Rousseau’s political theory revolves around a central idea that in order to deal with moral or political inequality (“social” inequality), man must move out of the state of nature and establish a social contract, “a form of association which defends and protects… the person and goods of each associate, and by the means of which each one, while uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before” (Rousseau 432). Although Rousseau’s plan pledges to protect individual liberty, the plan rests on the legislation of the “general will” and the successful unity of a “body politic,” both of which are vaguely defined and become too concerned with state interest.
Rousseau defines the general will as concerning “only the general interest,” saying it can be arrived at by taking all individual wills and “[removing] … the pluses and minuses” from each to “cancel each other out” (437). He doesn’t say what parts of individual opinion are “pluses and minuses” however. Rousseau’s outlook on humanity seems to be overwhelmingly positive in this case, since he assumes that people will need no specific guidelines to lead “good” political lives. This faith in humanity is where his arguments become weak.
Although Rousseau has faith in human beings to be inherently “good,” he does concede that society is what corrupts people– since his plan is to lay out a new kind of society, it seems strange that he would not plot his theory out more specifically in case anyone failed to make “good” decisions. He also writes that the “general will” is what people should appeal to when making decisions, and that these decisions are “always right and always tend toward the public utility” (437). This concept of an infallible general will also becomes problematic.
By writing that “the populace is never corrupted, but it is often tricked,”...