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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Elizalde

The Social Contract by Rousseau

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

Book One

(1) Rousseau opens the first chapter of this book with this claim: "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains." Reflect and expound upon this opening line. Rousseau writes, "Force if a physical power; I do not see how its effects could produce morality." What can morality never be forced?

(2) According to Rousseau, a war can never be ended by forcing a people into slavery for such an agreement/terms of peace "far from ending the state of war, presupposes its continuation." How does slavery presuppose continuation of war?

Book Two

(3) Rousseau suggests that at the birth of society, religion acts in the service of politics? Why might Rousseau object to politics serving the aims of religion?

(4) According to Rousseau who ought to make the laws of a society and who ought to execute/enforce these laws? Why is it important for these functions not to be entangled and be the responsibility of one man or power?

(5) Rousseau believes there is a danger in letting the gap between the rich and the poor become too great. Laws must be in place to prevent so wide of a gap that the rich are able to oppress and exploit the poor. Why should the gap between the rich and the poor be regulated by government?

(6) Why does the success of Political, Civil, and Criminal law directly depend upon the degree to which members of a society share common morals, customs, and beliefs?

(7) How does Rousseau's concept of freedom exist wherein members of a society are completely independent of one another yet excessively dependent upon the government?


Book Three

(8) How might Rousseau critique the current dynamics in the United States amongst the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government?

(9) Why are cruelty and anarchy the inevitable ends of an imbalance of power?

(10) While Rousseau admits that the language of mathematics has no place in moral calculations, he nevertheless uses mathematics (particularly the concept of a geometric mean) to describe the relationships between the Sovereign, the Prince (or the State or government), and the People. He suggest that the Prince must be the geometric mean of the Sovereign and the People. Stated mathematically, Sovereign : Prince = Prince : People. How helpful is this mathematical analogy?

(11) Why should the will of the government to preserve itself be both distinct from and yet subservient to the will of the people?

(12) What responsibility do the people of the State have in shaping/changing law through public assembly and the (charitable) expressing of their opinions? What are the dangers of a passive people?


Book Four

(13) Rousseau writes, "...the votes of the greatest number always bind the rest; and this is a consequence of the contract itself. Yet it may be asked how a man can be at once free and forced to conform to wills which are not his own. How can the opposing minority be both free and subject to laws to which they have not consented?" While Rousseau admits that this question is "badly formulated", what is your response to his question?

(14) Rousseau characterizes the Christian as being too heavenly minded to have any concern for the common good of society. For this reason, he believes Christianity to be a religion that has has no concern for politics and is thereby insufficient as the basis for governing a society. Is this a fair characterization of Christianity? Why or why not?


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