The Social Contract

The Social Contract Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Opponents of Rousseau have criticized his chapter on civil religion as being unnecessary to The Social Contract as a whole, and as specifically threatening to individual freedom. Why does Rousseau include a passage on civil religion? Is it a threat to personal liberty, or a necessary requirement for the survival of the state?

  2. 2

    Rousseau writes, "whoever refuses to obey the general will be forced to do so by the entire body...he will be forced to be free" (150). Explain the logic behind this statement. Does it conflict with his ideas about personal liberty?

  3. 3

    Rousseau begins The Social Contract with the claim that "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." What are these restrictions on man's liberty? How are they affected by the social contract?

  4. 4

    Rousseau criticizes a hereditary aristocracy as being "the worst of any form of government," yet his complaints against monarchies are far more numerous than his ones against hereditary aristocracy. Which form of government does Rousseau believe is worse, and why?

  5. 5

    Although Rousseau gives legislative power to the people, he insists that they need a legislator to help them make the laws. What are the qualities that the legislator must possess? Does Rousseau's emphasis on the legislator reflect a lack of confidence in the people?

  6. 6

    Rousseau argues that laws transform man by substituting an amoral, independent existence in a state of nature for a cooperative one in a civil society. However, he also claims that only certain people are ready for laws. Discuss this tension in the context of The Social Contract.

  7. 7

    What is Rousseau's idea of a "right"? How does it differ from Grotius'? How does it affect his political theory?

  8. 8

    Discuss Rousseau's theory of how climate affects a country's form of government. Do his claims hold true for modern nations?

  9. 9

    Why does Rousseau believe that all states will eventually fall? Given that he supports this view, why has he written The Social Contract?

  10. 10

    Discuss Rousseau's opinions on finance and representation. What would Rousseau think of modern democracies such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States? Can his political recommendations be followed in a large, modern democracy?