Requirement of Total Alienation

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract is his basis for the ideal society by which there are a few (but complex) rules to follow. One of the most commonly recognized and disputed of these “rules” is that, as Rousseau claims, a society would require the “total alienation of each associate … to the entire community.” However, it is definitely not as simple of a concept as it sounds.

Rousseau identifies one of the problems of a society as being the consistency (or lack thereof) in rights and freedoms. He believes that individual rights can be easily maintained with a social contract, but there is more to total freedom than just the rights of a single person: a public body needs to cross the line between the rights of many people, and the collective rights of the entire populous (referred to as “civic rights”). Rousseau would say that the only way in order for everyone to have rights, especially those that are equal, is if they are abandoned for a more communal organization of rights.

A society should be based on a single motive, whereby those living in the society must unite their separate powers. Before their powers are amalgamated, society is left with unequal persons: some men simply have more power than others. This problem is solved once they are brought together and shared amongst everyone else. When this social contract is broken each person actually gains back their individual rights from the society, but their civil rights are lost. As soon as one person breaks the social contract (by not taking interest, for example), the entire purpose of the contract is void.

Because the same form of alienation is applied to everyone who agrees to the social contract, no one’s interests are being any more or less served than anyone else’s. Additionally, no one has individual rights to claim for any longer; no higher authorities exist to judge upon others, and thusly everyone is given equal power. Every person places the same amount of personal loss upon the agreement of the shared contract, but everyone also gains in power to preserve what he or she already has.

Some of the terms Rousseau defines for the social contract, those affected by it, and that which is created by it are very mistakable for one and another. They are, however, clearly defined and made specifically to identify the various stages and processes of his social contract ideal. Ego, he describes, is the collective life and will of the community and all of its people, and the republic or public body is the “public person” formed by the social contract under which everyone exists equally. The state is what he calls the republic when it is playing a passive role, and a sovereign when it is playing an active one. Those who agree to this alienation of rights are known as a people when speaking collectively, citizens when referred to individually, and subjects when being spoken under the laws of the state.

I’m not really too sure how much I agree with these ideas of a totally freedom-alienated society in which further freedoms are gained. This seems far too contradictory to me. As well, I don’t believe that a consensus on the alienation of a people’s freedom is possible no matter the size of the society. I think that there are far too many people in this world that cannot be entirely trusted and are not as dedicated to civil rights as much as they might think they are. The time taken to organize such a contract and the people for which are willing to be part of it’s binding ideals, I believe, is not worth the (high) risk of failure with the discrepancy of one single person. There needs to be some sort of higher power that is able to control and maintain the rights of public body – though this in itself does already defeat the entire purpose and premise of Rousseau’s idea, it might be safe to say that this higher power could work from a distance. Even still, I’m sure that Rousseau would agree that this reverses the entire principle of the social contract.

In a reality it might be hard to say exactly how to implement such a binding contract among countries, provinces, towns, or neighborhoods. As that suggests, much of its success would be based on the size of the society for which the contract would be issues. Too big of a society would create problems with consistency of agreement and assurance that people are indeed following the accord. Too small of a society might prove useless in it’s creation, and the “united powers” of a people would be too small to create any such significant difference. Another issue is that of how to get everyone to take part in this, at what age are you old enough to agree or disagree to the contract, and what happens to those who disagree or break the contract. The first issue would be a matter of vote or signed a physically signed contract that would be bound by specific laws. It could be decided, for instance, that at the age of 18 (a common legal voting age) you would be required to sign the said agreement in order to take part in the society. If you did not agree with the contract or later broke it, you might be banished from society. However, in the worst case scenario as Rousseau originally states, anyone who breaks the contract is ruining the society for everyone else and the idea of civil rights no longer exist, and the lesser individual rights are gained back. Individual rights provide little or no support for a community with equal interests in freedom.

The biggest problem with the social contract, as far as I’m concerned, is the instability and fragility of such a community that would be partaking in this contract. As Rousseau states, and has be reiterated several times throughout this essay, a republic and it’s ego would be complete disproved once as much as one person goes against the contract. Herein lies a collection of smaller issues that were discussed in the above two paragraphs. It is far too easy to have a society collapse because of the problem of one single person. The whole process and aim of the social contract and collective rights would be totally dismissed by the constant rebuilding and maintenance. To have one’s rights constant being questioned, taken away and then given back would only cause more dismay than the social contract was originally designed to eliminate. Rousseau might argue that if such a republic was to be created in the first place and such a contract to be agreed upon then all of the citizens to be placed under the contract would already be aware of everyone else. Such a society would simply not be created in the first place if such uncertainly existed and if such people with potential to bring ruin were known to be apart of it. I almost believe that Rousseau would argue that, although maybe somewhat pompously, once a group enters into such collectively civil rights that the enjoyment and benefit would be too great for any sane person to ever wish to go against. Despite these definitely well thought out objections, I still believe that risk and almost inevitable downfall of a society (whether sooner or later after agreement) is not worth the trouble that everyone who does wish to take part in a proper manner.


Node your homework.