Does Rousseau’s conception of the General Will safeguard against tyranny or promote it? The Genevan philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau has conceptualized the theory of General will in the 18th Century. It is the crux of the many contributions made by Rousseau in political philosophy…
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5). Rousseau has tried to make conciliation between the individual freedom and the authority of the state. Every man is born free and himself is his own master. No man can make any other man his subordinate without the free consent of the later (Rousseau, Book IV, 1923). The paper attempts to address the question whether the General Will can safeguard against tyranny or promote it. The social contract Man is born independent and enters into the society “by an act of free will” (Rousseau, 1917, p.28). The term ‘social contract’ directs towards an arrangement in which the common mass submit the sovereignty to the government or an authority for the maintenance of social order in the country. Through this they become “an indivisible part of the whole” (Ramgotra, 1994, p. 820). Through the social contract a polity is created, that acts as per its general interest (Trachtenberg, 2002, p.4). Thus, a law is proposed in the popular assembly and all the citizens give consent to the laws. The right of voting cannot be separated from any individual citizen in any act of sovereignty (Rousseau, Book IV, 1923). Rather, one becomes a citizen through his co-authorship in the law-making (Parra, 2010 p. 15) Each individual has the inherent right to state his own views and make proposals. It is argued that, if he has a particular interest which is different from the common interest, the individual is actually made to become free on being forced to follow the interest of the majority. This is on the basis of a supposition that the vote of the majority binds the rest of the mass and all the qualities of the majority are reflected in the General Will. “The constant will of all the members of the State is the general will; by virtue of it they are citizens and free” (Rousseau Book IV, 1923). The society so formed has been termed by Rousseau as “people” (Rousseau, 1997) The General Will and common good In this context the question arises, that how, the people who do not agree to the law are considered free as well as subject it at the same time. The existence of opponents does not invalidate the law; rather, they prevent themselves from being integrated into it. From Rousseau’s point of view, the General Will always tends to support the cause of public advantage and by making the citizens to follow the law that looks after the good of the community, they are actually made free. When a new law is needed to be issued, the necessity is seen as universal. The man who proposes it merely says what the others have already felt. Hence the situation of questioning the law is not expected to arise at all. He rests assured that the others will support him in his action (Rousseau, Book IV, 1923). The civil association is mostly a voluntary act. When the law is proposed, it is not asked of the citizens whether they reject or approve of it, but it is checked whether the law conforms to the general will, assuming that the general will is the will of the people at large. So when the individual citizen holds a view that is different from the common will or is unwilling to give consent to the new law, it proves that the person is mistaken. Any true man would opine in the similar lines as the general will that leads towards common good. Either his opinion is guided by a selfish interest or what he thinks to be the general will is not so. No individual rights can be defiant of the general good. Had his
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