Rousseau and individualism

1938 Words8 Pages
Forced to be Free Ever since the fall of feudal societies, all men have shared an obsession with individualism. Even in the days of fierce nationalism during WWI, the idea was still seen as the individual’s endorsement of the state rather than the state’s imposition of an idea. This obsession with individualism reaches not only politics, but art, culture, and even religion (the protestant reform); these ideas shape our modern world and are a driving force in the way each of us think in our daily lives. During the time of Rousseau these ideas we just taking off, with thinkers like Hobbes and Locke were carrying the idea forward. However, what Rousseau provided in his works, in particular piece The Social Contract challenged those notions…show more content…
However, it is a common misconception that the general will is the will of the majority. Rather, it is the power of a political organism that he sees as an entity with a life of its own somehow distinct from any individual will or group of individual wills. It is endowed with a goodness and wisdom that far surpasses the wisdom of any one person or collection of persons and serves to unify a society previously (at least for Rousseau) ruled by infighting and distrust. This notion bonds the nation together to move toward one common goal to the benefit of the people. However, as Rousseau admits under this model, often citizens who oppose any aspects of the general will shall be “forced to be free,”4 either by strength of arms or pressure placed upon him by society. This institutionalized state force is a very difficult notion for the West to swallow; it congers up images of dictators and totalitarian regimes. And it is indeed the biggest flaw in Rousseau’s argument. While it was Rousseau’s intent for the general will to be determined by the virtuous the interpretation of his work often falls short in reality. Rousseau’s works end up falling in with Marx, in that every time a society attempts to emulate the model, the ruling elite use it as a front for dictatorship. Take, for example, Imperial Japan. Starting with the Meiji Restoration the Japanese government sought to morph the “general will” of their people from warring shogunates
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