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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"Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains. This man believes that he is the master of others, and still he is more of a slave than they are. How did that transformation take place? I don't know. How may the restraints on man become legitimate? I do believe I can answer that question …" Thus begins Rousseau's influential 1762 work, Du Contract Social. Arguing that all government is fundamentally flawed, and that modern society is based on a system that fosters inequality and servitude, Rousseau demands nothing less than a complete revision of the social contract to ensure equality and freedom. Noting that government derives its authority by the people's willing consent (rather than the authorization of God), Rousseau posits that a good government can justify its need for individual compromises, rewarding its citizens with "civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses." The controversial philosopher further suggests that promoting social settings in which people transcend their immediate appetites and desires lead to the development of self-governing, self-disciplined beings. A milestone of political science, these essays introduced the inflammatory ideas that led to the chaos of the French Revolution, and are considered essential reading for students of history, philosophy, and other social sciences.
The searing indictment of man-made inequality in all its many forms that Rousseau offers in Discourse on Inequality is a must-read for philosophy buffs and supporters of social justice. This artfully composed argument sets forth the core elements of Rousseau's philosophical views, including his unique take on Hobbes' concept of nature and natural law.
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