Rousseau’s passage argues that the general will can manifest itself only if the State does not comprise partial societies and every citizen withstands an influence of others. If, however, partial societies do exist, there should be many equal ones.
The great Lycurgus has established the sublime and unique system, i.e., the State without partial society, in which everybody sticks to his/her own point of view.
Solon, Numa, and Servius managed to rule over as many partial societies as possible, at the same time preventing them from being unequal.
These examples are crucial since only they predetermine the clarity of the general will and prevent people from deceiving themselves.
Rousseau’s argument is rather convincing. It seems to me that the laws that were declared by Lycurgus and the measures that he had taken were ideal steps that might have been taken to ensure citizens’ unanimity. Rousseau believes quite reasonably that the general will sets up a barrier between the mass and individuals; it is exactly the general will that protects the latter against the former. Nevertheless, the philosopher realizes that human nature is intrinsically selfish and pragmatic, which may cause strong feelings of superiority and a desire to oppress and humiliate others. It goes without saying that this may happen only if the State consists of many partial societies that do not acknowledge rights and freedoms and are trying to dominate each other. Surely, this struggle may be eluded if there are no partial societies within the State, which presupposes that the world outlook of every citizen is not being intruded upon. As Rousseau mentions, equality of partial societies that may exist in the State prevents the former from the feelings of hatred and superiority. Despite the effectiveness of the thesis, the passage in question needs more examples to illustrate Solon’s, Numa’s, and Servius’ merits.
Rousseau, J-J. The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right. Book II. Retrieved from
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