Tuesday, July 26, 2005


THIS formula shows us that the act of association comprises a mutual undertaking between the public and the individuals, and that each individual, in making a contract, as we may say, with himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of the State to the Sovereign. But the maxim of civil right, that no one is bound by undertakings made to himself, does not apply in this case; for there is a great difference between incurring an obligation to yourself and incurring one to a whole of which you form a part.

Attention must further be called to the fact that public deliberation, while competent to bind all the subjects to the Sovereign, because of the two different capacities in which each of them may be regarded, cannot, for the opposite reason, bind the Sovereign to itself; and that it is consequently against the nature of the body politic for the Sovereign to impose on itself a law which it cannot infringe. Being able to regard itself in only one capacity, it is in the position of an individual who makes a contract with himself; and this makes it clear that there neither is nor can be any kind of fundamental law binding on the body of the people — not even the social contract itself. This does not mean that the body politic cannot enter into undertakings with others, provided the contract is not infringed by them; for in relation to what is external to it, it becomes a simple being, an individual.

But the body politic or the Sovereign, drawing its being wholly from the sanctity of the contract, can never bind itself, even to an outsider, to do anything derogatory to the original act, for instance, to alienate any part of itself, or to submit to another Sovereign. Violation of the act by which it exists would be self-annihilation; and that which is itself nothing can create nothing.

As soon as this multitude is so united in one body, it is impossible to offend against one of the members without attacking the body, and still more to offend against the body without the members resenting it. Duty and interest therefore equally oblige the two contracting parties to give each other help; and the same men should seek to combine, in their double capacity, all the advantages dependent upon that capacity.

Again, the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; and consequently the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects, because it is impossible for the body to wish to hurt all its members. We shall also see later on that it cannot hurt any in particular. The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.

This, however, is not the case with the relation of the subjects to the Sovereign, which, despite the common interest, would have no security that they would fulfil their undertakings, unless it found means to assure itself of their fidelity.

In fact, each individual, as a man, may have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a citizen. His particular interest may speak to him quite differently from the common interest: his absolute and naturally independent existence may make him look upon what he owes to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will do less harm to others than the payment of it is burdensome to himself; and, regarding the moral person which constitutes the State as a persona ficta, because not a man, he may wish to enjoy the rights of citizenship without being ready to fulfil the duties of a subject. The continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the undoing of the body politic.

In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.


Blogger Mannning said...

>>In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.<<

In perhaps simpler terms, the General Will is a tyrannical mechanism, interpreted by the government and the tribunate, and constructed and agreed to initially by the citizens by a unanimous vote.

If a citizen recants his vote, and has other ideas that appear to others to work against the GW, he will be forced back into the fold.
If his feeling of freedom (because of the GW and the Contract) becomes less than perfect, in that his ideas are being suppressed, what would he do?

He would leave the state altogether (perhaps running for his life!). (I would hope that the number of births in this state exceeds the number of recanters who leave...you know, the older folks who become irascible in their later years and are then far less willing to put up with the "general will".)

Or perhaps the young firebrands who are endowed with brains and see the pattern of this society, would be the ones to go. And there is little solace for them, either, in the form of a religion that soothes the troubled mind, or other individuals, who are supposed to think independently, not as friends, and helpers.

It would seem that as these recanters go away, the remainder would become more and more homoginized and undifferentiated,younger(!),even much older and more afraid of change, and perhaps much less willing to speak out against wrongs of, or possible great improvements to, the society, for fear that they will be accused of heresy and be subjected to whatever force is typical.

They would become sort of like a colony of ants that serve a Queen: rote, instinctual, least-common-denominator behavior becomes the norm -- don't think too much! Bring food!

Sun Aug 14, 11:20:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Test cases are useful to pose.

1. Suppose the GW has a statement that abortion is illegal, and all signed up to it initially. Those who object to it leave.

Later, a small number of people become convinced that abortion should be legalized. They will not succeed, in my opinion, because one of their main arguments would come from a disbelief in the sanctity of life, including the unborn, which the majority believes in strongly.

2. Suppose the GW has a rule that man may possess and use weapons for his defense, for joining his comrades in war, and for hunting purposes. All sign up to this provision.

Later, a group decides that as society has grown and weapons are evil, that man should either not have weapons at all, or should have them only under very controlled situations.

They too, will not succeed in getting weapons banned, since the will of the majority is definitely for weapons in private hands.

In both of these cases, this is the situation today: the majority will is against abortion and for weapons.

One way to attempt to avoid this would be to write the initial constitution to include weapons bans and legal abortion and put it to a vote.

This implies several things to me: 1) that all major fractious issues must be solved up front BEFORE a unanimous vote can take place, else there is no common will,
2) That if one subtracts all contoversial issues from the building of the common will, you are merely postponing the issues till later in the hope that a majority will see it the same way then. If that does not happen, the GW is fractured and the society goes to hell.
3) If you assume that the citizens can never evolve in their positions on such issues, then there is hope, but that is obviously contrary to the nature of man.

So I see grave difficulties in arriving at a meaningful first unanimous vote, and as contentious issues arise later, the tendency will be to either fracture the society, or to avoid them entirely. Some key issues cannot be handled this way, they must be take care of quickly.

Then too, the losers of a major proposition are in the position of having to accept the majority opinion and support it! If they continue to rant for their approach, they will fracture the society also, especially when they are "forced to be free!"

It is this ability to champion one approach over another time after time in Congress that characterizes our current government approach, in contrast to what is given in the Contract.

Mon Aug 15, 12:29:00 PM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Ok, in response to this comment...I have to agree with you and disagree with you at the same time. Please allow me to elaborate here.

Is the General Will (Rousseau's Sovereign) a tyrannical mechanism? It is in a sense when looking from the perspective of the citizen when looking at the sovereign and addressing it as the state. When a man's opinion is not that of the collective, he will always prefer his private will over that of his peers. This only makes sense and I do not think it wise to make it otherwise. I cannot speak for Mr. Rousseau here but I cannot imagine even he would argue against such a statement.

Governance in itself is a mechanism of tyranny. When one entity exercises authority over another then one becomes master and the other servant. This is the same whether the body of governor is one man, a tribunal, the collective will, or any other combination of possibilities we may come up with. To take Rousseau's Social Contract 'holistically' as you have pointed out, his onening statement is "I MEAN to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they are and laws as they might be" In other words, he is acknowledging up front that we are faulted but is there a system that works best 'in general'. To further this, I would say that your hint at obedience to the general will is a bit out of context. Yes, he did say that anyone who would not give his life the defend the sovereign should be put to death himself; and this is one of those quirks of his personality that seems to contradict himself. But this is something that we cannot discuss without discussing Rousseau as a man to extract the context which this message was intended in. At this point, the comment of tyranny is still on your side; but I must ask you this. What is the difference between the tyranny of the masses so to speak and the tyranny of the one? Ultimately, this is my point, that governance as an act is tyrannical.

Rousseau was arguing that all men were meant to be free. I think it is pointless to argue that any man who is 'properly' educated would prefer servitude over freedom anyhow. If you see any examples where this statement will not hold to be true, then this is the place to voice them. You state that if a citizen disagrees with the general will then he must be repressed by the masses if I am correctly paraphrasing your thoughts. What else could you mean about a citizen recanting his vote? This is where I challenge you to show me where in the text of the Social Contract Rousseau has hinted or overtly stated such nonsense. This would be very different than stating that every man should be free and if he does not wish to be free then it is our responsibility to force him to be free. Indeed, any citizen who cannot 'get behind' what his country is all about should not be there in the first place, don't you think? But to say that the townsmen will be coming with pitchforks and torches is a little to Hollywood dramatic for me to envision. Of course, I would be willing to think about the notion for a while and get back to you on it if you would like.

Moving on, you also begin to rant about homogenization of the culture and such. I guess I do not see the connection with Rousseau here; but I would love to debate this subject with you further. Does this mean you would be for or against homogenization into one culture as opposed to a collection of factions?

In your next comment, you begin citing specific examples of acts of the sovereign. I again would like to talk these points more as a man but in reference to Rousseau let me point out that later in the Social Contract he points out that the sovereign cannot pass any laws that it cannot later decide are invalid. Indeed, the invalidation of it's specific acts is one of the underlying assumptions of the supremacy of the general will. I guess the best way to describe this is to speak of the rule of law vs the rule of men. I realize this is a double edged sword but it is at the heart of what this whole social problem is about and perhaps what we should really be talking about here. What I infer from this notion is that Rousseau believed that what was in the hearts of men was what really guided their lives. Man cannot live by the rule of static, inflexible law. Which also brings up the debate for/against the Constitution as a living document; and on the other side of the coin the rule of men. Men being the imperfect creatures that we are and being subject to our own desires whether right or wrong. This is where Rousseau's Social Contract enters the picture. By transferring the submission of the private will to the general will, he was hoping to curtail the abuses of the private will by making the individual accountable to the collective. At this point, I am sure you are screaming commie but this is not the point. But this too would involve a further analysis of Rousseau the man and not just this selected work of the man.

Sun Aug 21, 08:29:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Going out for dinner now. back later, and will respond then. For starters, I was interpreting the quote between the >><< from the SC as literally as possible.

>>...that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence.<<

Mon Aug 22, 04:27:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

First, to your assertion that all government is tyrannical.

What a depressing thought!

From my Webster's, tyranny is stated to mean "oppressive power" among other variants. This leads to what constitutes oppressive power.

Obviously, there is a spectrum or range of oppression going from zero to 100%. All government does have at least some oppressive aspects by definition, but the tolerable degree of oppressive action for its citizens is very important.

As is the ability to seek redress from oppressive action of the government when it is seen or perceived to be unjust.

I suppose that "he who governs least, governs best", certainly where oppressive actions are concerned. It is my opinion that government of the masses would be less capricious and more consistent and hence "fairer" than that of one man.

My thought was that the General Will, being a comprehensive, generalized version or collation of all private wills, would become a nightmare to comprehend and assess at every turn. It would be onerous to know what the Will is in specific situations. (Here come the lawyers again!)

Following that, it would be hell to pay if you by the usual means of thought and analysis formed a strong and enduring opposition to any of the currently certified Will, to the point of refusing to obey it. (In other words, to recant your position of accepting the General Will.)

I was constructing situations that might logically follow from application of the SC, perhaps in the form of unintended consequences (at least to Rousseau!).

Thus, if you do disobey the law or Will, you will be forced to comform (or you will have to leave if you want to avoid being forced, because you are a social misfit). That is stated explicitly in the SC.

My next thought was that the misfits might well be the bright, the different, and the intellectually stimulated, who would quickly make themselves a pest and would most likely end up leaving the society completely, not wanting to be forced to be free!

So the residue of citizens would by elimination become more alike, less stimulated and less willing to go against the Will. Gradually, then, they would become completely conformist and unable to go outside the box of the Will. How very dull that would be! But....

Who knows what evil lies in the hearts of man? (the Shadow knows!)

Here, we have a religious theme. Is man inately good or is he capable of evil? Rousseau seems to say that man is inately good, and if we surround him with good government, he will be better still. He will shed his chains and be free.

But, there is ample proof from history that man is capable of the worst kinds of evil under every form of government yet devised. It would be prudent to think that man, or some men, would be evil in the next government he finds himself in, or is born to as well, despite a Social Contract.

"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."

Tyranny is evil.
Man is evil.
Man is prone to tyranny.

Sorry for the rambling. It has been a long day. I will be here again perhaps Thursday night.

Mon Aug 22, 09:07:00 PM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Forgive me if I seem a little too negative in my assertion that the act of governance is oppressive by its very nature. It is not that I personally feel repressed at any given point here; nor is it that I wish to argue the cause of anarchy. I am merely stating the fact that no matter what type of government is established by whomever, someone is always going to see the system in an unfavorable light. Given enough time every separate faction involved in a society would feel the sting of repression at one time or another. Holisticly speaking, this was Rousseau's purpose when he sat down to write the Social Contract. His intent was to see if he could devise a system of government which did the most good for the most people while causing the least harm possible.

Ok, so your red flags are going up right about now. Was he successful? This is the question that we should be asking. I could write all night about why I think his intentions were good if you would like; but we need to focus on what is and not what was intended. But before I leave the subject of intentions let me say this. As a man, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had more than his fair share of faults. Were I to have traveled the Paris social circles circa the mid-Eighteenth century, I do not believe this would have been a man I could have tolerated. He was childish, tempermental, soft, spoiled, overtly pious and covertly perverse at the same time, and arrogant. Rousseau had his share of emotional baggage due to being tossed around from place to place, and conversely being pampered too much in other ways. The biggest problem I see with his writing is due to perspective. He was a far better writer than he was a thinker.

To expand on what I mean here. Let me state that Rousseau lived in an unprecidented period in French history. His writing reflects the passions that prevailed during this period; but the way he wrote was more enduring than the political opinion of the day. In contrast, compare the timeless philosophy of Nietszche. This was a man who put his ideas out to weather the storm of time and remain as true as the day they were written. Rousseau was not as even tempered and as a result, came off as not making sense all the time and contradictory at times. But what we have to do here is examine his work as written and see how it endures. So enough of Rousseau, the man, for now.

You raise some interesting points about crossing the general will; and I hope that we can spend some time discussing this subject. I see much of what you assert about conformity breeding conformity, and mediocrity creating mediocrity happening in our current world. I sometimes wonder if this is a direct byproduct of democracy or a subconcious need for mindless following. Some people, Tocqueville for one, have argued that egalitarian conditions breed complacency. In fact, I believe that was one of the criticisms of Socialism I grew up hearing. That there was no incentive to evolve and improve, because there was no room for privilege. Tocqueville argued that democracy had an inherent leveling effect in the affected population, that it caused a people to be busy in the small business of the day and that no one could rise to greatness where no one was allowed to sink to great depths.

But is this really the case, or is it something deeper in the human psyche that makes us follow those who have a stronger influence. Of course, Rousseau argued against both of these assertions. On the point of leveling, he argued that man would be more harmonious with nature without the negative effects that civil society bring; but he would be ignorant and not be able to accomplish many of the feats he has managed to do with the safety that society brings to him. As for following the strongest, he obviously asserts that men are guided by their passions more than a desire to be dominated by a superior power.

I now feel the need to respond to your asertions about good and evil, and the human nature. Again I have to agree and disagree with you. Men have the ability to perform great acts of kindness and great acts of 'evil'; and the greater the capacity for one, the greater the capacity for the other. Of course, all this is truly subjective when you consider that there is no objective authority on what is truly good and what is truly evil. These are terms which are only relative to given societal norms. We take certain things as given such as killing each other is wrong, and stealing each others' belongings is wrong; but these are once again only well agreed upon norms, social conventions if you will. You eluded earlier to the notion that over time society may reverse popular opinion about such things as abortion and gun ownership. As I said before, as a people, we have the right and the duty to decide if what we once considered law may or may not still apply today. We also need to reserve the right for every day in the future, lest we fall into a trap of our own device. Our opinions are what guide us but being apt to make mistakes we cannot expect that once we decree an opinion to be the word of law that given new information we should be powerless to declare this decree of law invalid if the new information proves it unwise.

So I would argue that men are inherently good and men are inherently evil depending on where you are standing when you look at him. Or, I would argue that we are neither. We are a product of the society that our education indoctrinates us into.

But enough for tonight, I did not mean to ramble on so.

Thu Aug 25, 08:28:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Someone said that any organization structure (and I include government here) can be made to work given the will and the intelligence of the people to make it work. From that perspective a society organized as Rousseau suggests could "work" in some sense.

Is it doing the greatest good for the greatest number (if that is your measure) or is it doing what will afford the greatest survival of the people as a whole ( another measure), or is it organized to evangelize and bring under its influence the most number of people in the world (a scary goal)or some other goal that I can't think up at the moment? Perhaps a combination of all three of the above!

A fundamental of any dynamic organization is self-survival, but that aspect of Rousseau's society isn't clear to me. It is tentatively set up to defend itself against single dissenters and factions, criminals are mentioned briefly, and going to war is mentioned as a civil duty, I believe, but there is something missing here. I think it is the recognition of pernicious evil in man.

A second tendency is for the emergence of strong leaders who develop a following, which can happen in the government of the SC. Men taste power and want more.
They quickly scheme for their survival..their perpetuation.

In any group that I have been associated with, one or more natural leaders rise up above the rest with seeming ease, because of their power of expression, their nimbleness of mind, their fervent belief in themselves, and their desire to have things go their way. How they acquired these traits is obviously from experience in practicing the arts of leadership in other groups. In a more primitive situation their physical strength dominates the group.

A third is for men to invent a religion, with a high priest, legions of lesser holy men, and a
procedure for ascending the ladder of holiness and virtue to the plateau of holy-of-holy. Followers are recruited, and rituals and mystery are installed to impress the lesser folk of the gravity and importance of their faith in this religion.

Obedience to the tenets of the faith and the word of the holy writings are impressed on the followers, and dire consequences are conjured up for those who regress.

Given an external threat, such as a potential invasion from an uncouth tribe, someone or a few of the strong men organize an army for defending their society. If the threats persist over time, the army becomes a permanent fixture.

Our strong men can then become the leaders of the government, the leaders of the religion, and the leaders of the army. It is then that they, the strongest, argue for the survival of the society as a whole, and that they have brought such a blessing to the citizens, and they will continue to do so!

The wiser leaders then become patrons of citizens who can contribute to the defense, the health, the commerce and the welfare of the society, thus making it stronger still.

It would seem that this kind of evolution is the norm, and specialization comes into play quite early in the game. So does the need for diverse laws.

This vector towards strong central government,law, leadership by perceived strong men, for the common defense, the common good and the needs for spiritual balm seems to me to be present in the history of many, many societies, whether they invent some form of democracy or not.

What I am leading up to is the simple question of how do you begin to form up a society on Rousseauian principles as stated in the Social Contract?

It is one thing to think up an ideal society, but it is quite another to start it up with any hope of success, and with it not being derailed by strong physical, intellectual and emotional forces inherent in man before it gets off the ground.

We must agree to disagree on the innate goodness of man. If history teaches us anything it teaches that man is capable of great evil.

Evil, or the tendency for it, is inherent in man, and therefore must be checked appropriately if any government is to survive. One cannot begin to form such a society if you start with the assumption that man is only good, in my opinion.

Relativism on this point is futile, simply because it will be shown in the real world to be wrong just about the first time man acts on his own.

Thu Aug 25, 11:50:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

In all of these discussions, I believe we tend to avoid the subject of individual men and their vast inherent differences. These differences span the entire gamut of drive, intellect, compassion, purpose, intention, skills, physical strength, susceptibility to illness, spirituality, and what have you?

I do believe that superior men should lead. To argue otherwise is simply stupid. I believe that superior men should establish the rules for all to follow. And, I believe that history contains lessons and guidance as to what rules work and what rules have failed in the past.

It is often the case that we elect people who are not superior, merely popular, handsome and wealthy. The truly superior men are often not willing to step into the white-hot arena of politics.

Then, I believe the followers have the right to accept or reject their rulers by pledging allegience to the leader, or to dissent and either follow anyway or to leave.

I expect it is inevitable that there will be a number of dissenting factions in most societies. The trick is to unite them, or the majority at least, under a strong personal sense of commitment, purpose and direction.

It must mean something important to the individual that he is a citizen of his country or city, be it Rome, Athens, or the US. He is pledging his life and his fortune to the State.

This in turn means the citizen must feel in his bones that living under this State, this leadership system amd these rules is the best deal going for him. He must feel that justice is swift and fair. He must feel that he will be more secure under this governance. He must feel that common problems will be quickly and rationally handled. Then too, he would be happier if he saw that opportunities for advancing his status and wealth by his own labor are available to him and to all.

Wise leadership will heed the wills of the people, but will temper it in application in a rational manner. The passions of the moment must not be allowed to sway the government to rash actions.

It is sometimes the case that what is right, by some measure, conflicts with what is the temporary general will of the people. This is where wise leadership pays off, since the general will can be so fickle under stress. If the people trust their leaders, they will follow them even when the course seems to be counter to the general will. Past performance counts where leadership is concerned.

My positions is that it is true that there are leaders and there are followers. It is also true that good followers can make good leaders. So the problem is to systematically bring forth good leaders from the mass of followers by some fair method, and to get rid of bad ones if they happen to turn sour in office.

Fri Aug 26, 12:08:00 PM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Ok, sorry to take such an extended sabbatical from this discussion.

You last established that the weaker shound be led by the stronger to paraphrase your thoughts here. In gereral, I have no averse comments to make concerning your belief in wise leadership. I too, believe that leading a people is best left for those best qualified. I'm thinking that if we dug up Rousseau's rotten corpse, you'd get no dissention from him either.

I will ask you this though...who decides who is most qualified to lead the masses? Who polices the police? Who are we, the meek and poor huddled masses, to know what is in our best interests? That is, unless you can concede to the inherent ability of society to correct itself and guide itself along the most prudent path. Otherwise, all you have is an endless stream of tyrannical rulers who ulitmately end up defeated by the next tyrant to walk up on the block. This is an interesting assertion, but it feels too Hobbesian for my tastes, I'm afraid.

Rousseau argued "A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then, according to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself. The gift is itself a civil act, and implies public deliberation. It would be better, before examining the act by which a people gives itself to a king, to examine that by which it has become a people; for this act, being necessarily prior to the other, is the true foundation of society.

Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless the election were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to submit to the choice of the majority? How have a hundred men who wish for a master the right to vote on behalf of ten who do not? The law of majority voting is itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at least."

This is an important point here. In order for there to be an assumption of general will there must first be a convention that there is a people to decide that it is in their best interest as individuals to band together and agree to a set of rules to accord the general good of the constituents of the said people.

I also need to revisit a point you made prior in this thread. If I could quote you here:

"Is it doing the greatest good for the greatest number (if that is your measure) or is it doing what will afford the greatest survival of the people as a whole ( another measure), or is it organized to evangelize and bring under its influence the most number of people in the world (a scary goal)or some other goal that I can't think up at the moment? Perhaps a combination of all three of the above!"

I hope I'm not taking this out of context. I am mostly bothered the notion of evangelizing and influencing the greatest number of people. I can tell you that this was not an idea that Rousseau ever entertained in the Social Contract or anywhere else in his writing. As we will see in coming chapters, he did not argue explicitly for one type of government over another. I will give you that 'empire building' is a scary notion, but I will relegate that to other threads dealing with our current world view which we are bound to start in the course of this discussion.

And from here I must touch on your thoughts of natural leaders and the cream rising to the top. You almost spell out the same thing that Rousseau does. Eventually in every society despotism finds its way to the forefront. Every system, no matter how well designed, falls to decay of one type or another depending on the basic model used for the foundation. We will be covering this idea a little later in the book as well.

I understand your frustration in believing that Rousseau's utopian ideals could be conceivable in the real world, but this is where you and I always find an impasse to our arguments. You tend to think these things through in such a closed loop world. Rousseau wrote the Social Contract in the same time frame as Emile, his polemic on the state of education and how it should be different in his mind. Certainly, education is the key. But to get back to what I mean about closed ended arguments. You would argue that egalitarianism can never flourish because it never has because we have never tried it in earnest because it can never work because it never has......pheww, what a mouthful. This is the same arguement as Socialism is a nice idea, but it can not work because Russia tried it and failed because we undermined it because it wenta against the ideals of Capitalism. Even though the ideals of capitalism run counter to the ideals of equality and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. While I will agree that this is the path that history has lead us down, I cannot entertain that if men were properly educated, free thinking men that they would expound the virtues of capitalism as conducive to harmonious society. Indeed, while you argue the inventions of religion to supress uprisings and keeping the masses fearful, stupid, and weak; none of these thoughts cross over into Rousseau's discussions on how enlightened society should function. This is more a product of Catholicism since Christianity was hijacked by Constantine in the fourth century AD.

But this is enough on this subject for tonight.

Wed Sep 14, 10:27:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Welcome back! I thought you had simply disappeared.

I am not certain that you answered my final question: How do you start up a society acording to the Social Contract? My interpretation of your words, and those of Rousseau, is that some merry band might have gathered together in Sherwood Forrest and declared their common wills to be as one. Then they "elected" Robin Hood as their leader, etc.

But that isn't how the story went. Robin Hood made himself the leader to begin with! That is my point! I claim that there is virtually no way that a Rousseauian Social Contract can be initiated amongst a large and diverse crowd, much less survive its first tests of note.

If you can spell out a simple, rational procedure to start such a society, and one that I can't poke a hole in readily, I will bow to you wisdom. Utopian ideas have virtually all failed this test of how to start them up -- without inhumane actions and forced "education" (or "reeducation!")of the masses to accept it over time. (Need I point out the Marx approach again?)
Those who would lead the way to such a society seem inevitably to fall prey to the allure of power, and somehow Utopia never appears, whatever concept of it was being pursued.

If this means I am using a closed argument, so be it! Let me use the term "highly unlikely" then, based on knowledge of mankind in general and of political man in masses in particular. Most especially today's man and today's hundreds of millions of men would find going down that path virtually impossible, in my opinion.

In the abstract, one can propose to bring up a few generations of men in isolation (!) in accord with SC principles, and then you can believe you have a chance to form up a society that strongly believes in the Social Contract.

The key word here is "abstract!" It would be an abstract set of parents, teachers and leaders who have presigned up for the SC (how?), then an abstract education of the children and the others around, then the forming of an abstract society (in isolation!) that would fail quickly in reality for all of the reasons I have stated before. So it also seems that you must have in effect a society already in place and in isolation in order to start the society! How?

The old con game of sacrificing the present for the supposed glorious future is just not on anymore either. If you could find people to sign up for it early on, I am afraid they would disappoint you in the end by acting in strange ways to defeat the Contract.

To restate another point I made, I believe that any large organization will strive to survive and grow, since growth equates to power and high survivability. Thus our proto-SC Society group would want to increase its numbers and its land and its resources, and thus would try to become the hegemon of the area.

Evangelicals would permeate the surrounding lands, and attempt to annex them. Eventually, this would reach out to the rest of the world, don't you think?

Once this started to roll, the temptations for taking the "movement" over and running it to suit themselves would occur to a few strong and well-placed men.
(Such as Army Generals or the like!) Men who want priveleges and wealth, and most of all, power!

"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones!" WS.

Do you believe that evil men exist?
I do!

>>>Even though the ideals of capitalism run counter to the ideals of equality and freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.<<< Do you believe this?
I don't!

No one has equality to begin with in any respect except as a human being.

Forced equality of any kind (except before the law) is abhorrant! Forced to have an average wage, or forced to accept a job that has no future, or forced to hide one's superior intellect and knowledge because it isn't "equal", or forced to reject a religion, or ...whatever, is simply not on!

Societies will always have inequalities of talent, brains, abilities, learning, health, initial conditions, parents, social position, wealth, opportunity and so on.

It is Capitalism that allows one to maximize one's chances to succeed by almost any definition of success you like, except abject
surrender to pure aesthetics. In which case, it should be of no consequence to you whether your tower is in a Capitalist society or some other one.

If you are pained by the plight of all others in the world, I suggest that you will never be pain free, nor will the world ever be pain free. Compassion, yes, but to suggest that all of mankind should be brought to an equal status of poverty by somehow sharing all wealth of the world is not only wrong, it is ammoral. Trivial arithmetic will show the folly of that idea, even if it could be legislated.

Sorry for the ramble, I went with an idea.

Sun Sep 18, 12:37:00 AM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

I think you are still suffering from shortsightedness here. Don't take that the wrong way, but I think your paradigms blind your vision of things in general. I can appreciate that you are a product of capitalist society, as am I; but what I question is whether or not this is the only possible solution to the problem of civilization. It is not so much of a matter of diliking your personal perspectives on the current state of human civilization as much as disliking what I view as the most likely outcomes of our current path.

Let's take a moment and stop to evaluate the capitalist structure. Capital or money is an abstract term. By itself, both terms which I choose to interchange freely, capital is useless. It is a term used to describe excess value of labor. I realize that you may want to point out that money is in fact a unit of measure for this abstraction, but I think you get my point here. Now capitalism in it's pure sense that Adam Smith intended it to mean is neither good nor evil in its own sense. I want to make that clear, but our application of this economic system has made it unviable for the distant or perhaps the not so distant future. I have heard the argument that the market is always self correcting, and that greed regulates itself with the process of supply and demand; but this is just empty rhetoric which i challenge you to prove. In contrast, the trends of the past thirty years have proven differently. Large corporations have managed to stifle the free market notions that Smith envisioned regulating the market by imposing government regulations which have been more favorable to the interests of large corporations than to small businesses. I would also point out that while the little fish are struggling to find ways to provide insurance benefits for their employees and make ends meet in the dog-eat-dog environment our government which has been led by Republicans for 17 of the past 25 years has managed to spend more money than they have taken in for the bulk of that time frame. The reason this is important is because when the government borrows money from the banking industry, then the taxpayers are burdened with the interest for the money borrowed as well as repaying the debt. Your heralded Ronald Reagan was a mastermind at filtering money from the public coffers to the banking industry's pockets. We could get into a tit for tat on who pays the bulk of taxes in America but flat out I say prove to me with hard evidence anything to the contrary.

My point in all of this is that your opinion is tainted by our application of capitalism. This has nothing to do with Rousseau or the SC but I wanted to bring it up to help you understand where I am coming from. Obviously, I hope, I am more of a pragmatist than to believe in merry men in tights wandering around Sherwood forest. What Rousseau stated was that for there to be a general will, there first had to be a convention that a people agreed they were indeed a people. How this happens would fo course vary depending on the circumstances involved; but certainly you cannot deny that it has happened time and time again throughout the history of civilized man. Men form associations as they best see fit. Prior to the American revolution, any semblance of democracy had been untried since the Roman empire. Feudalism was the order of the day. This did not discourage our country's founders from opting for a system of government where the governors ruled by the consent of the governed.

You treat my notions about education like I were advocating large scale brainwashing. This is not what I would have done. I find it difficult to see where you could argue this was Rousseau's position either. OK, I read Marx. I read that very assertion made in his own writing; and yes, the thought of mind control scared me. It made me want to put down his book and burn it; but that was his opinion as a man and although I don't condone such radical viewpoints, I will not supress them either.

But where do I stand then? I have stated many times in the past that education is the key. Not education as indoctrination but education as a tool for genuine inquiry. Present all known sides to every argument and let the subject choose the best, right answer to his or her own paradigms. Surely this is not too difficult a choice for you and I to agree upon. I remember reading a book written back in the eighties by Dr Alan Bloom entitled The Closing of the American Mind. In this book, Dr Bloom asserted that the (then current) state of our educational system was setting us up for failure because we lacked the classical education that was taken as a given to our European continental counterparts. But it made me begin to think, what did I really know? What could I tell you about world history? European history? American history? Civic duty? Politics? The list went on. I always considered myself intelligent. I knew where the world of manufacturing fit into the capitalism equation and where I fit into that puzzle. I was a good little bourgeois, Director of Education for my local APICS chapter, JIT whiz kid and champion of privatization in the name of efficiency. In short, I bought the whole ticket. But that all changed one day in September about four years ago. My wife woke me up (I was working 3rd shift) and told me to turn on the TV. I sat there watching as me fellow countrymen lept to their deaths rather than being crushed by the twin towers. I remember crying and feeling sick to my stomach knowing there were thousands more trapped inside. I remember wondering where our government was and why weren't there fighter jets in the air? Why weren't there contingency plans for such plots? And why would anyone want to do this to Americans? So many questions and so few plausible answers to these questions. What is certain is that the old game ended that day, maybe it did before and we just didn't know the clock had expired; but it was over that day. So you ask where do you find a people who will sign on for this experiment and I say to you 'what would you have us do otherwise?'. 'Would you have us give in to tyranny and extremism?' 'Should we just trust the men who bungled that mess and the mess of Hurricane Katrina?'

This is not an acceptable choice to me and I have a feeling I am not alone here. Rousseau had holes in his political ideas just as our founding fathers did but it does not make it an unworkable solution. It also does not point the way for Marxist totalitarianism as you would argue. What we are about to see in Books II and III is that he doesn't argue for one particular type of government model or another. His argument was actually simply and eloquently stated in the introduction of this essay. "I MEAN to inquire if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of administration, men being taken as they are and laws as they might be. In this inquiry I shall endeavour always to unite what right sanctions with what is prescribed by interest, in order that justice and utility may in no case be divided."

Ultimately, in the text of this book, yes he lacks a clear direction on where we should go. But I stated before that the problem with Rousseau was that he was a better writer than he was a thinker. I do not think this totally rules his foundations unusable however.

I appologize for this response being so lengthy and not exactly spelling out the saving grace for humanity in all these words. I know, in essense, what is wrong with our society. I suspect you do as well but what is the best course and how to put it into words......that is the question isn't it? But let's think this much through before we go further.

Mon Sep 19, 09:23:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Sometimes it isn't clear just what we are debating about: Rousseau or the present and future of the US. Or the idea of transforming the US to a Rousseauean form of Government. Or how Capitalism has ruined the world (Not!). I think in terms of the logical consequences of trying to create Rousseau's social contract society in practical terms, either back in time or now. So far, and to the end, for that matter, I see the SC as impractical. Thus I find it increasingly more difficult to avoid repeating my reasons for this opinion. but this too will pass.

On education, we do agree on its importance. I also read Bloom, and do sign up to his assertion the we are doomed to descend into chaos because of a criminally disfunctional education system, and because of our total disregard for culture in the public schools today. Our higher schools are now more on the order of brainwashing exercises by the Liberal professors who see no other, hear no other, and believe no other way.
(I trust you read my comment on the education my daughters received in Holland.)

You remind me of a friend I had while in Service. He and I attempted to reason our way to a Utopian reorganization of the US, after having felt put upon by life and various other travails. We tried very hard, and had recourse to the local USO-sponsored library for ideas, utterly convinced, as young men can be, that we were into a glorious enterprise. The effort was worth it, even if we never discovered a form of government that we could both agree on.
(A few months later, he was arrested by the military police for being a communist spy, much to my shock and surprise!) That part was not what reminded me of you, but rather, the effort which seems so similar to what we are doing here.

The conclusion I had reached was that the US Government as founded on the Constitution, the rule of law, and representative, republican government could not be bested, much as I appreciated the efficiencies of authoritarian rule.
Not that we don't have serious problems -- we do! We need to return to constitutional government not judicial fiat. We need to relook at the power that large corporations have on our lives and make whatever changes seem appropriate.
We need to return to fiscal prudence, and we need to fix the education system, among other things. I am speaking of reform, not revolution. but I do not believe that any system other than Capitalism will suffice to keep our nation humming and to pay for what we need to pay for. The tottering nations of Europe are approaching their denuement precisely because of their profligate socialist approach to governing. In my ten years there, I saw so many dreamers and impractical, but scholarly twits, that it was a common occurrence to simply marvel that the Dutch society could survive at all. Indeed, they have had to back off their womb to tomb approach significantly because they couldn't pay for it. That will happen all over Europe or else they will go broke one nation at a time.

In my three years in England, I had an enormous opportunity to see parlementary government in action, and I am happy that I had that chance. My point here, is that I have lived in two European countries with different systems of government, have been directly exposed to German, French and Italian as well through the number of teaming relationships I was in.

Thus I will claim that I have had the experience first hand of other forms of government, and other value systems, and social systems as well. I have rejected them all in favor of ours. Then too, I have exercised my imagination to attempt Utopianism on more than one occasion. I have rejected Utopianism also as being impractical. Our problem is to make what we have work better, in my view.

Wed Sep 21, 12:21:00 AM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

Ok, what we are discussing........
Rousseau would be the topic. It has been my intention to reach the point of concensus with you as to whether or not the man was a Socialist and/or taught socialist ideology to the masses per se or at a tacit level. I assert that he was inspirational to generations of revolutionaries looking to change the world, but I can find no evidence where he condoned such behavior. So this is our argument. But you and I share some arguments and philosophical conventions which do bear further discussion here or somewhere. I would urge you to indulge these points as well if you are so inclined. I do not feel that anything Rousseau could say has the force to influence our particular society at this epoch but I do fondly recall what words of wisdom I have found in his writing when I see things in our modern world that make me stop and say 'haven't we been here before as a species'

I'd love to write more but it's hailing here, so you'll have to wait until later for the rest of this response.

Wed Sep 21, 11:14:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

Let me recap a few things here on the subject of socialism and Rousseau.

Earlier, I stated that Rousseau was not labelled a socialist, but he was, or rather his ideas were, touted as the forerunners of many socialist/communist and revolutionary ideas.

I suppose I can see several reasons for this:
1. The downgrading of religion to an innocuous level, and the upgrading of secularism.
2. The emphasis on joint ownership of property between the individual and the state, with the state or sovereign having the final right of ownership.
3. The tyranny of the general will of the state over individual wills, including being forced to obey the general will.
4. The implications of this that appear to lead to common ownership of industries, services, and materials, once the SC was in effect.
5. The approach to education, which to me appears to stress the communality of everything, and the noble mission of mankind to share out the wealth of the land. (Not explicitly in the SC)

So, while I can't label Rousseau an out-and-out Socialist, he is right next door to it in his ideas.
He does quack like a duck, walk like a duck, and fly like a duck: and his followers or admirers were ducks! He is very like a duck, but he is not exactly a duck!

I would call him a proto-socialist, or a preemergent socialist, but in retrospect, a socialist nevertheless!

Perhaps we should not waste much more time on this subject, but rather agree to disagree, unless you sign up to my proto-socialist label! LOL!

Tue Sep 27, 09:53:00 PM CDT  
Blogger JasonJ said...

I still think you misconstrue the facts behind some of these messages from Rousseau. I can see where many of these assertions of yours can be taken out of context and where having done so, would lead to the same conclusions. I also see the lther side of this man.

Rousseau was wanton and careless in his duties as a man, as a father especially for the obvious reasons. It has never been my personal objective in life to write a polemic in defense of the pathetic events which became the legacy of this man's life. I must say these following statements in order to clear the air once and for all. Beyond this, I offer no more about Rousseau the man. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was abandoned by his father at an early age. His father being a reckless man with poor moral ideals felt he could not care for his younger son after chasing Jean-Jacque's older son away. Rousseau's mother died in childbirth. A fact that gave him the impression that his father never completely forgave him for surviving instead of his mother. Being a Genevan, Rousseau was born a Calvinist. Even though officially converting to Catholicism, he never truly gave up his Calvinist faith or ideologies abandoning Catholicism in all but namesake alone. He always felt Geneva was his home and felt a strong desire to spread the Puritan ideals of hard work, spartan living arangements and strong religious identity. He firmly believed his god made all men to be equal under his grace and could not stand the false sense of piety he found in the Catholic types of Paris while living there. So, I fail to see where you find him in poor regard toward religiosity. Indeed, he argues that religion is essential for maintaining an upright workable society in his Social Contract. This is the major point of disagreement he had in his life with Voltaire. Voltaire felt that men did not need piety to obey the rule of law and do what is right, where Rousseau felt directly opposite of that. He felt that without the directive of a higher power, men could not manage to make the sacrifices for the greater good. This is not in conflict with his assumptions that man is naturally good; because in this assertion, he meant that man can never intend to do what is not in his own best interest by nature. It was therefore his assertion that whatever man did, was because his passions led him to do it. But this is a separate philosophical argument for another day.

Another point I wish to bring up is the next thing on your list, that Rousseau favored public ownership in leau of private ownership. This is in fact more of a leaning in the direction of John Locke's philosophy than Rousseau, I'm afraid. When Rousseau made this statement, what he was trying to say is that only through the identity of state can real, proprietary ownership be fully enjoyed. We will come to this concept later in the text, but in a nutshell what this means is that without the clout of the collective agreement, which in his case meant the SC, positive ownership of anything not directly in the hand of the individual was impossible. That is, without a social convention that punishes persons for taking artifacts that another has laid claim to, ie this is mine, there is no way an individual can hope that once he lays an item down, he can expect it to be there when he returns to look for it. Think about it, what makes your home yours? What stops the next guy walking down the street from saying 'I think I'll go into that building and sleep, maybe help myself to some food and new clothes as well'? This is all a matter of a social convention called law. Law is not a given, other than what is meaded out at the end of a sword by an angry man in retaliation for some 'evil' which has befallen him at the hands of another; but when we have the force of the state behind us to say 'you can't do this or that' then we can enjoy real, proprietary ownership. I hope that I have given this point a little justice here. This is not an attack on private ownership at all, and while we are at it, as I brought up Locke earlier; I had no intention of pushing the socialist card off on him either. But a quick glance at his social theories are more in line with this reasoning, that is all.

I do not really wish to go on and on tonight in refutation about these assertions. I have taken enough time out of my day as it is. We do disagree, but I really think that in most ways this is just a matter of degrees. As I have said before, Rousseau was not the most enduring political writer of all time, and one of his faults is that there was such a period of political upheaval during his lifetime. Much of what he wrote was never intended to last forever, but was a product of his inflamed passions for the world he lived in. Always a cheerleader of the underdog, it is not surprising to see some of his thoughts as how they were written. But did he intend for us to be discussing them in all seriousness in the 21st century? This is THE question isn't it? Would I base the future of mankind on a few words of wisdom which I managed to extrapolate from what is partially truth and partly sophism? I don't think so, but I think what he wrote along with the works of many others is historically important enough to discuss from many diverse angles to see if there is anything we can learn. This is the basis for my personal interest In Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not to take over the world. I will leave world domination for the empire builders who are so intent on world domination now......on both sides of that fence, mind you.

Wed Sep 28, 08:53:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

A more positive comment:

1. Rousseau did seem to foreshadow the general form of a democracy based on the will of the citizens.
2. The diagram I drew was eerily familiar. All of the parts of our current government are there in one way or another. With, of course, obvious differences.
3. The divisions he made were similar to the three-part divisions our FF organized to act as brakes on too much centralization of power, and creeping corruption.
4. He identified the need for multiple factions if there were to be factions at all. He also addressed the need for representative government as the population became large and factions became far more numerous.
5. I believe he also tried to voice the nebulous mindset of the ideal citizenry: of a singe mind on fundamentals, proud, active, and conscientious, and I believe patriotic also. I believe he reached for the inner cooperative spirit of man when engaged in a recognizably worthwhile enterprise.
6. One way I looked at the general will was that it distilled what was law that all could accept, and essentially made that the ultimate criterion for society: work under the law you agreed to be governed by. When coupled with the obligations and the cooperative spirit of the citizens, there would be a harmonious experience in the society.
7. Adjustments could be made to the law over time to bring it in line with the prevailing will.

There is more that he foreshadowed,
and some form of it all is in our founding documents as well, but with vast scaler refinements and peculiar American differences. So it ain't all bad!

Sat Oct 01, 12:12:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

On Religion: What I read in Rousseau was that men needed the balm of a belief system, but it should not interfere with the general will at all. Total secularism, in other words: just don't rock the boat with moral dilemmas from your religion.
Isn't this true of him? This means that if you sign up to Christianity, you cannot let your faith bias your commitment to the social contract. Which in turn means that in any moral conflict between a man and the SC, the SC wins, isn't this so?

Question? Can you be a conscientious objector in a Rousseauian society that says it's WAR TIME?

Mon Oct 03, 10:23:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

As always, I have been looking past the specifics of Rousseau's somewhat obscure intents as given in the SC, to the practical effects such provisions as he put in writing would have if those intents were to be implemented is a real world society.

To me that is the real test of their efficacy. It would seem that every time I do this, your response is that I have somehow misread the intent, even though you do admit that the sentences mean what I interpreted them to mean ( as always, "taken out of context").

At some point, Mr. Rousseau must write what he means without the necessity for a long, tedious and unclear recasting of context to extract his true meanings.

I am not inclined to give him forgiveness for his obscurity when he attempted to write a Social Contract for the world to consume.
Perhaps the translation from French to English was a stumbling block as well.

My thought was, regarding evangelism, that if a society is formed that seemed to be superior to its citizens, especially as opposed to the societies surrounding them, it would be quite natural and human to think of evangelizing the neighbors to make them compatible.

Further, preservation of this most elegant society would be a strong motivator to try to influence their neighbors in the direction of a more kindred society. And if that didn't work, they just might go all out to force acceptance of the SC by their neighbors -- it being for their own good, so to speak! The "good" society begets other good societies, and in the process adds to its own security. Sort of as the US would like to do in the world: promote democracy everywhere.

There is a rule here: organizations strive mightily to increase their own security as a survival technique.

Sat Oct 08, 04:23:00 PM CDT  

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