The Social Contract

Consequences of The Social Contract

What were the negative social consequences of The Social Contract in Europe

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"Chapter 1 of his classic work on political theory The Social Contract (published in 1762) begins famously, 'Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains'. It is an expression of his belief that we corrupted by society. The social contract he explores in the book involves people recognizing a collective 'general will'. This general will is supposed to represent the common good or public interest - and it is something that each individual has a hand in making. All citizens should participate - and should be committed to the general good - even if it means acting against their private or personal interests. For example, we might support a political party that proposes to tax us heavily (as we have a large income) because we can see the benefit that this taxation can bring to all. To this extend, Rousseau believed that the good individual, or citizen, should not put their private ambitions first.

This way of living, he argued, can promote liberty and equality - and it arises out of, and fosters, a spirit of fraternity. The cry of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ is familiar to us today through the French Revolution (1789 - 1799) - and the impact of the thinking and experiences of that time have had on political movements in many different parts of the world since. Just how the ‘general will’ comes about is unclear - and this has profound implications. If we are to put the general will over the individual or ‘particular’ will then there needs to be safeguards against the exploitation of individuals and minorities. Rousseau’s belief in liberty, equality and fraternity, and his emphasis on education (see below) may go some way in counteracting the dangers of the general will, but others have hijacked the notion so that the majority rules the minority - or indeed a minority a majority - it just depends who has the power to define or interpret the general will." (1)