JJ Rousseau's Social Contract Theory | Western Political Thought

JJ Rousseau's Social Contract Theory

JJ Rousseau's Social Contract Theory | Western Political Thought

Basic Biography 

  1. JJ Rousseau was born in 1712 AD IN Geneva, Switzerland. Soon after his birth, his mother died. 
  2. After some years, his father was imprisoned. 
  3. Rousseau along with his siblings grown with his paternal aunt. 
  4. At the age of 20, he was patronized by a landlady. 
  5. Under her patronized he moved to Paris, France. 

Went to Paris and Took Part in Essay Competition

In Paris, he continued to do petty jobs. But his life changed at the age of 37. At that time an essay competition was announced in which a question was asked whether development in the science and arts has contributed to the improvement of morality in the people. 

Won Essay Competition 

  1. At that time, everyone was happy with science but Rousseau took an unconventional view and he wrote an essay in which he claimed that the development of science and arts has corrupted human morals. 
  2. According to Rousseau, the development of science and arts brought materialism and corruption, and people had turned bad.
  3. So Rousseau won the essay competition because of his unconventional views.

Criticism of his Essay

After he won his essay competition, Rousseau got fame and fortune and he became rich. But at the same time, he also faced a lot of criticism. Those who were in favour of science criticized his writing.  Then Rousseau, throughout his life wrote to defend his ideas. 


Furthermore, his most important work is social contract theory. It is a book, written by Rousseau and it is considered as his most vital work. 

JJ Rousseau's Social Contract Theory


  1. The context of Rousseau’s social contract theory is different from Thomas Hobbes and Locke's social contract theory.
  2. Rousseau gave this theory due to the condition of France at that time. The socio-political conditions of France had an impact on Rousseau’s life
  3. At that time, France was governed by the Louise Dynasty. In other words, there was a Monarchy in France. 
  4. The monarchy in France was an authoritarian and brutal one
  5. The government used to exploit people for their interests. 
  6. At that time, France was an agriculture-rich state. 
  7. There were three types of people in France: Ordinary people, Landlords and Royal 
  8. So in France, the Landlords and Royals were allianced each other and they exploited the ordinary people. By law, only ordinary people have to pay taxes.
  9. Because of this condition, the people considered rulers as oppressors. Rousseau was one of them. 
  10. Rousseau suffered a lot because of the bad condition of French society, therefore, he produced the social contract theory to liberate people from the clutches of the state.
  11. He wanted ordinary people must be freed from the control of the state and the distinction of property must be resolved. 


Human Nature

  1. According to Rousseau man by nature is neither good nor bad. 
  2. He is innocent and cannot distinguish between good and bad. 
  3. He knows how to follow the law of nature. Therefore, man is a noble savage
  4. Man is noble because he is innocent and savage because he follows the law of nature and fulfils his needs. In other words, he knows how to survive. 

State of Nature

  1. According to Rousseau in ancient times people were living in peace. They were freed. 
  2. According to Rousseau, the people were living a solitary life. Because they were only concerned about their self-interest.
  3. There were no friends or enemies.

Why did they sign a contract?

According to Rousseau, a serpent entered their lives when people were living a peaceful life. Therefore Rousseau stated:

“The very first man pointed out a piece of land and said that this land is mine and that land is thine. That was the man who established a society.

Therefore, the concept of good and bad was developed in people and that is why called those people collectively as a society.


Due to the development of the concept of property, people lost their freedom and liberty. In other words, conflicts and disputes were started on properties in society. Hence, they signed a contract to restore their freedom and liberty and avoid conflicts over property.

Social Contract

The people gathered at a place and spoke a contact that they surrendered all their rights not to any man or assembly of men but to the community's general will

General Will

It is the will which wills the will of people. In other words, it is the mutual interest of the entire community. So it is a will which works for the interest of the people. The people aimed to achieve the same state of nature (their freedom and liberty).

How General Will be Expressed?

According to Rousseau, it is the will of the majority or maybe the will of the minority. More precisely, the general will comes from the majority or minority but the main objective of it is to reverse their freedom and liberty.

Types of General Will

According to Rousseau, the general will consists of two types:

  1. Actual Will
  2. Real Will

Actual Will

It is a will which works for the selfish interest of the people. It makes people selfish. 

Real Will

It is a type of will which pushes people to work for the interest of everybody. It makes people care. 

According to Rousseau, there is always a battle between the actual and real will. As a result of this battle, a synthesis was created which is called the General Will. 

Features of Rousseau’s Social Contract Theory

  1. This social contract created a state.
  2. The sovereign is the General Will.
  3. The state is artificial. 
  4. This contract gives the concept of liberty. 
  5. In this contract, the state is the mean and freedom is the end.
  6. This contract is revocable. 


In conclusion, Rousseau aware people of their rights and liberty. He told the people that the state and Royalty must work for their freedom and overthrow the government if they are not given freedom. So Rousseau’s writing created the condition of revolt in France and people then ultimately, rose up against the ruling elite. 

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