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THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

The seventeenth century experience on the continent was very different from that in England. This was particularly true for France. It was the century of Louis XIV and of Descartes. The French were justifiably proud of their country. This was true in spite of the lack of freedom and the patently unfair distribution of power and taxes. But when Louis XV succeeded to the throne he was only five. Neither the regent that ruled for him, nor the Kings that followed were able to control the nobles and the burden of taxation which lay primarily on the middle class crippled the economy. The attitude toward England held by most throughout Europe has been summarized before. Most educated people in Europe held England in the highest esteem for the civil and religious freedom allowed there. However, they saw the excess of freedom as the basis for the extreme lawlessness they observed in the country. Mozart sent his son to England to study music. However, he would not allow his family to live there. In general it appears that while they were enamored by the level of tolerance they saw in England, they feared that level of freedom.

Of the eighteenth century French philosophers Voltaire and Dennis Diderot followed the English switch from rationalism to Empiricism closest. However their ideas were closer to Hobbes than to Locke, and though they idealized Newton, their true master was Bacon. Voltaire was a master satirist and his novel Candide struck hard at most of the basic assumptions of French life, and it struck particularly hard at the rationalist philosophy of the German Leibniz. Perhaps one could see Voltaire as the spokesman for the ferment that was occurring in France at the time. Diderot, on the other hand, was the main character in an attempt to bring a true Baconian concept to fruition. An encyclopedia of all knowledge. In this he brought to bear the ideas of all of the scientists and philosophers of the day.

JEAN JAQUES ROUSSEAU

The man who caught the imagination of the French people of the eighteenth century was Jean Jacques Rousseau. As a result a study of his work will give us a good feeling for the events that took place in European politics following the eighteenth century. In 1750 Rousseau won the prize at the "Academy of Dijon" for his discourse on the question, "Has the Restoration of the Sciences and Arts Tended to Purify Morals?" The discourse goes beyond answering the question in the negative. It proposes an attitude toward reason in general that became one of the driving forces in European politics for the next two centuries. That the arts and sciences are allied with politics is a basic assumption that underlies both the Discourse and his The Social Contract which he was writing at the same time. Early in "blank" The Discourse he made this statement;

The mind has its needs as does the body. the needs of the body are the foundations of society, those of the mind make it pleasant. While government and laws provide for the safety and well-being of assembled men, the sciences, letters, and arts, spread garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which men are burdened, stifle in them the sense of that original liberty for which they seem to have been born, make them love their slavery, and turn them into what is called civilized peoples.

This is more than simply an indictment of the arts and sciences. It is an indictment of the entire effect of western culture. Then he said, "Need raised thrones, but the power that resides behind the throne is the power of the arts and sciences." But though it is western culture that is the cause, his aim is at the people themselves. "Civilized peoples cultivate talents; happy slaves, you owe to them that delicate and refined taste on which you pride yourselves," and following this a statement that was to prefigure Nietzsche and the German traditions of the nineteenth and twentieth century for he went on, "...that softness of character and urbanity of customs which make relations among you so amiable and easy; in a word, the semblance of all the virtues without the possession of any."

This was written well prior to the French revolution but it stated in clear unequivocal terms the major problem of the French Republic following the war. There is a responsibility in a free government that the American founders understood when they set up the bicameral legislature with strong constitutional safeguards. A responsibility for maintaining order without sacrificing individual freedom. This seems to have been completely missed by the French. Rousseau saw the problem not as a misunderstanding of the role of freedom, but as a result of the advancement of reason.

When there is no effect, there is no cause to seek. But here the effect is certain, the depravity real, and our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts toward perfection. Can it be said that this is a misfortune particular to our age? No, gentlemen; the evils caused by our vain curiosity are as old as the world. The daily ebb and flow of the ocean's waters have not been more steadily subject to the course of the star which gives us light during the night than has the fate of morals and integrity been subject to the advancement of the sciences and arts. Virtue has fled as their light dawned on our horizon, and the same phenomenon has been observed in all times and in all places.

What is the outcome of freedom and equality? This is another problem that plagued Europe for the next two centuries. Remember that in general Europeans respected the tolerance of the English, particularly their religious tolerance. But they did not respect the anarchy that they saw as an outcome of the English concept of freedom and liberty. Though they may talk about "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity", deep down inside every Frenchman was a budding aristocrat. Rousseau saw this and he agreed with it as we see in this next excerpt from the first Discourse.

But if the development of the sciences and arts has added nothing to our true felicity, if it has corrupted our morals, and if the corruption of morals has impaired purity of taste, what shall we think of that crowd of elemental authors who have removed the difficulties that blocked access to the temple of the muses and that nature put there as a test of strength for those who might be tempted to learn? What shall we think of those compilers of works who have indiscreetly broken down the door of the sciences and let into their sanctuary a populace unworthy of approaching it; whereas it would be preferable for all who could not go far in the learned profession to be rebuffed from the outset and directed into arts useful to society. He who will be a bad versifier or a subaltern geometer all his life would perhaps have become a great cloth maker.

The first Discourse was written at the same time as The Social Contract and in this we find the background behind Rousseau's political philosophy as well as the assumptions out of which it was developed. When he made the statement, "Man is born free; and everywhere he is chains," it was not simply naive anthropology. It was a rational conclusion implied by his assumption that the Arts, Sciences, and reason, were the downfall of mankind. Thus, the social contract was the logical development of the concept of society out of those assumptions. His "myth of the noble savage" too was a necessary assumption rather than a discovered fact.

We have looked at three assumptions concerning the idea of man in the state of nature. Each of these, like Rousseau's. was developed from looking back rationally from an assumed state of society to what must have been if their particular theories were true. It is no different with Rousseau. Aquinas' man in the state of innocence as a naturally social being was developed from the Aristotelian notion that everything existed for a final cause. Given that assumption, it is implied from the very existence of social systems. As one of those who brought about the "Glorious Revolution," John Locke had an enormous faith in the rationality of man. He saw each man in the state of nature as an individual with complete freedom but who relinquished some of those freedoms in order to develop a more stable life for himself. It is important to note that Locke made the final purpose of social cohesion the happiness of the individual man. Hobbes, on the other hand, began with man in constant warfare enabling him to insist on the necessity of an absolute power to keep the aggressions of individual men in check. In a sense the route that Rousseau took was to begin where Locke left off, with man in the state of nature being free. But then his assumption that society has led man into chains led him to develop a path that would lead to a Hobbesian Sovereign. However, his sovereign was developed through a contract among independent men. Power and liberty seem to be the most contradictory of all concepts. The American development was based on the rule of law and not of men, not even of an artificial man. But the European holding the memory of such enlightened leaders as Louis IV in France, Frederick the Great in Germany, and Catherine the Great in Russia, would feel more at home with something like an enlightened Hobbesian sovereign. This was what Rousseau attempted to give them. He stated his goal in these terms;

The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force of the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.

This is what he termed the "Social Compact." In order that the nature of the compact be absolutely invulnerable, he made it a necessity that even the slightest modification of the compact would make it automatically null and void. He put this compact in these simple terms.

These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to onethe total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others.

Think of this as the creation of a Hobbesian sovereign out of the assumptions of a Lokean state of nature. This sovereign, which would be created by a free act of will among all of the citizens of a state would have all of the qualities Hobbes brought out in "Leviathan." Yet it would be a rational creation thus a natural development out of and subject to only natural law. "Public deliberation," he said, "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." These two capacities were stated in this principle;

Each of us puts his person and all his powers in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.

Thus each person is considered a citizen when seen as one sharing in the sovereign power, and as a subject when considered as being under the laws of the state. The state, then is nothing but the view of the sovereign by the people when they are seen as the subjects, that is, those who are bound by the laws of the state. Perhaps the two most important qualities of this kind of Sovereign are, first, that the sovereign is the totality of the people and thus the will of the sovereign is the will of the people, and second, that for this to work it must require the absolute commitment of all of the people. As Rousseau put it;

In order 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 he will be forced to be free.

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state occurs, according to Rousseau, when each man substitutes justice for instinct, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses. In doing so man may lose some of the advantages he had in the state of nature, but he gains great new advantages. "...his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man."

Note the difference between this view of man and the Lockean view, particularly as developed in America, of man as a free and independent individual giving only that which is absolutely necessary of his natural powers to the state. These differences are not simply between individuals like Jefferson and Rousseau, they are expressions that derive their power from the fact that they express the sentiment of the people of the two continents. We shall see how much the history of these two continents are entwined with these two such divergent concepts.

The problem of property rights in any of the social contract theories suffers from extreme historical and anthropological naiveté. But philosophically speaking, if we can somehow ignore that problem, we come to Rousseau's idea of first occupier. In this he is not different from Locke and others because he too recognizes that the only right of property ownership possible under any of the state of nature approaches must derive solely from the usage of the property. Thus, like John Locke, he gave the right of ownership to the first occupier, that is to anyone who takes possession of land that had no previous occupier, but only to that land that he can make use of through his own labor. The difference that Rousseau made with his social contract theory was that the social compact gave legitimacy to this right. In the state of nature every man had to protect his own possessions through his own powers. In accepting the social compact, the individual deposits all of his interest in the land into the public good as a whole and thus their rights are protected by the public will, the Sovereign. Thus by accepting the social compact the individual, even while making his own property rights subordinate to the public good, has essentially codified his ownership.

Since the Sovereign, in Rousseau's sense, is nothing but "the exercise of the general will," and hence a collective being, a particular will at any point may agree with the Sovereign. But it cannot do so over a period of time because the general will tends toward equality and the particular will toward partiality. Since it is impossible for any will to consent to anything that is not for its own good, if the people consent to obey what is contrary to the will of the Sovereign, the Sovereign will simply dissolve itself. There will no longer be a people. Even the commands of the rulers are subject to the Sovereign. In this case it is the universal silence of the people that determines that such a command is in fact in agreement with the general will.

One important fact to remember about Rousseau's Social Contract is that it creates a totally rational artificial entity made up of the members who consent to the Social Compact. These people share two very important relationships with the Sovereign. first, they as citizens make up the Sovereign. The Sovereign is nothing but their general will. And second, they as subjects voluntarily submit their particular wills to that of the Sovereign. The Sovereign is therefore invulnerable since alienation of the Sovereign by the people would result in the dissolution of the sovereign and thus the dissolution of the people as a people and a return to the state of nature.

We are safest in assuming that Rousseau was not a heretic in espousing these ideas, that he was in fact expressing feelings that were generally felt by Europeans of his day who lacked his genius in explaining them. If so then the aftermath of the French revolution makes sense. If we look at it in this way, we should be able to see that the French never became a people in Rousseau's sense. The power struggles within the hierarchy of French life made that impossible. The rule of French life was determined not by the will of the people, but by an aristocracy. When Napoleon ascended to the throne, he had all of the hallmarks of the Hobbesian Sovereign, and he did in fact dismantle many of the structures in the French system that made the political system so unstable. His conquests were successful so that by importing capitol from other countries he made the French economic system particularly successful. His Napoleonic Code was a set of decrees which were copied by most other European countries in later years. During his reign Frenchmen were proud of their country and proud of being Frenchmen. At least while he was able to make it work he became, even if only for the French people, the ideal enlightened despot. Thus, for further developments in European political philosophy we must look elsewhere than France.