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Book I of the Social Contract, was written by Jean Jacques Rousseau and published in 1762. At the time of the release of this document, Rousseau claimed residency in France, where the reception of it’s publishing was not so welcome by the French authorities. In fact, the Social Contract was so unwelcome by the authorities that it was banned from the public in France. Rousseau’s work was very controversial at the time because of it’s critical nature. The government’s fear of social uprising was enough to cause them to act immediately.
The document questioned the way that society was functioning at the time, criticizing the very basis of the way that many people lived their lives. Rousseau states that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” He wants to know why, as humans, we have given up our natural liberties at the hands of the government. His claims are based in the idea that the only reason the government has power is because we allow it to. We give the government authority by allowing it to control us. As a result of this, we have given up some of our natural born freedoms.
As Rousseau moves on with his analysis of society, he points out that people give up their freedom to society when the natural world becomes too treacherous to live in on their own. Rousseau claims that we find strength in numbers, which is why we tend to flock together into a larger society. Scandalously, he seems to infer that this may be all we need, not a government of powerful people individuals to run us, but simply a social agreement. He seems to think that people will be able to interact civilly with an unspoken agreement to work together. This way, the needs of the many will ultimately be met rather than the wants of the few. This idea proposes equality for everyone that is involved. A seemingly fantastic concept, but could people possibly all come to a point of agreement? I have a few arguments in regard to Rousseau’s intentions in authoring this document.
Clearly Rousseau authored the Social Contract because he thought something was wrong with the functionality of society. My theory is that the critical style of this writing was not unintentional. Rousseau is seemingly a sociologist of sorts, he sees connections between problems in society. He had to have known that people would react dramatically to his claims. How could he not have? The entire basis of his idea stemmed from his study of society and the functionality of it as a whole. He must have realized that his proposal would make waves in the government, why else would he have so openly criticised it? He knew that being forceful was the only way that he would be able to create tension and gain attention. The Social Contract was written with the intention of getting a reaction from the government. He was very effective in doing so.
Despite his effectiveness in getting his point across, I think that there were some serious flaws in Rousseau’s idea. Rousseau seems to completely ignore the role of women in society. While I am aware that his lack of feminine consideration can largely be contributed to the time period, he speaks as if women would still be second class citizens in a society with rules bound by popular opinion. He fails to realize that in such a society women would also have to become equals, as they would not be bound by the government’s rule. His lack of recognition in this sense makes me question his validity entirely.
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