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Perform a critical analysis of the Social Contract Theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

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The Social Contract Theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau: 

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland. Like Hobbes and Locke, he was also a supporter of the social contract theory. Rousseau, in respect of origin of state, has endeavored to present a mixed form of thoughts of Hobbes and Locke in the social contract theory. Rousseau was a supporter of democracy, but he was a strong opponent of the divine rights of kings.

This thought made a deep impression on the French revolution in 1789, and as such, he is called the father of this revolution.

Rousseau had described his social contract theory with the help of the following points:

1. Human Behaviour (Nature): 

In respect to human nature, Rousseau has quite distinct thoughts from the ones of Hobbes and Locke. Rousseau has regarded the to be always innocent and ingenuous. According to him, freedom and self – reliance are his special natural traits. He is free from jealousy, worry, arrogance, etc. A human is decent and unselfish and gets influenced by emotions, instead of logic. 

2. Natural state:

Rousseau divides the natural state into two steps,

  • First step
  • Second step

In the first step, because of being selfless and charitable, the human was free. In the second step, with the advent of private property, man became selfish. In this phase, selfishness, violence, strife, jealousy, etc. and similar other vices crept into human psyche.

3. Form of the contract:

When there began struggle and war in the natural state, the people became unhappy and started thinking of some means to get rid of these circumstances. At last, the people decided to establish a civic society, ending the natural state. Under the contract, all the people handed over their rights to the society. As a result of the contract, a ‘General Will’ emerged for the entire society and all persons started working in accordance with the ‘General Will’.

4. Characteristics of the contract: 

The following are the main characteristics of the contract:

(1) Two forms of an individual under the contract: 

There appear two forms: 

individual and social, of a person under the contract. I individual capacity, a person dedicates all his rights to the society and by virtue of being a member of the society, he gets back all the rights, which he had abdicated in the contract.

(2) Contract does not impede the freedom of an individual: 

Instead of imposing any restriction on the freedom of an individual, it supports freedom. 

(3) Formation of General Will: 

‘General Will’ is formed by the contract. It is sovereign. The government and all the people of the society comply with it. None is authorized to oppose it. 

(4) ‘General Will’ always appropriate: 

‘General Will’ is always rational, and therefore, it is the supreme duty of all the people to work in accordance with the “General Will’. 

(5) Obtaining of Social freedom by the contract: 

Natural freedom comes to an end by the contract and ‘social freedom’ takes its place. An individual who loses natural freedom though the contract, gets social liberty and ownership over his things m lieu.

(6) Only one, social contract: 

Rousseau describes only the social contract, not the political contract. Hence, an entirely sovereign society is formed on “General Will”. 

5. Right to oust the Government: 

The government responsible in the formation of General Will can be ousted if it becomes autocratic and irresponsible.

Criticism of Rousseau’s Contract Theory:

1. Natural state – imaginary: 

The natural state, which has been portrayed by Rousseau, is not in accordance with history. It is quite imaginary. It has been established by the historical research that the people were not peaceful in the natural state. 

2. Mutually contradictory

According to Rousseau, the contract is inked between individual and society, whereas there was no society at that time. Where did the social side come from? 

3. Supporter of Imperialism: 

Rousseau’s General Will hints at dictatorial rule, which is not proper. In this administration, there is a great possibility of the people to be oppressed.

4. Dual persona of an individual: 

Rousseau provides dual persona of a person. The person, besides being the ruler, is also obedient. In this way, the situation of a ruler becomes untenable. 

5. State is a result of development, not of contract: 

Rousseau believes that the state is formed as a result of social contract. In fact, state is a result of development though a long period of time. It is not the result of any imaginary and non-historical pact. 

6. Importance of the theory: 

Rousseau’s social contract theory carries a great degree of importance. His ‘General Will’ theory has influenced the development of modern era. Public dissent and democratic thoughts impacted the system of that time to extent, that there erupted the French revolution, and it also developed the principle of fraternity.

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