The Last Right

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Rousseau states that to maintain awareness of the general will, the sovereign must convene in regular, periodic assemblies to determine the general will, at which point it is imperative that individual citizens vote not according to their own personal interests but according to their conception of the general will of all the people at that moment. As such, in a healthy state, virtually all assembly votes should approach unanimity, as the people will all recognize their common interests.

The Social Contract

Furthermore, Rousseau explains, it is crucial that all the people exercise their sovereignty by attending such assemblies, for whenever people stop doing so, or elect representatives to do so in their place, their sovereignty is lost. Foreseeing that the conflict between the sovereign and the government may at times be contentious, Rousseau also advocates for the existence of a tribunate , or court, to mediate in all conflicts between the sovereign and the government or in conflicts between individual people.

Great Ideas #8: The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau discusses numerous forms of government that may not look very democratic to modern eyes, but his focus was always on figuring out how to ensure that the general will of all the people could be expressed as truly as possible in their government. He always aimed to figure out how to make society as democratic as possible.

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While the Kantian principle will have it that we act such that the rule of our action can become a universal law, that is, we should act such that the maxim of our action or the example of the intent and content of our behaviour, may be legislated for humanity because of the justness and moral probity and other regarding nature of such act, and while similarly the position of the Christ would be that we love others as we love ourselves, on the contrary the Western Hobbesian position speaks to our valuing ourselves alone and demanding that others respect this value.

It enshrines an egoistic individualism, without a parallel in previous human history, that pervades the Western psyche, an individualism that craves respect without wishing to give same to others their full due except under duress or threat of calamity by an overarching third party; in fact, as is obvious from the Western Hobbesian understanding of human nature, the 'other' person is conceived in oppositional terms - an enemy that must be contained, subjugated or destroyed.

Hoobes identifies three causes of strife in the state of nature as: a competition, which causes the invasion of others for gain; b diffidence, which causes invasion for safety; and c glory, which causes invasion for the maintenance of reputation and defense of the same among their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name p. He argues that when humans lived in a state of nature, life was full of misery:. Hereby it is manifest, that during the time when men lived without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man Emphasis in the italics mine.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education

In Hobbes' reasoning, it is clear that the sovereign occupies the position that Deity occupies in monotheistic religious schemes. The sovreign is the law giver as is drilled into unsuspecting Christian youth in patriarch Moses' decalogue and the Christ's Sermon on the Mount , the upholder of such laws that he deems fit to give and the watchdog over the obedience of such laws as he gives. Without the sovreign, Hobbes is of the opinion that there would be no right or wrong, no justice or injustice, no common values and every act would be permitted for there would be no liberty or commodious living.

He says,. The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement.

These articles, are they, which otherwise are called the Laws of Nature He went on to elaborate with care the distinction between 'right of nature', and 'law of nature' and the nature of the 'contracts' deriving therefrom. But the contracts emanating from the law of nature, which is only a euphemism for the protection of self-interest or self-preservation, becomes void unless there be a sovereign, a 'common power' to monitor obedience of the egocentered and otherless contracts so formed by striking fear of punitive expedition greater than the benefits derivable from breaking a covenant into the hearts of those who would have tried to break their sides of the contract; thereby creating injustice, which is no more than the not performance of covenant see pp.

In this regard, Hobbes says,. The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure to them in such sort, as that by their own industry, and the fruits of the earth, they may nourish themselves and live contentedly; is, to confer all their power of strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that they reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, to authorize all his actions in like manner.

For Hobbes, then, many consequences, contractual rights, duties and obligations flow from this pact. Some of these are a that all prior covenants contrary to this new one are voided by the new one; b that the sovereign cannot do wrong to his subjects or be so accused as the mortal god because volenti non fit injuria ; c that the Leviathan cannot be committed to die, and d he alone can institute what opinions and doctrines are conducive to peace, as he has acquired the collective wisdom of the people who agreed to appoint him.

We may observe here that the Hobbesian social contract ultimately ends in a dictatorship of the Leviathan. Consequently, Hobbes' contractarianism ends in a cul de sac - a dead end as a theory of political organization. We shall examine this further presently, for now, let us turn our attention to the second of our trio contractarians, John Locke. John Locke was, in my own judgement, one of the most civilized of the intellectuals of his time. His Two Treatises of Civil Government are great testimonials to his intellectual genius and integrity.

He started Book 1 with a consideration of the rationality of slavery, and Sir Robert Filmer's apologia for totalitarianism. He concluded, contrary to the general trend of the period, that both slavery and totalitarianism were inconceivable debasements of human nature and rationality.

SparkNotes: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (–): The Social Contract

Locke carefully examined the views of Sir Robert, and raised fundamental questions regarding the religious, moral, political, economic, cultural and natural grounds for the supposition that humans were destined to either divine rulership from Patriarch Adam or, for that matter, from either parentage, conquest or necessity.

While Hobbes postulated a state of nature in which there was perpetual war between contending individuals for the scarce resources available, and the state as the only possible check on the rancour that is innate to human nature, Locke understood human nature as one of,. The state of nature that Locke describes is one of "equality, wherein all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another" p.

Locke went further to discuss what constitutes a serious theory of punishment, based on reason and derivable from law of nature that unconditionally binds humans everywhere. Compared with Hobbes, it is obvious that Locke was almost an incurable optimist, regarding human nature and the goodness and rationality innate to that nature. Locke then argues that humans get out of the state of nature through the voluntary choice of entering a compact, contract or consent of association with other humans for the procurement of the facilities of life which would have been beyond their reach had they gone solo p.

But one cannot contribute what one does not have, and one of the powers that humans lack is that of taking the life of oneself or that of the other. Thus, when thieves or enemies attack one, the only justification for the use of force that may ensue in death to an aggressor, according to Locke, is only for the purpose of self preservation, so that irreparable damage or mischief may not be done to oneself in the unlikely event that civil society fails to ensure the protection of one's life p. For this reason, according to Locke, one cannot, even in the extreme situation of social aberration called slavery, enter into any compact that does not ensure personal safety or promote one's happiness pp.

While one may grant Locke the above with the proviso that it apply to matured humans who have the full understanding of the responsibilities to the self and to others that attend the freedom that they can claim under the Lockean system, it is important that we note that a crude interpretation that ahistorically attributes this freedom to all humans will be errant. It is not obvious the level of freedom that infants can appreciate or properly claim.

Online Library of Liberty

If we are ready to treat some offenses as originating from minors and meet out corrective measures rather that punishment, then we would be indicating that minors need assistance to mature and be responsible adults. This notion is seriously abridged in the Western world as painfully illustrated by the consequential events of misplaced education and a culture a-drift in the USA and other Western societies where children discipline is thrown overboard, creating a culture bred of state of nature theory inured in extreme liberalism and fattened on extreme individualism weighing more on the side of superficial children rights and less on responsible child-rearing, forgetting that before children become responsible adults there must be responsive and responsible parenting.

One other minor digression is indicated here. To be very charitable to Locke, one would have to suppose that he was most probably thinking of peonage, not Western slavery when he asseverated that systems that promote personal safety and happiness override other matters. If one does not use this principle of charity, taking Locke in the most favourable reading, one will not be able to understand the failure on the part of Locke to see the evilness of the type of slavery that took place in the New World, by contrast to systems of "slavery" in various other traditional societies except the West.

In various traditional systems of servitude, except in Ancient Greece, the human rights of the serves were not denied and the barest essentials of safety and happiness were instituted. In Ancient Greece, as in Trans-Atlantic slavery, the humans involved that is, the slave owners, the slave masters and the slaves were not humans: the slave owners were property owning sub-human animals of the state of nature construct, the slave masters were sub-human despots with terrible complexes only assuaged by tyranny over the defenseless slaves while the slaves were sub-human as they were property, to be treated anyway their owners saw fit or unfit.

Hence, Locke was either too ignorant or too civil to understand the Western psyche regarding the enslaved "other", and his theory of state was also too civil for his associates - especially those who have found his theories more handy in explaining government and state.

Locke provides a very detailed examination of the origin of civil government; for he examined the fact that children and infants are not forced to remain in the commonwealth, except for as long as they are minors. In providing the contractarian account of the origin of the state and government, Locke says,. Men being, as has been seen, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of his her estate and subject to the political power of another without his her own consent, which is done by agreeing with other men women , to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living, one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it p.

Parenthesis mine.

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While this statement by Locke may not have been recorded in history for direct verification by posterity for accuracy, it is important that we note that this is Locke's understanding of the origin of civil government. The notion of estate indicates property, which is common to other contract theorists, but his notion of estate does not cover property rights in other human beings, such as Western slavery mentioned above.

To doubt this, or to think otherwise, would, for Locke, tantamount to embracing false theories and doctrines. Jean Jacques Rousseau started the Social Contract with the assertion of the natural freedom of human beings at birth. This freedom is innate, inalienable and basic. It is common to all of humanity. But somehow humans find themselves in chains, in a state of alienated freedom or in a state of contrived unfreedom.

Humans lose the natural freedom with which they were born and they are left with only a semblance of the real thing. Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. He was concerned about how this change came about. In trying to unravel the causes of the change, Rousseau took account of diverse factors. The first that he noticed is force p. Force, for Rousseau, means compulsion. This, he argues, is unnatural; and if a person or people voluntarily obey such force, one cannot complain; while if they resist such force, it is better still; and, to regain their freedom is infinitely better still.

All the process of establishing the system under which members of the society shall live constitute the process of determining the social order p.

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In my view, Rousseau is correct in regard to the fact that social order is not natural to the extent that it involves the creation of a complex social milieu with complicated educational and sustenance mechanisms that civil society entails. However, it seems to me that Rousseau is flagrantly mistaken in supposing that humans are born free. For the human fetus is a peculiar anomaly which is indefinitely attached to its progeny and parentage through physical, genetic, economic and social forces, first through the umbilical cord, second through provision of first life sustaining facilities without which the infant is doomed to certain death, and lastly through skill forming and culture providing education which makes independence possible for the individual that emerges from years of parental and community nurture and environmental care.

It is this singular fact which makes the transmission of cultures and survival of societies a serious possibility, and further, it is this factor of gradual inheritance of independence and learning through apprenticeship to take care of the young which make Rousseau's position valid in his fear of how social order could arise out of force and be maintained by force. If the process of establishing the social order is determined through the use of superior force, Rousseau would be amazed as to the type of sustenance the arrangement would have and whether it would endure.

For, according to Rousseau, force cannot establish right, and the wish of the strongest can only subsist for as long as the strongest remains the strongest. Immediately the position is reversed, or whenever there is the possibility of disobedience without penalty, the obligation, out of need to avoid untoward consequences, to obey the dictates of the force, vanishes, for force does not create right p. The most ancient of societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family ; and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation.

As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children are , released from the obedience they owe to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence.