Alex Amezquita – Rousseau and Locke: The General Will

Rousseau and Locke: The General Will

                                        Alex Amezquita
                                        Section G
                                        December 4, 1992

Rousseau uses the concept of General Will as a means by which a group
of people enter into a social contract. The General Will is
constructed by the people who in turn obey it as citizens. The
separate wills, rights and desires of each member of a society brought
together as a single unit is the General Will. In the derivation of
the General Will, Rousseau emphasizes that every man is free.
Therefore, every subject is equal and has no more power or influence
on the General Will than any other citizen in the society. This social
contract provides an environment where its citizens experience natural
freedom. Ultimately, insuring the natural freedom of a society is the
goal of a government.

In Rousseau's explanation of freedom, there is a division between two
types of freedom. They are personal freedom and social freedom.
Personal freedom comes from humans' basic instincts and natural
selfishness. An individual acts only if he benefits. Rousseau also
called this freedom a state of nature.  The second freedom, social
freedom, is achieved when an individual obeys the desires of the
General Will. 

All people are born free, but the natural freedom is not achieved
until these people enter into a social contract. It is at this next
point where Locke and Rousseau differ.  According to Rousseau, natural
freedom is acquired by allowing the General Will to be the ruling
factor of a government. In order to enter into Rousseau's social
contract, personal freedom must be alienated. By disregarding the
state of nature, the powers of each individual is directed towards a
common interest. Rousseau notes that social freedom is superior to a
state of nature, and that in a state of nature people are not
completely free because they are ruled by their desires instead of by
reason. The General Will is rational and should then be the ruling
body. Locke differs by stating natural freedom is obtained when the
natural law is obeyed.  Locke does not need people to alienate their
personal freedom, he just wants it to be entrusted to the natural law.
The natural law preserves the freedoms of each individual in order to
preserve all of mankind. If the natural laws are carried out against
their wills, the people have the obligation and the right to alter the
natural law. For both Rousseau and Locke, this acquisition of natural
freedom is called natural subjugation. The term natural subjugation
comes from the fact that this is a willing act to pledge membership
through a social contract and not to the ideals of an individual or

Both Locke and Rousseau agree that the only way for a social contract
to insure the rights of the General Will is for complete involvement.
Rousseau insists those who do not join the pact are ignorant to the
advantages of a social contract. These madman must be forced to see
the light of the social contract and thus forced to be free. In a more
harsh view, Locke views the failure to join the social contract an
attack on the preservation of mankind and this violator should be
punished. This is because those who violate the natural law, violate
the preservation of mankind.

Rousseau and Locke's theories on the General Will, natural
subjugation, natural freedom, and government are the basis of ruling
bodies today. Even the United States of America uses the intentions of
Rousseau and Locke in the Constitution and its following amendments.
However, the ideas of Rousseau and Locke are too idealistic. For
example, Rousseau believes in order to fully express the General Will,
there must be a complete democracy with no representation. In a
country of our size, both geographically and in the degree of
population, this is physically impossible. Our country run without
representation would be completely ineffective in legislative and
executive abilities. Just think what would happen if every citizen of
America voted on every law proposed by every American citizen.
Obviously, this would be absurd. But according to Rousseau,
representation eliminates the purity of the General Will.  The
accuracy of the General Will varies with the degree of representation.
The government of America and other countries use this fact and try to
find an equilibrium between the largest amount of representatives and
the ability to legislate in order to gain an accurate insight on the
General Will.

Another point that Rousseau develops that is too idealistic is the
request for people to abandon their personal freedom in order to
sacrifice for social freedom. Disregarding our state of nature is like
disregarding our basic instincts or our primal urges. People are
instinctively selfish and to eliminate this fact would be very

There is a lot of good that came out of Rousseau and Locke. The
concepts and ideals of equality are very important. This concept of
equality and freedom is the theme and the fundamental building block
of the United States of America. Our country was based on equality and
will continue to thrive with equality as our primary goal. Also, there
is the right to voice an opinion which was another reason for the
founding of America.  One of the most powerful theories is the idea
that a government's legislative or executive branch can be altered by
the people if their General Will is violated or disregarded. Again,
this concept is employed by the ruling body of America and many other
democratic countries. 

Rousseau and Locke were pioneers in analyzing the modern systems of
government. From their conclusions, most of the laws and regulations
of America and countries undergoing revolutions (e.g. ex- USSR) are
based.  Their contributions to the world past, present, and most
probably in the future are immeasurable.
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