In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourses on the Origin of Inequality, he outlines his own history of the development of human society. He explains in general terms how the differences between social and economic classes arose alongside the formation of modern states. He also explores the means by which these inequalities were actually built into and perpetuated by the foundational notions of modern society and government.
Rather than endorse a return to the peaceful ways of pre-modern human beings, Rousseau addresses these inequalities in his seminal work, The Social Contract. Rousseau does not see government as an inherently corrupting influence, and he makes very clear and precise recommendations about how the state can and should protect the equality and character of its citizens.
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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Individualist and communitarian. Anarchist and totalitarian. Classicist and romanticist. Progressive and reactionary. Since the eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been said to be all of these things. Few philosophers have been the subject of as much or as intense debate, yet almost everyone agrees that Rousseau is among the most important and influential thinkers in the history of political philosophy. This new edition of his major political writings, published in the year of the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth, renews attention to the perennial importance of Rousseau’s work. The book brings together superb new translations by renowned Rousseau scholar John T. Scott of three of Rousseau’s works: the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, and On the Social Contract. The two Discourses show Rousseau developing his well-known conception of the natural goodness of man and the problems posed by life in society. With the Social Contract, Rousseau became the first major thinker to argue that democracy is the only legitimate form of political organization. Scott’s extensive introduction enhances our understanding of these foundational writings, providing background information, social and historical context, and guidance for interpreting the works. Throughout, translation and editorial notes clarify ideas and terms that might not be immediately familiar to most readers. The three works collected in The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau represent an important contribution to eighteenth-century political theory that has exerted an extensive influence on generations of thinkers, beginning with the leaders of the French Revolution and continuing to the present day. The new translations on offer here will be welcomed by a wide readership of both Rousseau scholars and readers with a general interest in political thought.
El contrato social es un libro emblemático en la historia del pensamiento político occidental, un libro impulsor de revoluciones –la de 1789– y de revolucionarios –de Robespierre a Simón Bolívar y Fidel Castro–, una obra a contracorriente que ensalza, en el contexto de la Europa de las monarquías absolutas, la democracia directa de las repúblicas de la Antigüedad en las que el pueblo, reunido en asamblea, legislaba. El texto, malentendido con frecuencia, lejos de encarnar los grandes principios de la democracia moderna, como se ha dicho, reniega de ellos, tanto del sistema representativo implantado en Inglaterra a raíz de la Revolución Gloriosa de 1688, como de los derechos individuales o la división de poderes auspiciada por Locke y Montesquieu. Heredero del republicanismo de Maquiavelo, Rousseau somete al individuo a la colectividad en donde cada individuo cede parte de su independencia y la somete a la dirección suprema de una voluntad general más justa que mira por el interés común, por el interés social de la comunidad, por la utilidad pública. De esa voluntad general emana la única y legítima autoridad del Estado.
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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