Rousseau's Arguments For "Forcing One To Be Free" To Ensure The Legitimacy Of Civil Commitments

757 words - 3 pages

Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that in order to ensure the legitimacy of civil commitments and to prevent them from becoming meaningless, tyrannical, and abusive, one can be "forced to be free." It is unclear, however, how forcing citizens to conform to the general will leads to a society which is any more reliable and capable of sustaining itself than the arbitrary rule of a few power-hungry individuals.When a society forms a social contract, citizens determine together what is to be considered the general will--the law of the land. This compact is meaningless, however, unless there is a way to ensure adherence to the will of this majority. A problem arises in that "each individual can, as a man, have a private will contrary to or different from the general will that he has as a citizen" (472). This distinction between one's will as a man and as a citizen arises in that one, in forming the social contract with his fellow citizens, chose laws which will benefit the community as a whole, yet as an individual, he cares only of his own self-benefit. It follows, therefore, that private interest all to often leads a man to becoming a "free-rider" who wishes to "enjoy the rights of a citizen without wanting to fulfill the duties of a subject, an injustice whose growth would bring about the ruin of the body politic" (472). The social contract must subscribe a solution to this problem, for it is an "empty formula" unless it "tacitly entails the commitment that whoever refuses to obey the general will will be forced to do so by the entire body" (472).To ensure commitment, society can therefore "force one to be free." How is this free when you must abandon your own private will and submit to that of the majority? Since freedom correlates with autonomy and complete alienation from animal concern for oneself, upholding the commitments made through the social contract, even by force, is therefore ensuring the greater freedom of all citizens (473). The resulting autonomy guarantees you an absence of "all personal dependence" which in turn gives legitimacy to civil commitments. Without this enforced consent, civil commitments would be "absurd, tyrannical, and subject to the worst of abuses,"...

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