The Social Contract

The Social Contract, originally published as On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights (French: Du contrat social; ou Principes du droit politique) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a 1762 book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way to establish a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society, which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754).

The Social Contract helped inspire political reforms or revolutions in Europe, especially in France. The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered to legislate. Rousseau asserts that only the people, who are sovereign, have that all-powerful right.

On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights
Social contract rousseau page
Title page of the first octavo edition
AuthorJean-Jacques Rousseau
Original titleDu contrat social; ou, Principes du droit politique
CountryFrance (edited in Amsterdam)
Publication date


Rousseau pirated edition
Title page of a pirated edition of the Social Contract, probably printed in Germany.[1]

The epigraph of the work is "foederis aequas / Dicamus leges" (Virgil, Aeneid XI.321–22). The stated aim of The Social Contract is to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority, since people's interactions he saw at his time seemed to put them in a state far worse than the good one they were at in the state of nature, even though living in isolation. He concludes book one, chapter three with, "Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers", which is to say, the ability to coerce is not a legitimate power, and there is no rightful duty to submit to it. A state has no right to enslave a conquered people.

In this desired social contract, everyone will be free because they all forfeit the same number of rights and impose the same duties on all. Rousseau argues that it is absurd for a man to surrender his freedom for slavery; thus, the participants must have a right to choose the laws under which they live. Although the contract imposes new laws, including those safeguarding and regulating property, there are restrictions on how that property can be legitimately claimed. His example with land includes three conditions; that the land be uninhabited, that the owner claims only what is needed for subsistence, and that labour and cultivation give the possession legitimacy.

Rousseau posits that the political aspects of a society should be divided into two parts. First, there must be a sovereign consisting of the whole population, women included, that represents the general will and is the legislative power within the state. The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division is necessary because the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters like applications of the law. Doing so would undermine its generality, and therefore damage its legitimacy. Thus, the government must remain a separate institution from the sovereign body. When the government exceeds the boundaries set in place by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government, and begin anew.

Rousseau claims that the size of the territory to be governed often decides the nature of the government. Since a government is only as strong as the people, and this strength is absolute, the larger the territory, the more strength the government must be able to exert over the populace. In his view, a monarchical government is able to wield the most power over the people since it has to devote less power to itself, while a democracy the least. In general, the larger the bureaucracy, the more power required for government discipline. Normally, this relationship requires the state to be an aristocracy or monarchy. When Rousseau uses the word democracy, he refers to a direct democracy rather than a representative democracy. In light of the relation between population size and governmental structure, Rousseau argues that like his native Geneva, small city-states are the form of nation in which freedom can best flourish. For states of this size, an elected aristocracy is preferable, and in very large states a benevolent monarch; but even monarchical rule, to be legitimate, must be subordinate to the sovereign rule of law.


The French philosopher Voltaire used his publications to criticise and mock Rousseau, but also to defend free expression. In his Idées républicaines (1765), he reacted to the news that The Social Contract had been burned in Geneva, saying "The operation of burning it was perhaps as odious as that of writing it. […] To burn a book of argument is to say: 'We do not have enough wit to reply to it.'"[2][3] The work was also banned in Paris.[4]

The work received a refutation called "The Confusion of the Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau" by the Jesuit Alfonso Muzzarelli in Italy in 1794.[5]


  1. ^ R.A. Leigh, Unsolved Problems in the Bibliography of J.-J. Rousseau (Cambridge, 1990), plate 22.
  2. ^ Gay, Peter (1959). Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 214–219.
  3. ^ Davidson, Ian (2004). Voltaire in Exile. Atlantic books. pp. 186–187. ISBN 1843540878.
  4. ^ "Jean-Jacques Rousseau | The Core Curriculum". Columbia University. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  5. ^ Charles E. O'Neill; Joaquín María Domínguez (2001). Diccionario histórico de la Compañía de Jesús: Costa Rossetti-Industrias. Univ Pontifica Comillas. p. 1450. ISBN 978-84-8468-038-3.

Further reading

  • Bertram, Christopher (2003). Rousseau and the 'Social Contract'. Routledge.
  • Incorvati, Giovanni (2012) “Du contrat social, or the principles of political right(s). Les citoyens de Rousseau ont la parole en anglais”, in : G. Lobrano, P.P. Onida, Il principio della democrazia. Jean-Jacques Rousseau Du Contrat social (1762), Napoli, Jovene, p. 213-256.
  • Williams, David Lay (2014). Rousseau's 'Social Contract': An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
  • Wraight, Christopher D. (2008). Rousseau's The Social Contract: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum Books.

External links

1995 Ontario general election

The Ontario general election of 1995 was held on June 8, 1995, to elect members of the 36th Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario, Canada. The writs for the election were dropped on April 28, 1995.

The governing New Democratic Party, led by Premier Bob Rae, was defeated by voters, who were angry with the actions of the Rae government such as the Social Contract legislation in 1993. The Social Contract also caused the NDP to lose much of their base in organized labour, further reducing support for the party. At the 1993 federal election, the NDP tumbled to just six percent support, and lost all 11 of its federal seats in Ontario. By the time the writs were dropped for the 1995 provincial election, it was obvious that the NDP would not be reelected.

The Liberal Party under Lyn McLeod had been leading in the polls for most of the period from 1992 to 1995, and were generally favoured to benefit from the swing in support away from the NDP. However, the party hurt its credibility through a series of high-profile policy reversals in the period leading up to the election. The most notable of these occurred when McLeod withdrew Liberal support from the Equality Rights Statute Amendment Act (Bill 167) introduced by the NDP government in 1994, which would have provided same-sex couples with rights and obligations mostly equal to those of opposite-sex common law couples and introduced a form of civil unions. Her decision was seen as cynical and opportunistic in light of the Liberals' earlier rural by-election loss in the socially conservative riding of Victoria—Haliburton. This gave the McLeod Liberals a reputation for "flip-flopping" and inconsistency while offending its socially progressive supporters.

The Progressive Conservative Party, led by Mike Harris, found success with its Common Sense Revolution campaign to cut personal income taxes, social assistance (welfare) rates, and government spending dramatically. Roughly half of his party's seats came from the more affluent regions of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), especially the suburban belt surrounding Metro Toronto, often called the '905' for its telephone area code.

In addition, by presenting himself as a populist, representing "ordinary Ontarians" over "special interests", Harris was able to build Tory support among working-class voters. Although there were regional variations, many working-class voters shifted directly from the NDP to the Tories during the election, enabling the latter to win formerly NDP ridings such as Cambridge and Oshawa.

The televised party leaders' debate is often regarded as the turning point of the campaign. During the event, McLeod further alienated many voters with an overly aggressive performance. Harris used his time to speak directly to the camera to convey his party's Common Sense Revolution platform, virtually ignoring all questions asked of him by Rae and McLeod and avoiding getting caught up in their debate. Since Liberal support was regarded by many political insiders as soft and unsteady, many voters who were previously leaning to the Liberals shifted to the Progressive Conservatives after the debate.

Due to the above factors, voters gave the Tories a majority while the Liberals finished with less support than they had in the 1990 election. The NDP, despite improving their standing in some Northern Ontario ridings, were heavily defeated, falling to 17 seats and third party status. The New Democrats would remain the third party until 2018 when they returned to Official Opposition status. McLeod and Rae resigned their party leadership posts not long after the campaign. It was also the worst result for an incumbent Ontario governing party up to that time and would remain so until 2018 when the NDP finally surpassed the then-governing Liberals.

One independent candidate was elected: Peter North in the riding of Elgin. North had been elected in 1990 as a New Democrat, but left the NDP and declared his intention to run as a Progressive Conservative. The PC Party did not accept him as a candidate, however.

Christian republic

A Christian republic is a government that is both Christian and republican. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke considered the idea to be an impossibility and a self-contradiction, but for different reasons. As of the 21st century, the only countries in the world with a republican form of government and with Christianity as the established religion are Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland and Malta.

In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke wrote that "there is absolutely no such thing, under the Gospel, as a Christian Commonwealth". By this he meant that political authority cannot be validly founded upon Christianity. Rousseau, in On the Social Contract (in book 4, chapter 8), echoed this, saying that "I am mistaken in saying 'a Christian republic'; the two words are mutually exclusive.". However, Rousseau's point was subtly different, in that he was asserting that a civic identity cannot be moulded out of Christianity. David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, acknowledges that there is a "genuine tension ... between Christianity and the political order" that Rousseau was acknowledging, arguing that "many Christians would, after all, agree with him that a 'Christian republic' is a contradiction in terms" and that the two live "in an uneasy relationship in actual states, and social cohesion has often been bought at the price of Christian universalism". Robert Neelly Bellah has observed that most of the great republican theorists of the Western world have shared Rousseau's concerns about the mutually exclusive nature of republicanism and Christianity, from Machiavelli (more on which later) to Alexis de Tocqueville.Rousseau's thesis is that the two are incompatible because they make different demands upon the virtuous man. Christianity, according to Rousseau, demands submission (variously termed "servitude" or "slavery" by scholars of his work) to imposed authority and resignation, and requires focus upon the unworldly; whereas republicanism demands participation rather than submission, and requires focus upon the worldly. Rousseau's position on Christianity is not universally held. Indeed, it was refuted by, amongst others, his friend Antoine-Jacques Roustan in a reply to the Social Contract.Rousseau's thesis has a basis in the prior writings of Niccolò Machiavelli, whom Rousseau called a "bon citoyen et honnête homme" and who alongside Montesquieu was one of Rousseau's sources for republican philosophy. In his Discoursi Machiavelli observes that Christianity in practice has not met the ideals of its foundation, and that the resultant corruption leads, when mixed with secular political ideals, to something that is neither good religion nor good politics. Further, he argues, whilst Christianity does not preclude love for one's country, it does require citizens to endure damage to republican government, stating that the best civic virtue in regards to a republic is to show no mercy to the republic's enemies and to put to death or to enslave the inhabitants of an opposing city that has been defeated.

Classical school (criminology)

In criminology, the Classical School usually refers to the 18th-century work during the Enlightenment by the utilitarian and social-contract philosophers Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria. Their interests lay in the system of criminal justice and penology and indirectly, through the proposition that "man is a calculating animal", in the causes of criminal behavior. The Classical School of thought was premised on the idea that people have free will in making decisions, and that punishment can be a deterrent for crime, so long as the punishment is proportional, fits the crime, and is carried out promptly.

Constitution of North and East Syria

The Constitution of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, officially titled Charter of the Social Contract, is the provisional constitution of the self-proclaimed autonomous region of Syria known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. It was adopted on 29 January 2014, when the Democratic Union Party (PYD), claiming to represent the population of the autonomous region, declared the three regions it controls autonomous from the Syrian government. Article 12 states the autonomous region remains an "integral part of Syria", tentatively implementing an expected future federal Syrian governance in Northern Syria.The constitution has gained much international attention and is most noted for its explicit affirmation of minority rights and gender equality and a form of direct democracy known as 'democratic confederalism'.On 27–28 June 2016, the executive committee to organize a constitution for the region, to replace the 2014 constitution, presented its draft.


Contractualism is a term in philosophy which refers either to a family of political theories in the social contract tradition (when used in this sense, the term is synonymous with contractarianism), or to the ethical theory developed in recent years by T. M. Scanlon, especially in his book What We Owe to Each Other (published 1998).Social contract theorists from the history of political thought include Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), Samuel Pufendorf (1673), John Locke (1689), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762), and Immanuel Kant (1797); more recently, John Rawls (1971), David Gauthier (1986) and Philip Pettit (1997).


Crito ( KRY-toh or KREE-toh; Ancient Greek: Κρίτων [krítɔːn]) is a dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It depicts a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito regarding justice (δικαιοσύνη), injustice (ἀδικία), and the appropriate response to injustice. Socrates thinks that injustice may not be answered with injustice, and refuses Crito's offer to finance his escape from prison. The dialogue contains an ancient statement of the social contract theory of government.

Debian Free Software Guidelines

The Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) is a set of guidelines that the Debian Project uses to determine whether a software license is a free software license, which in turn is used to determine whether a piece of software can be included in Debian. The DFSG is part of the Debian Social Contract.

Debian Social Contract

The Debian Social Contract (DSC) is a document that frames the moral agenda of the Debian project. The values outlined in the Social Contract provide the basic principles for the Debian Free Software Guidelines that serve as the basis of the Open Source Definition.

Debian believes the makers of a free software operating system should provide guarantees when a user entrusts them with control of a computer. These guarantees include:

Ensuring that the operating system remains open and free.

Giving improvements back to the community that made the operating system possible.

Not hiding problems with the software or organization.

Staying focused on the users and the software that started the phenomenon.

Making it possible for the software to be used with non-free software.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (UK: , US: ; French: [ʒɑ̃ˈʒak ʁuˈso]; 28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a Genevan philosopher, writer and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic and educational thought.

His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones in modern political and social thought. Rousseau's sentimental novel Julie, or the New Heloise (1761) was important to the development of preromanticism and romanticism in fiction. His Emile, or On Education (1762) is an educational treatise on the place of the individual in society. Rousseau's autobiographical writings—the posthumously published Confessions (composed in 1769), which initiated the modern autobiography, and the unfinished Reveries of a Solitary Walker (composed 1776–1778)—exemplified the late-18th-century "Age of Sensibility", and featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing.

Rousseau befriended fellow philosophy writer Denis Diderot in 1742, and would later write about Diderot's romantic troubles in his autobiography, Confessions. During the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophers among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.

John Tanton

John H. Tanton (born February 23, 1934) is an American retired ophthalmologist and activist in efforts aimed at reducing immigration levels in the United States. He was the founder and first chairman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigration organization. He was chairman of U.S. English and ProEnglish. He is the founder of The Social Contract Press, which publishes the quarterly journal The Social Contract. He founded the pro-eugenics organization Society for Genetic Education.

Libertarian Christianity

Libertarian Christianity is a variant of Reformed Christian theology. This type of libertarianism derives from a specific blending of systematic theology and biblical theology. Advocates claim to be Christians first, and libertarians second. As libertarians they believe that all secular governments exist to protect natural rights, and only to protect natural rights; and they believe that natural rights are necessarily defined in terms of private property, at least in the legal and political arena. --- Although they readily acknowledge the distinction between their legal / political philosophy and the rest of their theology, they are suspicious of any attempt at separating the two, on the grounds that separating the two leaves the visible Church without a viable, Bible-based legal philosophy.

Libertarian Christians claim to be distinct from secular libertarians and Christian libertarians. They claim to be distinct from secular libertarians by deriving their libertarian legal and political philosophy from the Bible, rather than from secular sources. They claim to be distinct from Christian libertarians through their derivation of Bible-based legal philosophy using biblical hermeneutics that are different from those used by Christian libertarians.Despite their claim to being different from secular libertarians and Christian libertarians, libertarian Christians readily acknowledge large areas of agreement with other kinds of libertarianism with regard to legal and political concerns, and they readily work in concert with people from these other schools with regard to their common concerns. More specifically, they find large areas of agreement with categories of libertarianism and anarchism that generally espouse private property and natural rights. These include anarcho-capitalism, minarchism, paleolibertarianism, left-libertarianism, and Christian libertarianism.

Politics of Ontario

The Province of Ontario is governed by a unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which operates in the Westminster system of government. The political party that wins the largest number of seats in the legislature normally forms the government, and the party's leader becomes premier of the province, i.e., the head of the government.

Ontario's primary political parties are the centre-right Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC), the centre-left to left Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), the centre-left Ontario Liberal Party and the left-wing Green Party of Ontario.

Positive liberty

Positive liberty is the possession of the capacity to act upon one's free will, as opposed to negative liberty, which is freedom from external restraint on one's actions. A concept of positive liberty may also include freedom from internal constraints.The concepts of structure and agency are central to the concept of positive liberty because in order to be free, a person should be free from inhibitions of the social structure in carrying out their free will. Structurally, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism and racism can inhibit a person's freedom. As positive liberty is primarily concerned with the possession of sociological agency, it is enhanced by the ability of citizens to participate in government and have their voices, interests, and concerns recognized and acted upon.

Although Isaiah Berlin's essay "Two Concepts of Liberty" (1958) is typically acknowledged as the first to explicitly draw the distinction between positive and negative liberty, Frankfurt School psychoanalyst and Marxist humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm drew a similar distinction between negative and positive freedom in The Fear of Freedom (1941), predating Berlin's essay by more than a decade.

Prehistoric warfare

Prehistoric warfare refers to war that occurred between societies without recorded history.

The existence — and even the definition — of war in humanity's hypothetical state of nature has been a controversial topic in the history of ideas at least since Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) argued a "war of all against all", a view directly challenged by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in a Discourse on Inequality (1755) and The Social Contract (1762). The debate over human nature continues, spanning contemporary anthropology, archaeology, ethnography, history, political science, psychology, primatology, and philosophy in such divergent books as Azar Gat's War in Human Civilization and Raymond C. Kelly's Warless Societies and the Origin of War. For the purposes of this article, "prehistoric war" will be broadly defined as a state of organized lethal aggression between autonomous preliterate communities.

Social Contract (Ontario)

The Social Contract was a 1993 initiative of the provincial Ontario New Democratic Party government of Bob Rae to impose austerity measures on civil service. The plan imposed a wage freeze and mandatory unpaid days of leave for civil servants, which became known as Rae Days.

Social Contract Press

The Social Contract Press (SCP) is an American publisher of anti-immigration literature. It was founded by John Tanton and is headed by Wayne Lutton. It publishes the quarterly Social Contract journal, as well as reprints and new works.

Social Contract Press has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group, and by The Guardian as "racist". It reprinted Jean Raspail's 1973 racist fantasy novel The Camp of the Saints. In 1996, editor Lutton described the book as a warning to white Americans, who he claimed were the "real Americans". According to SPLC, the novel was one of several racist works published by the company.Social Contract Press's staff overlaps with, and has promoted, white nationalist and white supremacist organizations such as VDARE, FAIR, Numbers USA, the Center for Immigration Studies, American Renaissance, and the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Social contract

In moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and usually concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order. The relation between natural and legal rights is often a topic of social contract theory. The term takes its name from The Social Contract (French: Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique), a 1762 book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that discussed this concept. Although the antecedents of social contract theory are found in antiquity, in Greek and Stoic philosophy and Roman and Canon Law, the heyday of the social contract was the mid-17th to early 19th centuries, when it emerged as the leading doctrine of political legitimacy.

The starting point for most social contract theories is an examination of the human condition absent of any political order (termed the "state of nature" by Thomas Hobbes). In this condition, individuals' actions are bound only by their personal power and conscience. From this shared starting point, social contract theorists seek to demonstrate why a rational individual would voluntarily consent to give up their natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order. Prominent of 17th- and 18th-century theorists of social contract and natural rights include Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), Samuel von Pufendorf (1673), John Locke (1689), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) and Immanuel Kant (1797), each approaching the concept of political authority differently. Grotius posited that individual humans had natural rights. Thomas Hobbes famously said that in a "state of nature", human life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms, including the "right to all things" and thus the freedom to plunder, rape and murder; there would be an endless "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes). To avoid this, free men contract with each other to establish political community (civil society) through a social contract in which they all gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute sovereign, one man or an assembly of men. Though the sovereign's edicts may well be arbitrary and tyrannical, Hobbes saw absolute government as the only alternative to the terrifying anarchy of a state of nature. Hobbes asserted that humans consent to abdicate their rights in favor of the absolute authority of government (whether monarchical or parliamentary). Pufendorf disputed Hobbes's equation of a state of nature with war. Alternatively, Locke and Rousseau argued that we gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to do so.

The central assertion that social contract theory approaches is that law and political order are not natural, but human creations. The social contract and the political order it creates are simply the means towards an end—the benefit of the individuals involved—and legitimate only to the extent that they fulfill their part of the agreement. Hobbes argued that government is not a party to the original contract and citizens are not obligated to submit to the government when it is too weak to act effectively to suppress factionalism and civil unrest. According to other social contract theorists, when the government fails to secure their natural rights (Locke) or satisfy the best interests of society (called the "general will" by Rousseau), citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey, or change the leadership through elections or other means including, when necessary, violence. Locke believed that natural rights were inalienable, and therefore the rule of God superseded government authority, while Rousseau believed that democracy (self-rule) was the best way to ensure welfare while maintaining individual freedom under the rule of law. The Lockean concept of the social contract was invoked in the United States Declaration of Independence. Social contract theories were eclipsed in the 19th century in favor of utilitarianism, Hegelianism and Marxism; they were revived in the 20th century, notably in the form of a thought experiment by John Rawls.

Social contract (Malaysia)

The social contract in Malaysia refers to the understanding made by Malaya's founding fathers in the Constitution, nearing its independence. The social contract refers to a trade-off through Articles 14–18 of the Constitution, pertaining to the granting of citizenship to the non-Bumiputera of Malaya (particularly Malaysian Chinese and Indian), and this was carried over to Article 153 when Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, which grants the Malays a special position in the country. The term had also stated that any immigrant breaking that contract will have their citizenship revoked. This circumstance does not apply in Sarawak as all racial groups were citizens, bestowed by the legitimate Brooke government, way before the founding of Malaysia.

In its typical context related to race relations, the social contract has been heavily criticised by many, including politicians from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, who contend that constant harping on the non-Malays' debt to the Malays for citizenship has alienated them from the country. Such criticisms have met with opposition from the Malay media and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the largest political party in Barisan Nasional.

The Social Contract (House)

"The Social Contract" is the seventeenth episode of the fifth season of House. It aired on March 9, 2009.

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