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This article is about Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 treatise. For "social contract" as a political and philosophical concept, see Social contract. For other meanings, see Social Contract (disambiguation).
Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right
Social contract rousseau page.jpg
Title page of the first octavo edition
Author Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Original title Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique
Country France
Language French
Publication date

Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society, which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754).

The Social Contract helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, who are sovereign, have that all-powerful right.


Title page of a pirated edition of the Social Contract, probably printed in Germany.[1]

The stated aim of the Social Contract is to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority, since people's interactions he saw at his time seemed to put them in a state far worse than the good one they were at the state of nature, even though living in isolation.

In this desired social contract, everyone will be free because they all forfeit the same amount of rights and impose the same duties on all. Rousseau argues that it is illogical for a man to surrender his freedom for slavery; thus, the participants must have a right to choose the laws under which they live. Although the contract imposes new laws, including those safeguarding and regulating property, a person can exit it at any time (except in a time of need, for this is desertion), and is again as free as when he was born.

Rousseau posits that the political aspects of a society should be divided into two parts. First, there must be a sovereign consisting of the whole population (women included) that represents the general will and is the legislative power within the state. The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division is necessary because the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters like applications of the law. Doing so would undermine its generality, and therefore damage its legitimacy. Thus, government must remain a separate institution from the sovereign body. When the government exceeds the boundaries set in place by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government, and begin anew.

Rousseau claims that the size of the territory to be governed often decides the nature of the government. Since a government is only as strong as the people, and this strength is absolute, the larger the territory, the more strength the government must be able to exert over the populace. In his view, a monarchical government is able to wield the most power over the people since it has to devote less power to itself, while a democracy the least. In general, the larger the bureaucracy, the more power required for government discipline. Normally, this relationship requires the state to be an aristocracy or monarchy. It is important to note here that when Rousseau talks of aristocracy and monarchy, he does not necessarily mean they are not a "democracy" as the term is used in the present day - the aristocracy or monarch could be elected. When Rousseau uses the word democracy, he refers to a direct democracy (a central idea of Anarchism) rather than a representative democracy. In light of the relation between population size and governmental structure, Rousseau argues that, like his native Geneva, small city-states are the form of nation in which freedom can best flourish. For states of this size, an elected aristocracy is preferable, and in very large states a benevolent monarch; but even monarchical rule, to be legitimate, must be subordinate to the sovereign rule of law.


  1. ^ R.A. Leigh, Unsolved Problems in the Bibliography of J.-J. Rousseau, Cambridge, 1990, plate 22.


  • Wraight, Christopher D. (2008), Rousseau's The Social Contract: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum Books.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Contract — Please support Wikipedia.
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361 news items

Dixie Press Online

Dixie Press Online
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 07:49:04 -0700

The social contract, at its most basic, is a theory that holds that an implied agreement exists between each individual and the society in which he or she lives. Philosophers like Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke described how, by living in an organized ...

AMERICAblog (blog)

AMERICAblog (blog)
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:11:10 -0700

The social contract is pretty much in tatters, as is the economic contract and the entire myth of the American Dream. Before long, those who are the objects of oppression and threats of violence from a militarized police, who have no hope for economic ...
Stabroek News
Thu, 07 Aug 2014 02:00:00 -0700

The Kaieteur News' article of July 31, 2014 titled 'Mahdia gold miners to withhold royalties over poor roads,' consequently, must be seen and understood for what it is. The 'social contract' seems to have broken down or at a minimum is under severe threat.
Frontier Post
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 12:45:18 -0700

When we analyze the rationale of legitimacy of state institution with its relation to the right of citizen then one thing that come to our mind is social contract. J. J. Rousseau opined that state is developed through the process of social contract ...

AMERICAblog (blog)

AMERICAblog (blog)
Mon, 04 Aug 2014 07:00:48 -0700

And that discussion — about the social contract — will break the social contract in a significant enough way to matter. Nothing like a squabble over scarcity (pretend or otherwise) to tear a society literally apart. Which is why I make my pitch ...

Viral Global News

Viral Global News
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:07:30 -0700

Democracy demands that the electorate believes in their ability to choose the best candidates. People give up some personal freedoms in order to maintain the social contract partly in the surety that the people making the laws are the best America has ...

The Express Tribune

The Express Tribune
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 15:07:30 -0700

The director general of the Federal Judicial Academy, Dr Faqir Hussain, has urged judges of family courts to make all possible efforts to convince and counsel estranged parties to reconcile to protect the fundamental institution of the social contract ...
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 08:56:15 -0700

“COPS serves as the social contract of the Metrobank Foundation, Rotary Club of New Manila East and PS Bank to the police force that will advance the welfare of the PNP and contribute in the realization of the Integrated Transformation Program of ...

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