Friday, December 12, 2008

What "Freedom" Meant to Rousseau



Ever since reading Rousseau's Social Contract last year, I have been somewhat uneasy by his ambiguous comment that certain classes of people would need to be "forced" to be free by the state. Thomas J. DiLorenzo captured the problem well in his article "Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — and What It Means for America Today".

"Rousseau" said DiLorenzo "thought that society should be guided by the "general will," but what exactly that concept entailed has perplexed later commentators. It cannot be equated with what the majority of a certain society wishes: it is only when the people's decisions properly reflect the common good, untrammeled by faction, that the general will operates. But if the general will need not result from straightforward voting, how is to be determined? One answer, for which there is some textual support in Rousseau, is that a wise legislator will guide the people toward what they really want. Those who dissent will "be forced to be free." Keep reading.


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