February 29, 2008

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.

Rousseau: journal 1

Jean-Jacques Rousseau the author of The Social Contract is the topic of this journal. In class we address the difference between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes. We looked into the different approaches the two men took on the topic of the government and its people. Rousseau and Hobbes come to the conclusion of the importance of the sovereign. Rousseau discusses the will of the people as being the same as the will of the sovereign. That the sovereign is the people, it is one body governed by the people. The sovereign for Hobbes is one that comes form an absolute power. Hobbes has a narrow definition of society when it comes to dealing with the state. He views society as one that is exclusively linked to European government with rulers. There is no consideration for tribal governments and other forms of government that do not resemble that of European governments. He goes on to write about the state of nature. The state of nature is one that is disorderly and lawless; where there is no law there can be no injustice. There are two important words to take away from the Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes that is covenant and fear. The fear leads people into the contract and the glue that binds them to the contract is self-interest. Self preservation is natural and that allows people to give up some liberties in the quest of self preservation. But liberties are not birth rights but products of society and the contract society makes between people. Jean-Jacques Rousseau discusses the social contract also and how there is a difference between the public and private. The public is general apart of the social contract and the sovereign. Private deals more with the particulars like property and the relationship between master and slave. Public and Private are apart of the social contract. As we explore the social contract we see how it deals with how one can obey self interest and still work under the social contract. When one gives up some rights they do so in purist of gaining more rights, which ultimately benefit them in their self preservation. An example would be the right owning property. Under the social contract property is own by the government. The government allows people to buy the land and claim it as there own. Even though they feel as though the land is considered to be the citizen’s it is actually the property of the sovereign. The issue that I would like to focus on is that of the public versus the private. An example of the conflict between the public and the private can be seen in book I chapter six of the social pact paragraph two through four. These paragraphs discuss how in ones attempt to fulfill his/her needs for self preservation they need to team up with others. They unite to from “a sum of forces that might prevail over those obstacles’ resistance?. With unity they are able to advance and to have these opportunities of advancement people agree to the social contract. By being apart of the city of Chicago I am given the agreement that the local government will work in the best interest of the people. According to Rousseau the sovereign can only work in the interest of the people because it is made of the people. The city of Chicago decided to put a bid in for the Olympics in order to bring jobs to the city. In this way the city is working for the people. In other instances the sovereign also works in ways that better it self. The city of Chicago has postponed the advancement of Wal-Mart building stores in the city. The city does not agree to some of Wal-Mart practices towards its employees. This disagreement has kept Wal-Mart from building a store in the city. Though bringing the Olympics to Chicago is good because it brings jobs; if Wal-Mart was allowed to enter the city there would permanent jobs. The Wal-Mart example shows how the sovereign does not always take into account the needs of the people. Instead of insuring permanent jobs the city is following its own political beliefs that are in conflict with what might be best for the people. Book II chapter one paragraphs two through three also discuss the conflict between public and private. These paragraphs talk about how the private can never always agree with the public. “Indeed, while it is not impossible that a particular will agree with the general will on some point, it is in any event impossible for this agreement to be lasting and constant.? This may explain my feelings towards Chicago’s decision not to allow Wal-Mart into the city; me as a particular does not agree with the decision. The social contract is a two fold relationship between the self and sovereign. I disagree with the Chicago’s government for declining Wal-Mart but by being apart of the sovereign and committing to the social contract I still abide by the sovereign’s rules. Following the rules I am participating in the social contract.