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Rousseau: journal 2

One of the main topics in the discussion of Rousseau was the definition and power of the sovereign, and how Rousseau’s discussion of the sovereign differs from Hobbes’. In his writings, Hobbes legitimizes the power of the sovereign and says that it has absolute power. Rousseau, however, says that the will of the people should be the will of the sovereign.

Rousseau says that people enter into societies voluntarily, for the sake of self-preservation or utility. In nature, all men are free from one another. Relationships between them are only formed voluntarily. Even in family relationships, once children have reached an age where they can provide for and protect themselves, they only have relationships with their family members on a voluntary basis. In legitimate relationships, each party enters the relationship as an equal. In the case of slavery, no man has any right to rule over another, and no man has the right to submit himself to slavery. To submit to slavery would be against the nature of man; therefore slavery is not a legitimate relationship.

When societies are formed, the difference between what is “public? and what is “private? shows the divergence of societal relationships from the state of nature. “Private? refers to man’s natural state, where he is completely free of all constraints and has the right to protect his life and possessions. However, in this state, perversions can also exist, where men exert power that is beyond what they have rights to, i.e., a man can make another man his slave or take another man’s possessions without consequence. When a social contract is made, men give up their freedom and alienate themselves from all of their natural right (Rousseau, p.50). However, Rousseau claims earlier that it is not possible to alienate oneself from his natural freedom (p.45). To explain this, Rousseau claims that when a man gives up all of his rights to enter into society, he receives them back as an equal member of society. A good example of this idea would be if several people each gave an equal share of money to buy a piece of land. Although the men no longer have the money in their possession, they have equal rights to or “shares? of the land. They benefit equally from whatever the land can provide for them (e.g., food, money, housing, etc.). Thus men are able to enter into society and alienate their rights without going against their nature.

Men enter into societies to have a “guarantee? of safety and right to property. In nature, men have a right to protect themselves and have property. However, there is no law or force to prevent another man from taking life or property away. In society, an agreement between men is made that each has a right to his own life and property, and if anyone infringes on these rights of another person, there will be consequences for his actions. There is no guarantee of property in the state of nature, since strength usually overcomes rights in nature. However, there is a mutual agreement in society that men have a right to their property and have rights as a “first occupant? (p.54). According to Rousseau, men have the right to disobey the sovereign if the sovereign goes against these agreements in society. The relationship between a man and his property is stronger than that between him and the sovereign. In this way, Rousseau states that the sovereign has limitations and does not have absolute power (p.51). If the sovereign claims rights that it ought, by nature, not to, then men have the right to dissolve the societal contract. The sovereign gains its legitimacy from the general will of the people in the society. In general, Rousseau paints a very accurate picture of the nature of man and the reasons for entering into societal relationships. If there is no rule of law, men have no incentive to respect other men’s rights and lives. Since man can naturally be greedy, the stronger will often overpower the weaker to obtain their possessions. However, this picture is a little too simplistic to cover all of the reasons for entering into society. In this picture, those who are physically stronger would have no reason for entering into society. However, those who are physically strong would have an incentive to enter into societies to tap into the advantages that those who are intellectually stronger enjoy. Also, Rousseau does not analyze the emotional state of man. While solitary living may be practical for man’s physical needs, this ignores man’s need for human interaction. His picture of man is almost soulless. So while men do, indeed, enter into societies to protect themselves and their property, there are many more reasons for men to enter into societal contracts.