Discussion questions for Rousseau, *On the Social Contract,* Book II

Rousseau, Bk 2, Chapter 3

"There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will. The latter considers only the general interest, whereas the former considers private interest and is merely the sum of private wills."

"For the general will to be well articulated, it is therefore important that there should be no partial society in the state and that each citizen make up his own mind."
Often the interests of citizens are swayed by political parties, interest groups, etc. This can make it difficult for an citizen to "make up his own mind." How might Rousseau feel about political parties and interest groups? Would he consider these partial societies?
p. 892-893, Chapter 3"It follows from what has preceded that the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility." I can understand the second part, but how is it always right? Taking a realist approach to this statement, I find it hard to believe that any society can run solely on the preservation of the general will. I can see how in theory, this statement might be true, but how is it supposed to be enacted? Rousseau also says that, "The populace is never corrupted, but it is often tricked, and only then does it appear to want what is bad." Again, this is a high expectation even for a small populace. He seems to be giving credit to their errors by saying that it was not their fault that they erred in the first place. I don't understand why Rousseau does not have his people own up to their mistakes instead of pretending they didn't make one.
Chapter 5: End of paragraph 2

"Because it is under this condition alone that he has lived in security up to then, and because his life is not only a kindness of nature, but a conditional gift of the state."
With this quote, does Rousseau mean that the state grants life as a gift to its citizens? Does he therefore believe that life is not a gift from God?
Chapter 6Is it easier for impartial people to rule more fairly than passionate people when maintaining order and government?
"As nature has set bounds to the stature of a well-made man, and, outside those limits, makes nothing but giants or dwarfs, similarly, for the constitution of a State to be at its best, it is possible to fix limits that will make it neither too large for good government, nor too small for self-maintenance. In every body politic there is a maximum strength which it cannot exceed and which it only loses by increasing in size. Every extension of the social tie means its relaxation; and, generally speaking, a small State is stronger in proportion than a great one." Chapter 9 Paragraph 1Rousseau emphasizes the necessity of striking the balance in size between to large and too small. He explains that a large city states have a hard time adequate administrating over the entirety of their land and population. It also is more given to insidious factions causing harm to society on the whole. Also, he claims that the size can be oppressive, hiding any talent buried in the population. How functional is the American government in light of this criticism? Is our administration flawed or did our forefathers find the perfect way to administer over several million people in our Constitution? Would you say that the United States, which has often been called the "land of opportunity" oppresses its inhabitants and suppresses their talents or helps them to foster them?

Discussion questions

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