The landmark political treatise that refuted the so-called divine right of kings and established the principles of representative government
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
With these stirring words, Jean-Jacques Rousseau begins The Social Contract—the first shot in a battle of ideas that would set the stage for the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. In the feverish days of the Enlightenment, Rousseau took aim squarely at the all-powerful French monarchy, proclaiming that no despot, no matter how powerful, had the right to terrorize his people. He laid out a plan for a new kind of government—an idea that was radical then, and remains so now.
The Social Contract is a landmark document from a fascinating period in world history and an invaluable guide to the foundations of modern democracy.
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If we look at human society with a calm and disinterested eye, it seems, at first, to show us only the violence of the powerful and the oppression of the weak. The mind is shocked at the cruelty of the one, or is induced to lament the blindness of the other...-from the PrefaceAre such concepts of race, class, and wealth inherent to the human condition, or are they results of the development of "civilization"? One of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment, which laid the groundwork for the modern mind-set, argues that it is only with the creation of agriculture and urban society that inequalities formed. Controversy swirls around the text-some of today's thinkers continue to consider it profound; others contend that it relies on an unsupportable "noble savage" foundation. In either case, this 1752 is one of the greatest works of 18th-century philosophy.Swiss philosopher JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) was a dramatic influence on the French revolution, 19th-century communism, and much modern political thought. His works include Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750), Discourse on Political Economy (1755), and The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (1762).
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