The passage “For if some rights remained with private individuals, in the absence of any common superior who could decide between them and the public, each person would eventually claim to be his own judge in all things, since he is on some points his own judge” from the political philosophic treatise On Social Contract; Or The Principles Of Political Right written by Jean Jacques Rousseau. The above quoted passage is a part of the 7th paragraph near the bottom of page 6, of “Chapter 6. The Social Compact” in the Book 1 of the philosophic treatise On Social Contract; Or The Principles Of Political Right. In this particular passage Rousseau delves into the primary implications of the human existence in the state of nature and the essential necessity for the formation of the political civil society through the social contract or the social compact.
Rousseau is of the firm opinion that it is very important for the people living in the state of nature to form a consensual union or, to come to some mutually agreed upon association, as a safeguard against lawlessness. According to Rousseau it is necessary that the compact is adhered to in order to preserve the freedom and the liberty, of each and every individual in the civil society that comes into being after the social agreement. In Rousseau’s The Social Contract closely and intimately connected to the concepts of the freedom and the liberty of the individual are the social and political precepts of the equality and that of justice. Another integral part of theory of social contract is the sanctity of property. According to Rousseau, force and liberty are core tenants of a man’s “self preservation” in the state of nature. Rousseau is pre-occupied with the idea that how can a man “pledge” his force and liberty without causing any harm to his self-preservation and self-interests. In Rousseau’s point-of-view the main problem is to find such a form of association which is capable to defend the individual once he has given up his chief instruments of his self-preservation and self-interest. The social contract as envisaged by Rousseau provides the solution to this problem. The above quoted passage is the core of the treatise as it elucidates in very lucid terms that the social contract is a “sacred” association.
Furthermore, the sacred social compact is the basis of all the inalienable and the indivisible, fundamental human rights to liberty, equality, property, and justice. Rousseau’s conception of the social contract is that it primarily is a mutually agreed upon human association formed by mutual trust and consent of all the stake holders. As no individual has any authority or power over the other so Rousseau concludes that it not the force or the authority but only the conventions that ensure the individual rights, on the one hand and form the basis of all legitimate administration or government, on the other. In Rousseau’s over-all scheme of things only the “general will” is all encompassing and supreme. Rousseau believes that the natural impulses and the natural appetite of the individual in the state of nature are replaced or substituted by reason and justice in the civil society that takes birth after the social contract (Rousseau 2-6).
John Locke also is a staunch proponent of the theory of social contract and that of a civil political dispensation. Locke advocates the theory of social contract and that of the civil administration which is both reasonable and just. Locke is especially skeptical of Thomas Hobbes theory of social contract that promulgated the Divine Right of the King. Like Rousseau, Locke believes in an enlightened theory of social contract in which justice and reason are paramount and supreme. Locke believes in the undisputed sanctity of the individual. According to Locke the individual will is sovereign and indivisible. In Lockean political thought the human rights, especially the right to property, are inalienable. The basic and perhaps the pivotal principle of the Lockean social compact is that the terms of the social contract binding upon the individual till the time the agreement successfully protects man’s fundamental rights to the life, the liberty, and the property. The moment the civil society became oppressive and authoritarian in its approach, the individual man who has formed the consensual association has the inalienable and the indivisible, sovereign right to revoke the previous reached social compact and replace or substitute it with the new order which is democratic rather than despotic in nature that is in perfect harmony and in accord with the basic spirit of the social contract (Locke 2-29).
Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of the United States were deeply influenced by the political ideas and the ideals of both Rousseau and Locke. Jefferson like Rousseau and especially like Locke also harbored a deep distrust of the monarchy. The British monarch according to the Jefferson was far removed from the actual ground reality of the state of affairs in the American colony. In his treatise Jefferson in a satirical view taunts the British monarchy. He criticizes the policies and the conduct of the British rulers vis a vis the American colony. Jefferson condones the condescending attitude of the British monarchy and hints at the possibility of a revolution (Jefferson 2-4)
The Federalist Papers are also a scathing criticism of the British monarchy. The Federalist Papers co-authored by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, on the one hand indict the British power while on the other, inform the American public about the form of government envisioned by the founding fathers. The authors are especially skeptical of the British system which is a hybrid of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In their opinion the British parliamentary democracy is more of an oligarchy where the power is concentrated in the hands of a few aristocrats while the majority of the population is disenfranchised. Publius cites that the majority of the British citizens have limited rights for the procurement justice and the acquisition of property. According to Publius because of the inherent principles of decentralization and the sharing of powers among the confederating units, that is the states, the American model of governance as opposed to the British system is far more democratic in design and more importantly in the character and the spirit. The Federalist Papers advocate liberty, equality, and fraternity the famous motto of the French Revolution of 1789. Further, the Publius succinctly discusses the democratic concept of the grass-roots democracy. The strengthening of the local democratic civic institution means giving wide powers to the citizens of America by the process of decentralization of the federal government.
In the United States the political power is to be completely decentralized and is to be shared between the federal government and the confederate states (Publius 2-7). The Novanglus written by John Adams, another founding father of the United States, is even more critical of the British mode of governance via a vis the colonies (Adams 2-6). The supremacy of justice, the decentralization of power and the sovereignty of the people that both the Federalist Papers and the Novanglus discuss in detail are initially enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, in the Articles of Confederation and eventually in the Constitution of the United States of America. In all these documents the emphasis is on the inalienable rights and the indivisible sovereignty of man. The man’s fundamental right to life, liberty and property are protected by the express articles of the above cited important documents. In conclusion, the basic philosophy of Rousseau and that of Locke that is embodied in the theory of social contract is put in practice by the founders of the United States of America. The American democracy with the emphasis on the time-honored individual human rights is a living testament to the essential precepts to the sublime dignity and sovereignty of man (Publius 2-7).
Adams, John. Novanglus . City (np): Publisher (np), 1774. Print.
Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James and Jay, John. The Federalist Papers. Philadelphia: np, 1787-1788. Print.
Jefferson, Thomas. A Summary View of the Rights of British America Set Forth In Some Resolutions Intended For The Inspection Of The Present Delegates Of The People Of Virginia Now In Convention.. Williamsburg: Clementiarind,1774. Print.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government: In the Former the False Principles and Foundation of Sir Robert Firmer And His Followers Are Detected And Overthrown. Former Is An Essay Concerning The True Original Extent And End Of Civil Government. London: Black Swan, 1690. Print.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. On Social Contract; Or The Principles Of Political Right. Amsterdam: Chez Mark-Michel Rey, 1762. Print.