Rousseau was born in the democratic Canton of Geneva but lived for the most part of his life in France. He was one of those literary giants of eighteenth century France, who may be called the spiritual fathers of the French Revolution. He propounded his theory in his book Social Contract published in 1762.
Rousseau had no purpose to serve like Hobbes and Locke. His was only a philosophical attempt to explain the origin of civil society. He tried to combine Hobbes absolutism with Locke’s idea of popular sovereignty.
He was an original genius. Lason says that “he is to be found at the entrance to all paths leading to the present”. But Rousseau and contradiction go together. He is an idealist and at times, confused. For him property is both an evil and a sacred institution.
He preaches toleration for all but banishes atheists from his state. He is the extreme absolutist and the extreme individualist.
State of Nature:
Rousseau also starts his thesis with the description of life of the people in the state of nature. According to him, it was the happiest period of human life. Rousseau’s natural man lived a happy and care-free life. He felt himself independent, contented and self- sufficient.
He was a non-social man unknown to good, evil or fear. He had neither family nor property. He was a noble savage. The peace and happiness of this noble savage were destroyed by the origin of the institution of property. People began to think in terms of mine and thine.
Later, people desired to have permanent families and fixity of abode. Due to all these factors, the noble savage lost his natural equality and freedom and was subjected to a swarm of crimes and evils.
In order to regulate property relations and settle other disputes, government and laws came into existence and the primitive man lost all his natural liberty.
Since institutions of property, laws and government came to stay there was no going back to the state of nature. The only alternative was to adjust the existing institutions with the primitive ideas of liberty.
The disquieting condition referred to above was put to an end by the creation of a political community. Natural freedom was sought to be converted into a sort of civil freedom.
People entered into a contract to the following effect: Each of us puts his own person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the General Will, and in our corporate capacity we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.
Thus civil society was created. Each one was its member. The will of the society became supreme. He calls it “General Will” i.e., a will in the formation of which every one participated. Each individual was equal lo the other. None lost anything by entering into society or Commonwealth as was in case of Hobbes or Locke.
Whatever the individual lost by entering into the Commonwealth was regained by him as a member of the Commonwealth. According lo Rousseau, the contract is between the People in their individual capacity on the one side and the same people in corporate capacity on the other side.
In other words A, B, C, D, as individuals surrender their powers unconditionally to A+B+C+D in the corporate or collective capacity. Every individual has dual capacity, he is at once a member of the sovereign body and a subject. The will of the sovereign community is expressed in the form of the General Will. The General Will’ wished good of all and was thus moral and perfect.
When the General will is obeyed then, ‘each coalescing with all may never the. less obey only himself, and remain as free as before. General Will is the will of the body politic and the body cannot wish to injure its member’.
1. Popular Sovereignty:
As has been pointed out above, Rousssal combines the idea of absolute sovereignty as given by Hobbes with the idea of popular sovereignty as developed by Locke.
Rousseau’s sovereign is as absolute in his powers as that of Hobbes. But the difference lies in the fact that Rousseau’s sovereignty lies in the people whereas Hobbes’ sovereignty is vested in a single person or a body of perons, i.e., the sovereign. Rousseau thus propounds the theory of popular sovereignty.
2. Reconciliation between liberty and authority:
Rousseau reconciles individual liberty with the authority of the state. Rousseau’s sovereign is the community and an individual is an indivisible part of the whole.
In this way an individual remains sovereign and obeys none but himself and thus remains as free as ever. By obeying the community, he obeys himself because it is his own creation and he is a member of the commanding authority.
3. Nothing against general will:
He does not propound theory of rights as Locke did and the least of ‘natural rights’. Since the General Will wills the common good, there can be no right of the individual against it since rights of individual are based on his selfish interests which conflict with common good.
4. Combination of Popular Sovereignty of Locke with the concept of Absolute Sovereignty of Hobbes:
Rousseau makes his sovereign as absolute as the ‘Leviathan’ of Hobbes. He makes ‘General will’ not only absolute but also moral and perfect. To him sovereignty is absolute, final and supreme.
Thus he starts with Lock can conception of popular sovereignty but ends with Hobbesian conception of absolutism.
5. Sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable:
Rousseau’s theory of social contract leads to the conclusion that sovereignty cannot be divided and transferred. The Sovereign who is a collective being can be represented only by himself.
6. Government is only an agency of the State:
According to ousseau, Government is never the same thing as the sovereign. The two re distinguishable by their function.
The Sovereign makes laws and the government is elected by the the people as sovereign for the execution of laws.
7. Basis of democracy:
Rousseau’s theory of social contract serves as a basis and justification of revolutions against the arbitrary rule, is contention that men are by nature free and equal and government is appointed by the sovereign people for enforcement of laws finds a conspicuous place in the Declaration of Rights of Man 1789 the charter f the French Revolution.
1.Rousseau’s theory is as much unhistorical as that of Hobbes or Locke. Never was there any ‘State of Nature’ when man lived without society.
2. While the description of State of Nature by Hobbes was on one extreme, Rousseau’s description is on the other. To Hobbes, it was a state of warfare; to Rousseau, it was one of divine happiness.
If to one, man was selfish, to the other, man was noble savage. These arc two extremes unjustifiable by history or logic or psychology.
3. Rousseau is as much illogical as the other contractualists are. How could the noble savage, not familiar with civil society, think of creating one and that too by contract?
4. The conception of General Will is vague, indefinite and abstract.
It is difficult to find out the general will in practice. It can be at the most the will of the majority or even an overwhelming majority but not of all the people.
5. Rousseau by denying rights to the individual, thus subjects him to the tyranny of the State which in actual practice is represented by a government controlling a majority in the legislature.
6. Even if Rousseau’s theory is accepted, it cannot be applied to big states. At the most it could suit small city-states where people could come together and decide matters directly and make laws and elect officers. It cannot be possible in modern nation States.
7. Rousseau was hardly aware of the fact that the unrestrained power of the general will might result in an absolutism similar to that of old kingdoms and oligarchies.
8.It is interesting to note that Rousseau equates individual liberty with the obedience of laws made by the Sovereign. he emphasizes the fact that an individual is a part and parcel of the corporate community expressive of General Wil. As such, by obeying the General Will which is the ‘good will’ of the Sovereign Community, he obeys none but himself and remains as free as ever.