General Will

1907 Words8 Pages
“The problem is to find a norm of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.”
Rousseau (1762)a, ll. 5–7b
Thus Jean-Jacques Rousseau sets out his aim, and quite a formidable aim it is. He hopes to establish an appropriate “norm of association” (i.e. relationship between individual and state) in which all individuals and their possessions are protected, to the greatest extent possible, by the state (or body politic); each individual gives himself wholly to the general cause of the state; and all individuals act freely and of their own volition.
It should be
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81–83, 107, 109
Whilst not having extricated itself entirely from the idea of consent (“when the state is instituted, residence constitutes consent” — l. 220), Rousseau's system, once established, neither calls for nor relies upon any popular consent in order to legitimise it; and as a result it need not get involved in the anthropological tangles associated with trying to justify itself against the background of a purely hypothetical, precivilised “state of nature”.d
However, the theory has its problems. First of all, considerable difficulty arises from the word “free”. Rousseau divides the meaning of liberty between “natural” and “civil” variants:
“What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and [...] what he gains is civil liberty. [...] We must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will.” ll. 84–86
In essence, the Rousseauist state member gives up the freedom to do as he likes in exchange for the freedom to do as is best for that state. Moreover, “whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body”; that is, “he will be forced to be free” (ll. 60–62). However, since this angle assumes that a single course of action, that dictated by the general will, is always the correct one, it sits uncomfortably with more recent conceptions of what it means to be free. To give

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