Views of the Social Contract

“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau). Is probably one of the most widely known quotes in the philosophical world. Rousseau explains in his Social Contract how all people are bound to some sort of convention in the entire span of their life. He starts out with his ideas of how some sort of contract has always been present, the natural contract of a parent and child. The parent cares for the child, and the child is dependent on the parent, giving up all its rights until it is of a more mature age, after a while it focuses solely on itself because that is human nature.

This he relates to governments, how a ruler takes care of his subjects, and his subjects in turn give up everything for him, until they have a reason to not be loyal to him. Any loyalty or relations that are kept once people become independent is solely because it is voluntary, not necessary. It is a moral thing to do. Rousseau suggests, that in any social contract when people combine forces and still preserve their freedom for the state, such a state or a social contract has a distinct entity with a life and will of its own.

Also in a social contract, a ruler is bound indirectly to the people, as in taking care of them or not harming them, because they are the ones who first allow the ruler to be there in the first place by subduing to him. He also talks about ownership of property. What is deemed legitimately Singh 2 owned and what is not. This makes for my thesis that because of the natural bond, the sole authority in politics can only come from a social contract. “The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family” (Rousseau).

According to Rousseau, the basic foundation for any convent is the natural convent of a father and his son, or a parent and his or her child. What Rousseau is trying to explain is that since the beginning of human kind, even in its most primal form, there has been some sort of contract between people. The original, and only natural, contract is that of a parent and a child. It makes sense, because a parent brings the child into the world so the parent should have absolute power over it, at least until the child can rebel or is old enough to not be dependent upon the parent.

But the child is also dependent upon the parent because the parent protects it and takes care of its needs. This natural convent is the basis for the social contract because people give up their rights, and freedom for their ruler, but in Rousseau’s case a sovereign where people are both “subjects” and “citizens”. If they give up all of that, what is the benefit? Protection? Not necessarily, the ruler does not give his subjects protection if he sends them to war. He also lives off of their money.

Why would citizens want to give up everything for basically nothing? This leads to the next point of everyone (being the citizens) actually are free because they are all in the same position of having given up their rights. In a social contract, everyone ends up being equal due to the fact that EVERYONE has given up their rights to a sovereign. This means they are their own ruler, indirectly, because they are free. So there is equality, and honestly nothing is actually being given up. Nothing is Singh 3 really being lost.

According to Rousseau when a person gives up their rights for a social contract, he is giving up everything including his morality and humanity. But BECAUSE of the social contract, he regains it due to the fact, everyone is equal, making the social contract the only “right” thing in an unjust world. There might be a certain way of living that a ruler puts down, but it’s not as bad as it sounds because every person has to obey. People that are bound together in a situation rely on one another, this makes the life in a social contract not all bad.

But then this brings up the question, why don’t the civilians rebel all the time and completely break free of the sovereign? There is a good reason for that. If people ultimately have freedom by gathering up once they give into a social contract, why don’t they break free of it? Well most of the time citizens aren’t usually in a position where they need to overthrow a ruler. Because the social contract even exists, the sovereign is allowed to reign. If there are no people who give their sole loyalty, how can there be a ruler?

Rulers, keeping that in mind, usually take good care of the people and don’t give them trouble. Another reason people usually don’t find the need to get rid of their higher powers is because there is some sort of fear, whether it’s direct or indirect, that is brought on that will keep the people in check. The loyalty, in a way is voluntary, because together the entire mass of people is more than the ruler, but no person thinks of that. The social contract literally is a cycle which keeps everyone in check.

It’s not right, because there is no right in the world, but it works. But it does use “might”. Also another thing that makes the social contract keep people in check is by laying out its rule in property ownership. “ First, the land must not yet be inhabited; Singh 4 secondly, a man must occupy only the amount he needs for his subsistence; and, in the third place, possession must be taken, not by an empty ceremony, but by labour and cultivation, the only sign of proprietorship that should be respected by others, in default of a legal title” (Rousseau).

This quote explains how a person who owns land must not own more than necessary. This is the legitimate and only way a person can truly own land. And again going back to the social contract, even though it seems that the land is being given up in a social contract, it really isn’t. Back to the natural bond, if you think about it, even if the parent has authority over a child, the child still has its own things which the parent technically “owns” but it’s not like the parent actually has any use of the child’s possessions, so in reality it really is the child’s things.

“…instead of destroying natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right” (Rousseau). This concludes my essay on Rousseau’s Social Contract. Ultimately, the only real authority of politics is the social contract. It brings humanism and morality back into the world, and it brings freedom to the people. Everything is fair, and just, which makes the social contract work.