The Social Contract: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Book cover of the book.

The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is the book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way in which to set up a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality (1754).

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.[1]

THE Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled.[2]

Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.[3]

The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.[4]

The Social Contract was a progressive work that 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; as Rousseau asserts, only the people, in the form of the sovereign, have that all powerful right.

The heart of the idea of the social contract may be stated simply: Each of us places his person and authority under the supreme direction of the general will, and the group receives each individual as an indivisible part of the whole...



The stated aim of the Social Contract is to determine whether there can be a legitimate political authority. In order to accomplish more and remove himself from the state of nature, man must enter into a Social Contract with others. In this social contract, everyone will be free because all forfeit the same amount of freedom and impose the same duties on all. Rousseau also argues that it is illogical for a man to surrender his freedom for slavery; and so, the participants must be free. Furthermore, although the contract imposes new laws, especially those safeguarding and regulating property, a person can exit it at any time (except in a time of need, for this is desertion), and is again as free as when he was born.

Rousseau posits that any administration, whatever form it takes, should be divided into two parts. First, there must be the sovereign (which could be the whole population if that is the majority's desire) who 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 must be since the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters (it is then acting as particular wills and not the general will — the sovereign is no longer whole and therefore ruined), like applications of the law. Therefore a government must be separate from that of the sovereign body.

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. In light of all this, Rousseau argues that, like his native Geneva, small city-states are the form of nation in which freedom can best flourish. For any state large enough to require intermediaries between the people and the government, an elected aristocracy may be 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.

See also


  1. ^ The Social Contract, Book I, Chapter 1:Subject of the First Book.
  2. ^ The Social Contract, Book III, Chapter 12:How the Sovereign Authority Maintains Itself.
  3. ^ The Social Contract, Book III, Chapter 15:Deputies or Representatives.
  4. ^ The Social Contract, Book III, Chapter 1:Government in General.


  • Wraight, Christopher D. (2008), Rousseau's The Social Contract: A Reader's Guide. London: Continuum Books.

External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Social Contract
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translated by George Douglas Howard Cole

Table of Contents

  • Book I 75%.svg
    • 1. Subject Of The First Book
    • 2. The First Societies
    • 3. The Right Of The Strongest
    • 4. Slavery
    • 5. That We Must Always Go Back To First Convention
    • 6. The Social Compact
    • 7. The Sovereign
    • 8. The Civil State
    • 9. Real Property
  • Book II 75%.svg
    • 1. That Sovereignty Is Inalienable
    • 2. That Sovereignty Is Indivisible
    • 3. Whether The General Will Is Fallible
    • 4. The Limits of The Sovereign Power
    • 5. The The Right of Life And Death
    • 6. Law
    • 7. The Legislator
    • 8. The People
    • 9. The People
    • 10. The People
    • 11. The Various Systems of Legislation
    • 12. The Division of Laws
  • Book III 75%.svg
    • 1. Government in General
    • 2. The Constituent Principle in Various Form
    • 3. The Division of Governments
    • 4. Democracy
    • 5. Aristocracy
    • 6. Monarchy
    • 7. Mixed Governments
    • 8. Appropriate Governments
    • 9. The Marks of a Good Government
    • 10. The Abuse of Government
    • 11. The Death of the Body Politic
    • 12. How Sovereign Authority Maintains It Self
    • 13. The Same
    • 14. The Same
    • 15. Deputies or Representatives
    • 16. Institution of Government Is Not a Contract
    • 17. The Institution of Government
    • 18. How to Check the Usurpations of Government
  • Book IV 75%.svg
    • 1. That the General Will Is Indestructible
    • 2. Voting
    • 3. Elections
    • 4. The Roman Comitia
    • 5. The Tribunate
    • 6. The Dictatorship
    • 7. The Censorship
    • 8. Civil Religion
    • 9. Conclusion
This translation is hosted with different licensing information than from the original text. The translation status applies to this edition.
PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1959, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address