The Social Contract Glossary
Glossary of Terms
Civil libertyWhat man acquires by entering the social contract. Civil liberty is obedience to the laws that one helps to design. By exchanging natural liberty for civil liberty, man attains basic humanity and morality.
Civil religionThe "sentiments of sociability" to which every good citizen must profess. The tenets of civil religion are a belief in good and the afterlife, justice for all, and respect for the sanctity of the social contract. The sovereign cannot obligate opponents of civil religion to accept its tenets, but it can banish them from the state.
General willThe will of the sovereign, which promotes the common good. People and governments have particular wills that tend to oppose the general will.
GovernmentAn intermediary between the people and the sovereign, charged with executing the general will. Whereas the legislative body takes care of matters that affect the entire populace, the government deals with particular acts. There are three main forms of government: democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. Which one is appropriate in a given country depends on a number of factors, including population and climate.
LawA decision that is made by entire populace and applies to the entire populace. The law must always embody this concept of universality. A decision that affects only a certain individual or group is a decree and is outside the consideration of the sovereign.
LegislatorA person of superior intellect and morals who guides the people in making the laws. The legislator must be able to resist the passions of the people while still caring about their happiness.
Legitimate, political authorityWhat Rousseau seeks to determine the basis of in The Social Contract. A legitimate, political authority must meet two conditions. First, there must be no relationships of particular dependence in the state. Second, in obeying the laws, a person must obey only himself.
Natural libertyA person's ability to do anything that he desires. Natural liberty is only limited by the strength of the individual and the resistance of others.
RightA power or privilege to which someone is justly entitled. A right implies a moral duty and not a physical obligation. Thus, the right of the strongest and the right to slavery are not actual rights.
Social contractThe agreement, made by the members of the state, which establishes civil society. The clauses of the social contract are laid out throughout Rousseau's work and aim to ensure the freedom and equality of all citizens. Importantly, the social contract is the only law that requires unanimous consent.
SovereignAn active, legislative body composed of the members of the state. The sovereign is the supreme authority of the state. Sovereignty always rests with the people, and cannot be transferred to a person or a group. It also cannot be divided into smaller functions. Rousseau's view of sovereignty contrasts with that of other political philosophers. Theorists such as Hobbes and Grotius made the government the sovereign authority instead of the people.
State of NatureAn amoral, prehistoric time during which man was governed by physical impulses instead of reason and morality. In Discourse on Basis and Origin of Inequality, Rousseau argues that the state of nature was preferable to civil society because man had no emotional attachments and lacked property - a primary source of conflict. Rousseau acknowledges that the actual state of nature may be different than he describes. He uses the concept of an amoral, prehistoric state to determine the basis of legitimate, political authority.
Will of allThe sum of all the particular or private wills within the state. In a state without factions, the competing interests of each individual cancel out, and the will of all approximates the general will. When factions exist, there is no general will, and the private opinions of a few dominate society.
The Social Contract Essays and Related Content
- The Social Contract: Major Themes
- The Social Contract: Essays
- The Social Contract: Questions
- The Social Contract: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Biography
- The Social Contract Summary
- About The Social Contract
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter I-IV
- Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters V-IX
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapter I-V
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters VI-VII
- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters VIII-XII
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters I-III
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters IV-VII
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters VIII-IX
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters X-XIV
- Summary and Analysis of Book III, Chapters XV-XVIII
- Summary and Analysis of Book IV, Chapters I-IV
- Summary and Analysis of Book IV, Chapters V-IX
- Criticisms of Social Contract Theory
- Related Links on The Social Contract
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources