“The Social Contract” by Jean Jacques Rousseau
In The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau addresses the problem of political obligation and individual freedom. The work consists of four books, each comprising a number of sections that address the above-mentioned issue from several angles. The first book then deals with the troublesome aspect of a human being’s apparent perpetual slavery. Book II concerns the issue of sovereignty. Rousseau now shifts his focus from the individual to the human relationship with the State. In Book III, there is another shift of focus to government itself, and the various forms that government may take. Finally, Book IV draws redresses the issue of the human relationship with the state in the light of the exposition given in the first three books. It is also in this book that he explains the ideal of the social contract and how the state should work together with its subjects to create a perfect and peaceful society.
Rousseau makes a strong argument in his first book when he states, “One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.” (Book I; ch.i). This is applicable to current society, which is more often than not subject to some or other less than laudable human trait such as greed or addiction. People are slaves to money, drugs, success or any other of a maze of possible enslavements. This was also true in Rousseau’s time, and he recognized that human beings are in bondage since birth.
Rousseau’s opening statement that “Man is born free” is intriguing. Indeed, according to the rest of the section, this is not so. Even since birth, a child is obliged to be in bondage to its parents until it can leave the home on its own. After this, the child is subject to political and social rules, as well as a myriad other connections. Thus, the opening statement rings somewhat untrue, unless it is taken in the sense that all persons should be born free. The familial bond is...