Du Contrat Social
Rejecting the view that anyone has a natural right to wield authority over others, Rousseau argues instead for a pact, or 'social contract', that should exist between all the citizens of a state and that should be the source of sovereign power.
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An extensive and pedantic piece of work on democracy & its institutions.
This is one of Penguin's "Great Ideas" books, which I am a big fan of. They're short books, for about 1000 yen a pop, and some of the most important writings in Western history. And I'm a big fan of important writings. So, when I went back to Junkudo, I picked up a couple more editions.
Before this, I opened up An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom by Cicero, which presented an interesting dilemma - can I include in the reading list a book that I almost finished? I mean, I slogged pretty far through that book, which seemed to consist mostly of Cicero insulting Marc Antony and then saying that he wasn't there to insult Marc Antony. My favorite part was where he reminded everyone that, in his youth, Marc Antony was a boy-whore who inflamed the passions of men.
You just don't see that kind of political discourse these days.
Anyway, I got bored with it, so I dropped the book and decided that it wouldn't count in the official lineup.
The next book I got was this one, and I was a little worried that I might have to drop it too. I mean, this is required reading for every PoliSci student, so I know I read it before. it's just that I couldn't remember it. Not a damn thing about it.
As it turns out, this is Rousseau's attempt to figure out why we need government, and most importantly, what kind of government was the "best." He started, as was the trend at the time, from first principles: in the state of Nature, what liberties and motivations does Man enjoy? And how does this change once a society is formed? There has to be - there will almost inevitably be - a system of laws and governance in such a society, so which one best compensates for the loss of the natural liberty to do as we please?
Long story short, democracy. In Rousseau's ideal world, every citizen would be involved with the governance of the country at all times. But even he understands that this won't always work. People are busy, you know.... Still, he says at one point, "As soon as someone says of the business of the state - "What does it matter to me?" - then the state must be reckoned lost."
Pretty good, and a sentiment that needs to be resurrected. His main idea, his core belief, was that the society and the citizen were one, indivisible, and that as society had the duty of protecting its citizens, the citizens had the duty to uphold society. I think Rousseau would look at the current state of affairs in the nation he helped inspire and be very disappointed....
The end of the book is a long, drawn-out ramble on the history of the Roman republic, which gets kind of dull until he hits his section on civil religion. He falls square on the side of a separation of church and state. A Christian state, he says, would collapse almost as soon as it was formed. It would either be crushed from the outside or eaten from the inside. "Christianity preaches only servitude and submission. Its spirit is too favourable to tyranny for tyranny not to take advantage of it. True Christians are made to be slaves; they know it and they hardly care.; this short life has too little value in their eyes...."
Take that, Falwell....