Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We are again to return to this subject. For those who find some of the ideological arguements unbearable, I apologize emphatically. It is an unfortunate event that political philosophy is loaded with so many landmines. It is unfortunate that we must argue so many petty ideologies to arrive at understanding, but unfortunate as we may find it, it is also a necessary path in the discovery. We continue once again with Rousseau's Social Contract after much argument and a long hiatus. I cannot guarantee there will not be other road blocks for anyone who may grow impatient, but I will promise the road traveled to be worth the sore feet.


IF the State is a moral person whose life is in the union of its members, and if the most important of its cares is the care for its own preservation, it must have a universal and compelling force, in order to move and dispose each part as may be most advantageous to the whole. As nature gives each man absolute power over all his members, the social compact gives the body politic absolute power over all its members also; and it is this power which, under the direction of the general will, bears, as I have said, the name of Sovereignty.

But, besides the public person, we have to consider the private persons composing it, whose life and liberty are naturally independent of it. We are bound then to distinguish clearly between the respective rights of the citizens and the Sovereign, and between the duties the former have to fulfil as subjects, and the natural rights they should enjoy as men.

Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important.

Every service a citizen can render the State he ought to render as soon as the Sovereign demands it; but the Sovereign, for its part, cannot impose upon its subjects any fetters that are useless to the community, nor can it even wish to do so; for no more by the law of reason than by the law of nature can anything occur without a cause.

The undertakings which bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual; and their nature is such that in fulfilling them we cannot work for others without working for ourselves. Why is it that the general will is always in the right, and that all continually will the happiness of each one, unless it is because there is not a man who does not think of "each" as meaning him, and consider himself in voting for all? This proves that equality of rights and the idea of justice which such equality creates originate in the preference each man gives to himself, and accordingly in the very nature of man. It proves that the general will, to be really such, must be general in its object as well as its essence; that it must both come from all and apply to all; and that it loses its natural rectitude when it is directed to some particular and determinate object, because in such a case we are judging of something foreign to us, and have no true principle of equity to guide us.

Indeed, as soon as a question of particular fact or right arises on a point not previously regulated by a general convention, the matter becomes contentious. It is a case in which the individuals concerned are one party, and the public the other, but in which I can see neither the law that ought to be followed nor the judge who ought to give the decision. In such a case, it would be absurd to propose to refer the question to an express decision of the general will, which can be only the conclusion reached by one of the parties and in consequence will be, for the other party, merely an external and particular will, inclined on this occasion to injustice and subject to error. Thus, just as a particular will cannot stand for the general will, the general will, in turn, changes its nature, when its object is particular, and, as general, cannot pronounce on a man or a fact. When, for instance, the people of Athens nominated or displaced its rulers, decreed honours to one, and imposed penalties on another, and, by a multitude of particular decrees, exercised all the functions of government indiscriminately, it had in such cases no longer a general will in the strict sense; it was acting no longer as Sovereign, but as magistrate. This will seem contrary to current views; but I must be given time to expound my own.

It should be seen from the foregoing that what makes the will general is less the number of voters than the common interest uniting them; for, under this system, each necessarily submits to the conditions he imposes on others: and this admirable agreement between interest and justice gives to the common deliberations an equitable character which at once vanishes when any particular question is discussed, in the absence of a common interest to unite and identify the ruling of the judge with that of the party.

From whatever side we approach our principle, we reach the same conclusion, that the social compact sets up among the citizens an equality of such a kind, that they all bind themselves to observe the same conditions and should therefore all enjoy the same rights. Thus, from the very nature of the compact, every act of Sovereignty, i.e., every authentic act of the general will, binds or favours all the citizens equally; so that the Sovereign recognises only the body of the nation, and draws no distinctions between those of whom it is made up. What, then, strictly speaking, is an act of Sovereignty? It is not a convention between a superior and an inferior, but a convention between the body and each of its members. It is legitimate, because based on the social contract, and equitable, because common to all; useful, because it can have no other object than the general good, and stable, because guaranteed by the public force and the supreme power. So long as the subjects have to submit only to conventions of this sort, they obey no-one but their own will; and to ask how far the respective rights of the Sovereign and the citizens extend, is to ask up to what point the latter can enter into undertakings with themselves, each with all, and all with each.

We can see from this that the sovereign power, absolute, sacred and inviolable as it is, does not and cannot exceed the limits of general conventions, and that every man may dispose at will of such goods and liberty as these conventions leave him; so that the Sovereign never has a right to lay more charges on one subject than on another, because, in that case, the question becomes particular, and ceases to be within its competency.

When these distinctions have once been admitted, it is seen to be so untrue that there is, in the social contract, any real renunciation on the part of the individuals, that the position in which they find themselves as a result of the contract is really preferable to that in which they were before. Instead of a renunciation, they have made an advantageous exchange: instead of an uncertain and precarious way of living they have got one that is better and more secure; instead of natural independence they have got liberty, instead of the power to harm others security for themselves, and instead of their strength, which others might overcome, a right which social union makes invincible. Their very life, which they have devoted to the State, is by it constantly protected; and when they risk it in the State's defence, what more are they doing than giving back what they have received from it? What are they doing that they would not do more often and with greater danger in the state of nature, in which they would inevitably have to fight battles at the peril of their lives in defence of that which is the means of their preservation? All have indeed to fight when their country needs them; but then no one has ever to fight for himself. Do we not gain something by running, on behalf of what gives us our security, only some of the risks we should have to run for ourselves, as soon as we lost it?


Blogger Mannning said...

Good luck with you pursuit of Rousseau. I will not continue because of your flaming responses.

This whole effort is designed to prove to yourself that your worldview is right and any other is simply wrong. There is no bridge then, no comity. Goodbye.

Wed Dec 14, 12:17:00 AM CST  
Blogger Mohamed said...

Thanks Jason for posting this Rousseau series, your educating many!

I also managed to read the debate with Mannning, what is striking is the similarity between religious folks everywhere. When he says "your flaming responses. This whole effort is designed to prove to yourself that your worldview is right and any other is simply wrong"

It’s rather funny! That’s exactly what he showed to be himself during his debate with you! People like Mannning really believe they are god's chosen people and that’s why America today is “The Almighty America”. I know beyond doubt that once a nation abstracts the reasons for its existence and strength into “what it was in the past” and "because of a choice from god" these are alarming signals of this nation’s demise. People like Manning always grow to be majority, Screams of people like you are at risk of being wasted in the winds.

Best of luck Jason, and keep the Rousseau posting going plz

Thu Dec 22, 11:38:00 AM CST  
Anonymous Barnita said...

Hi Jason....how are you????

Wish you a good year ahead...stay in touch...

Mon Jan 09, 04:37:00 AM CST  
Anonymous Barnita said...

Oooh...I see you're still being pestered by Mannning....best of luck with him...

Mon Jan 09, 04:38:00 AM CST  
Blogger JasonJ said...

First, I must say this is the point of departure for our dear friend Mannning. Goodbye and good riddance. I love how the right has learned all too well how to turn their own shortcomings around on the persons who point out their errors. You sir, have been trying for months on end to prove your worldview superior here and elsewhere in vain. While I find your lack of intellectual insight pitiable, I do not indeed pity you as a man. I never did. I only chose to allow you the opportunity to freely express your narrow opinions on my blog space in order to prove how fallacious your arguments are typically structured. I am reminded of a lesson learned from J.S Mill's "On Liberty". Freedom of speech is a wonderful tool for well-informed persons who are correct in their arguments. While some arguments placed against a correct opinion are well presented sophisms and some are poorly structured, the mere presentation when proven false only helps to strengthen the correct argument. For this, I thank you for your time.

But enough of you little man...

So for the rest of the world, what is it that Rousseau is saying in this chapter? Certainly he says a mouthful; and as usual, his words here have been twisted and distorted more times than not. I therefore feel I need to clarify what is being said here so that we can get on with the meaning of sovereignty per our author and put the typical misinformation to rest. Once again, we find Rousseau equivocating the state to a man. This is an ideology that is pervasive in politics and philosophy which I feel has been used briliantly in some cases and abused in others.

The negative side of referring the state as man is the sneaky equivocation that has invaded popular opinion that much like a body politic, a corporation (corporate entity) should also be viewed as a unified being or man and as such should be granted equal rights under the eyes of the law. But this was not Rousseau's intent, so let us note this misuse and move on. One of the terrific things about being human is having the mental ability to find answers in places you weren't looking and realizing that they still apply to the situation you didn't intend to use them for. A while back I was reading and excerpt from Douglas Hofstadter's book "Godel, Escher, and Bach" subtitled "Prelude...Ant Fugue". This particular vignette was intended to explain the similarities between how ant colonies can exhibit signs of intelligence and how the neural networks in our own brains process information. Perhaps the analogy is a bit of a stretch for some to back but at the end the author makes a point about groupthink. Imagine, if you will, how oblivious ants can manage to create great structures, or how DNA works, and how neural activity manages to create a consciousness that finds itself reading the words that this particular author is putting on this page in cyberspace. Think of the very essence of cyberspace and the computer and the notion of internet. Wonder how a collection of chemicals can form all this consciousness. As reductionist as this assertion is, it is far easier than to argue this as a gift of the gods. But imagine if you will about the possibility of a collective 'human' consciousness. Could a people have a conscious entity collectively. Now, I am not asserting that this was Rousseau's intent either. I fear he fell far short of intending this in his equivocation of state as a moral person; but he did intend on some level of unity among men. As stated earlier in the Social Contract, men live fuller, longer lives in the cooperation of other men than they could ever fare in nature. This is an idea that Hobbes certainly expounded in his philosphy a century earlier. It is also an idea that I would expect to meet with little or no resistance here.

The notion I think needs the most clarification is Rousseau's ideas about each man 'alienating' himself for every other man. Previously, our old friend Mannning launched a fiery attack against my use of Rousseau's philosophy on another website. This list of grievances is in one of the earliest threads on this site for those who are interested. In a nutshell, one of the most damning assertions is that Rousseau believed that man should submit to the whims of the state, hinting around that the aforementioned state would, of necessity, by tyrannical in nature; although elsewhere, he argues that my assertion that government is always tyrannical. I realize these are oranges and apples but the tie is still interesting paradox. It is never established why the state would always be oppressive, just that it most certainly would. As such, the totalitarian state would stifle all individuality and personal creativity, the population would stagnate and the entire system would fall into decay in a short period of time. It has also been alluded that there is an effect commonly referred to as 'tyranny of the masses' which causes the same effect. I can only project this as being the underlying assumption to such claims although there may be others that escape me at the moment.

So what of this so-called tyranny of the masses? Could this be that once a large enough population is established it would turn cannibalistic on it's members? Rousseau argues convincingly that there would be little point of all oppressing the individual when all are expected to give equally and all share in the good and bad outcomes of decisions equally. I first noticed this attack against the idea of a social compact leveled by Tocqueville in "Democracy In America". He argued that the American people were neither briliant nor stupid, wealthy nor poor, and at best bland due to the subduing effects of having to make decisions that were mediocre in order to not offend any individual by the group which lead to a sort of tyranny by the group. He argued that a majority could believe one thing and impose this notion on those who did not share the belief. The fallacy of this argument is confusing a particular will of a faction with the general will of the group. While a faction may indeed be a majority, it is still a faction. I would agree with the critics that Rousseau did little to answer how this pitfall can and should be avoided but to suffice for this comment, let us just acknowledge the difference for tonight. Rousseau wanted in this chapter to clarify where he saw the boundaries of the responsibilities of the individual to the needs of the state. While he argues that one should give himself wholly to his fellow man, he asserts that it is an all for all trade-off not an all for one or a one for all trade. what he gives up in allegiance to all he gains in return by the mutual protection from the allegiance with his fellow man. One may object that this is trading one evil for another, but in light of the idea that the state has no right to ask more of its members than it needs ond no more of one than another, Rousseau is only arguing that man trades a short, brutish life free of all fetters from his fellow man for the peace of mind and safety to live a longer, more fruitful existence.

Thu Jan 19, 09:39:00 PM CST  

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