streak in people, seen in children's playgrounds.
25. Society / C. Social Justice / 5. Right to Punish / c. Deterrence of crime
Only people who are actually dangerous should be executed, even as an example
     Full Idea: There is no wicked man who could not be made good for something. One has the right to put to death, even as an example, only someone who cannot be preserved without danger.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.05)
     A reaction: This formulation implies that we could execute a dangerous person as a deterrent, even though they were not guilty of this particular crime. I suspect that Rousseau was too nice to go through with that.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 5. Democracy / a. Nature of democracy
Minorities only accept majority-voting because of a prior unanimous agreement
     Full Idea: If there were no earlier agreement, how could there be any obligation on the minority to accept the decision of the majority? The law of majority-voting rests on a covenant, implying at least one previous occasion of unanimity.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.5)
     A reaction: In Britain this points to the Reform Acts of 1832 onwards as crucial. However, whenever democracy is newly introduced into a country (Iraq being a current spectacular case) there is usually a minority opposed to it, who are forcibly overruled.
If the sovereign entrusts government to at least half the citizens, that is 'democracy'
     Full Idea: The sovereign can entrust the government to the entire people or to the majority of them. This is given the name 'democracy'.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.03)
     A reaction: Note that democracy is here a form for the executive, not for the legislature. I take it that the general will must come close to unanimity, and a mere 51% support for fundamental legislation would never do. Increase the percentage with the importance?
Democracy leads to internal strife, as people struggle to maintain or change ways of ruling
     Full Idea: No government is so subject to civil wars and internal agitations as a democratic or popular one, since there is none that tends so forcefully and continuously to change its form, or that demands greater vigilance and courage to keep its form.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.05)
     A reaction: We would like to think that a robust democracy, with a free press, can cope with all this strife and still survive. He may be thinking of the English Civil War. Democracies seem to be more conservative about the structure of government.
When ministers change the state changes, because they always reverse policies
     Full Idea: Each revolution in the ministry produces a revolution in the state, since the maxim common to all ministers and nearly all kings is to do the reverse of their predecessor in everything.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: Most parents bring up their children by trying to correct mistakes their own parents made. British democracy is rife with this desperate need for a new government to make its mark, because they want to win the next election.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 5. Democracy / b. Consultation
Plebiscites are bad, because they exclude the leaders from crucial decisions
     Full Idea: I would not approve of plebiscites like those of the Romans where the state's leaders and those most interested in its preservation were excluded from the deliberations on which its safety often depended.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Intro letter)
     A reaction: I wish David Cameron had read this before 2016. This is exactly what happened with the Brexit referendum, where the people voted for an action entirely opposed to the preference of the majority of their elected representatives. Chaos ensued.
Silence of the people implies their consent
     Full Idea: The silence of the people permits the assumption that the people consents.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.01)
     A reaction: This seems to me a crucial principle for a democracy, because it says that the democratic way of life is much more than elections. Each citizen has a duty to bravely speak out; the more citizens willing to do this, the less bravery is required.
Democratic elections are dangerous intervals in government
     Full Idea: Elections leave dangerous intervals and are stormy.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.06)
     A reaction: American presidential elections partially paralyse government for about nine months. In a settled democracy the process of election seems OK. The immediate aftermath can be worse. Losers may refuse to accept the result.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 5. Democracy / c. Direct democracy
In a direct democracy, only the leaders should be able to propose new laws
     Full Idea: In order to stop ...the dangerous innovations that finally ruined Athens, no one would have the power to propose new laws according to his fancy; this right belongs exclusively to the magistrates.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Intro letter)
     A reaction: Aristotle says (somewhere!) that control of the agenda for meetings is the key issue in democracies. I assume any citizen can propose a law, but only a magistrate can put it on the agenda. Maybe a separate 'citizen's committee' could filter suggestions.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 5. Democracy / d. Representative democracy
The English are actually slaves in between elections
     Full Idea: The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.15)
     A reaction: Rousseau seems to be hoping for some sort of direct democracy. We could probably set up a direct democracy, by implementing regular voting over the internet, but I doubt if Rousseau would like that either. I certainly wouldn't.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 9. Communism
The nature of people is decided by the government and politics of their society
     Full Idea: Everything is rooted in politics, and whatever might be attempted, no people would ever be other than the nature of their government made them.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Confessions [1770], 9-1756)
     A reaction: A striking anticipation of one of Marx's most important ideas - that society is not created by individual minds, because the nature of consciousness is created by society. The central idea in the subject of sociology, I think.
25. Society / D. Political Doctrines / 10. Theocracy
In early theocracies the god was the king, and there were as many gods as nations
     Full Idea: At first men had no other kings but gods, and no other government than a theocratic one. ....By the mere fact that a god was placed at the head of every political society, it followed that there were as many gods as there were peoples.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: He must be thinking of the Old Testament histories here. (see Spinoza on that!). He says that the modern idea that these were all really the same god is ridiculous.
25. Society / E. State Functions / 1. The Law / a. Legal system
The state ensures liberty, so civil law separates citizens, and binds them to the state
     Full Idea: The relationship of members to each other should be as small as possible, and as large as possible to the entire body. ...Only the force of the state brings about the liberty of its members. From this relationship civil laws arise.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.12)
     A reaction: I'm guessing that these laws could be said mainly to prescribe both our rights and our duties. His four types of law are political, civil, criminal, and customary.
25. Society / E. State Functions / 1. The Law / b. Natural law
Writers just propose natural law as the likely useful agreements among people
     Full Idea: Writers begin by seeking the rules on which, for the common utility, it would be appropriate for men to agree among themselves; they then give the name of 'natural law' to these rules, with no other proof than their presumed good results.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Pref)
     A reaction: The arguments for natural law strike me as quite good, but pinning down its content looks incredibly elusive, and at the mercy of cultural influences.
Natural justice, without sanctions, benefits the wicked, who exploit it
     Full Idea: The laws of natural justice, lacking any natural sanctions, are unavailing among men. In fact, such laws merely benefit the wicked and injure the just, since the just respect them while others do not do so in return.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], II.06)
     A reaction: This seems a very accurate observation, and points us towards either contracts, or a justification of the use of force by good people.
25. Society / E. State Functions / 2. Taxation
The amount of taxation doesn't matter, if it quickly circulates back to the citizens
     Full Idea: It is not on the basis of the amount of taxation that the burden is measured, but on the basis of the path they have to travel in order to return to the hands from which they came. If circulation is prompt and regular, the amount one pays is unimportant.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], III.08)
     A reaction: So the problem is when the government wants to build up a surplus, or pay off debts (or is corrupt, or even if it is suspected of corruption).
25. Society / E. State Functions / 5. War
A state of war remains after a conquest, if the losers don't accept the winners
     Full Idea: The conqueror and conquered peoples always remain in a state of war with one another, unless the nation, returned to full liberty, were to choose voluntarily its conqueror as leader.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part II)
     A reaction: Tricky if part of the conquered nation accepts the conqueror, and the other part doesn't, as in France in 1940. In a permanent conquest the state of war seems to fade away, as in England in 1066.
War gives no right to inflict more destruction than is necessary for victory
     Full Idea: War gives no right to inflict any more destruction than is necessary for victory.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], I.4)
     A reaction: This is the principle at stake in discussion of the bombing of Germany in 1942-5. We all seem to agree with this principle, and are shocked by breaches of it, but I am not sure why. Destruction must be a fundamentally bad thing - a basic value.
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 2. Defining Kinds
Men started with too few particular names, but later had too few natural kind names
     Full Idea: Men at first unduly multiplied the names of individual things, owing to their failure to know the genera and species, but later made too few genera and species, owing to their failure to have considered beings in all their differences.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: The fact that two leopards differ is not a good enough reason to assign them to two different general terms. Adjectives can do all the necessary modification. The single general term acknowledges something important.
27. Natural Reality / F. Biology / 3. Evolution
Small uninterrupted causes can have big effects
     Full Idea: Negligible causes may have surprising power when they act without interruption.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [1754], Part I)
     A reaction: A wonderfully simple observation that is a key idea of the theory of evolution. If life was created 6,000 years ago, evolution is impossible. If it appeared 500,000,000 years ago, how could evolution NOT occur? Little changes must occur.
29. Religion / B. Monotheistic Religion / 4. Christianity / a. Christianity
A tyrant exploits Christians because they don't value this life, and are made to be slaves
     Full Idea: The Christian spirit is too favourable to tyranny for tyranny not to take advantage of it. True Christians are made to be slaves; they know it and hardly care; this short life has too little value in their eyes.
     From: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) [1762], IV.8)
     A reaction: This is strikingly close to Nietzsche's verdict on Christianity, that it is the essence of slave morality. It has certainly been my experience that Christians tend to be much more reluctant than other people to stand up to authority.