History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2004: Q.5(a)

History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2004: Q.5(a)

Q. “Rousseau’s political philosophy contains the seeds of Socialism, Absolutism and Democracy”. Comment.


Rousseau was a philosopher, writer, and composer of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. His political philosophy had influenced French Revolution and jad the seeds of the development of many modern thoughts.

Rousseau’s political philosophy containing the seeds of Socialism

(1) In his essay, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755),he showed how greed had corrupted man, hpw strong man had captured the land and property and have forced the week to obey them.

(2) He says that there are two types of inequality:

(a) Natural Inequality: For example- some lazy, some are intelligent. It can be tolerated as it is beyond control.
(b) Inequality created by society: For example- priviledged section of society has the right to get a job but weaker section does not. He said that this type of inequality must be removed.

(3) He says that the most ideal time the human being had when there was no private property . Property had bred greed corruption and war.

(4) In his vision of a perfect world, Rousseau wanted people to be at their most natural state. His frequent denouncements of inequality and the ownership of private property even bore an early suggestion of communism.

Rousseau’s political philosophy containing the seeds of Democracy

(1) Rousseau’s most important work is ‘The Social Contract’.  In this work, Rousseau describes what he sees as the perfect political system: one in which everyone articulates their wants but ultimately compromises for the betterment of the general public. This was called “general will” which contains traces of every citizen’s will and thus would in some way serve everyone.

(2) Rousseau argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people. But he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will. The “sovereign” is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly. (He opposed representative assembly.)

(2 ) ‘The Social Contract’ begins with the dramatic opening lines, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”. With this famous phrase, Rousseau asserts that modern states repress the freedom that is our birthright. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, comes only from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual preservation.

Rousseau’s political philosophy containing the seeds of Absolutism

(1) Rousseau’s conception of General Will is very vague which makes it dangerous and vulnerable to misuse.
According to Rousseau, General will is different from the concensus of individual members of the society. This differentation is responsible for the charge that Rousseau’s philosophy contained the seeds of absolutism:

(a) General will is not just will of all. Will of all may contain private interest of individual also, but general will does not contain private will. It implies that instead of the democratic principle of people voting for what they want (even if its not good for them) there is a notion of what is really best for them. ‘General will’ represents what is best for them.

(b) So ‘general will’ should supercedes any particular individual’s will because general will is best for everyone, but individual’s will might not good for individual.

(c) Rousseau says that one should submit to the authority of the ‘general will’ of the people even by abondoning one’s natural rights. This submission guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.

(2) The government can remove any ‘particular wills’ that did not conform to the general will. This was used by dictators to interpeet the general will. For example: Robespierre, who was Rousseau’s follower, spread of reign of terror during French Recolution, just to impose “general will”. He executed anyone who he considered not following general will.

(2) Rousseau also proposes the idea that the more political parties there are the more they divide the people, interfere with the general will. This idea led to the viewing, in France, of any other political party as a faction which had to be removed for the general will to work effectively. These ideas had the power to turn the French ‘republic’ into a one party state without a democratic vote – in a sense a totalitarian regime run by the Committee for Public Safety.

(3) Rousseau was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly.

From these ideas the concept of absolutism took its shape later.

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