Discussion questions for *On the Social Contract,* Book IV

PassageQuestion
Book IV Chapter 1"But when social bond begins to relax and the state to grow weak, when private interests begin to make themselves felt and small societies begin to influence the large one, the common interest changes ans finds opponents. Unanimity no longer reigns in the votes; the general will is no longer the will of all." Rousseau believes that then leads to the general will "becoming mute." If man is part of the general will and the will of all, how do they become so separated? And if sovereignty is the exercise of the general will, then if the general will is no longer heard, does sovereignty cease to exist?
Book 4, chapter 1: "Does it follow from this that the general will is annihilated or corrupted? No, it is always constant, unalterable and pure; but it is subordinate to other wills that prevail over it." Even if the general will is subordinate to other wills, can it not change if the will of all changes? Can people evolve in their thinking of what the public good is, changing the general will?
III Elections

"But I have already said that a real democracy is only an ideal."
When discussing elections, Locke references Montesquieu. Why is this significant in the context of the book and the time? Why does Locke consider democracy to be only an ideal? As we touched on in class Monday, why is he so critical of democracy/representative government?
Book 3 Chapter 15
Book 4 Chapter 3
Throughout his text, Rousseau emphasizes the importance of small government. How opposed would he be to the system we have now...with the various levels of government since though we do have large overreaching government at the federal level, we also have local government? Would he be strongly opposed since each individual isn't directly involved and he was not in favor of representatives? In our complex world today, would it even be possible to develop his system or would it be too chaotic to have a plethora of small governments with no strong central system?

Rousseau clearly has a distaste for money, and believes that individuals would ideally do everything themselves? Would we really be in chains if we handle things with money and don't do everything ourselves? It seems as though now we would actually be limiting ourselves even further since money allows us to have a system of specialization and larger production? What would Rousseau say about the corruption and problems we've faced in the last several years with Wall Street and the Gov? Even in this time would his solution be to do everything ourselves and keep the system smaller?

Rousseau discusses drawing lots as a form of election in a true democracy and says the outcome would be almost indifferent. He goes on to say that true democracies do not exist. What would he propose be the most ideal form of election then? Is that what he was suggesting when he discussed the time when choice and lots are mixed?
"This magistrate restores each term to its true relationship to the others, and which creates a link or a middle term either between the prince and the people or between the prince and the sovereign, or on both sides at once if necessary. This body, which i call the tribunate, is the preserver of the las and the legislative power ...For although it is unable to do anything, it can prevent everything." ch. 5 933How can Rousseau expect the leaders or sovereign to be mediated by the tribunate, or take it seriously, if it is given no power and it is not in their constitution? There are similar limits on these members to prevent them from becoming from too powerful that are a lot l like the term limits of those in the House and Senate. The only difference is that their powers and limits are written in their Constitution, and are, therefore, placed as a legitimate power in the government. They may prevent certain legislation from passing but may also allow legislation (difference of having some power to execute). How would Rousseau compare his idea of checks and balances with ours within the three branches? Would he approve?
Chapter 8 - On Civil ReligionRousseau notes that the relationship between personal religion and the state would be tense but should not hinder each other. However, Rousseau also notes that all citizens must abide by certain religious/moral beliefs, such as the existence of a God, the belief in an afterlife, the importance of the law, and tolerance. Is this idea of civil religion reasonable, especially with conflicting religious beliefs and atheism?

As we are approaching the end of Rousseau, are any of his ideas realistic for a government today?

Discussion questions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *